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The best story wins: amplify your environmental message using storytelling

Written on March 13, 2016
Photo Naomi Klein speaks at Paris Climate Summit 2015, Democracy Now

Naomi Klein speaks at Paris Climate Summit 2015, Image Democracy Now

As the power of story has been increasingly recognised, the quote ‘the best story wins’ (1) has enjoyed high circulation. Organisational storyteller, Annette Simmons used it in the title of a book and subsequent workshops. So let’s unpack for a bit, why stories are such a powerful way to communicate.

We are hard-wired to process information in the form of a story.

Information skilfully encoded into an emotionally engaging story is retained for far longer than facts alone. Educational research has shown that told stories ‘enhance recall, retention, application of concepts into new situations, understanding and learner enthusiasm for the subject matter.’ Coles (1989).

OK, so stories are good. But how can we use them to amplify an environmental message?  How do we successfully evoke, not only understanding of an environmental message, but new behaviour and action that is in alignment with that awareness?

Know your audience: cultural creatives, big ‘S’ and little ‘s’ stories 

Firstly, it is important to clearly understanding your target audience. Last year, I did a two day training with corporate trainer and change agent, Margot Cairnes.

Margot explained the strategic importance of persuading independent thinkers (also called cultural creatives).

They represent about 25% of the population. Independent thinkers weigh up evidence. Even if their conclusions are opposite to the status quo, they are capable of changing their minds and changing their behaviour. But this is enhanced when they become emotionally engaged.

Once a critical mass of independent thinkers take on an idea, the rest of society will follow, sooner or later. This shift can be swift and dramatic. Naomi Klein has documented an ‘effervescence of rebellion’ arising on a global scale with attitudes and action on a grass roots level in response to climate change. Independent thinkers are taking the lead with action on climate change and this had a powerful effect on the outcome of the Paris Climate summit.

So, target the cultural creatives or independent thinkers first and work to get that critical mass.

Little ‘s’ stories for corporates

Next consider whether you need a big ‘S’ story or a little ‘s’ story. I heard Shawn Callahan of Anecdote, speak recently. Shawn is author of “Putting Stories to Work” and one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultants. He says, ‘To change a culture, you need to change the stories told’. However, in a corporate setting, Shawn advises you will have much more success with little ‘s’ storytelling. By this he means short, informal anecdotes, told naturally without fanfare, rather than big ‘S’ stories which are grand, dramatic narratives. (2)

I agree with Shawn that little ‘s’ stories are best in a business setting. But, I would argue that in non-corporate settings, it is possible to use ‘big ‘S’ storytelling for environmental messaging not just for kids, but with adults as well.

My colleague and mentor, US biologist and environmental storyteller, Fran Stallings, teaches environmental educators ways to repurpose simple, short folk tales to communicate scientific facts. She uses a strategy reminiscent of Gladwell, who created a simple and effective formula: tell a story, then use it to illustrate your point.(3) Fran especially likes using folktales to illustrate Barry Commoners Four Laws of Ecology.

Jenni-Cargill-Strong-March in March 2014 Echo

Jenni tells three fables to illustrate social change principles at a rally. Photo: Echo

As long as the point is clear and the story serves the message, rather than overwhelming it, a little fantasy and whimsy can delight and enchant adult listeners who are generally more starved than they realise for soul food. It is my experience, that even though adults assume storytelling is just for kids, when they hear a tale told with deep layers of meaning richly told, they are enchanted and gratified. It is deeply rewarding to watch the faces of adults who don’t expect to enjoy storytelling, sink into their chair and listen with an unmoving ‘reptilian gaze’. After the story, when I  explain ways  to interpret for modern real world situations, this delight is only deepened.  There is an ‘Aha’ moment, as it sinks in that our ancestors addressed perennial issues, using the code of metaphor.

Many environmentalists have assumed that the way to transform peoples understanding and behaviour is by giving them more scientific information and trust that they will then make rational decisions, based on the evidence. They are assuming the problem is one of information deficit. But this is not the way we humans work! In this Age of Information, we suffer the opposite: information overload! What we lack is emotional engagement with that information. (4) Poet, David Whyte puts it beautifully.

