Monday, October 26, 2009

Gayle Ross and the Trail Of Tears

Gayle Ross is a living example of family heritage and how story’s travel down through families. She started this session by explaining her familial connection to Chief John Ross, leader of the Cherokee people at the time they were forced off the land and made to travel to what is now the state of Oklahoma. We hear of her family and the grandmother and mother that nurtured her in the role of custodian of family lore. A powerful performance that tells of the mistreatment of Cherokee people from a deeply personal perspective, Gayle puts her heart and soul into it. A hugely moving performance. An evening performance with local Chuck Warren (a member of the Little River Band of Native Americans ) followed and the two traded trickster and rabbit stories.

A Hundred Thousand Welcomes and Seoras MacPherson

On the opening night we had the opportunity to meet with some of the other storytellers with a drinks and welcome session at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, this was followed by a concert in the Theatre entitled “A hundred Thousand Welcomes” and was stories, songs and music with local tellers Heather Yule, playing harp, David Campell MC and sentimental favourite George McPherson who continued the night at our apartment with a wee dram or two of very fine single malt whisky and dozens more stories.

George or his correct Gaelic name Seoras is a bonafide Senachie, that is he was trained in the role of storyteller. At the age of three his grandfather put him on his knee and started to teach him the stories and lore of his people. The second night he visited our apartment and told us a story of Finn McCool it was almost electric. For me it was like he was telling stories of his relations like he might look at an old and ancient photo album and relate this and that person’s stories. It felt more immediate than I’ve ever heard a celtic story told. Wonderful.

A rainbow of Storytellers sharing an apartment

Arrived Thursday night and moved into the Knights Apartment with fellow storytellers, Gayle Ross Cherokee Storyteller. ( Amina Blackwood Meeks, a Jamaican Born Caribbean National Storyteller ( )and Anne E Stewart from Australia ( )

The Festival Begins

The Scottish International Storytelling Festival October 23rd to November 1st 2009

Maid Marion

Stayed with Storyteller, Musician, Dancer Marion Kenny (who I had met when she came to the WA Storytelling Conference) Wined and dined toured and listened to her play music with a few friends. We visited the border region and the coast and walked along the beach talking stories.

Kidd family Ancestry

My Dad Noel John Stewart ( Son of Jack Kidd Stewart) always said we were related to Captain Kidd the pirate but I always thought he was just spinning a yarn. But a cousin passed on some family history to me before my trip to Scotland and I now realise it might be the one bit of family history handed down that dates back to our ancestors in Scotland. According to my cousin Sally,

“The Kidd family is said to derive from northern Scandinavia. Spellings variations include Kid, Kyd, Kedd, Keed, Cydd, Cyd and others. Not technically part of the Scottish clan system which was basically a highland phenomenon - though references of it being a sept (a family) of one of the clans can be found in various sources with a commercial motive.. They were part of the lowland populations and originally settled in East Lothian on the eastern seaboard of modern-day Scotland.They are seated in Dundee in the Scottish Shire of Angus which is north of Fife and Edinburgh, half way up the eastern coastline. Dundee is a seaport.

The first Kidd which can be traced back to our family is David Kid who was born about 1645. He married Susanna Allan on 2 November in 1666. Three and half years following they married, they had their first child, a son, John Kidd on 21 May 1670, also in Monimail. The first name ‘John’ was used in the family for the next 11 generations including the latest, Stuart John Gibson in 1963.

I visited this area and felt and home in this Kingdom by the sea

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jess and Davey Smith in Crieff

Jess Smith: A Born Storyteller

Headed to Crieff in Perthshire to visit Storyteller and author Jess Smith ( Jess was a guest at the WA storyteller’s conference in2005 and comes from the traveller tradition having spent her childhood moving around with 7 sisters and parents.

Amazing thing, stories were a huge part of her childhood and she has a tremendous capacity for listening to a story and recalling it nearly in full. She is a wealth of knowledge about Scottish history, traveller livestyle and is currently working on her sixth book that chronicles the history of gypsy/tinker life and the Scottish governments planned eradication of them.

