Countrywide tales!

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Recently, my friend Di Schulze asked me if I would go down and do a House Concert, in Bambra, in her wonderful home, at Countrywide Cottages. When I said yes, Di immediately applied her amazing entrepreneurial spirit to organizing the event and rallying the local community.

What had been one afternoon of storytelling quickly became two afternoons, September 5th and 6th and then shows at two local primary schools were added. In addition, Di had local businesses donate wonderful prizes of local olives, wines, jams and massages for a raffle. By the end of the weekend we had raised close to $2000, in support of my upcoming trip to Ireland, where I will be performing and undertaking research for my storytelling practice. What a result!

Having grown up around Geelong and spent many weekends in Deans Marsh, as a teenager, I really enjoyed returning to this beautiful, green part of the world.

I arrived to a warm welcome, which was extended across my stay. Soon there were cuppas, in the warmth of the fire and final planning for a big weekend of storytelling.

Di had some calico and suggested we paint a sign saying ‘Stories’ to hang on the fence. I volunteered jumping on a sewing machine and ‘whipping up something’ that would endure all weathers, thinking that this would take no time at all. I began on the Thursday night, but of course, it took more than one session to get it done. Do you ever imagine you will ‘just whip something up’ and then remember when you are well into it that things take time?

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On Friday morning, it was off to Birregurra Primary School for a show for the whole school. Principal Sue Dodds welcomed me warmly and the children were a delightful audience, very willing to contribute sound effects when necessary and full of questions when I was finished. It is the first time I have performed with a cow in the room. I love cows and was very impressed by this life sized cow that had been artfully painted by the students.

 

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After a quick bite of lunch in Birre, I drove across to Deans Marsh Primary School to set up for the afternoon show. Two delightful young students proudly took me on a tour, showing me the best climbing tree, their chickens and lush vegetable garden, the brick pile that would one day make a shed and the special animal carvings at the front of the school. The cow at Deans Marsh was unfortunately in the hallway, so she missed the show, but I did say hello to her afterwards. After their lunch, the children all came in and the show began. They were also a wonderful audience and made an incredible flock of seagulls for me, in one of the stories. There were questions after the show and then the Principal, Murray Surkitt, gave out awards to students who had been working very hard and achieving great personal results. Their school captain, Will, shook my hand firmly and thanked me for coming on behalf of the students. He is an impressive young leader.

On the morning of my first show at Countrywide Cottages, a lamb was born right across from the house, before breakfast. It was lovely to watch the ewe, a first time mother, tend to her lamb and bond with it. I took this as a great blessing on the day!

There was a lot of setting up to be done and Di and Stu got on a roll bright and early. Stu and I hung flags along the drive, to mark the gate from the road and make a festive avenue for the audience to arrive through, topping it off with my ‘Stories’ banner. Di had spent hours making festive bunting that we hung around the stage and the afternoon tea outside. Our mutual friends, Joan and John, arrived from Melbourne and gave a great help with final preparations. While I was limbering up, everyone else was flat out with the final set up.

The house was warm and welcoming, there was food and wine aplenty, the guests arrived and settled in for an afternoon of stories. The next day, we did it all again. In one of the question times it was great to hear one of the locals, Andrew, a natural storyteller, recount the tale of the “Bambra Lights.” One of the great perks of storytelling is that people share their stories with you – and this one was a ripper – super spooky!

By the end of these events I was full of admiration for this community, their welcome, their strong networks and all the lively things that they have going on. House Concerts are a great way to share stories, because you really get to meet people and the intimacy of the event has a powerful effect on the stories, the listeners and also me, as the teller.

 

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I would like to thank the following people for their generous donations:

Haidee Benning, Moksha Project, Winchelsea

Brett and Christine Smith, Otway Escapes

Dinny Goonan, Dinny Goonan Wines, Bambra

Leanne, Gentle Annie Berry Gardens and Farmhouse, Pennyroyal

Mike and Katrine, Pennyroyal Raspberry Farm & Cidery, Murroon

Birregurra Arts Group

Judy and Andrew, Old Lorne Road Olives

Jan and Peter Grieg, Gosling Creek Winery

Amy, Otway Fields, Gerangamete

With all the treats on offer, good old fashioned hospitality and the beautiful countryside to enjoy, I highly recommend a Spring or Summer jaunt along the Otway Harvest Trail!

 

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My heartfelt thanks go to Di and Stu for the huge amount of time, thought, effort and creativity that went into making the weekend happen and for welcoming me so warmly into their home. It feels like the very best send-off for my trip to Ireland!

