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

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Written on June 2, 2014

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Australian Storytelling Conferences

Written on June 2, 2014

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

International Storytelling Conference “Weaving Stories Together” 

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

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

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


Inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference

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

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

AFTS Conf program

The Story Well

Written on March 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Three fables for the times

Written on March 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

2. Elephant and Hummingbird (A Chinese folktale)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Interview with master storyteller Brian Hungerford

Written on March 7, 2014

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

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

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

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

When did you first start telling stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I am dancing against violence on V-Day …and what V-Day has to do with storytelling…

Written on February 5, 2013

V-Day logo

The ‘One Billion Rising’ movement was initiated by Eve Ensler, author of the ‘Vagina Monologues’.The scale of the movement is breathtaking and exciting: currently 187 countries have signed up to join in. Authors, politicians, filmmakers and celebrities have recorded You Tubes about why they will ‘strike, dance, rise’ on Feb 14. The one billion rising org website states:

‘V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money, and revitalize the spirit of existing anti-violence organizations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM), and sex slavery.’

I am practicing the dance for V-Day so I can join in on our local action in Byron Bay (see FB event page.) The anthem and dance tell a story about the empowerment and solidarity of women. While the song and dance are American, there is the opportunity to create your own version and in many countries woman have done this.

For years, I have seen “Reclaim the Night’ rallies and actions which have not attracted me. I have been a feminist for as long as I can remember. This informs my choices in story: the way I retell and adapt folktales and myths as well as the way I write original stories and songs. I love tales of the feminine. This year I working on a new performance of the Inanna myth cycle, which I closely base on Kramer and  Wolkstein’s “Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth”. The ways women and girls are represented in stories of all kinds has a huge impact on the way we think and feel about ourselves and the feminine. This extends out into the way we act in the world. I have always chosen to tell stories of strong, empowered females.

However, I have never been personally touched by sexual violence. It was of concern to me, but not enough of a concern to turn up to a rally.

The Uprising of Woman in the Aran World logo

Logo for the ‘Uprising of Women in the Arab World’

However, lately a number of things have made me feel much more connected to the issue of sexual violence towards women and girls worldwide. I started a Facebook page as a business move, to keep connected with storytellers and people who like my work. It has it’s major drawbacks of course, the first being how much time one can spend on it :( , but it also makes everyone seem closer. I have been following the posts of the Uprising of Arab women on FB, where I have seen many, many Arab women and men hold up placards declaring their desire for women to be treated with respect and have equal rights. After reading them for weeks, I began to feel like I knew these women.  I have read articles from the ’50 million missing campaign’ about ‘femicide’: the savage and murderous treatment of women, girls and girl babies in India. I saw images of the men wearing skirts to protest the rape culture that says if a women wears a skirt she is asking to be raped! What wonderful, brave, adorable men!!

Male feminists wear skirts in India to protest rape culture

Male feminists wear skirts in India to protest rape culture


Most recently, here (in Australia), I had the great privilege of working with with a wonderful group of teenage girls through the The Chrysalis Girls Program . They were girls who had extra challenges to deal with in their lives. Some of them had experienced sexual violence or were at risk of doing so. I told the female initiation story of ‘Baba Yaga and Vasalissa’. We discussed the symbols and meaning and then they dove into making a doll (like the one Vasalissa has in the story) to represent their feminine intuition -see image below.

Vasalissa dolls made by teenage girls inspired by the story "Baba Yaga and Brave Vasalissa"

Vasalissa dolls made by teenage girls inspired by the story “Baba Yaga and Brave Vasalissa”

So for all those reasons I have been practicing the dance, even though I am quite terrible at learning steps! I want to be there in solidarity with women of all ages and from around the world. I feel I have a particular obligation, because I can do it very easily. I won’t be persecuted if I make a stand. Women in some countries will have to be extremely brave to take action, so if they get news of how strong the movement is, they may be greatly encouraged. To read more about the movement which was started by Eve Ensler, go to the home page here.

The easiest version I found of the ‘Break the Chain’ choreography is from the women of Sheffield.  (There are different dances and music being used around the world). It is roughly the same as the Debbie Allen one, just a fair bit simpler. They dance it once through, then once in mirror view, then teach it step by step, then do it again so you can watch from behind as you might in a crowd.

