Between Recognition & Anonymity

The Greek myth of Scylla and Charybdis gave rise to the saying ‘between a rock and a hard place,’ and relates to choosing between ‘two evils.’

The narrow strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily was home to these two monsters.  On one side of the strait Scylla lived under the sea, in a cliff. Every time a ship passed by, she would lash out at it, capturing the men on board in each of her six heads, and devouring them. Living in a cave opposite her was Charybdis, a monster with a huge mouth and fish-like arms and legs. Three times a day, she would swallow large amounts of seawater and then throw it back out after a few hours. This swallowing and spewing of water created massive whirlpools, that engulfed passing ships. Navigating the strait without loss of life was considered impossible and the Greek hero Odysseus, was hailed as the only sailor to have survived the journey.

I face Scylla and Charybdis in the telling/not telling of my story. To tell is to risk being devoured, discredited and disbelieved to not tell is to drown in the depths of oblivion. And does it make a difference to anyone but you?

I have always regarded truth-tellers as brave, because there are no rewards for the whistleblower except knowing that maybe you have made a difference. And that is a big maybe. If everyone speaks out like the women in the Metoo movement does that make a difference? Will sexual violence against women cease because there is such outrage at the scale of it that no man will dare violate another woman. Is knowing you are not alone in being a victim a ‘comfort’ or a nightmare? How could this happen to thousands? millions? of women.

How did the attempted genocide of indigenous cultures in countries like Australia, the United States and Brazil take place? Admittedly many non-indigenous people in those countries were not aware of the extent and murderous intent of government sanctioned acts, but if they were, would they have demanded that they cease? Would treaties be enacted, land rights adhered to and human rights violations stop immediately? I’m doubtful, as here in Australia even today we gaol children as young as ten years old, a disproportionate number being indigenous children, and we authorise the indeterminate incarceration of refugee children in offshore detention camps, both acts in violation of Human Rights. These criminal commissions are sanctioned by the Australian government and the people of Australia voted for successive governments who have carried out these acts.

We can ask how could the Holocaust have taken place when so many countries knew the anti-semitic tenets of National Socialism in the decade before the Nazi’s began their quest for world domination? Why didn’t democratic governments speak out against the rise of Nazism?

What these acts all have in common is the sense of entitlement of the oppressors to enact their violence against those they consider less than human, and that can be anyone who does not fit into the category of powerful human being in a given community/society. Their actions often have the implicit consent of those in power and additionally can be internalized by the victims themselves. i.e. they blame themselves or normalize the violence of the perpetrators.

How can my story assist in bringing justice to the world? The best way for me to navigate the strait of Messina is to embrace the story of Truth and Parable. Here naked Truth is shunned whenever he appears, so instead, adopts the guise of Parable and dressed in his colourful clothes is subsequently welcomed wherever he goes.

I tell folktales because they embody the values and lessons I want to share with my listeners, and when I write, my characters reflect the courage, vulnerability and experiences I want to share with my readers. Naturally I use the storyteller’s tools to fabricate, elaborate and promulgate. My story, whatever story I tell or write, is about me, what I believe, or don’t believe, not necessarily my experiences. (NB: I have never been a wolf, a police officer or a thirteen year old boy).

Photo: Charybdis, stolen from the internet.

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Library Workers as Educators and Mentors for Parents and Carers

Part 2.

I am not here to give you instructions on how to do your job. You have been presenting Storytimes and Rhyme times for many years now. You have established your routines, your protocols for listening and interacting, you’ve built up a rapport with the parents and carers and the little ones know how it all works, even if they don’t know all the stories, songs and rhymes you will be presenting. What then is my role in giving a workshop to you?

There are only two things I want to impart: introducing you to material that you can choose to incorporate into your sessions, thereby expanding your repertoire of oral literature and secondly, helping you discover your storytelling philosophy and your particular way of sharing it.

