Sharing the living art of storytelling.   Phone Jenni 02 6684 6548


Written on August 17, 2014

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‘The Byron Circle of Tellers’ tell tales at ‘Tintenbar Upfront’

Written on August 17, 2014


For a year now, I have been meeting regularly in a closed group with a wonderful group of local tellers. We tell each other stories and discuss them. It has been joyful and enriching. We had our first appearance at the Drill Hall at a concert we organised last year, which was well attended and went well.
This year, one of our members, Susan Perrow, told us about a wonderful local venue and performance night she had been to called ‘Tintenbar Upfront’. She had been invited to tell a story and suggested we consider it, as it was very friendly and lovely. The door takings all go towards a different charity each month. So in May, I got up and told my saucy version of the Italio Calvino’s version of ‘Mr Fox’ or ‘Silvernase’ at Tintenbar Upfront (which I told again at Kavisha Mazella’s concert).
Peter wrote about it on the websiteAfter the break, Jenni-Cargill Strong had the audience enthralled with her ability to deliver an old folk story that she had rewritten. The heroine triumphed, the Devil was defeated and we all were morally uplifted! Flawless performance.
Jenni tells Mr Fox at Tintenbar Upfront

Jenni tells Mr Fox at Tintenbar Upfront

On Friday, August 8, we told stories between musical acts. The audience were so warm, receptive and wonderful that we were all jumping out of our skin with brilliance- if I don’t say so myself! Teeya Blatt, loking exotic and graceful, told the frame story from Sherehezade, John Imbrogno playfully told the Irish fable “Luckless One”, Annie Bryant sang and told her exquisite rendition of the Celtic Love Story of ‘Belena’ and Bere, with great mana, told of his amazing experience in Hawaii of a brush with his ancestors! I told “The Woman who Would Not Tell Her Story”, giving the context of the time I told it at the Bentley blockade and finished with an adult version of “The Mulberry Tree”, which includes a lotus birth and a salty placenta that is not in the kids version. Byron Circle members, Catherine Frederick, Lynne Preston and Susan Perrow with her hubby John, plus Annie’s parents all came along to lend us support.
“The Heart of the Story” radio podcast
The takings at the door went in part to fund the annual soundcloud hosting fee for ‘The Heart of the Story” a storytelling show hosted by Teeya Blatt and Annie Bryant. You can listen online anytime to many of the magnificently woven story episodes here:
Teeya, co-host of 'Heart of the Story' BAY FM

Teeya, co-host of ‘Heart of the Story’ BAY FM

Annie, co-host of 'Heart of the Story'

Annie, co-host of ‘Heart of the Story’

Tintenbar Team: mutual fans
The team who run Tintenbar Upfront are just amazing. Pete is such a warm, generous MC that he brings out the best in everyone. We all decided it is- without doubt- the best place to perform anything- story or music!
Here is the feedback I sent Peter afterwards:
Dear Peter,
Thanks again to your amazing, warm, generous and entertaining team for another fabulous night at Tintenbar. I have raved to everyone about how great the atmosphere is : actually one of the best places to tell a story that I have been to in many a year. Performing at the Living Earth Festival last year at the Mullumbimby Community Gardens and one full moon night about 18 years ago at the National Folk Festival are the last times I had such a perfect audience and vibe.
You all work seamlessly together to build that special feeling and I admire your persistence. Your MCeeing has a lot to do with it too. You create a great welcome which shows you are thinking about each person and welcome them so warm heartedly and THEN you listen so well during their performance that you can say something pertinent and supportive afterwards too! It is a rare skill!


