Sunday, October 9, 2016

House Concert: C.J. Dennis The Songs of the Sentimental Bloke

Its been a quiet few months as I've been recovering from a broken arm. Miserable as it is,  I have been enjoying the chance to focus on writing. I love writing, once I get started, but if if the sun is shining I'm easily distracted. So.. not able to drive, ride my bike or work in the garden, one hand typing has been my thing for the past eight weeks.

I like to think I'm not superstitious but I do have a streak of superstitious caution when it comes to talking about projects that are still waiting for that contract that says - 'its a goer'. So I won't reveal too much, suffice to say I have been immersed in mid 19th century to early 20th century Australian English.

This culminated in a House Concert: C.J. Dennis The Songs of the Sentimental Bloke. My friends Alan and Dave Davies created a 30 minute piece around 4 poems from The Bloke a while ago, to celebrate the 100th Anniversary since publication. Dave has been memorising and reciting verse for over 60 years and his son Alan is a dab hand at the art form as well. The poems were linked by Australian Bush tunes, selected and played by Nicola Johnson. I had the pleasure of being 'The Narrator'.

My friend Alex Kharnam arrived with a truck load of camera gear and lights and filmed the event for posterity. The results will be available for all to enjoy.

Dave, Alan and Nicola are friends from the Newport Fiddle and Folk Club, a great caldron of creativity in Melbourne.

I love House Concerts and aim to host a few every year. They are a great reminder that houses are not just for eating and sleeping.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Celebrating the Edithvale Seaford Wetlands Bird Hide

One of the many things I love about storytelling, is being asked to deliver stories into places where they might not normally be heard.

Collaborator and musician buddy, Sarah Depasquale, and I were invited to bring our story of 'Tom, the red-necked Stint' to the re opening of this beautiful bird hide.

Right by a busy road, you step across a small wooden bridge, through the Melaleuca trees to a small two story wooden structure. The hide feels damp and dark, full of atmosphere; the strip windows allow shafts of light to piece the gloom and offer a magical view of the lake teeming with bird life.

The Friends Group have kept the handmade signs and information panels, so there is also a sense of the history of the hide.

There is access for for those using wheel chairs and walkers and a mezzanine platform for those who don't mind the stairs.

I hesitate to use the word, as its not my sort of word - but this place really feels like a 'sacred space'.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Travelling the Western District with the Story Peddler

The idea of taking stories on the road, outside of mainstream venues and events is close to my heart. I remember reading about how in Shakespeare's day, plays might be performed on the back of carts and in courtyards. When I was living in the remote Central Desert and a circus found its way across hundreds of kilometres of sand, I was impressed. So being invited to travel about country Victoria with the Story Peddler, is a little dream come true.

I've worked with the The Story Peddler and his story tent before but this time and we were booked to travel to the Woolly West Fest, a festival in the Western District of Victoria that celebrates the wool industry with craft and art works, literature, films ... all things with a woolly theme.

Mr P. Eddler arrives in Hamilton. The weather was wet and cold so the tent was set up in school sheds and, in this case, a shop.

Mr P. Eddler (aka Patrick Verdon) has designed and built the tiny tent to pack away in a trailer which, if the destination is not too distant, he can ride to. Otherwise he loads the box and dice into a bigger trailer (like nesting dolls) and hitches it up to the car.
Clever Mr P has designed the tent so it has no central pole.

Within two hours the tent is ready and an old auto shop is transformed.

Mr P manages 'backstage': lighting, sound effects and music. He also likes getting up and joining in with the stories.

At each location the tent was positioned so when the children walked into what they thought was a familiar space, they were in for a surprise.

Penshurst PS

Filling the tent with stories.

I love the freedom of this kind of work, the independence; the need to to think on my feet and adapt  to the different set-ups; the sense that I'm working now from a reservoir of 20 years experience with the oral tradition. I love the fact I'm totally accountable for what comes out of my mouth, the stories I tell and how I tell them. I love the simplicity - no giant props, fancy sets or costumes, I like employing my agility with language, fresh words, not recited. I relish the challenge of quickly establishing a relationship with those who have come to hear the stories. I love the exchange of stories that happens on the journey, both inside and outside the tent.

A huge thank you to Jacinta Wareham and Naomi Turner for their warmth and vision. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Huon Valley Mid Winter Festival 2016

How I ended up at the Huon Valley Mid Winter Festival is a long and convoluted story.
Suffice to say,  I got the job of coordinating the storytelling component.

The idea was to put storytelling into the heart of the Festival, not as an after-thought in a tent on the other side of the port-a-loos (as can happen at festivals).

The organisers gave us space in a tent well equipped with sound gear, a skilled and patient tech (Leith) and a bar at the back. We had prime spots in the program on Friday and Saturday nights for adult stories and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for family sessions.