The first I do by providing participants with CDs and/or booklets with material that they can go through in detail, at their leisure. During the allotted three hours for a workshop there is time for briefly going through it and demonstrating it. If there are specific gestures or Makaton keyword signing to accompany particular rhymes then I will demonstrate them, however I have no expectations that participants will have immediate competency with learning words in another language. It takes time and practice and you need to feel confident. If, however, someone points out you ‘got it wrong’ then this is an opportunity for their participation and may open up the possibility of having a signer at storytime. The same may apply when you use words other than English.   The Auslan Signbank is an excellent website for learning Auslan words.

auslan.org.au

Exploring storytelling philosophy is more challenging because that entails asking participants to think beyond what they are already presenting, to look not only at why they do what they do, but what more of themselves they want to give.

An exciting discovery at a recent workshop with Moree libraries was that half the participants were musicians and yet they had not brought their instruments to storytime or baby bounce. Their musicianship was part of their lives outside their work and they hadn’t thought of including it in their sessions. This is going to change now.

It brings me to my contention that library workers are mentors and educators for parents and carers. Not only do they expose them to oral literature in a format that can be easily replicated in the home i.e. the content is repeated and built on each week, they also share information in a friendly and accessible way, on the importance of reading, rhyming and singing with children and the mutual joy it brings. In addition they also act as another adult who can furnish a child with a positive listening experience.

What if the library worker brings their cello or their keyboard or their guitar to storytime and plays calming music, to prepare the children for story listening or a lullaby at the end of Baby Bounce?  What if a jolly song is played as a goodbye song, or music is used to create a mood when a story is being read? All of these things are possible when music is included. My role is to remind library workers that they are the most important resource the library has to offer the general public. Not only do they source, navigate, translate and advocate for all library users, they also bring their own stories and skills to inform and entertain their listeners.

There’s a library of information on the importance of oral literature in assisting the growth and development of babies and young children, and in my workshops I assume that most storytime presenters are familiar with it. Knowing what you are doing is important but knowing why you, specifically, are doing it, is even more so.

The primary reason I present storytimes to young children and their parents and carers is because I want to impart a positive listening experience… and because it’s fun.

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Rural & Remote Community Storytimes

PART 1.

Some of these women have driven two hours on dirt roads to come to the library. The branch may be small compared to city libraries but its offerings are huge; not just the collection, but a child friendly place to connect with other families in the district.

Like other libraries servicing young families with storytimes and rhyme time sessions, you can never be sure how many will turn up because of sickness. However, for rural and remote communities the weather and season also play a key element for attendance. In the wet season cyclones may reek havoc and roads may be closed for weeks due to flooding. And then there’s the spectre of breaking down and having to change a tyre on the four-wheel drive when it’s 45 degrees and you’ve got couple of toddlers on board.

Children are often home-schooled so they come to the library with their baby brothers and sisters. Together with the few young families who live in the township these are my people for Rhyme Time. I am told it’s a big turnout. Everyone is excited. The branch librarian and her assistant feed them home made cakes and most of them will stay for storytime as well.

In big libraries storytime caters for the 2-5 year olds but I am told the whole school is coming to my session, 18 kids between 5 and 12, plus the toddlers from the first session.  I change my programme to suit and am reassured that so few things happen in the town, the school didn’t want to miss out. And no they don’t. I am a storyteller and I work to whoever is in the room, so they get stories appropriate for older kids.

Everyone has a good time. Roman and I leave a CD and Peep-bo baby booklet for the library and now it is time to move on to the next branch, further down the road.

We have managed to not run over any wildlife, get a flat tyre, break a windscreen or sink in the bulldust and we have shared stories, sung songs, played music with kids and their carers and taught new rhymes to mums and bubs. All in all a successful storytelling tour. Part 2 looks at the role of library workers as educators and mentors for children and parents.

Photo by Roman W. Schatz

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Heroes that Aren’t!

