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!



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