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

Eco Tales for families at Australian Seabird Rescue

Written on September 22, 2015

This Friday 25 September, after the 10 am turtle tour with biologist Kathrina Southwell, I will be telling green stories at Australian Seabird Rescue Inc in Ballina.

I’ll tell the tale of “Shelley and Rustle” which ASR helped me write back in 2009 and some more marine tales. The tour and storytelling is by donation.

Jenni with daughter Layla telling "Shelley and Rustle"

Jenni with daughter Layla telling “Shelley and Rustle”

ASR is at 264 North Creek Road, Ballina, New South Wales 2478

 Read more about how I wrote Shelley and Rustle in my blogpost here

The Oldest Story in the English Language

Written on July 26, 2015

Brian Hungerford was one of my early storytelling mentors. Lucky me, as he is a master storyteller and author of some renown! 

I first met Brian at the National Folk Festival and we performed together at Woodford Folk Festival. He was always enormously gracious and generous towards me, even in the early days when some performances were less than spectacular!! We would have long conversations about myth and storytellings and I would hang off his every word!  One of the first tales I heard him tell was Tamlinn after I had been singing the folk ballad for some years in folk clubs and folk festivals. (I was a folksinger before I was a storyteller.) I loved the tale so much, I named my first child, a son Tamlyn. 

Brian is based in Canberra. You can read my interview with Brian here and listen to one of his fantastic original stories ‘Me and Me Grandma’ . 

Tam Linn

Brian Hungerford plays his pipes as he tells a Celtic tale.

TAM LINN by Brian Hungerford

In Melbourne recently, I was asked to tell the story of Tam Linn. I was happy to oblige. In truth, I am happy whenever anyone asks me to tell a story.

But Tam Linn is almost certainly my favourite story. In background it is known as the oldest story we have in English, translated from Irish. The story is set in Scotland at a time when the prevailing language right across what is now south Scotland (from Glasgow to and including Edinburgh) and down past Kelso, was Welsh. If you are not sure where Kelso is, look it up on Google. What academics now call Gaelic, was called Irish and, it was called Irish until well into the 17th Century.

The oldest written version we have of Tam Linn is well preserved in manuscript from 1248 AD. A note on the manuscript says of Tam Linn that it was then considered the oldest story. This would mean that the story is almost certainly set in the 10th Century.

However there have been changes. The story was not called Tam Linn. Tam Linn was a hostage knight of the Failim people. Disney and his ilk usually referred to the Failim people as Fairies. But Tam Linn was male and courted by the daughter of the Earl of March. The protagonist of the story was Janet, a female. Scotland at that time was matrilineal. All property passed through the female line. Women also had the right of a one-year trial-marriage. This meant that if the girl still liked the young man, she invited him to stay.

The other factor of the story was the existence of two religions at the same time. There was the young Christianity and the Old Religion. Each side was antagonistic to the other and each had their own magical powers, which always worked. But gradually Christianity won the war of faith – mainly because Christianity suited men. By the 13th Century, Wise women lost status to become dangerous hags. Women could no longer perform as priests and women protectors of younger women were called Witches. Women were denied rights to property and were paid less money than men. The slang word for female genitalia became the most abusive swear-word in the English language. It followed on that any woman with political ambitions was viciously treated with ribald jokes and scorn. Some beliefs are slow to change.

Anyway, the story of Tam Linn was a great success and I have received calls to tell such stories over and over again.

So from the 10th Century to now, Storytelling, in the oral tradition, is alive and well.


Read Brian’s fascinating posts at his website and blog here

Buried Trauma in the Australian Narrative

Written on July 22, 2015

In my last blogpost, I wrote about the inaugural Golden Tales Local Stories Concert, which I co-ordinated with the Byron Circle of Tellers. The locals who came to tell stories included Lois Cook, Nyangbul storyteller and traditional custodian. Lois was recently featured on ABC TV in an exquisitely made and profoundly important, mini-documentary, “Babe in the reeds: a story of massacres and resilience” . The Byron Circle of Tellers feel it is a must see for everyone who lives in our region.

The ABC site describes the mini-documentary like this: “Lois takes us on a history detective mission to track down people and documents to find out if her family’s oral history is supported by other accounts from the 19th century. This video was created by Lois Cook and her family in an unique collaboration with ABC Executive Producer, Catherine Marciniak… Lois and Lewis Cook and their extended family for sharing this story of great sadness.” Lois was the Producer, Co-writer, Interviewer, Researcher and Casting

I am enormously grateful to Lois Cook, her family, Catherine Merciniak, the ABC and all who contributed to this documentary. I have watched it several times and feel the need to watch it more, because the reality is so overwhelming, part of me forgets it. But I don’t want to forget. Knowing the true stories of our country and our region is profoundly important if we are to connect to country honestly and deeply. Then we can more properly honour and protect this landscape, and all who dwell within it and upon it.

Lois Cook Nyangbul woman stands in the Mangroves of Cabbage Tree island. The red fabric symbolises loss and grief about the history of what happpened to her people. (Catherine Marciniak - Catherine Marciniak)

Lois Cook

ABOVE: Lois in the mangroves of Cabbage Tree Island. Photo by Exec Producer: Catherine Merciniak

“Is there an Australian Fairytale?”

If you are interested in how the suppression of the true history of white invasion still affects our collective Australian story and identity, you may want to watch this lecture, “Is there an Australian Fairytale?”. It was a key-note by famous Australian author, Carmel Bird, given at the Inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Conference in Sydney in 2014. I believe it is ground breaking.  John Imbrogno (fellow member of the Byron Circle of Tellers) and I had the privilege of being at the Conference to hear her live, but as it was videoed, you can watch it!  Watch here or read Carmel’s text here. (Thanks to Carmel for making this available.)

Carmel Bird

Carmel Bird

Carmel has also written a related piece called “Dreaming the Place” for the Griffith Review edition “Once Upon a Time in Oz” which she co-edited.

You can watch more videos from the Australian Fairy Tale Society 2014 Conference here.

I presented at the AFTS 2015 Conference and will post links of the new videos once available.

Golden Tales, local tales, stories of country

Written on July 17, 2015

LISTEN TO GOLDEN TALE STORIES HERE: More stories will progressively be uploaded.