I remember when Australian aboriginal people finally got their sorry from Rudd Jess wrote a letter to her Government minister asking when her people might expect an apology.

We visited some historic spots, Dunning and the burial sight of a local woman (perhaps a traveller) accused of being a witch and burnt to death, Ossian’s Cave at the Hermitage and Innerpeffray, the oldest free lending Library in the country, founded about 1680.

Monday, October 19, 2009

3 Nights, 3 Shows

Great opportunity whilst travelling has been catching up with a variety of shows, great for professional development and an amazing source of Inspiration.

No.1: Captain Corelli's Mandolin seen at Byre’s Theatre St Andrews.
This smash-hit adaptation of Louis de Bernières' best-selling novel about love, death and the sweetness of life, starts gently as Mike Maran slowly introduces the characters; accompanied by Alison Stephens on mandolin and Anne Evans on piano. Simple production, the storyteller using basic props as he tells the story of Dr. Iannis, his daughter, Pelagia, the heroic Italian soldier, Carlo Guercio, Captain Antonio Corelli, and the love they all share on the Island of Cephalonia. The adaption is so clever it just builds and builds between moments of love, war misunderstanding poignancy and death. By the end of the show absolutely spell binding. Moved to tears

No.2: Hanging by a Thread at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh
Devised & performed by Hannah Marshall & Amelia Pimlott
A puppet show like nothing I’ve ever seen. The stage is an old bed covered in a bedspread of knitted jumpers, fragments, worn and torn. Not a word is spoken but the cover breaths and moves, puppets are born out of sleeves and an old woman has knitted herself into the cover. It was like visual art meets theatre piece, outstanding in its uniqueness.

No.3: Chrystal and the General at the Netherbow Storytelling Centre
A reading and performance piece to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Women's Suffrage Movement in Scotland. The story of Flora ‘the General' Drummond and Chrystal Macmillan, General Drummond was a pugilistic Scots militant, tartan swathed and imprisoned nine times for her passionately direct activism. Chrystal Macmillan was a committed internationalist and peace campaigner with the quiet, steely determination of a woman possessed by a razor-sharp legal mind who believed in campaigning within the law. Performed by Suzanne Dance and Clunie Mackenzie (with the script co-written by Jo Clifford), who place stories of the past in the context of our present struggles. Combined with Rachel Amey's vision of women's future, this interactive theatrical event is dedicated to the memory of Sue Innes (writer and feminist campaigner).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Iona, Jan and the Abbey

Iona and the Abbey and a personalised tour.

Too late for a trip to the Isle of St Kilda, ferries stop at the end of September but Iona. Hmmm, I think I’ve heard of it. You can take a ferry to Mull, then on to Iona.
Checking out Iona and what was on offer found the name of a local storyteller, Jan Sutch Pickard. She lived on the Isle of Mull and would be on Iona the next day and was happy to meet for a coffee.

And so next day, early ferry from Oban to the Isle of Mull, a bus trip across the Isle and then a brief ferry ride to the Isle of Iona. It has long been known as a place of spiritual retreat and is often referred to as the ‘Cradle of Christianity’ in Scotland; as, in 563AD, this was the first place in Scotland that St Columba landed after being banished from Ireland.
So my local guide started my pesonalised tour. The small Island half way across to Iona, “Eilean nam Ban” (Woman's Island), so called because Colomba had banned women (and cows) fromThe Isle and so the wife’s of the Abbey workers were sent to this small wind swept dot.
Over the centuries the monks of Iona produced countless elaborate carvings, manuscripts and Celtic crosses. Perhaps their greatest work was the exquisite Book of Kells, which dates from 800 AD, currently on display in Trinity College, Dublin. Shortly after this in 806 came the first of the Viking raids when many of the monks were slaughtered and their work destroyed.
In the Middle Ages it became the site of a Benedictine abbey, and over the centuries it has attracted many thousands of people on their own pilgrim journeys.