If you are good at steps here is the full version of “Break the Chain” which is very beautiful and really just a little harder. Here the choreographer, Debbie Allen explains the meaning of the moves and teaches it bit by bit .

If are totally awesome at steps and/or have practiced for a while it is great to watch the fabulous young black American women zip through it in mirror view (so when they step right, so do you). I find watching the non-mirror versions fairly confusing until I have it pretty well down….

Anyway I hope you join in, do your best and HAVE FUN! Free dancing to the music and occasionally joining in with a move you know would still be demonstrating solidarity! If you can’t be there in body, be there in spirit and spread the word!!

Find your local event at the one billion rising org website or if you are an Australian Byron shire local, see you at 7am Main Beach on Thursday, February 14. More details at the FB event page.



Storytelling with your own kids

Written on January 18, 2013

story magic

 Mostly when parents tell stories to their children, the children are enchanted, enthusiatic and appreciative! But  not  always! This blogpost is dedicated to any parents who are telling stories to their offspring and being met with  disapproval.

If this is you, here is a warm pat for your back and a sympathetic nod. Yes I have been there too! This can be an  indication that we need to work on our storytelling and/or choice of story. However it can happen for some of  us that our own kids are our worst critics! Somebody else’s kids may be just delighted to listen to you tell.

I am a professional storyteller. Some kids who own one of my story CD’s go all shy when they meet me. However my son is quite a different kettle of fish! There were times when his comments about my storytelling have left me feeling withered- even though he is generally a sweet boy.

A friend recently came to a small story gathering at my house and told a fantastic 9000 year old story. It was about ‘The Half Boy’ and he accompanied the story with a heart beat rythmn on his jembe. It was fantastic. This storyteller is a groovy, fit looking guy with a big Celtic tatoo and a strong precense. He is a confident teller and tells for boys and men often for Pathways to Manhood and for teenagers he volunteers with. My 10 year old son had decided he wasn’t going to listen to the stories, yet he walked in mid-story. I thought- ahhh he has heard the drum and the story has attracted him. But no- he had just come in to sit by the fire.

Oh well, I thought, now he’s here, he’ll be enchanted enough to stay and listen to this great story all about a confused teenage boy growing into a man. My son rubbed his hands a few times in front of the fire and walked out again- well before the story ended. Sigh. At least it’s not my storytelling that put him off, I thought.

My son, now 12, has not been into storytelling for some years. When he was only 8 years old he thought it was pretty uncool. “No offence Mum, but I’m not into it.” I kept telling stories in his class anyway and after his friends decided it was cool (and so was I) he showed some interest again.  One night my heart leapt when he enthusiastically ASKED for a story- and he wasn’t even after anything! (The way to some mothers hearts is to admire their cooking- the way to mine is to admire my storytelling!) However- alas- that phase didn’t last very long! Last year at his school around Halloween, I told an American Indian ghost story “The Vampire Skeleton” which even Year 6 kids find quite scary. scary forestOther kids were impressed and enthusiastic. From my son I got “That  was quite good Mum.”

However luckily for me I have a second child -a girl, who adores storytelling. She loves listening and she loves telling too! We don’t tell every night as she is 9 years old and it is also important to read books while she is learning to read. Most nights she listens to recorded stories or we read together to help her with her reading, but sometimes we tell stories. But one of our greatest pleasures is collaborative telling. I start the story and keep asking for ideas along the way. We don’t do it enough really. Whenever she tells a story she tells with such conviction and confidence that I can completely be immersed in her tale. (Both of my children are featured in two tracks I have recorded: “Two Russian Goats” on ‘The Mermaid’s Shoes’ CD and “Lily and the Fig Tree” on ‘The Story Tree’ CD.)

One night we used props for our telling: a beautiful smooth palm sized gemstone and then a sliver lamp that looks a bit like something from 1001 Arabian nights. I forgot to write down what came up but it was great at the time!

This Sunday she’ll be helping me tell tales at the Tweed Art Gallery, Murwillumbah NSW Australia.  If you are a local, maybe I’ll see you there. In the mean time have fun telling stories and if you are starting out with a tough audience, take heart! While you need to be sure you have chosen the right story for the right group at the right time and polished you telling, if it’s still not working, maybe it’s not you. Someone else may adore your stories!