‘Local storytellers, bards, fablers, yarn-spinners and raconteurs, take note: a new storytelling festival needs you! ‘The Golden Tale Local Stories Competition’ will be one of many exciting story events planned for the inaugural ‘Festival of the Golden Tale’, which will be staged around the Old and Gold Festival in Brunswick Heads. You are invited to submit a 5 to 8 minute story set in the Brunswick Valley.’  So read the Old and Gold website press release.

Lois Cook

Lois Cook

On Sunday evening, June 7, the Byron Circle of Tellers hosted our inaugural Golden Tales Concert. (We held other story events also, which I will write about elsewhere.) We held the concert one day after the local Old and Gold Festival, because ‘Old and Gold’ celebrates history, bric-a-brac, antiques and all things ancient, historical and retro, so we thought it certainly needed some storytelling! Also there are many great stories in the community, but few live public forums to share them in. We were extremely pleased with how well it went!

Over 60 people came. This felt like a very healthy attendance for a cold winter’s night and a first off event. The tales from a traditional Aboriginal custodian, members of the community and two Byron Circle tellers, were all heartwarming, beautifully woven and diverse. (Scroll to the bottom of this post for an image gallery from the evening.)

Welcome mandala by Jacquelina

Welcome mandala by Jacquelina

Transforming an ordinary community hall into a place with the right atmosphere for a story concert, especially in mid-winter, takes a little effort and thought. Byron Circle of Tellers member, Jacquelina Wills made one of her amazing natural mandala’s for the front steps of the Brunswick Memorial Hall to welcome people as they arrived. She also lead her friend Wolf, his son Ben and the Byron Circle of Tellers to lovingly arrange all the bits we had brought from home: chairs, lamps, lanterns, candles, curtains, heaters, rugs, cushions and throws- to make the hall feel like a warm, cosy, comfy lounge room.

Meanwhile, Helen Hamilton co-ordinated her cheerful team of Liberation Larder volunteers to provide curries and cake. Tantalising aromas wafted about the hall, amplifying the cosy atmosphere. The food was delicious, affordable and satisfying. It was a great feeling knowing we were supporting such an important cause! (The Liberation Larder volunteers said they enjoyed themselves and were also happy that they made over $500. Liberation Larder began in Byron Bay Community Centre but are expanding to offer their services in Brunswick Heads. Find out more about their great work here.)

We felt enormously honoured that Lois Cook, Nyangbul storyteller and traditional custodian, took the trouble to travel to our inaugural concert with her daughter, Yohanna. Lois gave us a welcome to country and then told us two Bunjalung stories from her tradition: the Three Brothers and the romantic story of Julian Rocks. Lois is an elegant and powerful storyteller. Her profound connection to country set a rich, deep tone for the entire evening.

Lois was recently featured on ABC TV in an exquisitely made and profoundly important, mini-documentary, “Babe in the reeds: a story of massacres and resilience” . The Byron Circle of Tellers feel it is a must see for everyone who lives in our region. In it, Lois and her extended family, tell the story of Lois’ great grandfather Bubba Jack Cook and his people. Yohanna is one of the actors in the video also. Read more at my next blog, “Buried trauma in the Australian story”.

You can also hear Lois talking to Teeya and Annie and telling a story on the first episode of Bay FM show “The Heart of the Story” (at 3 mins) here. Her website is Aboriginal Cultural Concepts and her tours are highly recommended.

Kelly Dodd, also known as a member of the very retro and funky dance group, The Cassettes, told “It’s my Birthday”. We heard of Kelly’s fascinating grandmother, a devout Christian, who lived in Brunswick Heads, made beautiful hats and from time to time also entertained the infamous Tilly Devine, the Sydney Bordello Queen of the 1920’s- along with her well armed henchmen! As Kelly told her story, she modelled some of her grandmother’s elegant hat creations!

Tilly Devine

Tilly Devine

Here is an excerpt: ‘Tilly would pull up out the front in a huge Stutz automobile. She was a flashy dresser, clad in fur with ripples of blonde kink curls and cupid red lips. Dad said Tilly was a strange, severe, unemotional person. She always had two henchmen with her. Dad said Mother would call down from the balcony ‘ Tilly, why don’t you invite your friends inside for a cuppa and a pumpkin scone?’ But they always stayed outside to keep a look out. Dad said they had pistols.’

Rochelle Ferris

Rochelle Ferris

Rochelle Ferris (daughter of Lance Ferris) of Australian Sea Bird Rescue (ASR) took us deep under the water at Julian Rocks, enchanting us with a tales of the creature which appeared out of the dark to stare into her eyes. At first she was scared it was a shark come to eat her but soon as she and the creatures made eye contact that feeling passed and she felt she could stay down there forever.

 Bere as MC asked the audience to turn to their neighbour and have a chat about any memories or stories triggered by the stories they had just heard. Happy chatter reverberated through the room as people told their stories and anecdotes.

Next, Susan Perrow told “A Cup Of Tea, a Banana Shed and a Moonstone Bracelet” about her experience of the flood of 1974 here in Byron Shire. Susan is a well known community member, internationally renowned author and teacher of therapeutic storytelling and a beloved member of the Byron Circle of Tellers. Here is an excerpt of her story:

 ‘While we were sipping tea, it began to rain. This rain was not ordinary afternoon rain– it was as if a dam in the sky had opened and was pouring down on us like a vertical river. While our friends were busy finding pots and bowls to catch the leaks in the shed roof and walls, our thoughts turned to ‘home’!’

 Amber Alley told a beautiful tale of her adventures catching public transport in our region after her car broke down. She introduced us to some of the quirky and angelic characters she met along the way.

 Next, Teeya Blatt told an extremely poignant, true story: “The Heart Don’t Die”. Teeya gained permission from the family involved before telling it publicly. She threw herself deeply into the tale, by telling in role as an old local man. Teeya is a member of the Byron Circle of Tellers, co-hosted the “Heart of the Story” on Bay FM and developed a powerful program “From Heroes into Men” for boys. Find out more here.

Teeya tells 'The Heart on the Beach"

Teeya tells “The Heart Don’t Die”

 Rob Gibson, a local performance poet, was our last teller for the evening. He told ‘Snake Bite Days’ about the original snake man, Morrisey who has been immortalized in the Brunswick Historical Society at the Mullumbimby Museum. Here is an extract from Rob’s entertaining tale.

