Restarting this blog with a moment of beauty

Today is not a special day. I am sitting at home. Its cold. I’ve cleaned the house and I feel depressed. I’ve lit the fire early cause it comforts me. I can’t seam to warm up. I feel overwhelmed by police shootings, racial injustice, politics in the world, the Standing Rock situation, The Okinawa situation, Syria, Australia’s treatment of refugees, local injustices (markets being taken from the community minded as they now represent profit). Too many things going wrong.

And in that large world of injustice that circles and surrounds my awareness and my family, I experienced a moment of beauty this week. So I will stop and write about that. I want to restart this blog to share a moment of beauty…

I run a weekly storytelling session at a mental health recovery centre. I go in for one hour and share folk tales, fairy tales, myths and more.

Typically this elicits a discussion about the story, the places it’s set, its country of origin, personal experience. Well – it elicits discussion and story sharing for approx. one hour. I have grown to love these sessions. I enjoy the stories and interests of people in the group, the discussions are candid and feel very real, we go beyond the niceties or politeness’s very quickly. Stories can do that.

This week an Aboriginal elder came to sit in on the session with me. We will call him Unc. He is awesome. He is a dedicated leader and worker in his community. We have interacted and worked on different projects over the years. It’s fairly safe to say I admire, respect and love him and his wife very much and the fact that he drove up here (about an hour) out of interest and support was extremely honouring.

Every person in that centre responded the same way I internally felt. Honoured. From the moment he walked in it was palpable. The energy in the room was buoyant to begin with, there had just been singing and choir participation filling the space. As soon as I began to introduce Unc one gentleman immediately took him on a tour of the centre, its facilities and program. Grabbing as much personal contact time as he could.

Next we all sat down to share stories and questions. Well not all – its not that orderly a process. Some people sat down, others joined when they sensed what was going on and that they wanted to be a part of it. Some people walked by numerous times and joined later.

The introductions lead to conversations and questions straight away. Questions and comments that seek connection, recognition of similarity. I love the way we do this as humans – “Ohh you grew up there. We camped there every summer/my mums from there/my brother lives down that way…”

Who are you? Who are we? What about all this Aboriginal people and alcohol talk? What happens after death? Do you know your stories? I have heard… I was told… Is it true… I’ve had experience of that…I know that feeling…

“How do Aboriginal people treat mental illness?”

Sometimes a question is so honest and from the heart that everyone in the room stops. This was that moment. We all stopped. If it was a movie, this was the slow-mo part.

And Unc’s answer – “Well, by doing what you’re doing here. We share stories, time together…”

We shared stories, bad jokes, we laughed, we honoured a father recently passed, and we created a space of friendship and wellbeing.

The time slipped away and we went 30 minutes overtime and could have gone longer. Some of the centre workers were able to stay and sit for a while (they are usually ridiculously busy) some of the people forgot their smoko break (small wins).

There aren’t any photos, no recordings or podcasts for me to put here. It was a moment in approximately 15 peoples lives.

I wish for a world of many of those moments where we are validated on our journey for health (individual and community).

You’re OK. Keep doing what your doing. Share stories, connect, listen.


Singapore International Storytelling Festival 2011

I recently attended the Singapore International Storytelling Festival (SISF) 2011 as a presenter and performer. In the hot humid weather of Singapore, storytellers and listeners from around the world converged between the 1st and 4th of September. Funded by the Book Council of Singapore, the festival is dedicated to the art of storytelling in its diverse applications. There were performance evenings, concurrent workshop sessions, full day focus sessions, keynote speeches and short performances offered daily. For a relatively isolated Australian storyteller these festivals are a nourishing experience, in particular I was taken by the performances. What a feast for my eyes, ears and heart.

Showcase storytellers 2nd Sept

I was involved in the showcase performances – where the invited tellers from a range of nations would tell one story each. These were a wonderful chance to see the varying styles, story choices and in particular the humour (how cultural it is!). Although I must, even though I was a part of these performances they were not the most memorable experience for me. The thing that blew my storytelling mind were the first and the final performances – storytelling of traditional epic tales.

How I would love to have lived in a time and place where this was the culture of the day. Where history and stories were told to us by people considered to be important and worthy of the task. One the first night Abbi Patrix and Ruth Kirkpatrick performed “A Journey of Stories”. Two extremely different tellers performing to this theme. Abbi came on first.

