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