Morrissey, our local snake man

Morrissey, our local snake man Thanks to Mullum Museum for image

  ‘Now it stands to reason that if you cut down a mighty forest, like that Big Scrub, then you’re going to turn up a lot of snakes – Joey Blakes. At the start of the last century this place was crawling with them! And some enterprising chaps profited from that abundance.’ Thanks to Mullumbimby Museum for the photo to the right.

 At the end of the concert, I asked the audience if they wanted Golden Tales to become a regular event. There was an enthusiastic chorus of ‘YEEEEES!!!’.

 Special thanks to tellers Lois Cook, Kelly Dodd, Amber Alley, Susan Perrow, Teeya Blatt and Rob Gibson. Thanks to Jacquelina Wills, Wolf and Ben who helped style up the set and also create a welcome mandala on the steps and then whisked it quickly away at the end!

 Thanks to Byron Circle of Tellers, Bere who co-MC-ed, Annie Bryant who made posters and Teeya who helped with organisation, Susan who did the door brilliantly and William Martin who recorded for Bay FM. The recordings of the stories will be posted online soon.

 Thanks to everyone who came also- what a willing open-hearted, receptive audience!

Have you got a story to tell? 

Our next Golden Tales Concert will be on Sunday, September 20 at the Brunswick Heads Memorial Hall.

Time: 6pm. Details at Golden Tales page or the FB Event page Golden Tales Local Stories Concerts. Please share the links!

* The ABC site describes the mini-documentary like this: “Lois takes us on a history detective mission to track down people and documents to find out if her family’s oral history is supported by other accounts from the 19th century. This video was created by Lois Cook and her family in an unique collaboration with ABC Executive Producer, Catherine Marciniak… Lois and Lewis Cook and their extended family for sharing this story of great sadness.” Lois was the Producer, Co-writer, Interviewer, Researcher and Casting

 I am enormously grateful that this documentary was made. I have watched it several times and feel the need to watch it a lot more, because the reality is so overwhelming, part of me forgets it. But I don’t want to forget. Knowing the true stories of our country and our region is profoundly important if we are to properly relate to and become protectors of this landscape, her traditional custodians and everyone and everything on it and in it.

If you are interested in the influence of the suppression of the true history of white invasion on our collective Australian storytelling and identity, you want to read or listen to “Is there an Australian Fairytale?” by famous Australian author, Carmel Bird. I believe her speech, given as a  key-note at the Inaugural Fairy Tale Conference in Sydney in 2014 is ground breaking. John Imbrogno (fellow member of the Byron Circle of Tellers) and I had the privilege of being at the Conference to hear her live, but you can watch the video or read the text. You can listen to the video here: “Is there an Australian Fairytale?” or read Carmel’s text here. (Thanks to Carmel for making this available.)

Carmel has also written a related piece called “Dreaming the Place” for the Griffith Review edition “Once Upon a Time in Oz” which she co-edited.

You can watch more videos from the Australian Fairy Tale Society 2014 Conference here.

I presented at the AFTS 2015 Conference and will post links of the new videos once available.



Changing the World One Local Story at a Time

Written on July 13, 2015
Our inaugural Golden Tales Concert, June, 2015

Our inaugural Golden Tales Concert, June, 2015

Last June, ‘The Byron Circle of Tellers’ at my prompting, held an evening of community storytelling called “The Golden Tale Local Stories Concert”. People were asked to submit 5- 8 mins stories set in our local Shire, but they could be fact, fiction or faction (a mix of both). Here I will explain what inspired me to want to hold a storytelling competition for local tales and why I think that telling local stories is profoundly important.

Back in 1999, I did my first storytelling tour of Aetearoa (New Zealand). One day when I arrived at the predominantly Moari school I was booked to perform at that day, the Principal greeted me warmly, took me to the hall where the children were waiting and said, “Before you tell us your stories Jenni, the children will sing you the song of our mountain and river.”

Rotoroa Primary students (This was not the school).

Rotoroa Primary students sing
(This was not the school).

 The young students sang the song in Māori. They sang it with heart and pride -with great Māori Mana*, while doing strong gestures for their mountain and their river. I was greatly moved. (*The photo of Rotorura students to the right and this video of Maori primary school students of Tamararo 2012 Te Kura O Manutuke are not from the school I went to- but I added them for anyone who hasn’t seen a Moari performance in full flight!)

Later as I drove away and ever since, I have thought, “What kind of a world would we live in if everyone could sing the song of their mountain, tell the story and dance the dance of their mountain, their region and their river?” Then we might develop that deep spiritual connection to country as well as a reverent feeling of responsibility and custodianship.

 I remembered another conversation I had had many years ago in Brisbane with a gentle, earth-loving activist I met, called Malcolm Lewis. We were talking about the impact of white invasion on the original owners of our land. He pointed out that if we went far back in history far enough, even we two white people with English origins, could eventually trace back to ancestors who had had a profound and soulful connection to country. He said, “We lost our connection to country too- only it was much longer ago for us.” He gave historical examples. Perhaps he referred to The Inquisition which targeted those who performed earth rituals. I think he also talked of “The Clearances” of the Highlanders in Scotland as an example.  With the rise of industrialism and rationalism, people lost their ancient traditions of being in harmony with nature. I am a great lover of science and I am glad we are too rational to be superstitious, yet we need to reclaim some of the healthy earth honouring traditions of our ancestors.

That is where the healing power of the arts can come into play: song, dance and story. It reminds me of a story my friend and mentor Donna Jacobs Sife  taught me, called ‘The Woman Who Would Not Tell Her Story’.

cosmic walk

The Cosmic Walk

It also reminds me of Thomas Berry and his ideas of the Universal Story , as well as the Deep Ecology movement. A local activist John Seed has been a strong voice in Australia for the movement and has created beautiful, simple rituals to help westerners reconnect with the earth and get a sense of perspective. He established the Rainforest Information Centre or Network in Lismore and rituals like the Council of All Beings. (I had the great fortune to stay at the RIC briefly in 1989.) An American, Sister Miriam Therese McGillis developed the Cosmic Walk, which is a symbolic re-enactment that helps us enter personally into the story, by walking the story of the universe, the story of Earth, the story of the human, the story of you and me.