Jenni and Layla in character telling 'Molly Whuppie' to Kindy students.

Jenni and Layla in character telling ‘Molly Whuppie’ to Kindy students.

Jenni telling 'Molly Whuppie' at the Tweed River Art Gallery

Jenni telling ‘Molly Whuppie’ at the Tweed River Art Gallery

“Tales from Under the Sea” with Jenni Cargill-Strong – storyteller extraordinaire in the Ken Done ‘Sea Gardens’ exhibition space.. Two 30-40 min sessions of participative stories and songs for the whole family to enjoy at 11.30am and 12.30 pm. From the depths of the ocean to the beaches of Byron Bay, meet the likes of Shelley the Leatherback Turtle and The Mermaid of Byron or hear Kipling’s playful “How the Whale got his Throat”. Suitable for all ages – great for families. Stories may vary. Entry by Donation.

Jenni tells Jack and the Beanstalk at Tasmanian International Storytelling Festival

Jenni tells Jack and the Beanstalk at Tasmanian International Storytelling Festival







The Perfect Heart

Written on December 7, 2012

My repurposed book

Please read the following tale and write your own ending in the comments section. Write a short or long ending.

Usually I channel my creativity into storytelling, performing or teaching. I have never been particularly crafty, except when making Vasalissa dolls. But a good friend must have sensed just what I was needing recently. My friend Melaina, (author of ‘The Circle Series’ and other books), sent me the perfect thing: two CD’s from a series by Clarissa Pinkola Estes- “The Dangerous Old Woman” and ”The Joyous Body”. (Yes Estes is author of ‘Women Who Walk with Wolves’.)

As I listened, an urge began to bloom in me to be creative with something tactile. Inspired by the sculpture show my daughters school hold each year, where parents are welcome to enter something, and a book I found in the local library “The Repurposed Library”, I carved a heart into a red hardcover book using a very sharp cutting blade. The title of the book inspired me: “The Naked Heart”. I read it first to check it wasn’t great literature (until 3 in the morning!) and began carving the next day. After carving the heart, I saw in my mind, the sculpture I wanted to create: a heart on a bed of rose petals. After buying the clay, I remembered a well known tale I had read called “The Perfect Heart”.

Next I was inspired by my storytelling friend and colleague Bettina Nissen. Bettina recently gave a TEDx talk in which she described working in a community setting where she would tell 3/4 of a story and then get people she was working with to make up the rest. So I decided to do the same.

The Perfect Heart

by: Author Unknown, Source Unknown

The Perfect Heart

Adapted by Jenni Cargill-Strong

There was once a place where all the people carried their hearts around in their hands. One young man boasted that he had the most perfect, beautiful heart of all. His heart certainly looked perfect with not a single flaw.

One day as a crowd gathered to admire his heart, a little girl said, “It is perfect, but it is not beautiful. You should see my grandma’s heart. It’s reeeaaaally beautiful!” The young man was not happy with the little girl, but he followed her to her grandma’s house. “Grandma could you please show this man your heart?”

The old lady looked calmly into the young man’s eyes. He began to feel like he was in an ancient forest. Then she opened her hands to reveal the ugliest heart he had ever seen. It was covered in scars that had lumpy edges. It had staples and holes in it.

“You’ve got to be joking!”, snorted the young man. “How could THIS be more beautiful than MY perfect heart?!”

“The reason there are so many marks on it” the little girl explained, ”is that whenever grandma loves someone, she gives them a piece of her heart. When they give her a piece of theirs in return, it never fits quite right so it makes a lumpy edge. See, here is my piece. Sometimes she gives a piece of her heart to someone who doesn’t give a piece in return and that is what the holes are from. Grandma says ‘Love is a risk.’ That is why I think my grandma’s heart is more beautiful. When I grow up, I want mine to be just like hers.”

The cover of my repurposed book

The young man grew quiet. The old woman pulled off a piece of her heart and offered it gently to the young man. ✪

That is most of the story of ‘The Perfect Heart’. 