Friday crowds were treated to The Grimm, rehearsed readings of favourite tales with the remarkable Dean Stephenson accompanied by Kelly Ottaway and Julius Schwing.
 Saturday, mother and son storytelling team Emily and Ben Conolan captured the hearts of their listeners. Ben, at only seven, is on top of his craft and they are an inspiration to others to have a go. If Ben was the youngest storyteller at the festival, Phil Rush would have been the oldest. Illustrating his tales with chalk drawings, his tales are captivating.

On Sunday Phil was back with Tara Smith. Tara has a warmth and a way with riddles and soon had the children on their toes.

The big event we had been working on, was the Inaugural Huon Valley Storyteller's Cup. This took place on the Saturday evening with seven, very talented storytellers vying for the gorgeous hand crafted Huon Pine Cup (sculptured by Brad Moss).

Competitions aren't for everyone but they can up the ante and create opportunities in unexpected ways. On Saturday night, storytellers sang, chanted, spoke and animated, funny, poignant and whimsical tales.

The undisputed winner was Georgia Lucy who turned in a spectacular performance. Pictured here (left) with one of the Judges Kirsha Kaeshele.
The festival is held around the Willie Smiths Apple Shed and paddocks. The orchards are wassailed, the Morris Dances are let lose and the cider flows. We have so many festivals in Australia but this would have to be one of the loveliest. Well wort a trip to Tassie in Mid Winter.

Many thanks to Martin Jefferd my UK storytelling friend who suggested that storytelling be given a boost at the festival and for his faith in me to put the plan into action!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

3rd Annual Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference

We have a few fabulous conferences in Australia that, one way of another, focus on spoken stories and the oral tradition. The Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference is one of my favourites for its mix of the academic and performative.

I was  thrilled and honored to be invited this year to deliver the keynote. It forced me to sit down, think hard and make logical segues between bunch of ideas that I'd had floating around in my mind for a while. The theme was Into the Bush: Its Beauty and Its Terror. (Lordy I had fun!)
I’m an urban person. For me, the bush can be, discombobulating. The beauty can take my breath away and the strangeness can overwhelm and confuse.  The rational lens through which I view the world has clouded at times when I've been in the bush.  And it’s in this vulnerable and heightened state that I’ve had moments where I’ve suspected that there is another reality: a mythic or magical realm in parallel. Especially when moving through country that is still active storied - like in the central desert. 

Its a pleasurable but rattling feeling to be tipped upside down and shaken by powerful 'mythscapes'. 

I enjoyed all the papers and readings but I particularly enjoyed Robin Floyd's presentaion: Stockwhip Wand and a Cabbage Tree Hat: Australian Identity in Australian Fairy Tales. I was intrigued by the fact that I could relate to the sensibility of the texts created in the 1800s and early 1900s.
These texts are available on line and well worth exploring. Olga Ernst's book has a story set at the end of my street by the mouth of the Yarra River. It's odd, but fascinating.

On a similar theme, Catherine Snell's presentation: Australian Fairy Tales and the Quest for Nationhood was thought provoking. 
I love these embossed book covers. This illustration is from a tale by Atha Westbury about a  Leprechaun who arrived in Australia inside a hat box. Whether this was on purpose or an unfortunate event, I cannot say, but I can say, I will be tracking down this story to find out.

Looking forward to the next conference already!


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sowing and harvesting stories in the RAW Garden

I have a deep love of gardens and gardening. Actually, its hard to say the order of preference; I think bike riding, bird watching, gardens and storytelling are all level passions.

Little wonder that Mariam Issa and I should have found each other.  Mariam is a lover of stories, language, good conversation and gardening. Mariam is the co-founder of the RAW Garden. The garden is her back yard but its open to the community who share in its bounty and hospitality.

These photos were taken on a cold winter's afternoon. My colleagues from Storytelling Australia Victoria have been telling stories on the first Sunday of the month. Today Clare Coburn began the session with stories as well as singing and reciting poetry.

Following Clare, Abshiro Farah presented Shah and Sheeko (tea and stories). Sweet spicy tea and cakes were just the beginning.

Abshiro is working on translating stories from her childhood into English and we were privileged to hear the first one.
These gatherings at the Garden only began this year and yet the friendships and creative alliances have formed quickly and are bearing fruit.

The garden is looking wonderful; the plants are mostly asleep for the winter, except the citrus which are laden with oranges and lemons. The chooks are as cheeky as ever.
Abshiro and I are going to work on her stories together. There is much I will have to learn about Somalian language to do the work justice.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

World Migratory Bird Day 2016

There is no better way to tell the story for the day than with this short video.


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