Storytelling is a powerful way of helping us to connect to our love of place. Those of us who are non-indigenous who cannot claim connection through our ancestors, can celebrate our love of place by telling our own stories of country.

The more that we tell the story of our country, we sing the song of our country and dance the dance of our story, the stronger we are embedded in it and the more likely we will be to defend it. And then we will be inspired to get off the couch and actually do something about it. The more that we share stories in community, we’ll be more bonded to our other community members so that we can actually work together harmoniously. So it can have many knock-on effects. That was what I was humbly hoping would come from the evening.

But telling local stories makes for a fun night for whatever the reason. My next post will be a report on the beautiful enriching evening we had with photo’s and soon we’ll also have recordings to upload.

The reason we called the concert Golden Tales, was because we held it one day after the Brunswick Heads Old and Gold Festival  which happens every June long weekend. The Old and Gold Festival celebrates history, bric-a-brac, antiques and all things ancient, historical and retro, so we thought it certainly needed some storytelling! Also there are many great stories in the community, but no public forum to share them in.

Here were some of the provocations I offered to help people come up with a story.

  • My favourite local: neighbour, friend, relative, stranger…
  • The quirkiest local I have known: neighbour, friend, relative…
  • My favourite place in the shire
  • Injuries and accidents
  • Mystical experiences
  • Thresholds, transitions and liminal spaces eg: from day to night, from visitor to local, from married to single, parent to empty nester, from life to death
  • Storms, tempests and lucky escapes
  • Stories about fishing, surfing, swimming, kayaking, boating, bushwalking, dancing, whale watching, cycling
  • Encounters with wildlife: sharks, whales, turtles, birds, snakes
  • Protests I have been a part of
  • Nude ain’t rude in Byron
  • A Byron love story/ ghost story/ birthing story/tragedy/dream/wish
  • My first visit to Byron/ why I settled here
  • My Byron family
  • Angels, spirits, guides and ancestors
  • My community

My next post will be a report on how the concert went with more images and soon we will have recordings to upload!!

Have you got a story to tell? Our next Golden Tales Concert will be in Spring on Sunday, September 20. Details at the Golden Tales Locals Stories page.

Green Stories & The Hero’s Journey

Written on July 3, 2015

Green Story wkshop Indigiscapes 2015 Blue Coat eyes wide This is the fourth and last post on the ‘Green Storytelling’ workshop I led last month in Brisbane. At the start of the workshop, I told the ‘The Blue  Coat’. Then, as our ice-breaker and in order to get participants telling as quickly as possible, I invited them to form groups of four and  collaboratively retell the story- in their own words. I encouraged everyone to give their inner critic a gentle hug and tell them to take a break while  fun was had, mucking around storytelling. I left the room then, because having a teacher and professional storyteller around can trigger  perfectionism and  powerful inner critic voices!

When I came back into the room, the space was alive with story! People were engaged, leaning forward, eyes wide, smiling, nodding, listening intently to whoever was telling. Once the storytelling was complete and there had been a little time for discussion within the group, we came together in the larger group.

Read more:

Green Storytelling: Jenni interviewed by Paul Bishop

Written on June 17, 2015

Last week I wrote a blog in answer to the first of three questions Paul Bishop asked me about Green Storytelling. Before I got around to answering the rest of the questions, Paul came along to the workshop and filmed an interview me and I covered all the questions and more. (THANKS PAUL!!)

    1. Why tell stories? (in an age of mass distraction)

    2. How can stories help ME? (ie: in this ‘i-generation)

    3. What can story do for our world environment that won’t otherwise happen? (ie: Why MUST people come to this workshop if they seek a sustainable human future)…

It is 19 minutes long, but even if you only have 3 mins to watch it, you’ll get an idea of what Green Storytelling involves and it starts with scenes from the workshop. Transcript below.



Paul:                                            I’ve just come down to Redland’s IndigiScapes where today we’ve got an Australian storyteller, Jenni Cargill-Strong who is doing a six-hour workshop with people from north, south and west of Brisbane. They’ve all come to the east to Redland City to learn about what she’s called green storytelling.

                                                      When I’ve been speaking to Jenni prior to today (and I’m about to do an interview with her), we’re just talking about the importance of story and as we enter climate of change and age of complexity, how important it is that we use the very simple art of telling stories in order to take complex information and share it in a simple way to help people have some understanding about what to do, how to think and therefore where we can change our actions, our attitudes and our behaviours in order to create a better future.

I’ll let Jenni speak more about that as we do an interview. I hope you enjoy this. Here’s Jenni Cargill-Strong.

Jenni:                                           So I have a company called The Story Tree Company. I came to storytelling when I went to a drama school in Sydney, which was very community-based. So it was a very community-based theater, very psycho dramatic. There was a therapeutic element to that dramatic training. So that’s where I first came to storytelling, which is as a performer.

                                                      And then I got taken under the wing of other storytellers and began to learn the culture of storytelling and the soul of storytelling. It wasn’t just about performance, it was about serving. I’ve been very blessed and I’ve sought out amazing mentors internationally.

I’m now also on the board of the Healing Story Alliance, which is an organisation that started in America, but is international. I’m the Australian representative and they used stories in therapeutic applications.

I initiated a particular page of stories around the environment because I knew there were amazing environmental storytellers. I was a baby taking baby steps, but I just was very enthusiastic. And then I invited people and friends. [Darlene] has filled up that page through her connections.

So we’re using stories for particular purposes, but of course the amazing thing about stories – and I’m slightly [inaudible 00:02:28]. The thing about stories is stories are very rarely single purpose. They usually will let you serve many purposes from community building to environmental awareness to many different things.

Paul:                                            So what’s the workshop that you’re doing here today in Redland City?

Jenni:                                           It’s a convergence of many of my deep passions. So it’s storytelling, using storytelling to connect the community and also using storytelling to raise environmental awareness.

                                                      More recently in the research that I’ve been doing is about how basically everything is interconnected. And in fact, you can’t be a good environmentalist unless you’re also good at sharing and good at working in a team. If you need to understand that, you need to take your slice of the pie and not the biggest slice and all those things.

