Happy Birthday Paul Stewart, one of life's natural born storytellers
My Dad reckoned we were related to Captain Kidd the pirate.
By way of the fact, his great great grandfather was John Kidd, and John’s daughter Anne Kidd married a Stewart and they named their son John Kidd Stewart.
The Kidd name was dropped before my Dad but none the less my grandfather was also John Kidd Stewart, known to everyone as Jack. He died when I was very young but I do remember sitting on that big tall man’s knee.
Confused about the link, doesn’t matter. The name was enough for me to consider that if you traced back through my Scottish ancestry maybe I was related to the famous pirate William Kidd. It’s never really mattered to me if it was true or not but it is part of Stewart family lore.
However, I remember one day being at a conference at the Melbourne Immigration museum and the women next to me, a recent immigrant, asked me how my family got to Australia?
I didn’t know, 5th generation Australian, it was something I hadn’t really thought about.
But recently the link and the line became so tangible that it left me in tears and feeling empathy for my ancestors from Fife, the last Kingdom of Scotland, that arrived in Australia aboard the Indus in 1839.
It was during a visit to the UK that the links became real and not just some made up story of my dads. I was visiting the home of Scottish Storytelling in the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. located in John Knox House at the Nethebrow Centre. I asked a friend to take a photo of me outside the centre so I could post it to facebook. Yes shameless showing off.
The next day I had a message from my second cousin, “If you cross the Firth of Forth” and go to Colinsburgh in Fife, head to the cemetery at Newburn and there you will find the graves of your ancestors the Kidds.
A couple of days later I was leaving Edinburgh and heading North so decided go via Fife and check out my cousins story.
The countryside is rolling green pasture, and old volcanic plugs with the Lomond Hills dividing the land. Only three roads lead onto the peninsula and the town of Colinsburgh lies along one main road, running east to west looking back across the Forth to Edinburgh. We stopped at a small milk bar to ask about the cemetery and the Stewarts
Up until then I hadn’t realised it was the Kidd name that connected me to this country.
No one remembered any Stewarts from around here but we headed out to look for the cemetery anyway. I checked my message from my cousin and realised this was home of the Kidds.
We got directions and drove up small lane ways and across farm land and missed the cemetery twice but finally we came to it. The sign had been partially hidden by overhanging branches.
Inside the cemetery there was an old ruined chapel, and green grass dotted with crumbling headstones that leaned and in some cases had fallen. The views across the water to Edinburgh were spectacular and I thought what a peaceful resting place it was.
We made our way through the cemetery looking for my ancestors.
After 10 minutes my friend called out
“I think I’ve found them”
There it was, a headstone that listed all the Kidds and their relations, James and John that had headed to Australia.
James had returned but John had died in Melbourne, Victoria in 1853 and that fact was written on the headstone.
Here was where the name John had entered into the Stewart family story. For even though the Kidd name was gone my dad was Noel John Stewart, from this great great grandfather and he had named his first born Anthony John, keeping it part of the tradition.
But the tragedy is the name stopped there because Anthony John died at the tender age of 21 before he had the chance to pass it on. His death an overwhelming darkness in my families lives. But here was acknowledgement of the first John.
As mentioned I had never really given much thought to who came to Australia, but here he was named. I was overwhelmed and burst into tears. Our John, the first John, families and their stories
But the strangest of things, there were two headstones listing all the Kidds, and right next to it on the side of the wall next to them was a carving of a skull and crossbones.
The sign of a pirate, maybe I am really related to Captain Kidd
A open letter to Canadian Storyteller Jennifer Cayley
I don’t like this club we’re in now Jennifer; the sudden accidental death of a loved one. Jan, like Rod was such an intrepid adventurer who lived live to the full, it’s still so hard to fathom that she is gone.
But her love extended across the world to Australia and I thank my stars that I reached out to the email that dropped in my inbox around 2005. I have a spare bed please visit me, I answered.