He replied:
Will you please thank all the tellers for their superb stories, told with panache, skill and heart. The audience loved every one of them. Thank you too for your wonderful mulberry tree tale as well as the others. I particularly loved the image, which you created so perfectly of the mother at the clothesline “wondering where her daughter was” while the little girl tittered in the tree. We would love to have more story telling in future.  
Cheers, Peter
We have been invited to go back in November, so I’ll be performing one more member of the Byron circle and my partner Max will do a few bush yarns.
If you are local, maybe we’ll see you there!
Pete and laughing audience

Peter Limo and the wonderful, warm audience



Written on August 16, 2014

After my colleague Jackie Kerin (Victoria) inspired me at the National Storytelling Conference to learn the Japanese art of kamishibai storytelling, I just ordered one! Here is a blogpost she wrote about her kamishibai journey.

Kamishibai story stage

Kamishibai story stage

Learn about the art of  kamishibai storytelling and possibilities in education here.

Fairy Tale Rings around Australia

Written on August 14, 2014

greenlady photobucketAt the recent Inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Conference in Sydney, (AFTS) Jo Henwood, not only told a stupendous Australian version of Thumbelina, she also  proposed the brilliant idea of national ‘Fairy Tale Rings’. Below is an excerpt of what she proposed. Some groups have already been held. My local closed story group in Byron Shire will meet this Thursday to discuss Hansel and Gretel and I will post our ideas later. I may open an open group for the following circle in October but didn’t get time to organise anything this time, what with Book Week business…Jo wrote:

The Fairy Tale Rings are the local and specific responses to the general Objectives of the AFTS. Every second month of the year  (August, October, December, February, April ) will be the time for local Fairy Tale Rings to meet at whatever day or date suits them.

At that bimonthly meeting each Ring will be investigating the same fairy tale type, so that every two months a collection of material can be added to the AFTS website which will contribute to a deep understanding of fairy tales.  This will not prevent anyone from contributing  their research on that particular fairy tale type at whatever time suits them.


  • To provide settings for members of the AFTS to meet regularly to explore fairy tales in Australia, wherever they may live.
  • To deepen knowledge of specific traditional fairy tales: history, meanings, variants.
  • To discuss the relevance of each fairy tale to Australia:  land, history, people.
  • To showcase Australian interpretations of these fairy tales, including local variants collected by members, and new works.
  • To encourage a diversity of creative and regional responses to each fairy tale.
  • To generate new research and creative works which can contribute to the national understanding of fairy tales once uploaded to the national AFTS website.
  • to connect people who are interested in fairy tales so they can arrange social gatherings of interest eg fairy tale retellings in films, plays and exhibitions.


Hansel and Gretel and the Australian ‘Babes in the Wood’ 

AFTS member Toby Eccles, who presented a paper on Australian stories at the Conference, recently posted some fascinating links to true stories of lost children. A fascinating article in The Age  and a few songs.

The Duff children lost in the bush. Photo: State Library of Victoria

The Duff children lost in the bush. Photo: State Library of Victoria

Toby wrote:


And for anyone interested in the links to the Australian folk music tradition, the song ‘Babes in the Wood’ has been recorded from the Australian oral tradition (interesting variation to the English versions of the song), and was popular as a Varsovienna dance tune in the Australian Old Time dance music tradition. The historical story of the lost children from the Wimmera may have resonated with people because of the popularity of this song, or perhaps the song/tune got popular here partly as a result of the fascination with the Wimmera story. There are English versions of the story, at least one of which is published in Katherine Briggs’ ‘Dictionary of British Folktales in the English Language’.

The first link is to folk singer Martyn Wyndham-Read singing the Australian version of the song. The second and third links are to the National Library of Australia’s oral history/folk music catalogue, both with Old Time musicians playing the Babes in the Wood Varsovienna (amongst other tunes).


Thanks Toby! I think a new age of Australian folk and fairy tales is dawning!!


The Inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Conference in Sydney

Written on August 10, 2014

After the stupendously enriching International Storytelling Conference, which ended on a Sunday June 8, some of us lucky ducks got to immediately swan off to the ‘The Inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Conference’ (or AFTS Conference) in Sydney on the Monday June 10, as we had a long weekend, thanks to the Queen’s Birthday.