                                                      Storytelling is great for communicating. And although I’m aware that in the general population, there may be a prejudice against fair tales and sometimes for a very good reason because a lot of the fairy tales and folktales that we get told in mainstream media like the recent remaking of Cinderella, it’s not a well story. It’s not a great story. I don’t think it is sexist, but there are problems with those stories.                 But that’s not the fault of folktales. That’s the filter of the particular folktale has come through to us through our mainstream culture.

But there are really beautiful folktales. And the folktales that will help us in the process that we are currently facing are all about the traditional values of our ancestors. It’s about connecting to the country. It’s about honouring the country. It’s about sharing. It’s about building community and about realising that there is no free lunch and that rubbish. Always, there’s somewhere for it to go. Everything is interconnected.

And so folktales work really beautifully to demonstrate. You can take a scientific fact and you can use that to demonstrate an environmental principle. You can engage people’s hearts and minds because storytelling is a very intimate thing. There’s a Scottish proverb that says, “A story is told eye to eye and heart to heart.” So you make a connection with the person as you tell them the story.

Seminar Replay:                     The idea is I’ve got Barry Commoner’s four principles. I want you to think of a scientific fact or example in your life that matches that and then a folktale or the other way around. Whichever way your process works, think of the folktale first that fits that principle. And then maybe one (there will probably be one that fits many) and then go back to the scientific fact if you think of one. It doesn’t matter if you don’t. It’s just a potential. On the back, you’ve got the easy ones for later reference.

Paul:                                            We’re moving into a time where the amount of data that we have access to, there’s so much information and there’s so much complexity. Why is story important at this time? And why is it important to bring it back to a human scale?

Jenni:                                           There’s a really beautiful quote by the poet, David Whyte, who just came to Australia recently, which is that one good word is like bread for the masses. It’s soul food because we are so bombarded in the information age. And I love it! I love all the information. I love all that connectivity. I love connecting to people all around the world about storytelling and I’m really excited about that. At the same time, it’s completely overwhelming.

There were many folktales actually that demonstrate the ability to discern this from that, to sort the poppy sage from the dirt, a good corn from the bad cord, the sorting. So stories speak in a very different language.

We are bombarded by information that is sometimes not what we ask for and not what we need, but storytelling takes you to a deeper, slower place, a soulful place. Good stories are what I’m talking about because there are bad stories too.

So because it’s a slower experience, it’s like the Slow Food Movement. Instead of going to McDonald’s through the driveway and eating as you run around like a crazy thing, you think about how the food is grown and you sit and you eat in community.

Well, storytelling is similar. Instead of just jumping in a car and reading a book, which is great, live storytelling (which is not the only way I’m enjoying it), live storytelling is a real connection of people. It’s very profoundly different. And you can still feel different even when you’re watching – you can even watch a video of a story that’s told beautifully from the heart and still have a bit of that connection.

Does that answer the question?

Paul:                                            Yes, it does. It brings me to the art of the storyteller.

Jenni:                                           Yes.

Paul:                                            For many years, we seem to have allowed big Hollywood blockbuster multimedia solutions to tell the stories to a western world.

Jenni:                                           That’s right. They are our storytellers now, yeah.

Paul:                                            What is changing? How is it changing? And why is this back to local storytelling, heart-to-heart, eye-to-eye, why is that important?

Jenni:                                           I think what’s jumping out of my head at the moment – that’s a big question. I’m pondering. But it’s like, “Think global, act local.” So the beautiful thing about storytelling is that, as I was saying to the participants, firstly, the most important thing in terms of the art of the storyteller is to tell from the heart. If you’re the shakiest most nervous person with no drama training, if you tell the story from the heart and you understand that the story needs to come through you, that you’ve chosen the story thoughtfully, then you can honor that story.

                                                      You don’t have to be an amazing performer or have an amazing voice or anything or any experience to tell a story well. It helps to be around other people who are telling stories. And that’s what people have just found. But ultimately, it’s just about telling from the heart.

                                                      I’ve lost my thread. Where were we?

Paul:                                            I’m just asking about why is this connecting back to the authenticity.

Jenni:                                           Yes, the local. Recently, just last Sunday, I held a concert with my circle of storytellers in Byron. We have a Byron Circle of Tellers. We held an evening of local stories. It was an adult Sunday event and you could only tell a locally set story.

The reason I did that was because many years ago, I was touring in New Zealand. Before I was able to perform to the students, the primary school students, the Māori principal said, “Look, before you do your performance, the kids are going to sing you the song of our mountain.” So, you know how the Māori Mana is so great. So they sang the song of their mountain and they sang the song of their river. And they sang it with such pride and with such manner.

I looked and I was so moved. And there were these little kinder kids in front that were singing in Māori and they’re singing their mountain and they love their mountain and they love their song.

In that moment, I thought to myself, “What kind of a world will we live in if everyone could sing the song of their mountain, tell the story and dance the dance of their mountain, their region and their river?”

Paul:                                            Sorry about that. Thank you. I understand totally the passion of youth. How important is the desire and yearning for young people to have access to meaningful stories, connected local stories?

Jenni:                                           That’s really interesting. There was a wide range of age groups although we’ve made it for adults for particular reasons because we wanted to go very deep. We wanted to be able to tell stories, not only some macabre stories, some sexy stories, some different kinds of stories, but also to be able to go deeper conceptually. That’s why we made it adults only. But there was a wide range of age groups of young adults there and they looked so hungry and so loving it.

Recently, I’ve just been performing for Year 9 students and telling stories to them [within the Southern Cross Uni UniBound events]. Now, I have to say if there are any casual teachers watching us, I work as a casual teacher. I don’t get to tell stories as a casual teacher. I come in as the bottom of the pile and the chances of me being able to settle them long enough to actually sit and listen to me tell a story are nothing at all.

But in this setting, it was all set up beautifully. Once I got rolling, they just sunk into that space. It’s really interesting. Even this generation that we think of as digital natives that couldn’t bear a story, I was telling them the story. I did unpack it a little bit for them. I was telling The Heroine’s Journey and The Hero’s Journey. This is a story that you can use as a roadmap for your life. So we unpacked it a little bit:

These are the characters.

This is what it means in your life.

This is how this happens internally.

This aspect of the story, this can also happen in your life and anything challenging at all.