This French, Dutch man told an audience of Singaporeans, Indians, Malaysians and Chinese stories from an old Indian text – Panchatantra tales. He had developed a wonderful script – or holding story that detailed the friendship between a Crocodile and a quick-witted storytelling monkey. We did not get to see the entire repertoire and what a shame that was!

I believe this is one of the best storytelling performances that I have seen. Abbi is a 30-year veteran of storytelling; he played the frame drum and mbira while telling. He integrated strong measures of humour and movement throughout the performance. Importantly Abbi has created a modern day version of this epic – we followed the friendship of monkey and crocodile with delight in all its twists and turns. This friendship created many moments for monkey to tell crocodile stories, fun, adventurous, witty and moral stories. He drew on the Indian text for the smaller stories. It was a wonderful, accessible adaptation. Apparently the Panchatandra are the most widely known stories in the world with over 200 known versions of them. While I had heard some of the smaller tales I was ignorant of their rich source/history.

What are other common examples do we have of the holding tale when storytelling – the first that comes to mind is 1001 nights. You can read the full text of 1001 nights at

The holding story is of a king gone mad by the betrayal of his beloved wife. He becomes a madman after killing his first wife and from that day vows to take a new wife to his bed every night only to be slain in the early hours of the morning. The smaller stories come from the clever female – Scheherazade who postpones her death by telling the king nail biting stories that he must hear the end of, he therefore must keep her awake and alive through the night and into the next day. She always starts a new story before she can be killed.

Many many cultures have such an epic tale where smaller stories are revealed and savoured. A small taste is provided in this list;

The Canterbury tales by Chauser;

Homers Iliad and Odesey (and many others)

The Irish Epic of Táin Bó Cúalnge by Joseph Dunn

My question to you is when was the last time you got to listen/interact with a series of tales?

As a child I was absolutely transfixed by Monkey Magic. My brothers and I would spend hours playing out the characters or various storylines in the back yard, sometimes inflicting broken bones and always collecting bruises in our fantastical efforts. Did you know this TV series was created from an Asian Epic tale called the Ramayana? In Singapore, for the first time I got to see an adaption of this Epic. Six Asian storytellers performed an adaptation written by Kamini Ramachandran. Each teller had distinctly different telling styles, each were entertaining and informative and had me, and a couple of hundred others, totally captivated.

Not the least because the Ramayana involves the wonderful character of the monkey king – (Hanuman / Monkey) but because the tale was so fantastic. Traversing topics of love, desire, fear, jealousy, faithfulness, friendship, war, gods, death, demons and kings. I was desperately waiting for the stories of ‘monkey’ and was slightly disappointed that no one storyteller could cloud fly! I feel privileged that I could travel to Asia and see this epic told in such wonderful format.

The festival had many sweet storytelling moments on offer but it was the rediscovering of the epic that was most magical for me. To allow myself to become lost within stories that sat within stories… this is something I plan to make a habit of. I hope I can share it with you one day 🙂

Working with stories with 10-13 year olds

I am often asked about how I work with stories and youth. Let me share with you one example.

The Tortoise and the Hare.

You know the story right?

I tell an African version of it that I read in Tales of an Ashanti Father, by Peggy Appiah. When I tell I use certain Ashanti (Ghana) words, which I have learned from my friend Afro Moses ( and I play the djembe or mbira in parts.

The story…

Lion, king of the jungle noticed that many of his animals were being lost to hunters and other animal predators. He gathered his animals together and talked of the loss and how he believed that unity and cooperation between them could help the situation. He then asked the animals what they thought. Many animals agreed, many did not, in particular, Hare jumped up and stated that he is fine on his own, he is fast, a good hider and does not need all this nonsense.

Well, you can imagine the animal’s reaction to a comment like that? They shouted, yelled, got animated, noisy. In the end it was Tortoise who spoke up in favour of the king. Tortoise took his time and told Hare what a fool he is to believe speed is so important, to prove his point he offers to race against Hare – much to the humour of all animals present. The race time and track are set and all animals go home with mirth in their hearts and on their lips. How could Tortoise possibly do it?

Tortoise, his family and friends do not go home to bed. They meet together and …

You know the rest. Tortoise made a plan and recruited his family and friends after a bit of resistance. They hid in strategic places along the track. They learnt a song to sing to warn the next runner that they were coming… in the end they won. Although at the end Tortoise states that it is cooperation and diligence that won.