When I picked her up I thought she looked like a conservative little grandma, but oh, I was so wrong. We bought a few beers on the way home and didn’t stop talking story for the week she was here and had been firm friends ever since.
I was so happy when you finally visited Australia with Jan and presented your show “A Book of Spells” in my home town at our gay and lesbian festival. I was just so proud to know you both and your pioneering story work.
There was the storytelling masterclass in Montreal and the festival and a week at your house on the lake just out of Ottawa, where Rod moved that whole stack of wood to under the house for you. I suppose there is new load in the driveway, you, too numb to move it
But a moment just Jan and I shared was when I had some work up on the Murray River, the border between Victoria and NSW. She was in town for something and I asked would she like to come on a little adventure with me? While I told stories she went off bird watching, and later in the day she picked me up and we went to another spot she had wanted to explore.
She spotted some particular bird of interest and noted in her field guide book the date and that she was with me. I always felt so chuffed that I was now part of her passion for birds and nature and her life story.
There is an old spiritual belief of the Dja Dja Wurrung people, who are the traditional owners where I live. They believe the souls of the ancestors live in the birds.
I wonder what bird Jan will visit you as?
I am so sorry for your loss and look forward to the day where we can hug and cry and drink a few beers to toast our old darlings
Lots of love
Anne E Stewart
The Story House and Garden welcomes our latest recruit.
My maternal grandmother was a publican’s daughter and my most prize possession is a copy of a Mrs Beeton’s cookbook. It belonged to her big sister first and is inscribed. 'May Stevens, Valley Hotel Ngambie 1916'.
The Valley Hotel was one of the pubs that my great grandfather Henry Alfred Stevens owned and my nan inherited the book, then it was past on to me, her devoted apprentice.
I’ve been thinking of my nan a lot lately because I’m set to become a grandmother myself.
The other grandmother has already bagsed the title Nan, she already has two grandchildren and that’s what they call her, so I’ve been thinking of what I should be called.
Granny, oh no, sounds way to old for my liking.
Now my nan, Vera Stevens married Francis King Hewitson but as long as I can remember and legend has it back to into her childhood Vera was known to everyone by the nickname Trill. That’s what we all called her Trill or Trillie.
There was always various stories behind the nickname but it is only recently on quizzing an Auntie that we seemed to have uncovered where the name really came from.
It seems as though it might have been a jibe from her older sisters.
You see, Tril short for Trilby was a novel by George Du Maurier published in 1894. Numerous movies followed and would have been screened when my nan was a young girl, and likely that her much older sisters would have seen at the local cinema. The main character, Trilby O’Ferrall was a laundress and model who came under the influence of a the masterful hypnotist Svengali. Even though she is tone deaf he transforms her into a diva. During a London concert tour he dies of a heart attack and she is ridiculed because without the work of Svengali, she can’t sing
The nickname was her sisters teasing Vera about her lack of singing voice.
Tragically when Vera was only five her mother Ada Rebecca was killed when the buggie she was driving turned over and she was crushed beneath. Apparently all the children were farmed out for a while but when they were old enough Henry would have brought them back to help work in the various pubs. The young and malleable Vera was one of his best workers.
My nan was a fantastic cook and a depression era mother. When my mum was born they were living in Coburg but Vera decided if times were going to be tough they would would move down to the beach at Elwood so at last the children would have somewhere to play.
They lived in John street and their house backed onto the canal. I remember all of the furniture being lifted on to bricks as the flooding waters poured into their house. There was stories of her children floating an old bath tub down the canal to the sea.
She was thrifty and an amazing craftswomen . She could stretch meals, make preserves and I remember when I was twelve she let me taste her cumquat brandy. Wow it was like white lightning traveling down my throat.
A middle child with three brothers and a much younger baby sister, I loved to visit Trill, she taught me how to sew and cook and I think I inherited a genetic streak from her that our family call the Trill factor.
She was tough and would speak her mind.