We were also talking about the inner critic.


This was a low socioeconomic group who probably had – I mean all socioeconomic groups can experience hardships and emotional hardships, but this group felt particularly like they’ve been through a lot.

When I started talking about the internalised inner critic being represented in stories by stepsisters and stepmothers – all apologies to stepsisters and stepmothers – they got it! They really, really got it. They were just totally there in the story, [even though] they probably had never heard a storyteller tell a story before. So it works it’s magic.

Paul:                                            We think of telling stories to young people. What happens? Where do we go when we listen to a well-told story?

Jenni:                                           Yeah, a beautiful question. We go deep to a collective space where we’re all united in experiencing that story. When a storyteller starts telling the story as a gift and when you become a channel for the story and you allow yourself to really get so comfortable in it, so relaxed in it, so in tune in it. And this takes some experience. Some people might find it easier quickly.

                                                      The art of it is to choose the right story for the right audience for the right occasion and then to tweak it according to their mood at the time and what’s just happened. So you end up intuitively doing that. What that means is that the story lives in you differently every time you tell it.

                                                      As you tell it, as you get out of the way, you’re not performing. It’s not about me. It’s about the story coming through me. I have to get out of the way. Every skill that I bring enhances the beauty of the story in some ways. But even if I don’t have these technical skills, if I am connected soulfully to that story and I’m imagining it, the audience will imagine it. The beauty of a story in that way is that they’re all imagining in their own way.

                                                      There’s also a form of hypnosis that happens with storytelling that can happen when you’re reading a book or when you’re reading a book to somebody else. There is that, “I have ingested that story. I have integrated that story and I’m retelling it and my whole being is resonating with that story, your being will resonate with that.”

                                                      There is a way of imagining that the storyteller is casting that golden net over the audience. But the story lives between me and the listener, between the storyteller and the story listener and we are co-creators of the story.

                                                      If you sit there and play with your mobile phone and you cross your arms and you look away and you’re distracted, there’s only so much that I can do. If I’ve got a guitar and a microphone and a song, I can sing the song no matter what you’re doing. I won’t enjoy it as much, but I can still do it. Telling a story with a disinterested audience is much more difficult. And telling a story with a fantastic audience is like a sublime riding a wave instead of fighting a current. It’s a very co-creative, very intimate experience. It’s very co-creative and the story lives and hovers between you. So, as a storyteller becomes more experienced, they will sense what the audience needs and that will come into the story as it flows through everyone.

Paul:                                            We’ve got only four minutes left of tape here, but I’m interested in the notion of place and the holding of space. In that last response, you’ve spoken about the importance of the connection between the storyteller and the listener. I’m interested. You said the other day when you were doing that workshop that the space was set up appropriately. How important is the place in which you tell a story and the space, the curation of the space? Where are the new places that we’re going to to see stories? We either watch television or we go to the theatre or cinema. Which places work best do you find for storytelling and listening?

Jenni:                                           That’s a good question. It’s something that makes it not straightforward to hold the storytelling event because you need it. As I was saying, you’re very vulnerable to your audience, but you’re also very vulnerable to your external setting because it requires not only a lot of concentration by the storyteller, but by the story listeners as well because they’re going into a trance state. They’re going deeply within themselves and imagining.

That takes an enormous amount of mental focus to imagine the story in your own mind and you’re also interpreting all the nonverbals that you’re seeing in the storyteller. That takes a lot of concentration.

If there are alarms going off and people are talking loudly and all that sort of thing, it’s much more difficult listening. Even seeing maybe a theatre show, it takes maybe even a little bit more focus. So it’s very important.

I mean, it can happen anywhere where you can shelter yourself. Well, we did it in a local community hall recently, but we went to a lot of effort to create a homey space. We made it like we were in our lounge room. We put carpets. We put lamps. We put candles. We made a little enclosure around the group so this big hall felt more cozy.

So you’re doing a little bit of attention to detail. And at the same time, a story could happen in a car. It could happen on the beach. It can be amazing what can happen. But ideally, you need a bit of focus.

At the same time, I’ve been to England, at the Lakes District and I [went along to] a storytelling club that happened in a pub, but it was in a section of the pub. And when they got a drunk, crazy man talking over them, they said, “We’ve never had this before. This is awful!” It didn’t help.

But in answer to the other question that I forgot to get back to, “thinking local, act globally,” I think that storytelling is another way of helping us to connect to our love of place through story. So we can tell stories of country, but those non-indigenous of us who desperately love our place, we can celebrate that by telling other stories of country.

What I was thinking when I saw that Māori song, was that the more that we tell the story of our country and that we sing the song of our country and we dance the dance of our story, the stronger we are embedded in it and the more we will defend it. And then we will be inspired to get off the couch and actually do something about it. The more that we share stories in community, we’ll be more bonded to our other community members so that we can actually work together harmoniously.

So it has many knock-on effects. And that was what I was humbly hoping would come back from that.

But it’s a fun night for whatever reason. We had stories from Rochelle Ferris [daughter of Lance Ferris] of Australian Sea Bird Rescue (ASR) talking about diving on Julian Rocks. We heard stories about our local Snakeman [Morrissey] from the 1800s [and a flood story from the 1970’s]. We heard stories about Tilly Devine [the Sydney Bordello Queen of the 1920’s] coming and visiting [someone’s relative[. So there are some colourful characters. We had Lois Cook, an indigenous elder and custodian who came and told creation stories in versions I’ve never heard. And it was just beautiful and it felt very heartwarming.

Paul:                                            Jenni, if people want to learn more about you, your work and the network of people you’re connected with, how can they do that?

Jenni:                                           Okay. So personally, my website is And you can follow the links there. If people want to know more about storytelling in Australia, there are storytelling guilds and circles in most states, in about five of the seven states, which you can find through my website, I’m pretty sure or  e-mail me if you can or you can Google them.

It’s very strong in Victoria, very strong in Sydney. There’s going to be a national mini conference coming soon [held by the Australian Storytelling Guild (NSW)]. A national conference happens every second year, so the next big one will be next year.

There is Australian Fairy Tale Society, which I’m presenting an adaptation of Red Riding Hood set with a dingo instead of a wolf. That’s going to be happening in Sydney.