The Australian Fairy Tale Society was dreamed up by storytellers Jo Henwood and Reilly Mc Carron . Almost as soon as they dreamed it up, they made it a reality. It was breathtaking to watch their genius and creativity unfold and quickly we all got to benefit from their commitment and dedication by attending their first Conference. They chose a magical venue: the historic Paddington Uniting Church, near the heart of Sydney. They even scored Jack Zipes, (the male rock star of fairytale academic writing) as a Founding Member! [So I think it follows, ipso facto, that since I am also a Founding Member, I have one more thing in common with Jack Zipes- apart from a love of folk tales and a particular passion for the ancient version of Red Riding Hood: 'Le Histoire du Grandmere'. :) But I digress!] You can read more about the content of the Conference here from Robyn Floyd who gave us a fascinating presentation (in costume!) and/or watch a short slideshow created by the fabulous Jackie Kerin here. Thang Luong (see below) writer of ‘Refugee Wolf’ (which Carmel Bird praised), also wrote a blog about it as did the Monash Fairy Tale salon here.

Here are some images from that Conference in Paddington, of which I was an enthusiastic and excited participant. It felt like we were making history. Carmel Bird was our keynote speaker and what a groundbreaking keynote it was!! I believe all the papers that were presented will be at some time published, so I’ll add the link here when that happens.

Australian Fairy Tale Society Inaugural Conference, 9 June 2014

Les at AFTS Conference 2014

Les and I 1

Jenni with Les and his amazing green outfit

The panel AFTS 2014

Jenni on the AFTS panel

LEFT: Les the green man and his fantastic hair and outfit!  

Right: Me on a discussion panel with author Kate Forsyth, academic Dr Rebecca-Anne de Rosario; Thang Luong, a writer and lawyer of Vietnamese origin and Jackie Kerin, my storytelling colleague extraordinaire from Victoria as MC.

International Storytelling Conference in Sydney

Written on July 4, 2014
Diane Ferlatte, Evita, Victoria Burnett, me Sydney

International Sydney Storytelling Conference

Sydney Conf 2014 Mulb tree Jenni wide arms

Jenni tells ‘The Mulberry Tree’

LEFT: Jenni telling ‘The Mulberry Tree’ during the Saturday night concert. RIGHT: Jenni with international tellers: Diane Ferlatte USA, Rona Mentari wearing yellow scarf (Indonesia) with puppet and friend, Evita Hofstetter (NSW) and Victoria Burnett (US) in blue.

Australian Storytelling Conferences

Written on June 2, 2014

There are two exciting storytelling events happening in Australia this June long weekend in Sydney. Lucky me, as I am off to both, where I will catch up with lots of storytelling colleagues from far and wide, and this time some of my local story colleagues will also be attending. Yippee!

International Storytelling Conference “Weaving Stories Together” 

The first event is the International Storytelling Conference “Weaving Stories Together” which is held in Sydney. This is only held every two years. This year the dates are Friday-Sunday June 6-8. The keynote speaker is the wonderful master storyteller, Diane Ferlatte (USA). Thanks so much for the hard and dedicated work of the Australian Storytelling Guild (NSW).diane ferlatte

I will perform in the Saturday Evening Concert 7.30pm along with Victoria Burnett (USA), Christine Carlton, Lee Castledine, Diane Ferlatte (USA), Eve Hofstetter,
Donna Jacobs-Sife, Anna Jarrett, Patricia McMillan, Rona Mentari (Indonesia),  Lindy Mitchell, Megan Pascoe,  Jacqui Rash (USA) 
Rhonda Stein and Usha Venkatraman (India).

On Sunday afternoon, I will present my workshop ‘The Art and Craft of Re-interpreting a Folk Tale’ .


Inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference

AFTS-logoThe second event is the Inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference, held Monday June 9, in Paddington Sydney. My colleagues Reilly McCarron and Jo Henwood initiated ‘The Australian Fairytale Society’ and in record time have attracted enormous amounts of interest and some extremely high profile presenters for this inaugural conference. Well done Jo and Reilly!!

