At the age of 57 she realised all she wanted was a living wage

How do you survive? Not by selling crocheted hats at markets that’s for sure! I admire any artisan who can make a living as a market seller, but most I’ve spoken with supplement their income from markets through selling online and they usually have another ‘proper’ job or income support. For the first time in my life I have no income from any source but my music and storytelling. I am too young for the pension and too old to be on the checkout at the reject shop. I am not going to centrelink to be taught how to write a job resume and then spend my precious time applying for inapproriate positions in marketing and sales. So before anyone takes it upon themselves to see me gainfully employed there are a few points to consider. I am a feminist, a socialist, and a humanitarian. I have a strong sense of ethics, will speak out against injustice and advocate for the disempowered. Too late to be a candidate for the United Nations new Secretary General, but even that position is not up my alley because I’m a storyteller and musician. These are the mediums I work in.

How about volunteer work? Often seen as a way into paid work I believe all artists volunteer in their communities, or all the artists I know do, to varying degrees. For the past sixteen years I presented weekly storytime sessions to the kids at my local school, the last ten years working with children with learning difficulties through to children with severe diabilities in the school’s support unit. This was my heart work, because the children in the support unit taught me how to be a better human being, and I am eternally grateful to them for the privilege of sharing songs and stories with them. However having an income also meant that I could commit to voluntary work. As to ways into paid work, there was never any interest expressed by the leadership in the school to have me conduct storyarts programmes or be an artist in residence. I suspect an attitude typical of many schools in Australia.

So maybe you just aren’t good enough? I have worked in some of the world’s elete international schools and given papers and workshops at international teaching and librarian conferences. I travel to urban and rural areas in Australia to provide professional development training in oral literature and storytelling to early childhood educators. I still do and tomorrow I may receive a reply from one of the hundreds of organisations I email each month saying ‘we want you’ for whatever project/professional development/concert/programme they are organising. Then again, I may not. Much is dependent on funding and getting to the right person. My degree is in performing arts, not librarianship or teaching so those two traditional employers of women are not a haven for me.

So what is the solution? A living wage for every person, regardless of what they do. I hear the haters harking back to that old eighties term of abuse, ‘dole bludger.’  What about the capitalists who make money out of money? No one ever calls them investment bludgers and demand they pay tax! (Actually some of us do but they are more likely to be revered as heroes or larrikins and put on congratulatory rich lists than be made accountable as white collar criminals).

Still, having a living wage is a human right. A more equitable society is not only more just and compassionate , it is more productive. It means that my friends in their 50’s and 60’s who are not working full-time can continue to look after their grandchildren, make art and carry out the tasks associated with their role as community  elders.

Pictured is Artist Joy Serwylo and granddaughter


Cause They Are Wild

The Early Years Conference in Cairns offered me my first experience of being in Far North Queensland. For a number of years I have been interested in Australian flora and fauna, so I was very excited to be visiting Crocodile, Cassowary and Tree Kangaroo country. I wanted to see some of the wildlife without going to Crocodile farms or ‘zoos.’ I did however go to the Cairns Botanic Gardens, which I highly recommend.

On my walks I encountered a scorpion, an eel, butterflies, turtles and birds, both familiar and new, but no tree kangaroos, cassowaries or crocodiles. I consoled myself with the knowledge that just because I can’t see them doesn’t mean they can’t see me (These comforting thoughts do not apply to crocodiles!)

However I did hear stories about them, especially the destruction of cassowary habitat. Not only does their displacement causes them to be on the roads and subsequently run over, but they have more contact with humans, (benefitting neither humans or cassowaries.)  Their population is seriously under threat! Meanwhile the crocodile population is increasing and there are numerous warning signs alerting the public to their presence.

When I went back down south I read about a recent wombat attack of a woman walking two dogs, in Canberra. It didn’t surprise me because the wombat would have been frightened by her dogs and responded as any wild animal under threat does. I’ve known of many kangaroo attacks, especially when they have been fed by humans and therefore expect all humans to feed them, becoming aggressive when they’re not. It got me thinking about why some people believe Australian animals all want to kill you! (They don’t. They are simply wild animals.) So I wrote a song called Cause They Are Wild.

Understanding that Australian native animals are wild is important. Children need to be taught about safe distances to approach wild animals, how to identify animals who feel threatened and how human behaviour can effect an animal’s behaviour. Hopefully this song will help embed some useful safety knowledge into listener’s brains.



Early Years Conference Cairns 2016

There is nothing like having your work scientifically validated! At the Early Years Conference in Cairns, Australia, I attended the keynote address by Dr Lane Strathearn, a neuroscientist and Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Iowa, and experienced this. He spoke on his research into mother-infant attachment, brain function and neuroendocrine systems and how they relate.