What do you think happened next? Write your ending in the comments section- it can be as long or brief as you like! Then if you like, you could google the story and see how it usually ends. As a sometimes-English teacher I’d love to try this as a story starter with students.

I will choose my favourite on  and the winner can choose their favourite Story Tree CD! Story Tree friend, Nicole wrote her own beautiful ending in December, 2012 and won a CD of her choice as prize. Well done Nicole!

Nicole’s ending: The young man eyes widened and slowly reached out for his gift of heart. He looked at the old woman intensely and asked “doesnt it hurt when you give your heart away ? The old woman said gently with nod – “yes, some times” The young man says” why do you give it away then?…The old woman says with loving eyes and both hands on her chest – “because my dear boy the feeling of recieving a piece of another heart makes you feel happy and warm inside here …”try it, put this piece of my heart on yours…The Young Boy ‘s face lighted up and enjoyed his special moment of recieving love for the 1st time on his perfect heart. Have you given a piece of your heart out today?

“The Repurposed Library”


Woodford Folk Festival for families – why go there?

Written on January 22, 2012

the wonder and beauty

To tell the truth, I have a love-hate relationship with Woodford Folk Festival. That is because it is usually either stinky hot and dusty or very, very muddy. It’s a bit like after a woman gives birth, you say “Never again”. Then the baby is so cute, you forget how it hurt and off you go and have another and it’s both wonderful and terrible. As I’ve gotten older and also now that I’m a Mum, usually just after Woodford, I say “I’m not going next year.” Then application time comes around a few months later… I get excited and so does my partner. We put in our applications. Then packing up time comes. I think of heat, mud, crowds and finding a camping spot and I think “I’m not going next year.”…. Then we get there and it is absolutely fabulous, and I think “How could I have POSSIBLY considered NOT coming?”…..and the cycle continues. I have been to Woodford Folk Festival (including Maleny as it once was) 16 times. All but one of those I went as a season camper and all but twice as a performer.  Since having a family eleven years ago, I have gone nine times with my partner Max and two children. So why have I gone so many times and why might you? Why go?: I love Woodford for a million reasons, but to name a few I’ve whittled it down to the following. (Ask me another day and I’d rattle off different things.) I love the sense of community, the respect for culture, diversity and children, the spontaneity, beauty, attention to detail, music, dance, poetry, bucket loads of fun, inspiration and idealism.

This year I could only go for two days as I had work on at home (marking Storytelling assignments by Education students at Southern Cross University). I went to compete in the Finals of the Spirit of Woodford Yarn and Storytelling Competition. I took my daughter Layla (8). Usually my partner Max (aka Salty Pete the Pirate) and son also come and we arrive early, camp and stay an extra two days. (More about that next post). This year the weather was perfect! It was fine with a few light showers and cool breezes. The mildest Woodford I have ever been to. What did we see this year in our two days? I’m glad you asked!

Backdrop for the Kids show of the same name.

We spent most of our time in the Kids Festival and Circus tent, which constitutes about one millionth of the entire options at the Festival! Layla played with her best friend- the daughter of a couple who work at the Children’s Festival and are friends of ours. Brie and Layla met when they were tiny and have been fast friends ever since. The Children’s Festival: Within The Kid’s Festival the girls joined in with Hip Hop and Zumba dance workshops, saw ‘The Great Big Story Book’ show, a Japanese storytelling show, made a puppet from recycled bits, made a pottery mushroom, played together for hours in the cool, shady sandpit and had their faces painted twice. We listened to large groups of happy people playing and singing in the Kids daily ukelele’s workshop too- though there seemed to be far more adults than kids!