The program looks extremely stimulating. When I sit on the panel discussion, “Cultural Editing: How some fairy tales become lost in the woods”, I will be rubbing shoulders with fairytale luminaries authors and academics Kate Forsyth, Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario and Sophie MacNeill. Perhaps we’ll see you there?

AFTS Conf program

The Story Well

Written on March 26, 2014

Last night in my online course I shared this quote with the participants:

bucket from well“Telling a fairy story is like lowering a bucketful of heroes deep down into the well of the unconscious mind. There they can fight the dragons of fear face to face. They can outwit the giants of greed and hate. And like Cinderella, they can remain loving and kind despite the ugly sisters of vanity and jealousy. We can send in wise, barefoot gardeners to weed the unconscious mindscape and plant new seeds of ‘hope’.

Indeed, one of the greatest gifts of fairytale is precisely that they give is hope.”sculpture well

 I photocopied this years ago from ‘Nature and Health’ magazine, but the author’s name 

deep wellwent missing on the copy. If anyone can enlighten me as to the author, I’d love to know!!

Three fables for the times

Written on March 17, 2014

 Told by Jenni at “March in March, Byron Bay” 

Watch the video of this performance here.

I want to offer some soul food in the form of stories, because it is easy to feel despairing in these challenging times. I am going to tell you three 1 minute fables, which I find helpful. Then I’ll weave them together at the end.

 Jenni telling tales at March in March1. The Woman who Shouted

 There once was a large city where the motto of the people seemed to be “What’s mine is mine  and what’s yours is mine.” It was like a city of two year olds. (Not my lovely two year old or  yours naturally- someone else’s two year old!) They were not only greedy, they were also cruel.

In all that large city, there was only one kind adult: an old woman who wandered the streets, shouting and pleading for the people to change their ways.

At first a few people listened. But after a while they decided she was just a mad old woman, so they stopped listening to her and went back to being just as greedy and cruel as ever. Nevertheless, that old woman kept walking the streets shouting and begging people to be kinder. One day a small boy ran up to the old crone and tugged on her skirt.

‘Excuse me,’ said the boy, in a gentle voice. ‘Haven’t you noticed, no-one’s listening to you?’

‘Yes, sweetheart, I know,” she replied and chuckled softly.

“Then, why do you keep shouting?” asked the boy.

“If I still shout my dear, it’s not so I can change them, it is so they don’t change me.”


[Adapted by Jenni from ‘The Sage of Sodom’, found at Donna Jacobs Sife’s site Thanks to colleague Kate Laurence who reminded me about this tale ]

2. Elephant and Hummingbird (A Chinese folktale)

Elephant was walking along the jungle path, when she came across Hummingbird lying flat on her back with her dainty short legs stretched up into the air.

“Hummingbird, what are you doing lying down there on the ground? I could have stepped on you! Are you hurt?”

“No, Elephant, I’m not hurt. I heard that the sky is falling and I am ready to catch it with my feet.”

“Hummingbird, are you mad?” snorted Elephant. “Firstly, the sky can’t fall. Secondly, even if it did, how would your short, puny legs make any difference?”

“Elephant!” said Hummingbird, keeping her feet pushed up towards the sky, “I am doing what I can! When are you going to join me and do what you can do?!”

3. Good Luck, Bad Luck! (A Chinese folktale)

A farmer had an old horse to till his fields. But one day, that horse ran off into the hills. All the neighbours sympathized. “What bad luck,” they said.

The farmer said, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

A week later, the old horse returned from the hills with a herd of wild horses. This time the neighbours clapped the farmer on the back saying, “Oh, what good luck!”

He said, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

The following day, as the farmer’s son was trying to tame one of those wild horses, he was thrown off and his leg was badly broken in the fall. Everyone gathered and shook their head sadly, “Oh what terrible luck.”