‘Infancy is a time of rapid neural development, in which repetitive, attuned social experiences – most often involving facial expressions- are transformed into neural connections, and pathways that become the foundation for social behaviour… Our research has demonstrated that mothers with secure patterns of attachment show greater brain reward response when viewing their own infant’s faces, and increased release of the hormone oxytocin during mother infant interaction. This is accompanied by more attuned maternal behaviour, including verbalization regarding the infant’s internal state, and mother-to-infant gaze during infant distress.’

Neuroscience supports Baby Bounce/RhymeTime/0-5 groups because they strengthen baby’s brain development as well as mother/carer bonding with their baby. Further neuroscience research into the impact of depression, addiction and unresolved trauma on mother-baby attachment shows that there may also be effective treatments.

For many years I have maintained, as I am sure many other early childhood educators also believe, that the more we put into resourcing and supporting mothers and babies, early childhood education and arts and health programmes for young children and their families, the better the outcomes will be not only for the participants i.e. children and families, but all levels of our society. Specific early literacy/live language programmes for babies and their carers have been offered by numerous public libraries in Australia over the last decade. But we need more. In previous blogs I have spoken about the myriad of outcomes gleaned from them.

My workshop at the conference, Humble Offerings: The application of oral literature in family support and early childhood education settings gave an overview of 3 projects which I have referred to in previous blogs. Each had oral literature; storytelling, rhymes and songs as their foundation. They were conducted to provide positive literacy experiences to parents, carers and teachers, and the children themselves. Additionally the first project also had a specific health objective.

The Tales for Terrific Talkers project was a year long project in collaboration with Port Macquarie Speech Therapists, to trial storytelling as a speech therapy technique for the treatment of speech and language delays in children aged 2-8.

Storytelling for Literacy and Connectedness was a two year programme conceived by Kempsey Library to provide outreach storytimes to families with young children in need of supported literacy programmes, such as young mothers groups, supported playgroups and Aboriginal Preschools.

Everyone has a place: Positioning Aboriginal kids in the World Through Storytelling was a 6 week storytime programme to follow on from the Storytelling for Literacy and Connectedness Programme based at two Aboriginal preschools in Kempsey.

In each programme the presentations had a twofold purpose; to create a positive shared storytelling experience and to mentor the adults to recreate this experience in the home or early childhood setting. The beauty of oral literature is its accessibility and myriad of applications. In each of these programmes the following outcomes were observed: family bonding strengthened, cultural identity affirmed, listening protocols learnt as well as hearing problems identified.
Thanks to The Early Years Conference Committee for providing a forum where scientists, social workers and educators could meet and discuss how their work intersects and supports each other.

Pictured are  Balaclava Children’s Centre Workers after a Storytime workshop. 


Baby Bounce

It has been my privilege and pleasure to present a four week Baby Bounce Programme through the Clarence Valley Libraries in NSW in June 2016. Most people who work in Public Libraries are aware of, if not already delivering these library-based family literacy programmes (Baby Bounce, Rhyme Time and similarly named programmes for the 0-2 age group).

Professor Susan Hill has been an advocate and researcher into the outcomes of these programmes over the past decade.  You can read her paper here on the studies she has conducted and the myriad of literacy outcomes achieved through these ‘live language’ programmes.

Here are some photographs from the sessions I have presented, with an accompanying commentary.

  1. Mentoring: Here we are in a photo shoot with our babies. A key component in teaching rhymes and songs is demonstrating positive actions and interactions that can be easily learnt and applied in a home setting, and offering parents and carers accompanying written resources to enhance their skills.


2. Modelling: “Clap hands, clap hand till Daddy comes home.” Parents and carers are children’s first teachers, and what better way to learn than through songs and rhymes.


3. Active Listening: “All fall down!” As well as learning concepts such as up, down, high, low, fast and slow, babies extend their vocabulary, learn how to identify rhyming patterns and experience the thrill of anticipating a rhyme’s climax.


4. Integration: ‘But let the little brumby go bare, bare, bare.” Sharing examples of how we can integrate rhymes and songs into baby’s daily life, such as bath time, change time, sleep time and food time .


5. Co-operation: “Here is baby’s belly-button, round and round it goes.” When older children are familiar with the rhyme they actively participate in discovering the body parts mentioned in the rhyme for themselves.


6. Body Awareness: “The Moon is round as round can be.” Skin to skin contact in a gentle rhyme that that teaches about facial features, the senses and shapes.


7. Trust, Intimacy and Love: Through repeated performance of rhymes and songs by the parent or carer, babies learn to forge bonds of trust, develop intimacy and experience the joy of loving and being loved.


8. Music-Making and Movement: Babies learn that holding something and shaking or striking it can create a sound. Repeating that movement creates music. Rhymes also have a beat that they can clap their hands and kick their feet too.


