IMAGINING THE FUTURE
Late last year, I was contacted by Dan who is a Producer of a fascinating initiative of the Federal Government called Future You. I am a staunch advocate of any program that promotes diversity and sustainability and also gets our kids thinking about the future and their ability to have a positive impact.
Future You aims to inspire an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) careers amongst children aged 8 to 12. STEM will be a major growth area for jobs of the future, but there is currently a shortage of people who have the skills we need to tackle our greatest challenges.
Australia’s STEM workforce does not reflect the rich and diverse nature of Australia’s population, in terms of women and people from LGBTQI+, culturally diverse, Indigenous, rural and remote communities, and people with disabilities. Diversity breeds innovation – and that is why Future You aims to provide role models for all Australians as the program grows.
On our blog today, we are focusing on the Imagining The Future stories, which are being published monthly on the Future You website. A second series exploring the future of Earth’s oceans is in development. So, let’s get into the blog! Thanks Dan for giving us an insight into a truly valuable and much needed initiative.
Blasting off into the future and going Far Out!
‘My name is Stella Kaufmann, and this is my last minute on Earth.’ Far Out! by Lili Wilkinson
Five of Australia’s top writers for young people have come together to imagine the future in a series of thrilling short science-fiction stories, as part of an Australian government initiative to inspire primary children across Australia with the idea of working in the STEM sector.
The first of the Imagining The Future stories, Far Out! by Lili Wilkinson, has just been published online, blasting off alongside a stunning dramatized podcast, and charting the efforts of 14 year old Stella to save a stricken space shuttle…with some quick thinking, her knowledge of STEM and the help of her 5-year-old brother Cosmo and a dancing robotic frog. Far out indeed!
Written by Lili, Melissa Keil and Rebecca Lim, Gary Lonesborough and Alison Evans, the five Imagining The Future stories are part of the Future You program, an initiative of the Office of the Women in STEM Ambassador Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith.
Published monthly online, together with dramatized readings by five of Australia’s most exciting emerging actors, the interlinked tales span 200 years and detail the establishment of humanity’s first deep space outpost on the second moon of Jupiter, Callisto. The accompanying podcasts feature an extraordinarily rich sound design, a specially commissioned soundtrack and, for Far Out, an irresistible pop song, Galaxy Vibes (warning – it’s a real earworm!). A suite of beautiful posters, activity packs, teaching resources (including dance instructions for Galaxy Vibes) and careers information for schools, families and children have also been produced for free download.
The five stories making up ‘The Callistan Cycle’ see their diverse young protagonists grappling with the technological, ecological and societal challenges that space travel and life on the distant moon present. The inspired and surprising solutions they come up with draw on their character’s understanding of science, computing, engineering and mathematics. But there is also a strong emotional core to each story, with the young protagonists coming to terms with growing up, taking responsibility, self-doubt, fear and loss, and with each story being underpinned by the themes of the importance of connection, family and friendship bonds.
Following hot on the zero-gravity booted heels of Far Out!, future stories will see two sisters racing to find the solution to a meltdown in the mainframe of a passenger liner (Calculating Apple Pie by Melissa Keil); a young woman calmly accepting her fate while on a mining mission gone terribly wrong (Semper by Rebecca Lim); a young Indigenous boy and his sister investigating a sickness assailing a remote lunar community (Proof by Gary Lonesborough) and a family puzzling over a mysterious signal that is interrupting all of Earth’s communications (Earth Bound by Alison Evans).
The scenario and storylines of The Callistan Cycle were developed at a workshop in Melbourne in May 2022, led by Lili, editor Kate Whitfield and Future You producer Dan Prichard, and written and edited over the following 4 months. Says Lili: ‘We agreed that we wanted our future to be a positive one – no bleak dystopian nightmares, thank you! Our future is inclusive, diverse and kind, where we are well on the way to solving the problems of climate change. It’s easy to feel despair, when we see news articles about our changing climate, wars and epidemics. But I spend a lot of time talking to young people, and I have a tremendous amount of hope for the future.’
The Far Out! podcast is read by Brenna Harding, who is the Vice President of Wear It Purple, the annual LGBTIQA+ awareness campaign for young people, and has two mothers, like Far Out! protagonists Stella and Cosmo. The diversity of the cast of Callistan characters is an important aspect of the program, as Future You aims to reflect Australia’s multicultural identity in its storytelling, and across its range of resources, to address the current and future inequity in the STEM workforce in terms gender, ethnicity, disability, sexuality and location.
“Kids of all genders should be excited about and have access to the important industries that shape our world and future. These characters and stories represent big possibilities for the little people that we love.” says Brenna. “Reading about a queer-parented family at the centre of Far Out! made me feel personally connect to Stella’s journey and bursting with pride to show the young gaybies I’m lucky to have in my life. I heard back from one mum that her five year old daughter ‘jumped up and down on the bed as if she was trying to go to space’ as she listened.”
Says Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, Women in STEM Ambassador, an astrophysicist and author: It’s incredibly important to me that Future You represents everyone in our community. Kids are smart and would expect nothing less! All of the content of Future You will reflect Australia’s diverse population so that everyone can see themselves in the content, and imagine their own ‘Future You’.
In addition to the Imagining The Future stories, Future You offers short documentaries profiling inspiring roles models of people currently working in STEM, posters and cringe-inducing STEM-related jokes (be warned!). The different strands complement one another so that children can move from the fictional to reality (and back again), having their imagination and creativity fired by what they see, hear or read, while there are opportunities to participate directly in the program through writing, art and STEM competitions. Far Out!, for example, relates directly to the story of real-life aerospace engineer Renee Wootton, whose ambition is to become an astronaut, while a Future You Challenge, soon to be launched, asks children to develop responses to the dangers of space travel (and space debris), which Far Out! explores.
‘I love writing for and working with young people’, says Lili Wilkinson. ‘I love their enthusiasm and idealism, and their strong sense of justice. They and passionate about what they believe in, passionate about creating a beautiful, kind future. The next generation is going to save the world, and they’re also going to journey far beyond it. And I will be cheering them on when they do. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!’
Voyage far out into the future by visiting Imagining The Future and signing up for each story’s launch and for news on how you can get involved.
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