I remember the story of a teacher ridiculing her son when he had trouble reading in lower primary school, they wanted his younger sister to come into the room and show how it was done. Vera was furious and marched up to the school and payed out on them. How dare they humiliate her son.
Another time the parish priest came round and asked Trill why the large gap between children, “Was she using contraception?”. Tragically it had been miscarriages but my Nan sent him on his was saying it was none of his damn business.
The only reason the children were at Catholic Schools was that her mother-in -law insisted. She loathed and detested the Catholics for the rest of her life.
She would often clip sayings and pin them to her kitchen calendar and this one has always stayed with me.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away”. It has always stayed with me.
She was so dear to me. She lived to the ripe old age of 92 and was sharp as a tack until the very end. But in her last weeks, confused and dying she reverted to her childhood and in her final days she would snuggle up to the matron of her nursing home and call out for her “Mum”. the mother she had lost when only a young child of five.
I’m looking forward to being a grandmother knowing what a treasured place Vera has in my heart.
So, my latest thoughts on what the grandchild could call me, is a nod to my Scottish ancestry
Seanmháthair (shin ha tear) is Scottish Gaelic. I know a bit tricky for a young child, but what about the beginning, Sh with my name Annie
So... I'm to be known as Shannie
Congratulations Cassandra and Robert
‘A Spell of Poetry' Allis Hamilton
"Fresh from reading her poetry in London, Allis Hamilton will perform and read her poems, some perhaps with music. Allis is a host of Castlemaine's poetry readings: PoetiCas. Here is a chance to hear her perform her own work.
She is an internationally published writer of words that create a sense of wonder, myth and magic. At times funny, at times thought provoking."
Sunday 6th Augusr 1.30 -2.30 Show with morning tea
Story House and Garden
52 Millar Street. Daylesford
Ph 0408 550 945
Kissing the Blarney with Storyteller Niki Na Meadhra
The Story House and Garden welcomes much loved Melbourne based storyteller Niki Na Meadhra to Daylesford with her show Kissing the Blarney
It is is a weave of tales about Niki’s origins; Irish immigrants ancestors who settled in and around Daylesford and Yandoit. These stories are entwined with the legends and myths collected on her 2015 storytelling tour of Ireland. Niki pays homage to the Celtic Warrior Woman with snippets from her show Fair and Furious.
‘... storytelling taken to the next level - Art, a melding of fine acting and fine story-telling. She is an experienced actor, who is passionate about her Irish heritage, and relishes its extravagance, comedy and craftiness.‘ Frances Devlin-Glass The Celtic Club
Saturday 5th August 3 - 4.30pm Show and afternoon tea
7.30pm - 9pm Show with Bubbles and snacks
Sunday 6th August 11 - 12.30 Show with morning tea
Story House and Garden
52 Millar Street. Daylesford
Ph 0408 550 945
Great to have a visit on Friday the 23rd June from Werribee Zoo staff to the Story House and Garden. Workshop around storytelling and interpreting, fascinating stuff. Thanks to Yvette and the team for being so responsive
The Story House and Garden recently welcomed Aunty Sharon Hughes, respected Yamaji elder to Daylesford. Sharon is an author and storyteller as well as ambassador for Murrugarra - Indigenous Community Book Program sponsored by Global Coalition for Change.
We exchanged many stories during her visit and look forward to her return for a storytelling event around the campfire.
The Story House and Garden are deeply saddened by the death of their long time supporter Rod May. we are preparing a story to share
I remember the tears in my eyes, the sadness, and the lump in my throat; she had us all there, eating out of the palm of her hand. Not a loud theatrical Mem but rather a quiet reflective Mem in keeping with the emotions of the story. What power, what a storyteller! But more than that, there was one thing in particular that has always stayed with me. Mem has a tremendous appreciation and passion for stories, language and literacy. Telling stories, she explained is like the pouring forth of precious jewels, each delicious word to be savoured, to be handed to children with love, respect, passion and reverence.