It’s latest incarnation as the world famed Iona Community started in Glasgow in 1938 by George MacLeod, in the context of the poverty and despair of the Depression. From a dockland parish in Govan, Glasgow, he took unemployed skilled craftsmen and young trainee clergy to Iona to rebuild both the monastic quarters of the mediaeval abbey and the common life by working and living together, sharing skills and effort as well as joys and achievement.

That original task became a sign of hopeful rebuilding of community in Scotland and beyond. The experience shaped – and continues to shape – the practice and principles of the Iona Community.

Retreats are still offered, jobs are always up for grabs and you can volunteer your services as well, check it out on

Friday, October 16, 2009

Oban : Gateway to the Western Isles

Decide to head west to Oban, hoping it’s not too late in the Season to get to the Isle of St Kilda. The bus drive is spectacular, past Loch Lomond
“By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes
Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond ....”

Through Inverary in Argyll, by the shores of Loch Fyne and the site of the notorious jail that transported quite a few inmates to the colonies. Check out the records:

Through small towns, past mountains, rivers and small inlets where sailing vessels bob, until finally I catch site of Oban, a small horseshoe shaped seaport where ferries chug, boats runabout and busy fishing boats support its reputation as the Seafood Capital of Scotland.

Off to the north west, isle after isle. A couple of notable man-made landmarks; Dunnollie Castle, the seat of kings for over 1200 years and home to the MacDougal clan for over 900 years and the most outstanding feature, McCaig's Tower, often called McCaig's Folly. This Colosseum lookalike stands and was built by a local banker, whose aim it was to provide work for local stonemasons and provide a lasting monument to his family. The original intention was to complete it with a large tower placed in the middle, but this, like the intended statues of McCaig's family, never materialised.

Crossing the Wall

Hadrian’s Wall was begun in 122 AD by the Emperor Hadrian to define to northern frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain. Many parts of it still exist and I caught the train from Newcastle where I figuratively crossed the line into Scotland at Berwick upon Tweed on the coast. All roads lead to the capital Edinburgh so I headed there to decide what to do with a bit of time off before the festival. Amongst other things a visit to the museum, check out the Nethebow storytelling centre in the Royal Mile and admire the castle in all its glory.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dominc Kelly: Crow Stories and More

Got in touch with the North east Storytellers: A Bit crack ( ) and arranged to have lunch with storyteller Chris Bostock. As to be expected talked stories for hour or so before he headed off, I did the tourist thing and arranged to meet later that night at the Star and Shadow Cinema home to their storytelling club. Arrived early to help set up and even given an important job.

“Your Australian, you can pull a beer would you help behind the bar”. It was hectic, learning on the job experience, besides warm beer, really!!!. Had to ask and re-check money, still getting acquainted with it.

Tried to find a definition of crack, other than its drug references and remind you of the work of Diane Wolkstein and her book The Magic Orange tree: HAITIAN FOLKTALES (Check out )
Storytelling is an important part of Haitian life. The elders in a family or in a community often tell stories that have been passed from one generation to the next. It is very common for Haitian children to learn life lessons and moral instruction through storytelling. As night falls in Haitian homes, one will frequently hear a loud “Crick?” and soon a loud “Crack!” “Crick?” is shouted by an elder ready to tell a story. This is a storyteller’s method of finding out if anyone is interested in hearing a story. Those interested in hearing a story respond eagerly and loudly with “Crack!” This tells the storyteller to begin his or her story.

But the storytelling was amazing. Dominic ( )presented two shows tailored to an adult audience. Donna Sife and I discussed this at the Sydney storytellers get together, “Creating a Show for adults”

He started his first story in a conversational manner, himself, hitch hiking, the Glens and moors and mystical landscape of the UK. Then in a grand hall at a wedding feast a women is asked to entertain the group and bring a bit of life to the gathering. And so Dominc takes us on a journey, one event and set of quests is linked to others and familiar motives and iconic characters are described, a swan that becomes a women, giants, tasks to be done, great loves and passion and betrayal and then, when he’d he kept us in his hand for the whole hour, he wound back to the great hall, the storyteller who has narrated the tale, wins back his true love. Spell binding.