Performance outside one of the circus tents

Circus: We saw several Circus Shows in the Circus Tent which we loved. One was a family-friendly pole dancing show. I checked if it was suitable before we went in- usually adult shows are late at night. One of the performers was a champion pole dancer. She was all muscle and completely defied gravity. We saw the most amazing hula hoop act I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a few). We enjoyed a clowning circus act which was not your usual clowning routine. The set had a Film Noir black & white (50’s) flavour with a live band on the stage. Four men and one woman and lots of slow humour. Lots of pregnant pauses- not fast paced adrenaline pumping and totally enjoyable- because of that. The audience went wild at the end. We saw the Side Show Alley Freak Show- which was well freakish! We both had to cover our eyes at times. Not quite sure I should have taken Layla, but she seems unscarred! We saw the fire show at night and saw another woman with a hula hoop but this one had flames on it. Beautiful. The next day Layla joined in at the Circus tent where she borrowed a hula hoop, but to my frustration, steadfastly refused to listen to any of the teachers circus skills gently and cheerfully teaching anyone who was interested. (Parental sigh.) Street performers: We saw street performers-  the ladies with rocket bosoms and a couple with a strange winged contraption. We saw indigenous band Sol Nation at the “Alter-native” venue and while I had a great little boogie in the white sand while the girls pretended to be nocturnal animals. Butterflies: We walked the butterfly walk and saw two butterflies, enjoyed the cool shade of the canopy and the informative butterfly posters. Food: We ate Chinese pork buns, Portuguese tarts (mmm), mango drinks, chicken kebabs, jaffles and fruit smoothies. When we season camp we mostly cook back at camp.

Our favourite juices, smoothies and jaffles stall

Bubble fun: There is a stall opposite the juice and jaffle stall in slightly shady  crossroads in the middle of the festival where a man and woman sell bubble wands. Layla adored catching the bubbles as did most kids at the Festival. He wears out his shoulder- constantly and patiently making bubbles- whether the parents look about to buy or not. Maybe because he emanates calm and fun, his sales seem to be nonetheless steady.  Watching bunches of kids swoop delightedly on the bubbles, like excited butterflies, I often feel it is an apt metaphor for the joy and innocence of many events and happenings at the Festival. I did catch some of Buffy St Marie’s set at the Concert Stage. She and her three male band members use the American Indian calling voice in their songs. It was a style that took a little bit of getting used to, but I found it profoundly appealing because it was so earthy and soulful. She has been a star and extremely successful songwriter since the sixties and her songs have been covered by the likes of Janis Joplin, Cher, Roberta Flak, Elvis Presley and Neil Diamond.

Buffy Sainte-Marie

She is now 60 and what a powerful, svelte, dynamic and  charismatic woman she is! She looked so gorgeous and funky from a distance at Woodford and here in her close-ups she looks amazing too. But what really hit me from quite a distance was her powerful charisma and earthy integrity as she spoke and sung. Her song “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” about corruption and Indian land rights was haunting. Last year Woodford was intense. The cyclone further north created flooding which did a lot of damage to Woodfordia and to their ticket sales which put them in a terrible financial predicament. To read how Woodford accidentally got involved in a sponsorship controversy and how they responded (very well I believe), read this article. To see more 2011-12 Woodford images, go to the photo blog “Yes I can Too” and here is a compilation of images and blogs on Woodford at Squidoo. To read and watch more about Woodford go to their official site or watch a news report from ABC TV on this year’s event. Also if you plan to go next year, there is now a Woodford program app which you can download to your iphone or ipad rather than buy the gorgeous book for $10. Oh and a well known local writer and poet called Archie (Robin Archibald) won the Spirit of Woodford Award for Spoken Word. It was a great story he had worked on for ten months and he deserved to win. Maybe I’ll see you at Woodford next year?

Photo Credits Photo collage made up of A,B and C: A. Courtesy Northern Star newspaper: Girl and bubbles; Two girls at Kids Festival; Samba dance workshop and Yasmin Matahari makes grass and flower hair pieces at ‘Coconut Island’ Woodford. B. Courtesy Tourism Queensland : Aboriginal didgeridoo players C: Courtesy Woodford newspaper: Street theatre women and colourful horses. Photo of Buffy from Courtesy Street sign “No walking on the water” Golden fairy, Story Book and Outdoors Circus performer  photo’s by author.

The Fairy at the Top of the Christmas Tree

Written on December 3, 2011

 Listen to my retelling of this tale for FREE via Soundcloud.

Have you ever wondered, why those of us who celebrate Christmas, bring a tree inside our homes and wind silver tinsel around the tree from the bottom right up to the top? And why lots of us hang a fairy at the very top? I’ve always wondered about that -and maybe you have too. There was no tree or fairy involved at  the birth of baby Jesus and though Santa Claus puts presents under the tree, he doesn’t seem to hang out with fairies.