Fifteen years on, with countless pre school storytimes under my belt I too have a passionate belief in the importance of developing in children a love of language and literature. I still thrill to the eager up -turned faces that look at me adoringly. I always know when I've told stories to a child, even if I don't remember their face. They look at me like we are old friends, like we've shared adventures together.
But of all the age groups, preschoolers are probably the trickiest, the most intense, the most constant. There is no chance to relax into a long story. Preschool sessions necessarily move along at a fast pace, moving from rhyme to story to song. Preschoolers have no qualms about showing you their cut finger in the middle of the story, or telling you their cat's name or what they had for breakfast. It's hard work.
However, telling preschoolers stories and creating a love for the magic and music of words is probably one of our most important jobs.
Fifteen years on, I have learnt many tricks and developed a quiet confidence in my abilities and the stories I have chosen to work with. This article purports to share some of these with you.
Nothing can beat experience when it comes to the art of storytelling but some guidelines to start you on the path.
I have always found it easier to work with themes with pre-school storytimes, be it as simple as food, the wind, animals or bathtime, it helps me to focus the session and find material from the excellent plethora of stories, songs and rhymes available. The trick is to work up a package that incorporates a range of material.
Let me give you some examples. Ann Pellowski in her excellent book The Story Vine has a simple version of How the Years were named for the Animals. A beautiful old Chinese story that starts with the Buddha sitting under his sacred Bodhi Tree.
Let's take this as a starting point for exploring Pre-School Storytelling I saw Pellowski tell this story using twelve tiny animal figurines. At the time I couldn't find any myself so I cut out and pasted the animals in the story on to black cardboard. They were big and bold and young children quickly got the idea to name the animals with me as the story progressed.
First year, the rat, second year the ox, third the tiger, fourth the rabbit, fifth the dragon and so on.
Let's start with the year of the rat. First some nursery rhymes, 'Hickory Dickory Dock, the mouse ran up the clock.' Okay everyone arms up nice and straight so we can watch your little mice run up them. With these developing listeners it is a good idea to involve them with action rhymes, get them to join in in a focused way. In my time in libraries Elisabeth Matterson's This Little Puffin was always in my reference collection, it was a well-organised great source for nursery rhymes and appropriate actions.
With this early age group I invariably use lots of props. 'I've brought some visitors to meet you today, they're very small and very shy and frightened of cats. Can you guess what they are? ' Out of my pocket I produce two little mice, (available from pet shops as toys for cats). 'These are my friends Tom Thumb and Hunka Munka, they want to do a little poem with you. Now because you haven't got any mice, maybe you'd like to pretend with me. Put your hand out flat and pretend it's a nest and use your pointer and middle finger of the other hand as mice.' Now: Two little mice sat down to spin Pussy passed by, and popped his head in What are you doing my little men? We're weaving coats for gentlemen. Can I come in and bight off the thread? No, no Pussy, You'd bight off our heads.
I'll then repeat this through the session. This poem then naturally leads to a longer story, Two Bad Little Mice by Beatrix Potter.
All of this takes about twenty minutes, quite long enough for beginning listeners. If your preschoolers are well trained and it's later in the year you could extend it by searching for related stories. Working in a library I was always on the lookout for new material but if you don't try looking for a reference book titled 'Subject Access to Picture Books,' this could save you hours of perusing the shelves.
Let's pick some more animals from our Chinese Years, say the Rooster and the Dragon, my Chinese animal and my daughters respectively. I love telling this story and children seem to really concentrate on it. The Rooster and the Heavenly Dragon, can be found in a Multicultural collection by Margaret Read MacDonald.