A short break, back behind the bar, then his show “Crow”

Originally commissioned by Cambridge Storytelling Festival and funded by Arts Council England. “Folktale, myth and folklore abound with black-feathered tricksters and shape-shifters. Dominic weaves their stories along a northern borderland between fields and sea, where neither crows nor people are quite what they seem. He tells a poignant framing story of his grandfather his life and death as he intersperses it with three crow stories. ‘Intelligent, ruthless, stark, graceful… crows haunt not only the landscapes around us, but also the human inner world. Dominic weaves their stories along a northern borderland between fields and sea, where neither crows nor people are quite what they seem.
What I loved most was his rich use of language and the imagery he created, his commitment to traditional tales and the weaving together of various themes, myths and legends. Wow!

Tyneside, Geordies and the Mason Dixon Line

Caught the train from Carlisle to Newcastle on Tyne, as I had heard about the Children’s Literature Museum, Seven Stories from Kaye Keck at Dromkeen. Whilst in the lakes district, storytellers told me about the ”A Bit Crack: Northeast Storytellers” group and there was to be a performance in a few days by Dominic Kelly.

Arrived late in Newcastle and headed out for tea to at busy Italian bistro in Jesmond near B and B where I was staying. Now a segue, a sidewinder, but you know us storytellers, one story leads to another to something totally different. Sitting with Sylvia and Dan stated to quiz them on local and British history. Tynesider refers to anyone living around the river Tyne and it’s people are known as Geordies.

(Quite a few explanations as to this)
Dan’s father was Scandanavian and he said it was from a Scandinavian word which meant ‘miner’ which a lot of Tynersiders were, the Taxi driver explained there were other explanations
It derives from a familiar diminutive form of the name George, which was once the most popular name for eldest sons in the north-east of England. It was established during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. The Jacobites declared that the natives of Newcastle were staunch supporters of the Hanoverian kings, in particular of George II during the 1745 rebellion. This contrasted with rural Northumbria, which largely supported the Jacobite cause.
Another explanation for the name is that local miners in the north east of England used "Geordie" safety lamps, designed by George Stephenson in 1815, rather than the "Davy lamps" designed by Humphry Davy which were used in other mining communities.

Anyway a line kept running through my head, A Mark Knopfler song

“ I am Jeremiah Dixon, I am a geordie boy ( Check out Lyrics here
Or youtube clip Mark Knopfler / James Taylor singing “Sailing to Philadelphia”
I never knew the song was about the historic line that marked the divide between free states and slave states of North and South states of America. More info
But it had me reflecting what makes storytellers , songwriters use the material songs and stories they do?
Newcastle on tyne was most notable for revitalisation of decaying industry to thriving cultural hub.
Also note, bridge, copied our own Sydney Harbour bridge.

Seven Stories

From the website
Some people say there are only seven stories in the world but a thousand different ways of telling them. Seven Stories is about the thousand ways...... Step inside the Seven Stories, the Centre for Children's Books and explore ever changing landscapes which will inspire ideas and imagination......................

Couldn’t believe it, when I arrived the featured exhibition was Judith Kerr who wrote The Tiger who came to tea, amongst other titles. It was the first story I ever told on the Jolly Jumbuck bus (sponsored by the State Library Victoria) in 1977
Seven stories had curated the most amazing exhibition, Judith born in Germany of Jewish Heritage left with her family to live in Switzerland, then France and finally settle in London. Her mother recognising her precocious talent, saved some of her illustrations and a narrative quality was evident from a very early age. She also wrote an autobiography, When Hitler stole the pink rabbit and a highlight of the exhibition for me was a video of her work with local refugee children sharing the same experiences.

There was a large recreation of the kitchen from “The tiger” and even a toy tiger of enormous proportions that you could sit and play with.
One of the other highlights was mog’s basket, made big enough for mums and toddlers to sit in for storytime.