 

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Investigating the Wise Women and Seanchaí of Ireland.

Peig Sayes - Irish seanachie.
Peig Sayes – Irish seanachie.

 

Being in Ireland will be a great opportunity to do some research on Irish stories and Irish storytellers – the seanchaí and wise women, keepers of the oral tradition.

I must look up Peig Sayer’s writing and folk stories, as I have only dipped into a few, in a collection I bought when I was last on the West Coast of Ireland, in 2008. Peig lived on the beautiful, rugged and challenging Blasket Islands, off the coast of Kerry, Ireland. She made a great contribution to Irish folklore, but did not write her stories down, as she was a keeper of the oral tradition.

These storytellers and their stories fascinate me. There are many stories I tell that I have never written down or recorded, but nothing like what these men and women would have committed to memory! So much culture, tradition, knowledge of place and people was kept for generations in these stories.

There is a great article about Peig Sayers here:

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/in-praise-of-peig-sayers-by-sara-baume-1.2124500

Grand review for Epic Tales.

In 2014, Tremaine Pavlovski from Scotch College, Melbourne, commissioned me to write a show about my ancestors and their experience of migrating to Australia and how this had impacted my own story. The result was ‘Kissing the Blarney As It Flies’, which was performed initially for Tremaine’s Grade 5 class, who were exploring the histories of their own families and responding to them with dramatic works, centred on their own storytelling. Skilfully led by Tremaine, the boys’ work was highly successful; the images, 3-dimensional artworks and installations they created were spectacular.

Later that year I presented this first show about my Irish ancestors as part of the ‘Words On The Wind’ series of storytelling events, at the Library At The Docks, in Docklands, Melbourne. This was a wonderful series of storytelling events, curated by Storytelling Australia Victoria, which explored associations with the Docklands from many different perspectives. My ancestors Peter and Margaret Walsh sailed into Hobson’s Bay in the late 1800s, aboard ‘The Red Jacket’, having left Waterford, Ireland to make a new home here.

Dr. Frances Devlin-Glass, the Director of Bloomsday in Melbourne, saw the show at the Docks and we began discussing the possibility of a storytelling show at the Celtic Club, as a fund-raiser for Bloomsday in 2015. Frances said her audience would appreciate some humour, perhaps some material drawn from The Tain and to be sure I added lashings of hyperbole. I relished the challenge and the prompting to get some of the epic legends of the Irish Fenian and Ulster Cycles under my belt. Reading several different versions of the stories, including Thomas Kinsella’s translation of The Tain, I started to develop material that could be delivered as an oral storytelling performance. Deirdre Gillespie generously gave me some coaching on my Irish pronunciation of the names of characters, places and landmarks, for which I was very grateful. Throughout the process, I also researched more of the history of my own Irish ancestors and began to weave their stories around the legends and folklore, to bind them all together.

Out of this process of research, reflection and improvisation, grew ‘Dancing the Bones of Irish Myth and Legend’, which was presented initially at the Celtic Club, with great success.

Here is Frances’ review, in the Irish magazine, Tintean: http://tintean.org.au/2015/04/01/dancing-the-bones-of-archaic-irish-stories/

Preparing for storytelling in Ireland.

It’s 40 days now until I fly to Ireland – and I couldn’t be more excited!

I’ve been invited to tell stories, in Kerry, at Sneem Storytelling Festival, and will also be performing in Cork and Waterford.

My last visit to Ireland, in 2008, had a powerful impact on me as a person, an artist and especially as a storyteller. It was my first time in the land of my Irish ancestors and I totally fell in love with the place and its people. As I traveled I collected many tales and came home with a swag of myths and legends to look up and research in more depth. The mysterious and powerful crone, Cailleach Bheara, who I was introduced to in the small town of Eyeries, in West Cork, has been the central figure of much of my storytelling and art making ever since. Many audiences here in Melbourne have enjoyed her stories. On this trip I will be doing a course investigating her further, led by Dr. Sharon Blackie, in a circle of creative women who are just as fascinated with her tradition as I am.

Last time, it seemed some of the Good Folk, or perhaps a Guardian Angel, led me around the country-side creating all kinds of adventures and introducing me to an array of wonderful people. I could not tell you how many times I thought I was lost, but was helped all long by friendly people wherever I went.

I do hope the Good Folk will come along this time – a little faerie magic offers protection and ensures the craic will be very, very good!