A glimpse into the motivation and process behind a storytelling show
I like to walk.
One of my favourite walks is just at the end of my street. I cross a busy road; I walk past the skate bowl, and then I walk a little further.
Now I’m standing at the mouth of the Yarra River – The Birrarung – River of Mists. It springs from the flanks of Mt Baw Baw, and is 242 kilometres long. The river is older than time, and ends up at the end of my street.
When standing at the mouth of the Yarra, I look to the north and see the Westgate Bridge flies over the water and directly in front I see the Central Business District. Sometimes, when the sun is setting, those tall buildings give a very good impression of being gold plated.
Then if I turn to my right and go along a little way, I come to a fence and a gate. I can go through the gate … No wait a minute. We can all go through the gate, but careful to close it behind us, because its there to keep dogs and rabbits out. And together we can walk along this spit of land called Sandy Point.
Some time ago, Sandy Point was planted out with indigenous plants. See that tree? It’s a She Oak.
We call this place Hobsons Bay but the first people, the Yalukit-willam, knew it as Koort boork-boork. It means ‘Clump of She Oak’. Koork boork-boork. Say it in a whisper and you will evoke the susurrus of the She-oak.
The plants, on Sandy Point, are a habitat for birds, which means, any time of the year I can go bird watching. Out on the spit I’ll always see honeyeaters: big wattlebirds, little wattlebirds, yellow winged honeyeaters, plumed honeyeaters.
And on the sheltered side of Sandy Point there are always pelicans and swans, cormorants: little black and a pied, grebes: hoary-headed and a crested. There are ducks: Australasian Black and Chestnut Teal. I’ve seen Pink-eared Ducks; I’ve even seen a Musk Duck … and when the tide is out, on the sand …. I’ll nearly always see Red-capped Plovers and Pied Oystercatchers.
But around September I could show you Red-necked Stints and possibly Sharp-tailed Sandpipers or a Ruddy Turnstone. These are the migratory shore birds -the ones that travel between this part of Australia and Siberia where they go to breed.
This is because, if you didn’t know already, Sandy Point is on a flyway: The East Asian Australasian Flyway. That’s the name of the corridor that these migratory shorebirds use when they fly between south-east Australia and Siberia. Every year, great flocks take to the sky around March and April and fly across Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, and China to the Arctic tundra where they lay their eggs. These birds know nothing of the borders, languages, cultures and religions that divide people.
One day, when I was walking out on Sandy Point, the storyteller in me got to thinking: if I could travel the Flyway with the birds, say the Red-necked Stints, what tales might I hear along the way that I could bring back home and share.
Well, I wasn’t going to be travelling the Flyway with the birds, not in the near future anyway, so I did a little virtual travelling. I found stories to tell from Indonesia, Thailand and Siberia. Then I stumbled across something quite magical. On YouTube, I found a video about the Stints. It had been created and posted by Boondall Wetlands who is managed by Brisbane City Council. In telling the story of the migration, a kamishibai was used.
Kamishibai is a Japanese way of telling stories; kami – paper, shibai – theatre. Using a small wooding box, picture cards are framed and the storyteller slides the images along as they tell.
A popular way of delivering stories in Japan in the 1930s – 50’s, the kamishibai storytellers mounted the stages onto bikes and peddled the streets with tales of adventure. An enthusiastic bike rider and a lover of visual storytelling, I had been creating and pedaling kamishibai stories for while when I saw the video.
I read on the Boondall website, that they have a sister wetland in Yatsu-higata in Japan. The kamishibai story I was admiring was a gift from Yatsu-higata; like the red-necked stints, it had come down the Flyway.
In my enthusiasm to share this story, I rang the rangers at Boondall to find out if the picture cards could be sent further south. Like all the rangers I meet, these folks are about the ‘big picture’ and very keen to get information out into the community, share stories, ideas and resources. To cut a long anecdote short, the word ‘protocol’ was mentioned and then emails zapped between Brisbane City Council and Yatsu-higata. In a surprisingly short time, I received the news that they would all be delighted to send the story on, knowing that it was being shared in Hobsons Bay and other Victorian wetlands.
The images were scanned and one at a time I watched them arrive as jpegs into my email.
By this stage, I was working with my musical collaborator, Sarah Depasquale, on developing the idea of stories collected along the Flyway into a storytelling show for Festivals – ‘Tales from the Flyway’. Sarah is a classically trained violinist who shares my passion for birds, bikes and plants. She was as excited about the kamishibai story as I was. Together we worked on the text to go with the images, leaving plenty of space for her to compose music. We were working with pictures, words and sound and played with the balance between the three, exploring what could be said, played and what needed to be silent.
Our show ‘Tales from the Flyway’ was launched at the Williamstown Festival in 2015 and since then we have performed at the Port Fairy Folk Festival, Newport Folk Festival, the Immigration Museum and others places besides. We often perform just one of the tales at open mics and other storytelling nights but most commonly we are asked to share the kamishibai tale of ‘Tom the Red-necked stint’. This story is now told in Yatsu-higata, Boondall and Victoria by Sarah and I.
Tom may only weigh as much as a piece of toast, but in his lifetime, he will fly the distance to the moon and back again. Now that’s an epic tale worth telling!
About the Storyteller: Jackie Kerin is a storyteller based in Melbourne, Australia. She is the current president of Storytelling Australia Victoria and enthusiastic to build and strengthen networks of support for storytellers to grow their knowledge and skill wherever they are in the State. You can see Jackie and Sarah in action on this website