It was a mystery to me until I met a woman called Morgan who told me this story. She said this story had been passed down by word of mouth for many generations – which means they had never written it down, they just told it to each other. Now Morgan’s family said that the fairies got their name- not because they had fair skin from living in the deep, shady forests, but because they were fair of heart and fair of mind. So the Gods and Goddesses had given them the gift of the knowledge of magic. Here is the way I tell it many years later.

The Fairy at the Top of of the Christmas Tree

Long ago in the lands we now call Europe, before Santa Claus and even before baby Jesus, no-one celebrated Christmas yet. What people did celebrate was Mid-Winter’s Eve. Children got especially excited because they might meet the Queen of the Fairy- and even have a wish granted! Back in those olden days, there were many great forests and only a few human tribes. Deep in those forests lived the fairies. Now fairies love eating, they love dressing up, they loveto sing and dance and they love to have parties. For each season and each time the seasons changed, they would have a big party.  But the party for Mid-Winter was one of the biggest.

As you have probably noticed, when Winter comes, the days get shorter and the nights get longer. But mid-Winter’s Eve is the exact time when the days get longer and the nights get shorter.  So the people and the fairies celebrated. Now the fairies, at least most of them, quite liked children because they were playful and funny.  So they would invite all the children of all the human clans and tribes to their mid-Winters Ball in the middle of the forest. The children dressed in their warmest clothes and thought a lot about the wish they would make.  This sometimes caused a lot of sighing, jiggling and twiddling of hair. The Queen of the Fairies knew that human children would get lost in the dark or trip over tangled roots and vines. So she asked the spiders to weave their webs from the outside of the forest in to the center, where the Queen sat on her magnificent, carved wooden throne. Then with a graceful wave of her wand she would turn the webs into threads of silver that sparkled under moonlight and starlight.

The children waiting at the edge of the forest with their parents knew then that they could make their way in. The older children helped the younger children. They waited as patiently as they could for their turn to meet the Queen. Some children took little presents for the Queen- even though they didn’t have to. Older children took little things they had made by hand during the long, dark Winter nights. Then as each child made it to the throne they would whisper a wish in the ear of the fairy. If she thought it was a good wish she would use her magic to help it come true.

Then the children were invited to stay for the party. The fairies would light a big bonfire. They put on a feast of delectable treats- pastries and cakes and sweet ambrosia drinks. After the feast, the musician and singers would begin. They made the kind of music that makes your heart sing. The children listened to the fairy harp and sweet singing at first and joined in when the dance music started. When it was time for the children to go home, the fairies would wave them goodbye. As the parents and other adults waited at the edge of the forest, they watched the flickering golden torches as the children made their way back out along the silvery webs.
They were remembering what it had been like back when they were children and they had gone to the fairies party. So that is why we bring a tree into our houses. Some part of us remembers those olden days and those wonderful Mid-Winter’s Balls. We bring a tree inside to represent the forest, we wrap silver or gold tinsel around the tree to remind us of the silver spiders’ webs,  flashing lights to remind us of the flickering golden torches, presents under the tree to remind us of the gifts of the fairy and a fairy on the top to remind us of the Queen of the fairies and those parties. Nowadays there are grown-ups who like to party and dance the night away in forests wearing fairy wings.They wear  their hair in bright colours or dreadlocks and sometimes wear fairy wings and they dance all  night long.   How do you visualise the Queen of the Fairies?

So when you put your tree out this year ready for mid-Winter -or mid-Summer here in the southern part of the Earth, remember to put a little food and drink for the fairy and remember to be on your best behaviour. You wouldn’t want to wake up as a frog on Christmas Day would you?


NB:  Feel free to read or tell it to your family- or create YOUR own version and let me know. Folk tales are dynamic and grow better with each retelling. Write a comment here or share your ideas on my FB storytree page. Happy Solstice!


Listen to my retelling for FREE via Soundcloud.

Images: greenlady_blankismet- photobucket, Fantasy forest and throne mega11 dreamstime,, greengrass woman chelsea flower show, soulseasons-yiota143.blogspot

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