‘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. (5)


Weaving your message into a well crafted story is a potent way to make that ‘bread for a thousand’, so that people can become emotionally as well as intellectually engaged, retain and act on your message.

Would like to know more about how to do that? If you live in Byron Shire, enrol in my upcoming storytelling workshop.

If you live further afield, contact me if you’d like me to teach these skills to your organisation.

   About  Jenni Cargill-Strong

Jenni Cargill-StrongJenni is a professional storyteller. She is also Principal of The Story Tree Company and under that label, she has recorded and self published five award-winning recordings for children and adults. She is Owner Operator of “Stories on Foot: Tales of Byron Bay and the Rainbow Region”, a storytelling tour for visitors. In the academic realm, Jenni has worked at Southern Cross University (SCU) since 2009. Her roles include being a featured presenter for UniBound Hero’s Journey program for Year 7 & 9 students run by Equity and Diversity. She teaching Storytelling to pre-service teachers through the Education faculty​ and is also a Guest Lecturer for SCU Occupational Therapy students.

Jenni co-founded and leads the Byron Circle of Tellers who convene ‘The Golden Tale’​ local storytelling concerts in Brunswick Heads in Byron Shire. Her passions and expertise are focused on storytelling for environmental education, community building, healing, myths and tales of the feminine.

Denmark COP, Kris Krug

Denmark COP, Kris Krug

Read more posts by Jenni on Environmental storytelling workshop

  1. Green Stories and The Hero’s Journey here
  2. Video of interview with Jenni by Manly Councillor Paul Joseph, plus transcript here

 Connect with Jenni

Facebook: storytreetales
Instagram: jennistorytree



(1) ‘The best story wins’ is a quote from the Stephen Spielberg film ‘Amistad’, based on a landmark court case during the Abolitionist movement,

in which slaves rebelled against their cruel treatment on a ship of that name.

(2) Shawn’s slideshare presentation (slide #13) illustrates this. 

(3) Gladwell quoted by Shawn Callahan in his blogpost ‘Sharing stories so they can be retold’.

(4) Paul Lussier, teacher at Yale College quoted in Reframing the Climate Story by Kevin Dennehy

(5) Excerpt from ‘Loaves and Fishes’ by  David Whyte, The House of Belonging ©1996 Many Rivers Press

Klein, N., 2014, ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus Climate Change’, Simon and Schuster.

Participants at Jenni's workshop at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney

Participants at Jenni’s workshop at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney


‘Stories on Foot’: connecting visitors and locals to place through story

Written on March 10, 2016
Stories on Foot foreshore walk

Stories on Foot foreshore walk

This year I have begun a new business called “Stories on Foot: Tales of Byron Bay and the Rainbow Region”. Here I make a start on the story of why I started it and what I want to offer people through these tours.

When my kids were still quite young I had the idea of a walking tour of Byron Bay, but for various reasons I didn’t pursue it. Then slowly, over the years, the idea kept resurfacing in my mind. When I was 19, I travelled in Europe (as you do!) and enjoyed several ‘walking tours’ where great storytellers regaled us with well crafted tales of the places and the people who had lived there. Some of the stories were historical and some were ghost tales but they were all immensely enjoyable. Later when I had young children we travelled to Tasmania to perform in a Storytelling Festival, where I got to join some wonderful historical tours.

As a professional storyteller, as soon as I moved to Byron Bay as a pregnant Mum in 2000, I began wondering about the history of the people and the land. By the time my kids were a few years old, I had started taking notes in a large bound book from history books from the library and from talks I attended by Frank Mills. I started taking clippings from the newspaper about anything historical.

The idea was really gathering momentum in my mind last year, when I went to Melbourne to teach early educators environmental storytelling, and found myself with a few spare hours and no-one to hang out with. I googled ‘walking tours’ and up came Dave’s ‘Melbourne by Foot’. I had such an intensely wonderful time because Dave is such a relaxed, friendly, amenable guy and I kept thinking, ‘I could really do this! This could really work in Byron!!’