I realised early on in my life that the men I was supposed to look up to were not deserving of my admiration. To be fair, kids don’t always get the ‘full’ or ‘back’ story to a scene they witness, so may not have a rounded perspective on a situation. However, unlike adults, many kids respond instinctively to experiences; they haven’t learnt to intellectualise. For example if a child sees a man hit a woman, then the child’s fight or flight response is triggered. Other emotions such as wanting to protect the victim may also be evoked, but may be secondary to the child’s need to survive. They will not think about whether there is a valid reason for that act to take place (there isn’t) or that the aggressor is deserving of empathy. (Knowing someone’s story does not excuse their behaviour, but may be useful in preventing further violence). They are afraid of the aggressor and act accordingly. If the child is a victim of an adult’s abuse or aggression, they are not going to analyse the actions of the aggressor except in relation to themselves as being somehow responsible for what happened (they aren’t).

The results of childhood abuse are many and if perpetrated by a trusted adult then that violation of trust incurs an understandable suspicion of other people who may fall into the category of a potential abuser as identified by the victim. Whether or not they are abusers is not the issue; if trusted, respectable, powerful men abuse, then any man can.

With the second wave of Feminism in the 1960’s to 1990’s and the establishment of Rape Crisis Centres, Women’s Refuges and Women’s Health Centres, women broke the silence surrounding abuse and began speaking out about their abusers. Feminist lawyers and advocates lobbied for Australian law reform, reflecting the wider community’s call for more just and equitable treatment of women under the law.

The long held belief that women and children lie has been challenged and proved wrong. This notion was enshrined in Australian law as sexual assault complainants (mainly women) and children were not considered reliable witnesses by themselves and needed corroboration. Corroboration warnings by judges about the potential unreliability of categories of witnesses are now recognised as discriminatory and based on prejudice rather than empirical evidence.

While the fight for justice for all women in both the criminal and family law courts is by no means over, the process of exacting justice has meant that many myths about sexual abuse and violence have been shattered. The truth that resonates strongest in me is Rape is about Power not Sex.

Once that is understood then we are no longer surprised by celebrities, statesmen and leaders being abusers. Their use of sex as a means to threaten, humiliate and punish a woman or child is effective in reinforcing their power. The fact that they may derive sexual pleasure from their abuse is an added incentive for them.

 The exposure of more abusers has come to pass not because there are more of them, but because the victims are testifying to that abuse. More women are feeling empowered to speak out. In our own families and communities we may offer our support personally to the victims of abuse, and in the world-wide community we may send messages of support, but how do we respond to the perpetrator, if he is a celebrity?

Do we separate the abuser from his work? It was easy for me to deal with Gary Glitter. Yes I loved his songs as a teenager, but I don’t listen to them now. Rolf Harris was harder. I had grown up with his songs, his personality on TV shows and I often performed his songs. I will never sing Six White Boomers at a library christmas party again!

I am sure there are many artists who, if I knew what they did in their personal life, I would turn my back on. As a musician I am clear on not performing material that is created by abusers. (I may do so unknowingly but upon discovery I literally turn my back on them as a protest at their acts.) But what about the ‘good guys’ who turn out to be ‘bad guys?’

I had a recent experience with liking the work of an ‘environmentalist.’ His social media presence was a positive one…many photos of him doing good work. Until I discovered his role in one of the grossest acts of racism perpetrated on the Aboriginal people of Australia. He told lies about the perpetration of sexual abuse of children by community members and numerous other malicious tales of abuse that served the political agenda of a government who enacted the Northern Territory Intervention over a decade ago. The community he slandered is still suffering from the damage caused by this man and nowhere have I seen him take responsibility for his actions.

Is his present work an attempt to redeem himself for the suffering he caused to so many Aboriginal people?  Unfortunately not, because for all the animals he purports to be saving, he has used his privileged position to deny that deforestation is a key factor in the destruction of habitat and subsequent endangerment of wildlife. He continues to serve a lobby group with an agenda at odds with conservation, protection and justice, in much the same way he did a decade previously to impel the Northern Territory Intervention.