But the farmer said, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and they took away every able-bodied young man they found to fight in the Emperor’s latest war. When they saw the farmer’s son with his badly broken leg, they couldn’t take him. Now was that good luck or bad luck?

My prayer is that the ‘good luck’ or silver lining hidden within this draconian shift to the right in our country, is that it is catalysing this powerful grassroots movement. Whether we feel discouraged and whether we think we can win or not, like the old woman, we have to fight for what we believe in anyway. Right now we may feel like large group of hummingbirds, but if we persist, we could grow this movement until we are a stampede of elephants- a non-violent stampede of elephants of course!



Interview with master storyteller Brian Hungerford

Written on March 7, 2014

brian hungerford and caracvan“The first time I saw him tell a story, tears rolled down my face and I didn’t know why. Afterwards I couldn’t move for a long time” Audience member comment about Brian Hungerford.

My colleague Brian Hungerford, who gave me mentoring in my early years as a teller, has been described as a national living treasure. He is without doubt a master storyteller with a very devoted following. He has told stories in 19 different countries for UNESCO, FAO, the BBC and the British Council. He is also a writer and playwright. 

At Woodford Folk Festival, he can attract an audience of 200- 300 people and tell one hour long story in way that makes time stand still. As I sat in the audience at Woodford this year, I heard a man sitting nearby say he loved the way Brian made myths so accessible, because as he tells, he unravels the meaning of the myth in a very chatty, humorous way.

Interviewing Brian by email for a storytelling magazine called ‘Swag of Yarns’ some years back (now defunct) gave me the opportunity to pose all the questions I’ve always wanted to ask him! BRIAN HUNGERFORD

When did you first start telling stories?

I think I have always told stories. As a young boy I lived in a world of old people, no electricity, no easy transport and lots of jobs. It was my job to cut the firewood for cooking and heating and as we had no inside tap, it was my job to keep the big kettle (then called a fountain) full of water from the outside tank. Every morning I woke to the sound of distant diesel engines starting up around the valley. The engines powered the milking machines. Well before five, I would get up, get dressed and run out to bring in the cows for milking. It wasn’t hard work, but seven days a week. We had 70 Jersey cows and one bull. At six I had decided that the bull was not only dangerous, but useless. By eight o’clock all my work was done. While the grown ups continued with the endless jobs of cleaning equipment and feeding the cows I ate breakfast and left for school. It was a three mile walk and usually Tommy Vigal would come past on his big Clydesdale horse called Captain. I would climb up behind him. A mile father down the road we would collect Shirley Schaefer. The school had its own horse paddock next to the playground. We didn’t use saddles, so it was only necessary to hang the winkers and rope reins on the gate and run in. Sometimes Captain was hungry and determined to nibble grass on the side of the road all the way. Those days we were late. We always had good excuses for being late and that was the beginning of my storytelling career. It came through listening to all the excuses. The best one for not presenting homework came from Shirley who said she had done her homework, but left it on the rump of Captain. We all went to search for it, but to no avail. Shirley was certain Captain had eaten the entire book. 

When did you first start telling stories professionally?
I had great trouble learning to read as a boy. My mother and brother were great readers. My brother and I shared the same bedroom and at night he would read aloud to me. It was wonderful. He had a passion for Persian mythology and I would lie there taking in every word. At school I could recreate all the stories. These days I would be seen as Dyslexic and unable to recognise the shapes of words. Consequently, I relied on listening intently and learning everything by ear. Strangely enough music was easier to read than the written word. Mind you, once I heard the tune I would then pretend to read the music. First, it was the piano, but on the side I loved the mouthorgan. Then I was given a concertina and life was full of adventure. 

I left school with the usual matriculation with top marks in botany and agriculture. While at high school (there were five of them – eleven schools in all) I started writing verses. I shone as an actor and debater and wrote sketches for the school concerts. 

