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

The Countdown Is On!

Excitement is growing!

It’s only 40 days until I fly to Ireland to begin my storyteller’s tour.

There is so much to do before I take off and I have several lists on the go, trying to make sure that I have done all I need to do before take-off, as well as setting up my itinerary as much as I can, without shutting down the spirit of adventure!

All this began with a simple question, “Might you be in Ireland this November?” This was followed by an invitation to be a guest storyteller at Sneem Storytelling Festival. From this several other concerts have sprouted and many opportunities for study and research. Best of all there are so many wonderful people to meet, many of whom I have been talking to online from this side of the planet for several years. A couple of them have written books I have devoured. I can’t wait to meet them all in person!

I think the road to Sneem Storytelling Festival might just be lined with cups of tea and a few pints of Guinness.

Coming Soon: House Concert @ Countrywide Cottages, Bambra

Countrywide Cottages, Bambra – HOUSE CONCERT

From the Birre Mail:

“A Magical afternoon of Storytelling”

Saturday September 5th, 1.30 – 4.30 pm for a 2 – 4 pm performance at Countrywide Cottages, 1205 Winchelsea Deans Marsh Rd, Bambra

Grab your diaries now and make sure you book soon to enjoy this amazing performance of stories, drawn from folklore, myth and legend. Tickets $25 per person.

Di and Stuart, of Countrywide Cottages are hosting an afternoon of storytelling by their friend, Niki na Meadhra. Niki has worked as a theatre practitioner, storyteller and community artist in a broad range of settings for over 30 years. She has told stories to audiences ranging from intimate garden parties to 3000 people at Dallas Brooks Hall.

This year Niki has been invited to tell stories in Ireland, at the Sneem International Storytelling Festival, in Kerry. This has grown into a tour, including concerts in Cork, and Waterford. When Niki was last in Ireland in 2008, she kissed the Blarney Stone and hasn’t been able to stop telling stories since! She has a passion to fan the flames of the oral tradition and would love to seed storytelling events and foster storytelling skills in communities wherever she travels!

There are limited tickets for this magical event. 100% of the proceeds will go to Niki to help her extend her storytelling tour of Ireland. Dinny Goonan will be selling his amazing wine; afternoon tea will be provided and there will be a raffle of some lovely local goods. If tickets are sold out when you try to book, please leave your details on the waiting list or be in touch with Di and Stuart, as they then plan to arrange a second gig the following afternoon.

To buy tickets: www.trybooking.com/151354

When: 1.30 – 4.30 pm, Sept 5 2015

Where: Di and Stuarts home, Countrywide Cottages, 1205 Winchelsea Deans Marsh Rd, Bambra

Contact us: Di and Stuart on 5288 7399 or stay@countrywidecottages.com.au

 Niki na Meadhra spinning a yarn.

Newport House Concert

Niki na Meadhra becoming the hound of Culainn, reading to attack the young Setanta.
Niki na Meadhra becoming the hound of Culainn, reading to attack the young Setanta.
Setanta spies the hound in the shadows.
Setanta spies the hound in the shadows.
The story takes over!
The story takes over!

It was a joy to tell stories of ancient Ireland and weave them together with stories of my own Irish ancestors, at my recent House Concert in Newport. First the audience was introduced to my grandfather, Tom Walsh, a man of great charm and a lover of literature, to whom the first story of Fionn MacCumhaill (Finn McCool) was dedicated. The second series of three shorter stories about the Cailleach, the Irish crone/goddess, were dedicated to my feisty great-grandmother, Florence.

After some chai and afternoon tea we regathered and I launched into the grand tale of the childhood deeds of Cú Chulainn. This story was dedicated to my great-great-great-great-grandmother, Kitty McCann, of Belfast, because she and Cú Chulainn both hailed from Ulster.

I suspect that I have a little of Kitty’s spirit in me, because one of my favourite things to do is become the warrior, Cú Chulainn, when he goes into ‘Warp Spasm’ – a frightening state that overcomes him, when he goes into battle. (Though Kitty never took up a sword, she faced major obstacles in her life with enormous courage, beginning with migrating from Ireland to Australia, aged 16, alone.) A ‘Warp Spasm’ is quite tiring and I really did enjoy that cup of tea when the stories ended.

Warmest thanks to my host, Jackie Kerin, for generously opening her home for this event and making everyone so welcome and comfortable. Jackie is a wonderful storyteller herself and the current president of Storytelling Australia Victoria. She is a great champion for storytelling and storytellers and has been a great supporter of my practice.

Thanks also for my wonderful audience, who came out for some stories and generously supported this fund-raiser, to help make my upcoming trip to Ireland possible. Thanks for joining me in the stories and all your feedback and suggestions afterwards.

A House Concert: A wonderful place to tell & hear stories.

Niki na Meadhra @ Newport House Concert, August, 2015.
Niki na Meadhra @ Newport House Concert, August, 2015.

In a few short weeks, I will again have the luxury of telling stories at a House Concert.

This time my hosts will be Di and Stuart from Countrywide Cottages, Bambra. They have been very busy letting the local community know that I will be heading down from the Big Smoke to tell a yarn or two. From all I have heard from Di, it sounds like I will be made very welcome by some generous country hospitality.

Telling stories at a House Concert is very intimate and makes me think of days gone by, before television and the internet, when people often gathered in pubs, or homes, around a fire to hear a story. For the audience, the cosy comfort of being in someone’s home adds to the magic unfolding, by giving them a relaxing environment to let go of the wider world and tune in to the world of the stories. For me, as a storyteller, it feels very personal and immediate to be able to see the face of each listener and to ask direct questions or simply engage them with a raised eyebrow. Everything is magnified in such close quarters. Something large and full of energy seems even larger, but at the same time the smallest, subtlest thing can be gently shared and still clearly seen.

This particular concert is a fund-raiser for my upcoming trip to tell stories in Ireland. So, the program will be bursting with ancient tales from Ireland, woven together with stories of my own Irish ancestors.

Having done several House Concerts now, I’m very much looking forward to this one! Do get in contact if you are interested in hosting one yourself.

Image: Niki na Meadhra telling stories with Clare Coburn, at Enchanted Evening, in the Bishop’s Parlour at Abbotsford Convent. Photo c. Charlie Sublet.

What if Red Riding Hood ate the wolf?

Red Eats Wolf

When I drew this picture of Little Red Riding Hood digesting the wolf, I really enjoyed turning the traditional story upside down! It felt rebellious and cathartic. It is important to me that this is an ordinary girl, not a ‘warrior-woman’ type that seems increasingly popular.

Depending on what day of the week it is, the wolf symbolizes many different things for me. Some days it would feel sacrilegious to devour such a potent archetype. Some days I want to light a candle and pay homage to the wolf. It depends on which version of the tale you read and how you read it. The dark archetypes, which sometimes seem to only destroy, also serve us.

On this occasion, eating the wolf felt like an action of consciously digesting fear – beginning the process of breaking it down with the acids in my belly and thereby becoming bigger than it. I always consider fear an ally – when it knows its place. Like fire, fear is a good servant, but a poor boss.

Planning my journey to Ireland has raised all kinds of fear for me. It is a bold adventure that requires courage. It is good to have got to a place where I am digesting this and feeling bigger than my fear. Of course, tomorrow is a new day and I don’t expect that every day I will feel on top of it. But today – I feel bold and brave and the wolf makes a good lunch!

Words and image c. Niki na Meadhra

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!