This story raises some serious questions?

– Who won? Is it Tortoise, or all of his family and friends? Who receives the acknowledgement? Who is remembered long after the event?

-Did tortoise cheat?

Did he run the race alone? Did he challenge the Hare alone?

What are your answers I wonder? When I ask these questions generally half of the population believe that Tortoise cheated, most believe he ‘bent the rules’ to win.

So that leads me to ask;

What were the rules? Were they ever stated? Who has the right to impose rules? Who in our world EVER wins a race completely on their own?

Let me repeat that, as it is the key question for many youth. Who in our world EVER wins a race completely on their own. The runner? The swimmer? They may cross the line alone but they have a multitude of people supporting them along the way. The chess player learns strategies and practises against others along the way. The rock climber has their belay person, the trainer, the route setter etc etc.

Once this idea has been broken out we then work in a group to mimic the success of Tortoise. We think about things that we want to achieve. Write them down, describe them, visualise them clearly. Tortoise knew exactly what he wanted.

We write a step-by-step plan. Including who we need to recruit to help us achieve that goal. We also make a strong point of who we need to ignore/leave behind to achieve our goal. It sounds harsh but not everyone is going to buoy our spirits or compliment our efforts or want to see us achieve. Not everyone should be listened to.

We also look at the things we can do alone, such as research, visualisation, practise etc.

Depending on the age group I analyse the turning points in the story, that is at what points could the story have gone a different way. What were the alternatives? What then are the alternatives in our own stories?

The Tortoise and the Hare is a universal story that has been passed down over generations across the globe. Its long life and success as a story is due to its relevance. Sometimes us adults need to be reminded of our story and the power of the stories we tell ourselves and our children.

Just as a further note for those that are interested.

I used the story and structure above as a part of the ‘Kids Making Choices’ Program over a period of 5 years. Below is some information on the program as a whole.

The program was an early intervention two-day workshop. We worked with targeted primary schools, typically with a high component of Culturally and Ethnically Diverse (CALD) background students. The program was funded by The Attorney Genreral’s Office (National community crime prevention programme), the PCYC Wollongong, and the Illawarra Ethnic Communities Council (as it was then known).  The program approach focused on raising young peoples awareness of the importance of developing personal values, competencies and character strengths that will empower them to understand and consider alternatives to a variety of situations.

The Objectives of the project as a whole were to;

  • Assist and enable CALD young people to understand and explore values that are important for them and society.
  • To explore concepts for the positive and negative choices, self esteem and peer pressure.
  • To develop personal competencies for the transition to high school, particularly how to deal with peer pressure.
  • Learning to communicate effectively and set personal goals.
  • Using values and character strengths to make positive choices.


I am a professional storyteller. I tell stories orally – no books, no screens in front of me. I tell the story in the traditional way, my heart and mouth to your ears and heart.

I perform stories to children and adults. Some of you may remember beautiful stories like the Hat Seller, Cinderella, the Tin Soldier, The Wide Mouth Frog, Hiawatha, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, or characters and sagas such as Cipitio, Anansi, Ramayana and so so many more depending on where you are from, the stories your parents were told or what wonderful teachers you had.

These are the stories that fill our imagination and sent us into the dream world at night. The stories that filled long car trips. The stories that made us feel safe and loved when we were ill or lonely or a bit down. They also ignited play games, role plays and adventures with friends.

I love researching stories and story traditions. I also love to work with stories. Working with stories is a completely different thing to performing stories. I use stories to achieve goals and to create a sharing space. My brother had mental illness and I used stories to escape the institutional environment, with him in particular I used improvised stories to learn how to find threads of connection, reality and to understand that it is possible to come out of the ‘imaginary’ world.

With primary school aged children I use stories to teach resilience, goal setting and positive decisions making.

With adult carers I use stories of self-care.

With primary school children I teach Spanish using stories. The animals and landscape or setting of the story teaches them about a country. The language of introductions and verbs are often repeated and the children LOVE it. It is much more fun to say a verb in present and past tense in the context of a story than as a grammar drill!

I use stories for refugees and newly arrived to help with English language acquisition and I facilitate the sharing of personal stories to develop a sense of community and understanding.

I find that my work brings me into contact with fascinating people, stories and representations of history. I have started this blog to share these with you. There are so many wondrous stories that to keep it all to myself would be a shame.

So welcome and I hope you enjoy.