Despite being a dreadful speller, I determined to make my living as a writer and I managed to get a job with the ABC working with the wonderful Australian poet, John Thompson. I voraciously wrote dramatised features and one-hour plays for the ABC and these were subsequently resold throughout the English-speaking world. As an evening student at Sydney University I had lots of poetry published in university journals and took out the drama prize with a three-act play called The Ugly Duckling.

In 1960 I was living and writing in Spain. My aural training soon had me speaking Spanish and life was extremely beautiful. The trouble is you cannot live on beauty alone and I moved to London and work in the BBC writing talks and conducting interviews for the World Service. 

In 1966, I was seconded to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN to work as an “Expert” on communication in Spanish-speaking countries of the Third World. I was perfectly at home. I was living and working with illiterate people. I began teaching the use and skills of informal drama and listening to village storytellers. I studied their methods and voices. These were people who could earn a living with their stories – even in poor communities. 

I returned to Australia in 1983 and wondered how on earth I would settle down. I filled in time wondering, by writing a set of stories which were published in literary journals and on the ABC. I was asked to “Read” my most popular story “It’s Him” at a literary event. Half way through the story I felt so fraudulent, standing there reading literature. I stopped reading and simply told the story. It was a success and I haven’t read a story since. I am a professional storyteller who continues (among friends) the tradition which has existed since the days of the cave. My last breath will be the end of my last story.

Could you divulge some of your favourite books of story collections?
I doubt I have a favourite book of stories. I am more interested in agriculture, draught-horses, folk music and cultural traditions than I am in the written word. I would love to be able to read easily, but reading is difficult for me so I tend to take the easy way out and I depend on my ears.

What would be some of your favourite books on the art storytelling and the meaning within story?
Of all the material I have tried to read, Joseph Campbell has inspired me the most. His writing is easy, but so full of insight I can hear his voice in the pages of his books. I listen to the inner man in him who listened to the inner man in the mythologies of those he lived with. 

What do you love most about storytelling as opposed to your writing?
I love storytelling because there is no end to it. Each time I tell a story it is different. For this reason, I suppose, I tend to favour long stories. I have to find a quiet place within myself to tell the story well and the audience has to equally find a quiet place within themselves to be able to take part in the listening. When I write, and most of the stories I now tell I have not written down at all, I still write for the spoken word. At present I am a full-time student with a branch of the ANU in Canberra on a theatre course. I am involved in the writing of a three-act stage play based on the life of a wonderful convict woman in early Australia. The play will be produced early next year and I will get satisfaction from that. But every time I tell stories I get a lift inside me and there are magic moments, which cannot be planned for when the simple story you tell for the sake of pleasure, entirely alters the life of one of the listeners. 

Have you learnt many stories direct from other tellers in your wide travels or in Oz? 
I haven’t learned stories from other tellers here in Australia. I am often asked if I do Aboriginal stories. I like to hear them, but I feel we have robbed them of so much of what was theirs, I have no intention of now stealing their stories. But I have taken stories from poor people in Third-World countries and earned a living doing so. This alone raises a question many of us may not like to answer.

Has your gypsy heritage affected your storytelling?
I am of Gypsy descent (please never use the lower case g for Gypsy). Like 50,000 other Australians I am proud of that tradition. We are an ethnic group within society preserving the oral tradition of the nations we pass through. We don’t build much, but we don’t destroy either. We don’t tell many stories about Romani people or customs. We leave that to others. We talk about the world as we travel.

My apologies for the lower case g and thank you thank you Brian, for those terrific tales of your storytelling beginnings! I’m so glad I asked!

Published Swag of Yarns, Australia’s National Storytelling Magazine, Winter 2004, Vol 7
NB: The magazine Swag of Yarns is sadly now defunct.

I asked these questions and Brain answered them some years back and now  happy to report in March 2014, that after a great deal of nagging from several of his fans, including me, Brian is finally recording some stories.

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