Then if people are interested in therapeutic stories, you can look up the Healing Story Alliance [or healing story].org, which is a fantastic resource. So yeah, glad speaking to you again.

Paul:                                            Thank you so much for chatting with me. Thank you.

Jenni:                                           Thank you.



Green Storytelling, Bread for the Soul and David Whyte

Written on May 27, 2015


I just got asked three great questions about storytelling and my upcoming Green Storytelling workshop in Indigiscapes, Capalaba.

    1. Why tell stories? (in an age of mass distraction)

    2. How can stories help ME? (ie: in this ‘i-generation)

    3. What can story do for our world environment that won’t otherwise happen? (ie: Why MUST people come to this workshop if they seek a sustainable human future)…

 Great questions. The very dynamic Cr Paul Bishop asked them. He contacted me because he loved the sound of my “Green Storytelling” workshop being held in his Redlands municipality in Brisbane, June 13. Paul was an actor you may have seen on Australian TV -most famously in ‘Blue Heelers’- until he had an epiphany, founded Arts Evolution, which is committed to fostering sustainable human futures and became a local Councillor. Paul suggested a video answering the questions would be good too! Making that is now on my Next Week’s To Do List!

 I am starting with the first question   1. Why tell stories? (in an age of mass distraction)

To do, so I am reposting a 2011 blog I wrote, which quotes the inspirational poet David Whyte. *

I am a professional storyteller. People sometimes look at me blankly when I tell them what I do. “A storyteller?” A confused silence ensues. “Does that mean you …um…read books to children?”

Children are usually not as confused. They just hear the word ‘story’ and get excited. Yes, even this generation of digital natives, will usually sit excitedly, waiting for me to begin.

Jenni Cargill-Strong tells nature tales from her “Story Tree” album at The Living Earth Festival, Mullumbimby Community Gardens.

Adults who find themselves being told a story, sink into a deep calm. They are often amazed at just how much they enjoyed being told a story- something they thought was just for children.

Before I experienced my first storytelling concert, I may well have asked a similar question. It was a concert at the Relaxation Centre in Brisbane in the late eighties. I was attracted by his name: ‘Floating Eagle Feather’. He told us tales from his American Indian tradition from the heart, with dignity and grace. I was deeply moved. As we left, he warmly and humbly shook our hands as a Minister would at the church door. 

Audience Living Earth Festival.

Jenni’s audience at The Living Earth Festival, Mullumbimby Community Gardens.

Stories tap into a very ancient experience, one we have been engaging in since we first began communicating. Research has shown that the human brain is hard-wired to receive information in the form of stories. A listener’s retention of information jumps dramatically if it is given within an anecdote or story. It is an ideal way to get a message across and an especially powerful tool for teachers. It can help us tap into a deeper wisdom. Storytelling can also be used therapeutically, to model problem solving, foster emotional resilience or help people debrief from traumatic experiences. In this Age of Information, we are constantly overloaded with vast amounts of contradictory and confusing information. This makes us hungry for soulful communication. Good stories are food for the soul.

There is a beautiful Scottish Traveller Proverb which explains ‘age of mass distraction': ‘The story is told eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart.’

Audience member, The Living Earth Festival, Mullumbimby Community Gardens.

The inspirational poet, David Whyte explains why we need stories more than ever in this ‘age of mass distraction’. Here is an extract from ‘Loaves and Fishes’

This is not
 the age of information.

This is not the age of information.

Forget the news, 
and the radio, 
and the blurred screen.

This is the time 
of loaves 
and fishes.

People are hungry 
and one good word

is bread for a thousand.

from The House of Belonging ©1996 Many Rivers Press

If you want to see some environmental storytelling in action or hear me explain ‘Why Stories Are so Powerful’, go to my You Tube channel.

* David Whyte just happens to be touring Australia now and will be in my neck of the woods (Byron) this Saturday. When I replied to Cr Bishop with the quote above, he said,


“The bloke I was speaking about this morning, Daryl Taylor, who lost his house and observed fragmentation within his community in the Black Saturday bushfires is a community development officer and strategic thinker of the highest order. I spent last night and this morning interviewing Daryl. His recent obsession with David Whyte lead to me being given a copy of his CDs which I have begun listening to today.

“Cue the unfolding zeitgeist…”

Stay tuned for answers to the next two questions and the video! I will be mixing with lots of environmental thinkers this Sunday as I ponder my answers to the remaining questions at the ‘Leaf Festival’ in Logan, where I’ll tell some green tales. Do join me if you live near Logan in Brisbane!

Sunday, 31st May, Storytelling for Families, Leaf Festival: Refill not Landfill, Griffith University Logan campus at Meadowbrook, 3 x 30 mins sessions. Times: 10.30 am, 12.30 and 2pm

Enrol now for my ‘Green Storytelling’ workshop, Sunday 16 June, 2015  here.

FB Event page here 

Jenni Cargill-Strong tells nature tales from her "Story Tree" album at The Living Earth Festival, Mullumbimby Community Gardens.

Jenni Cargill-Strong tells nature tales from her “Story Tree” album at The Living Earth Festival, Mullumbimby Community Gardens.


The Russian Cinderella and Mother’s Day Gifts

Written on April 13, 2015
Artist: Milo Neuman

Artist: Milo Neuman

As we all know, mothering is a pretty big job. Modern women have parenting courses, books and blogs to help navigate this challenging pathway. In ancient times, some cultures had initiation rites, not only for young men, but also for young women. These rites of passage helped girls to overcome their fears and develop resilience and resourcefulness. If they passed the challenges, they would win the right to marry and become a mother. The Russian folktale ‘Baba Yaga, Fair Vasilisa and the Wise Doll’ (made famous by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book “Women who Run with Wolves”) was the story frame for such a rite of passage.

These days, it is not only children who need empowered, resourceful women as mothers, but the world needs empowered, resourceful women! In 2009 at a Peace Summit, the Dalai Lama said ‘The world will be saved by the western woman.’ Whether you think the Dalai Lama is right or not, women need strong story maps to support and guide them in challenging times. In order to bear witness, stay focused and take action in a world of information overload, where we are barraged with irrelevant trivia as well as enormous amounts of bad news, we need discipline and discrimination. These skills are explored in the Vasilisa tale.

