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Oral storytelling

Written on September 17, 2014

‘Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves.’ –Barry Lopez (1990, p. 49)

Jenni at Tweed River Art Gallery

Jenni at Tweed River Art Gallery

Since humans learned to speak, we have told stories: stories to explain why the world is as it is, stories to entertain, stories to uplift, to reassure and to teach. We have told them in words, gestures, dance, music and art. While oral storytelling is an ancient art, it’s modern revival began in the seventies and now flourishes worldwide.

An oral storyteller tells a memorised story to a listener or listeners. There is no ‘fourth wall’ or invisible barrier between audience and teller. An old Scottish Traveller Proverb describes it this way: ‘The story is told eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart.’

Storytelling is an intimate, reciprocal experience. As the tale unfolds, the story takes on a life of it’s own: a co-creation between teller and audience. This gives storytelling an enormous potential to heal, to build community and to stimulate the imagination. It draws on and cultivates the listeners ability to visualise, concentrate and follow story conventions.

While the level of concentration required to follow a story is very high, the magic of stories with a folktale structure is such, that modern children can still sink deeply and effortlessly into them. Even very exciting stories can generate a feeling of relaxation, because they create such an intensity of focus or ‘entrainment’.

Storytelling is a powerful pedagogical tool. 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). Oral storytelling is also an elegant way to engage multiple intelligences and works harmoniously with almost every other art form: music, song, dance and art.

Quality stories, told sensitively, can nourish the soul while fostering imagination, emotional resilience, moral values and critical thinking.

Storytelling is the perfect antidote to our overly technological and impersonal age, where we can be overwhelmed with ‘soundbytes’. Poet David Whtye, in his poem: “Loaves and Fishes” put it this way

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.

For a great example of the powerful way stories can be used to heal and empower watch this trailer for a coming film called “Finding the Gold Within’ at


Written on September 12, 2014

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The Byron Circle of Tellers at the 2014 Mullumbimby Living Community Festival

Written on September 12, 2014
Jacq mandala Living Community 2014 and serpent On September 7, I again had the pleasure of telling stories at the at the Mullumbimby Community Gardens. Last year I told stories with help from musician Greg Sheehan and my daughter Layla. This year, I was joined by my friends, Teeya Blatt and Jacquelina Wills who are fellow members of the Byron Circle of Tellers. We told in front of this exquisite mandala created by Jacquelina, who was one of the original co-founders of the Community Gardens! Teeya told an original story called ‘Little Pink Feet’ which supports the Boys Blessing Ceremony in the boy-to-manhood program, From Heroes Into Men, and also retold Evette Weyers ‘Eve’. Teeya is also co-host of ‘The Heart of the Story’ on Bay Fm radio, and took some of these photos. Here I am telling my story ‘The Mulberry Tree’. Later, in honour of the snake in the mandala I told the story of ‘The Dreams and the Snake’ which was told to me by Lynne Preston, another Byron Circle of Tellers member. (Thanks Lynne!) Me Mulberry Tree  Living Community 2014 There were loads of fascinating workshops on gardening and sustainability, performances and keynotes from ▪ Professor Ian Lowe  (Australian Conservation Foundation), ▪ Clive Hamilton (Australia Institute), ▪ Costa Georgiardis (ABC’s Gardening Australia). ▪ Behrokh Koshnevis, (Bio Char 3D printing) plus a Q&A forum exploring ‘How to engage community in sustainability’.
Costa with kids at KidsSpace Mullumbimby Community Garden

Costa with kids at KidsSpace Mullumbimby Community Garden

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

Written on August 17, 2014


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

Jenni tells Mr Fox at Tintenbar Upfront

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

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

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

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

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


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

Peter Limo and the wonderful, warm audience



Written on August 16, 2014

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

Kamishibai story stage

Kamishibai story stage

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

Fairy Tale Rings around Australia

Written on August 14, 2014

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Toby wrote:


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

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


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


The Inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Conference in Sydney

Written on August 10, 2014

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

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

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

Australian Fairy Tale Society Inaugural Conference, 9 June 2014

Les at AFTS Conference 2014

Les and I 1

Jenni with Les and his amazing green outfit

The panel AFTS 2014

Jenni on the AFTS panel

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

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

International Storytelling Conference in Sydney

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

International Sydney Storytelling Conference

Sydney Conf 2014 Mulb tree Jenni wide arms

Jenni tells ‘The Mulberry Tree’

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

Australian Storytelling Conferences

Written on June 2, 2014

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

International Storytelling Conference “Weaving Stories Together” 

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

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

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


Inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference

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

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

AFTS Conf program

The Story Well

Written on March 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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