So I have ‘unliked’ his facebook page! The equivalent of turning my back on him. Given that I have written primarily about sexual abusers in this post, it may seem odd that I have included him. I have no evidence that he is at all, and I do not make that claim, however for my purposes he fits into the realm of men who abuse their power and inflict  misery on their victims, and profit from it.

In researching him, I was reminded of the following folktale about mischief-making.

https://morganschatzblackrose.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/the-mischief-maker/

More information on the Northern Territory Intervention and Habitat Destruction.

https://newmatilda.com/2017/06/23/bad-aunty-seven-years-how-abc-lateline-sparked-racist-nt-intervention/

https://newmatilda.com/2017/10/10/its-the-habitat-destruction-stupid/

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Nanna Kissed Baby Show

Many years ago someone asked my father what I did for work. His reply was ‘I dunno. Playschool or somethin’.’

In Australia it’s the dream of every early childhood educator to get a gig on Playschool- Australia’s longest running and I believe, still the best TV show for young children. But alas and alack I am on the other side of the screen … still. I am no longer waiting for the ABC to include me in their stable of early childhood presenters, I’ve got my own youtube show for little kids and their carers: The Nanna Kissed Baby Show.

A weekly broadcast of songs, rhymes and stories featuring Alby (needed a real baby not a teddy for this gig) thanks to Atlanta and Aaron who kindly provided me with said Grandchild.

This is a family show, and Roman, aka Opi, is camera operator, wardrobe mister, director and production manager. The aim of this project is to share some rhymes and songs that I have written over the years I have been storytelling and playing music with children.

Please note: If you’re looking for a slick, sponsored, capitalist production, this aint it! But if you want to learn some new rhymes and songs in an Australian context, please watch.

 

 

 

I’m Telling!

 

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell 1984

I read on social media that my Uncle had just died. Another ‘good bloke’ gone to meet his maker.  What tales would they tell about him at his wake? Not the beatings and the rapes, not the abandonment of a young mother and child in a country he occupied. He is like all the other ‘good blokes’ in my extended family; the pedophile with a plaque dedicating a park and playground to him for his ‘good works,’ the murderer who killed his wife and three children before shooting himself, the football hero who imprisoned and beat his wife for two days, the arsonist who burnt down a house out of spite, all ‘good blokes,’ or so the stories that are told about them claim.

I imagine the mourners at my Uncle’s wake will regale each other with tales of mateship and bravado. We do not speak ill of the dead, so no one will challenge his ‘good bloke’ status by speaking of the horrors endured by his victims. Even if some are present, they will not tell their story for fear of ridicule, disbelief or accusations of madness. The stories of the victims continue to be buried with the perpetrators, unless we make a safe space for their telling.

My mother was who women in my family told their stories too. Over the years she told me many of those stories. But even she didn’t know them all; some stories never find a listener.

As a child she would say to her visiting woman friends, ‘little pigs have big ears,’ and my sisters and I would be sent outside to play, so we couldn’t overhear the Womantalk; the secret, sad and shocking stories of their lives.

As teenagers many of us were the subject of Womantalk, but telling our own stories was rarely an option. Victims were shamed into silence, suppressed by the threat of violence or sent away. In the 1970’s the time for advocacy was well overdue. The second wave of feminism had risen in the form of the Women’s Liberation Movement, and feminists were not only telling their stories publicly, they were acting on them, demanding law reform, the provision of Women’s health and information services and equal rights. Their stories had been kept secret long enough. Breaking the silence around issues of violence against women was a political act, a catalyst for achieving justice for women.