There are many similarities between Vasilisa and Cinderella at the start of the stories. Both have lost their mothers, have an absent father, a cruel stepmother and stepsisters and both girls receive a magical gift. There the similarities more or less end. In Cinderella, the wise mother figure is the Fairy Godmother, who is pretty and sweet. In Vasilisa, the wise mother is the terrifying and ugly crone-witch, Baba Yaga. Her character is derived from a more ancient earth goddess and while she is fearsome and lives in a house made of bones, she teaches Vasilisa to let go of niceness in order to live more honestly and powerfully. The Cinderella tale represents as desirable feminine qualities prettiness, niceness and sweetness and marriage to a prince as the ultimate reward. The Vasalisa tale celebrates feminine courage, insight and wisdom which is represented as it’s own reward.


The Workshop: ‘Baba Yaga, Fair Vasilisa and the Wise Doll’ May 3, 2015

In a few weeks, on a full moon Sunday in between Samhain and Mother’s Day, I will be co-facilitating an afternoon workshop for women, ‘Baba Yaga, Fair Vasilisa and the Wise Doll’ in Brisbane with the very talented and passionate Lynette Lancini. Lynette’s creative work spans music, movement and wellbeing. A fluid and intuitive pianist, her compositions have been performed, broadcast and toured by the Muses Trio, Topology and the Queensland Orchestra. Lynette is based in Brisbane and is mother to four sons.

Women are invited to unwind, expand and drop deeply into the spacious underlying stream of being, as storyteller Jenni and improvising pianist Lynette create a supportive and guided story and movement workshop to help women connect more strongly with their intuition, insight and power. Lynette Lancini explained, “Wholebody Focusing is a way to create a space for experiencing wholeness of Self and ways of meeting that are complementary and non-competitive. In doing so, places in us that have learned to shut down awaken to their own possibilities for living newly. ” Details of the Brisbane story and movement May 3 workshop below and here.

(I will also lead a different workshop ‘Brave Vasalissa and Baba Yaga: storytelling and doll-making workshop for women’ in Brunswick Heads on Sun, May 31. Details at my programs page. )

Listen to me retell Baba Yaga and Vasalisa  on ‘The Heart of the Story’ Bay FM 99.9 here:


When: Sunday, May 3, from 1.00- 5.00 pm

Where: Bardon, Brisbane.

A delectable gluten free afternoon tea provided. Early-bird price expires 20 April.

Info and bookings:

Enquiries: or 0401 401 502.



Lynette Lancini

Lynette Lancini

AFTS (Australian Fairy Tale Society)

If you are interested in fairytales in general check out the AFTS (Australian FairyTale Society) website and FB page

and you can read fine blogs such as this one by InkGypsy ‘on Cinderella’- the latest Disney version:


Further links relevant to Baba Yaga

This video “The Ghost Of Earth Day Present” – A Master Shift Original brilliantly illustrates the way of seeing of Baba Yaga. She and the lit skull she gives as a gift see things AS THEY ARE- even the harsh things. No rose coloured glasses. I feel this is the biggest challenge of our times is to tune in to what is really happening without becoming so overwhelmed that we are like frightened deer staring at the oncoming headlights. We need the courage to trully see, but the ability to discriminate between what we should expose ourselves to and focus on and the wisdom to know what to do. The Ghost of the Earth is a great illustration of that.


FOR FUN: Russian Witch Baba Yaga’s Guide to Feminism


‘Reaching for The Moon’ got an award!

Written on April 9, 2015

My latest CD ‘Reaching for The Moon’ (released late 2013) won an international award- and I am now officially able to announce it. It is higher than all the previous awards. My previous three albums each won Honours in the ‘Storytelling World Awards’ which is runner up. This album has WON the category, alongside internationally renowned storytellers like Elisa Pearmaine and Dianne de Las Casas. A great honour indeed!Storytelling Award Winner sticker_120415

See Category 6 Story Recordings

YIPPEE!! Thanks Storytelling World Awards and Dr Flora Joy who co-ordinates it!


« Older Entries

Newer Entries »

Story Tree Archives

  • September 21, 2015–September 27, 2015
  • July 20, 2015–July 26, 2015
  • July 13, 2015–July 19, 2015
  • June 29, 2015–July 5, 2015
  • June 15, 2015–June 21, 2015
  • May 25, 2015–May 31, 2015
  • April 13, 2015–April 19, 2015
  • April 6, 2015–April 12, 2015
  • February 16, 2015–February 22, 2015
  • January 5, 2015–January 11, 2015
  • December 15, 2014–December 21, 2014
  • December 8, 2014–December 14, 2014
  • December 1, 2014–December 7, 2014
  • November 24, 2014–November 30, 2014
  • October 27, 2014–November 2, 2014
  • October 20, 2014–October 26, 2014
  • October 13, 2014–October 19, 2014
  • October 6, 2014–October 12, 2014
  • September 15, 2014–September 21, 2014
  • September 8, 2014–September 14, 2014
  • August 11, 2014–August 17, 2014
  • August 4, 2014–August 10, 2014
  • June 30, 2014–July 6, 2014
  • June 2, 2014–June 8, 2014
  • March 24, 2014–March 30, 2014
  • March 17, 2014–March 23, 2014
  • March 3, 2014–March 9, 2014
  • February 4, 2013–February 10, 2013
  • January 14, 2013–January 20, 2013
  • December 3, 2012–December 9, 2012
  • January 16, 2012–January 22, 2012
  • November 28, 2011–December 4, 2011
  • July 18, 2011–July 24, 2011
  • June 20, 2011–June 26, 2011
  • April 11, 2011–April 17, 2011
  • April 4, 2011–April 10, 2011
  • March 21, 2011–March 27, 2011
  • March 14, 2011–March 20, 2011
  • March 7, 2011–March 13, 2011
  • February 28, 2011–March 6, 2011
  • February 21, 2011–February 27, 2011
  • February 14, 2011–February 20, 2011
  • February 7, 2011–February 13, 2011
  • January 24, 2011–January 30, 2011
  • January 17, 2011–January 23, 2011
  • January 3, 2011–January 9, 2011
  • December 6, 2010–December 12, 2010
  • November 29, 2010–December 5, 2010
  • November 8, 2010–November 14, 2010
  • December 7, 2009–December 13, 2009