CASTLEMAINE writer Lynne Kelly used to have an appalling memory. Now she's Australia's senior memory champion.
Dr Kelly trained her forgetful brain using techniques from indigenous cultures around the world, that allowed members of these cultures to remember huge amounts of information.
Now she's offering others the chance to do the same.
Dr Kelly discovered the powerful techniques researching for a PhD on Indigenous stories, natural history and knowledge of animal behaviour.
She realised Indigenous Australians had been classifying thousands of animal and plant species, with just their memory.
She began to ask, "How?", which led her to research Indigenous communities across the globe, where she learnt about "phenomenal" but often overlooked intellectual achievements.
What Dr Kelly found was entire knowledge systems - complex genealogies, navigation systems, and more - encoded within people's memories.
"I started discovering that indigenous people the world over used very sophisticated memory methods because they memorised everything they know, their entire knowledge system," Dr Kelly said.
The interesting thing is that the neuroscience is knowing that the plasticity of our brain does not have to decay with age. You can lay down new neural networks right into old age. The trouble is we don't.Lynne Kelly
"Then I started trying them out because some of them the claims seemed to be unrealistic and could not believe how much I could memorise using these techniques."
Memory is an art that has been lost in Australia, along with much of Western society.
Dr Kelly partly attributed the decline in our memories to an association of memorisation with rote learning.
But rote learning meant learning something by heart without understanding it, Dr Kelly said.
Traditional Indigenous methods of learning, and older methods of teaching, instead involved laying a foundation of knowledge on which to build further.
An increasing reliance on books and technology had also played a part in the decline in Australians' memories, Dr Kelly said.
Dr Kelly's own interest in learning has soared since she began to train her brain.
It'd down to a better basic knowledge of the world that has allowed her to better analyse current affairs and world events.
Now Dr Kelly has a range of memory palaces in place, for instance one for each country, and another for history.
It means she now has a hook for new information, that allows her to see patterns and links, building the big picture.
Three main techniques allowed members of these indigenous societies to remember vast chunks of information, Dr Kelly said.
Associating information with physical devices, using characters to tell vivid stories and associating information with the landscape, a similar system to that of a memory palace.
These match the way brains have evolved to associate information, Dr Kelly said.
And improved memory may mean more than just knowing more.
It's can be a way of laying down new neural pathways, to stop the brain decaying.
"The interesting thing is that the neuroscience is knowing that the plasticity of our brain does not have to decay with age. You can lay down new neural networks right into old age. The trouble is we don't," Dr Kelly said.
"So these memory techniques are not just for school and university, they're for all of life."
Dr Kelly details these techniques in book The Memory Craft, which she described as a "dead practical how to".
The Memory Craft is Dr Kelly's second book on the topic, following The Memory Code which detailed the methods traditional societies used.
Dr Kelly will discuss The Memory Craft at the Bendigo Writers Festival, Saturday August 10, from 10.15-11am at the LaTrobe Art Institute.
More information at: bendigowritersfestival.com.au
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