'Once, the rooster had beautiful golden horns on the top of his head. And so it goes.... In my hometown of Daylesford, in country Victoria I earn my bread and butter money at a shop called 'Dragons and Dreaming.' Three metres of scaly red dragon wrap itself around the wall protecting a small cave where I tell stories. Naturally I've got a lot of Dragon Lore. You must hunt out Jack Prelutsky's book of dragon poems The Dragons are Singing Tonight, the title poem is sensational, I love sharing beautiful rhythmic poetry like this. Would you believe I've even adapted P.D. Eastman's classic Are you my Mother, to 'Are yee me kinfolk.' I gathered all the props from my children's toys together with a handsome green Sri Lankian Dragon puppet I had. It's like this: Mother dragon goes off to look for food. While she's gone her baby in its egg is washed down into a deep dark lake. Claws start scratching and the baby dragon emerges to look for his mother. He finds out he's not a fish that has scales like him and he's not a reptile with claws like his, not a bird that can fly or a fire that burns. He wanders back to his nest and his mother finds him. How deliciously satisfying for a child, to be back home with his mother who loves him. I've even got a version featuring Dinosaurs!
Year of the snake leads me to several other favourite books, poems and stories. Once again I recommend Ann Pelowsk's The Story Vine, this time for its string tricks. I had the great fortune to meet Ann and collected a few of her stories and tricks. I have employed poetic license and changed her snake into Gorialla the Rainbow serpent; I also do the mosquito trick. While on an aboriginal theme, I have also adapted an action rhyme Pellowski illustrates in her book. My niece Esther was called Mook Mook by the aboriginal people of central Australia, where she was born because of her big round eyes like an owl. The actions are in the book but this is how I tell it, once children have guessed that Mook Mook is the Jawoyn aboriginal word for Owl.
Mook Mook sat in the branch of a tree,
As quiet as quiet can be.
It was night And her eyes were open like this
She looked all around Not a thing did she see
Two mice started creeping up the trunk of the tree
And they stopped below the branch
To see what they could see
The solemn old owl said 'Twooit Twoooh
Up jumped the mice and down they flew.
I always have great fun with another aboriginal story that of Tiddalik the giant frog that drinks up all of the water. I have a big green balloon that I blow up as Tiddalick drinks up all the water and gets fatter and fatter and bigger and bigger. I love children's nervous trepidation, will it or won't it burst?
I tell the version from the ABC book Favourite Playschool Stories or maybe it's in the collection More Favourite Playschool Stories, whatever, I recommend you get them both. Likewise the Playschool Useful Book is a must for those interested in developing pre-school themes.
A list could go on and on about the stories, poems and rhymes that have become like old friends but I should conclude with some practical aspects of Pre-school storytelling.
Interruptions; I'm afraid these will always happen no matter how experienced you are or how well you know your stories. Don't let it phase you! Don't ignore the child or they'll keep badgering but a firm 'you can tell me after the story' will help. We are training these young people in their listening skills so we need to be pro-active. A couple of favourite lines that always work for me are:
'You know how I can tell children are ready for a story?, there sitting up nice and straight and looking at me." "Oh dear, I can't go on, somebody's talking and that will spoil the story for everyone else," then you eyeball the yapper.
The stories you choose will stay in your repertoire for a long time so make sure they are stories you love. To hark back to Mem, you need to be passionate about your choices.
Keep your storytime moving along, include a range of material and vary the length of pieces you present. Children learning language love repetition so make sure you include old favourites Like the Gingerbread Boy, or the Hobyahs, invite the children to join in this structured way. Beware of opened-ended questions with the very young, their minds could be wandering anywhere and you may not get the response you had hoped for.
Finally to finish a quote from another favourite storyteller of mine, Patricia Scott from Tasmania (who has won the Dromkeen medal for her contribution to children's literature) 'Like your story, know your story. Relax and enjoy the telling.'
Another inspiration for the Story House and Garden was the first Fairy Shop in the World, opened by the legendary Anne Atkins. Known to all as Wonderwings, (Anne named the shop after her fairy persona), it was in Bridge Road Richmond
Huge thanks to the other fairies, Mary Lou Keaney, (Fairy Lou ) and Suzanne Sandow (The Moth) with Anne E Stewart for being part of the Story House and Gardens Open Day