However being a perfectionist, at least about my work- not so much the housework! :), I set about doing much more research about the history of Byron right back to it’s geological formation 23 million years ago. I attended more history talks, researched avidly online, and poured over articles, documents and books in the wonderful room dedicated to history of our Byron Bay library.

Jenni enjoying her work as tour guide for storiesonfoot

Jenni enjoying her work as tour guide for storiesonfoot

Hear me talk about the tour with Mayor Simon Richardson on his Bay FM show the Bubble here (I come on at 16 minutes but I have set this link to start at that spot). You can also see photo’s of the tour at my Stories on Foot FB page, jennistorytree Instagram page  or watch video testimonials at the ‘Stories on Foot’  playlist at my You Tube channel.

To be continued- but for now I am off to hear the fabulous Delta Kay and her wonderful Dolphin Dreaming show at the Pass! Lucky me!!


Written on December 19, 2015

I wrote this poem in winter at the 2015 Byron Bay Writer’s Festival. It celebrates some transformations going on in my life and in me. I am posting it today to celebrate my birthday.

I worked as a volunteer this year, and wrote it inspired by a Vollies Poetry Competition organised by Louise Jane Moriarty. Thanks Louise! Enjoy.


Steven DaLuz 'photo'

Steven DaLuz ‘photo’


by Jenni Cargill-Strong


There are little nubs growing where my shoulder blades should be

Little nubs and upon them hang wings:

translucent, tremulous, wet, wrinkled, folded.


As I walk here,

the crunch of gravel beneath my boots

the song of the earth reverberates up my legs

and yet how I long to fly


There are words here

floating freely

through the air

through radio waves

through cyberspace


There are words here

golden threads of words, stories that flow

from ear to mouth,
from old to young and

young to old


As I walk those shimmering threads of words

weave themselves into the fabric of my wings


Words have peeled off my coat

that cumbersome heavy black one

words have swept it off my shoulders

it lies discarded, unraveled at my feet


revealing my wings

naked to the kiss of sun and the gentle caress of the breeze


This updraft of words, ideas, inspiration

is building

I long to fly

a bit too high like Icarus

I am forewarned

Respect the Sun: beware your hubris


There are little nubs where my shoulder blades should be.

Upon them hang wings: delicate, intricate, magnificent, unfurled.

I am ready for the updraft

ready to soar









Happy Solstice for Monday 21 Dec, 2015.

Happy Summer Solstice for those of you in southern hemisphere and happy Winter Solstice to all in the northern hemisphere.

Holly Sierra art

Holly Sierra art


Written on December 13, 2015

VeganFreeRangeHere is an updated version of this post I wrote last year.

Do you need ideas for a last minute, low stuff, low impact Christmas? As we transition not all our choices may be 100% green but with some awareness we can still minimize our Xmas impact! It is a bit late but there are many things you can buy online to speed things up. Here are some ideas and links.

(Scroll down for giveaways: Story Tree colouring in page to download and a sweet and quirky, nature-loving Xmas story.)


If like me, you have been so busy with work that your Xmas shopping got behind and you’d rather not go hunting the shops for junk no-one really needs or wants, here are some last minute ideas.

Buy digital downloads- you can email them tracks or print details and put into a card for the day. Story Tree downloads are here.

Buy idevice audiobook subscription Tales2GoDoes your family love stories and also use idevices- ie ipod, ipad, iphone? Here is an idea to boost literacy and enjoyment for whole family with a free trial to test it out first. StoryTree tales are on there. Search catalogue for Jenni Cargill-Strong here.

Buy experiences, not things: eg tickets to a concert, buy a gift certificate for a massage or workshop voucher from a local OR check out Red Balloon. Hand them a voucher on Xmas day.

Buy donation certificates from charities- especially good for the person who has everything. I love Kiva, a microloan system; Greenpeace and Orangutans. However Peter Singer wrote about a new organisation, ‘Give Well’, which attempts to rate the effectiveness of charities, in his book ‘The Most Good You Can Do’. Which is your favourite?