I became privy to many women’s stories while working in Australia’s newly created Rape Crisis Centres and Women’s Refuges in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It was here I learnt that every woman who came through the door had a story to tell, and often it was similar to the stories of the women who worked in the centres. I read Germaine Greer and Anne Summers seminal books, The Female Eunuch and Damned Whores and God’s Police, to gain a framework in understanding the oppression of Women as a class. With my feminist sisters I sang American song writer, Holly Near’s song Fight Back, at demonstrations:

‘Women all around the world,

every colour religion or age,

one thing we got in common,

we can all be battered and raped,

We can all be battered and raped.

And so we gotta fight back,

In large numbers,

Fight back,

I can’t make it alone,

Fight back,

In large numbers,

Together we can make a safe home.

Together we can make a safe home.’

My belief in the power of women as a force for political change emboldened me to tell my own story and advocate for the right of others to tell theirs. However it would be many years before I understood how best to advocate for myself.

While the foundation of my belief system is grounded in Feminism, I discovered that the oral telling of traditional folktales was a creative and exciting medium for expressing those beliefs. It did not take me long to find tales of wily women and clever girls. Sheroes. These were the stories I needed to hear, and thereby reasoned that others did too. Storyteller, Gill Di Stefano became my friend and mentor, and together we worked on stories of empowerment.

For the past thirty years I have told folktales, not the personal stories of women from my work in Women’s Services. Aside from the ethics of sharing another’s story in a context they are not aware of, I choose to tell folktales because they are the stories of the people, all people. They are our global inheritance. The joy of working with traditional stories is that there is a story for every purpose. They are a mirror reflecting our humanity, or lack of it. My task is to find the right story to tell at the right time to the right audience!

I am often asked why I became a storyteller, and for many years I gave explanations about the application of oral storytelling in the promotion of cultural diversity, literacy, oral traditions, education and communication. All valid reasons that I still subscribe too. However, one day I answered without thinking; because I want to be heard.

The most important validation any storyteller can receive is to be listened to. A story does not live without a listener. For centuries folktales have travelled from from tongue to ear and in recent times been written down, only to leap off the page and continue their journey with a new generation of tellers. Some stories have died with the tellers, and others have been resurrected and given new meaning.

Storytellers, Bettina Nissen and Harriet Mason said respectively, ‘ All stories are personal,’ and ‘If you want to be heard you will be.’ I have taken these words to heart, allowing them to guide me on my storytelling path. This is why I tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

This ‘protection’ story is a metaphorical tool for understanding power within society. It is also a story of empowerment with active agency by the girl. Unlike the reality for many victims of violence, a folktale has clear delineation of good and evil, goodness prevails and justice is dispensed. Little Red Riding Hood is not blamed for the wolf’s attack and the wolf is not free to attack again. End of story.

Given that so many women have loosed their stories upon the world, how is it that there is not an end to violence, in all its forms? Have they not been listened to? Have their stories been twisted into fantasies, buried or ignored?

While I have breath in my body, fire in my belly and a song in my heart, I am beholden to tell the stories of ‘the poor mother,’ ‘the hungry girl,’ ‘the foolish boy,’ ‘the abandoned baby,’ so that they may rise to the surface of our consciousness and be a torch to light our humanity and promote civil and compassionate societies.

Photo by Roman W. Schatz

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Drumming up Stories

As artists Roman and I have opportunities to work with creative people, many of whom are of short stature i.e. kids. Our latest school holiday programme Drumming Up Stories, a one hour concert of musical folktales followed by the Recycled Orchestra workshop, encouraged kids to actively participate in storytelling, instrument invention and music-making.

All the gang were there; Roman’s kangaroo harp, George the Djembe, Milly Molly Mandolin, and boxes of workshop materials: empty cans, bottles, plastic containers, balloons, bamboo, lentils, rubber bands and packing tape.

What ensued was three hours of jolly good fun. Here are some photos of the workshops. Educators interested in this programme are encouraged to contact us story@schatzblackrose.com

Photos by Roman W. Schatz