Met and chatted with the wonderful CEO Kate Edwards who was full of enthusiasm and passion for Seven Stories along with being a huge fan of our own Dromkeen. They had recently featured the work of Robert Ingpen.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Off to Carlisle

I remember Victorian Guild member Gael Cresp introduced me to the story of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady. After hearing her tell it I tracked down a few versions and pulled together my adaptation. I always start it off :-

"King Arthur and his Knights and Queen Guinevere and her ladies

were in Carlisle in the far north of England to spend Christmas.

The feasting had just begun, a boar’s head wreathed in bay leaves on a silver tray,

led the procession of food around the great hall before it was set in front of the King.

Then a thundering of hooves, a pounding on the doors

and into the room came a women covered in wild winter riding.

She raced over and knelt before the King.........................."

Why not off to Carlisle I thought, have a look around.

Book a room, note -things to see a Castle, a Cathedral a Guild House and Museum Art Gallery

On my way to the castle I found an amazing book shop strolled in and found “King Arthur lives in Merrie Carlisle” written by the owner of the shop Stephen Matthews. He has gathered together all the literary references to Arthur over hundreds and hundreds and years. Included is “Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle: What women most desire?” working from a version written down in 1450’s.
I’ve posted it home, I can’t squeeze one more thing into my bag.

A Castle, a Cathedral a Guild House and Museum Art Gallery

Apparently, Carlisle is the only English town not listed on the Magna Carta, as, at the time of writing (1215) it was still a Scottish town. Carlisle was a Roman settlement, established to serve the forts on Hadrian's Wall. During the Middle Ages, because of its proximity to the Kingdom of Scotland, Carlisle became an important military stronghold; after the Castle was built in 1092 by William Rufus. It once served as a prison for Mary, Queen of Scots.

It was eerie in the castle and a couple of the displays and features were incredibly haunting. Jacobites loyal to Scotland were hanged, drawn and quartered, meaning the condemned prisoner would be: Dragged on a hurdle (a wooden frame) to the place of execution.Hanged by the neck for a short time or until almost dead then, disembowelled and emasculated and the genitalia and entrails burned before the condemned's eyes , then The body divided into four parts, then beheaded (quartered).Typically, the resulting five parts (i.e. the four quarters of the body and the head) were gibbeted (put on public display) in different parts of the city, town, or, in famous cases, in the country, to deter would-be traitors who had not seen the execution.
Man’s inhumanity to inhumanity never fails to shock me.
The legendary licking stones are in the dank basement where prisoners would lick the wall for moisture.

The Curse of Carlisle is a 16th century curse that was first invoked by Archbishop Dunbar of Glasgow in 1525 against cross-border families, known as the Border Reivers, who lived by stealing cattle and pillage. The curse was not directly aimed at Carlisle or its people. For the millennium celebrations, the local council commissioned a 14-tonne granite artwork inscribed with all 1,069 words of the curse.
In 1998 some Christians, among other projects, began campaigning to prevent the City of Carlisle from installing the stone. In the wake of this controversy, superstition about the stone grew and a number of the town's setbacks were blamed on the curse stone, including an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, a flood, various crimes, rising unemployment statistics and even the fate of Carlisle United, which was relegated out of its league.

The castle now houses the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment and the Border Regiment Museum. In the early 12th century Henry I allowed the foundation of a priory in Carlisle. The town gained the status of a diocese in 1122, and the priory became Carlisle Cathedral.

Carlisle Cathedral.

When did the Church decide it needed such grand edifices, who was feeding the poor and starving when these grand palaces were being built to the glory of God?

The Carlisle Guild Hall

The Guildhall is Carlisle's only medieval house. Built in 1407 of timber, tile bricks and clay, by Richard of Redeness, he left the house to the community of Carlisle when he died. The tradesmen of the middle ages found it necessary to protect themselves by forming special associations or Guilds. Carlisle had eight Trade Guilds, and each had one room as a meeting place. The Guilds were Butchers, Merchants, Shoemakers, Skinners, Smiths, Tailors, Tanners and Weavers

The Tulle House Museum/ Art Gallery

Consider this???, from an exhibition on the early roman empiure