Story Tree CD’s: Environmentally friendly gifts  You won’t be harming the environment by buying my album. All Story Tree album covers are printed in Australia, on recycled cardboard and printed with soy-based ink in a cover which uses no plastic or wrapping. The disc is the only plastic involved. This means the CD’s are very thin and extremely cheap to post, if you are looking for a quality present to send. If you buy digital downloads there will be no plastic involved and your download will last a lifetime also. CD BUNDLE: ANY 4 CD’s for the price of 3, STILL only $65, including FREE postage! Order soon to receive for Xmas: dates on the my story shop page. ORDER NOW


My favourite online sites:

 Stories and songs from Australian teller Annie Bryant

Dragonfly Toys

Natures Child for babies and young kids

Planet Corroboree Aboriginal and local art, craft, books, clothes

Stainless steel lunch boxes

Go Green at Home

DIY Xmas presents with Epsom salts 


xmas_waste and recycling


Learn more:

Australian Ethical Xmas Shopping Guide

Story of Stuff

Great Article with ideas Help! I Don’t Want More Stuff for Christmas

1 Million Women– Australian organisation mobilizing against climate change.

Minimalist movement video Australia





General Ethical Buying Principles

Buy local: reduces carbon footprint from transport and supports local economy, driving the ‘multiplier effect’- the more money you spend locally, the more jobs you create locally, so the more the money there is in the economy which if spent locally creates more jobs and income etc).

Buy from artisans, independent artists and small businesses: with multinational corporations responsible for huge impacts on the planet and society, spread the love to smaller businesses.

Buy fair trade and local goods: avoid Made in China where workers conditions are poor and carbon footprint very high.

Buy long lasting, quality goods: Ask yourself how long will this last? Will it biodegrade?  

Buy local and/or organic food and minimise food waste by catering conservatively, rather than extravagantly.

Buy recycled stuff

Use recyclable wrapping: eg fabric

OR Buy NOTHING: the most radical of all!

As my US environmental storytelling colleague Fran Stallings likes to say, “There is no ‘away’ to throw things to.” It will all end up in our overflowing landfills.



Story Tree Colouring in Sheet

Would like to download and print out a blank version of my Story Tree backdrop for your children to colour in? Follow this link to my Resources page and see it under heading “Colouring in Sheet”.

“The Fairy at the Top of the Xmas Tree”

If you haven’t gotten it from me yet, read and listen to this tale here. YOU could tell by your Christmas Tree this year.

xmas trees sustainable three

An ‘Interesting’ Christmas

Written on December 10, 2015
Celebrating the earth Byron style

Celebrating the earth Byron style

Last weekend, the world saw the largest global rally on climate change in history. I was at the Byron gathering and had the great honour of telling the folktale of “Elephant and Hummingbird” to the 800 gathered. We live in interesting times. So I am focusing my story output on teaching environmental storytelling and using story to support people to become more in tune with their environment and sense of place.

Jenni tells a fable at Climate rally. Left to right: Rosie climate guardian, Helena Norberg Hodge and Greens local candidate Walker

Jenni tells a fable at Climate rally.
Left to right: Rosie climate guardian, Helena Norberg-Hodge and Greens local candidate Dawn Walker

To that end, I am launching an exciting new story business, “Stories on Foot: Tales of Byron Bay and the Rainbow Region”.

All three local events are designed to further those goals below.

Late December, 2015

‘Stories on Foot: Tales of Byron Bay and the Rainbow Region’ launch is scheduled later in December!! Website now live here: FB page here. Please give me a like and share with your friends!


Sunday, 24 January 
Golden Tales Local Story Concert. Details on my Golden tales page:

Sunday, 14 February 
‘Environmental Storytelling Workshop’ Byron Bay. Details at my programs page: 
Video trailer here.

 Meanwhile, as Summer Solstice approaches, the Christmas marketing machines are revving up. May you find peace, gratitude and joy amid all the hoo haa!


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.

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