9.  Engagement: Babies are active learners and active listeners. They learn through their senses and from the moment they are born they are interpreting their environment and who is in it. They form strong bonds with their carers and long before they can talk are actively communicating with those around them. The rhythm of walking and talking is a natural one for babies.


10. Community: Babies are part of our community and enjoy listening to music, experiencing rhymes and expressing joy through active participation like older children and adults do.


With Thanks to Katrina Shillam from Clarence Valley Libraries, NSW Australia.

Storyteller: Best Job in the World!

I have the best job in the world! A contentious statement I admit, but I will stand by my words. There are so many reasons why I believe this and chief among them is the people that I work with, primarily children and librarians. Of course there’s also parents, teachers, artists, musicians, healers and advocates for social justice who enhance the mix.
During the past month I have had the pleasure of conducting storytelling and oral literature workshops to staff at an early childhood centre in South Korea and two groups of public librarians in Australia. In each instance I parted with a feeling that the material I shared would in turn be be passed on to the children in their care. And that is my intention; I want to be a conduit for quality stories and rhymes.
There are easily accessible written sources, including my own, for presenting oral literature, however, there is nothing like a live language experience to feel the power of oral storytelling. This is why everyone, babies through to elders enjoy storytelling and oral literature in its many forms. The best evidence for this assertion is on a child’s face when they are experiencing storytelling. Even before children can talk, they can enjoy songs, rhymes, stories and being read to. Here are some pictures from the Baby Bounce sessions I am presenting in June through the Clarence Valley Libraries in NSW.


Shared Reading Experiences

In my first year working in public libraries I was asked by an elderly patron the inevitable. Have you got any Enid Blyton books? Naturally being a young and enthusiastic promoter of quality children’s literature I made alternative suggestions, because ‘nowadays there are so many ‘good’ picture books and chapter books for kids.’ All true, with the exception of the patron being elderly, she was probably only a few years older than I am now, but I was young and thought anyone over 50 was old, let alone 60!!! This grandmother had requested the books for her grandchildren; the same books she’d read as a child. While my thoughts were about expanding reading repertoires, she was attempting to create a shared reading experience.

As a storyteller I have learnt the importance of shared storytelling experiences; it’s not about the story it’s about the listener. This adage also translates to reading books together. It’s not about the literary quality of a story, it’s about the effect of the story on the reader/listener. There are many things that a shared reading or storytelling experience does for the participants: it brings them closer together, it connects them, it forges understanding, it opens hearts as well as eyes and ears.

As a young woman I was a self righteous advocate. I think that a few decades on I have tempered the self righteousness in my advocacy and am more open to the perspectives of others. This leads me to the choices I make for shared reading experiences with the children in my life. I have not scoured libraries for copies of The Magic Faraway Tree, even though Enid Blyton figured large in my childhood. (Aside from Milly Molly Mandy author, Joyce Lankester Brisley and in later years Mary Grant Bruce and her Little Bush Maid series and Elyne Mitchell of Silver Brumby fame) books were not endemic in my household. I have kept most of the books from my childhood, but the majority of children’s book in my personal library are those read with my children, usually discovered in a public library and loved so much they were bought for keeping.

Public Libraries have been the equivalent of a dating site for me; one where I don’t have to pay, I can have as many or as few as I want, where I am safe and in control and where I invariably leave satisfied. Further to this I can join a group and discuss my ‘date!’ The difference between a public library and a dating site is that children too can meet books and find passion, comfort and love in their local library.
With the announcement of the 2016 Notable Children’s Books I hope that many new shared reading experiences can be born.


Pictured are some of my ‘old flames.’

The Three Sillies

There was once a young man who went a courting a young woman. Each night he would visit her house and her parents would welcome him to the fireside and pour him a mug of cider. This night they ran out of cider and the girl’s father sent her down to the cellar to draw some more from the barrel. The girl put her jug underneath the tap and let the cider out. As she did so she looked up at the ceiling and saw an axe blade lodged in the beam.

‘Oh my,’ she thought, ‘what if I were to marry my sweetheart and then we were to have a son and he grew up into a fine young man who came down here to the cellar to draw some cider and that axe head dislodged itself and fell on his head and killed him?’

And she wept, and her weeping soon turned to sobs and there she sat in the middle of a puddle of cider, bawling her eyes out.

After a time, the mother began to worry about where her daughter was, so went down to the cellar, where she found her in a right mess. She sat down beside her and asked the cause of her sorrow. The girl explained and the mother too was upset by what could happen to her future grandson that she joined her daughter and they wept together.

Upstairs the father was wondering where his daughter and wife were, so he came down to the cellar to find them both huddled in a puddle of cider crying their eyes out. When he asked the cause of their distress his wife explained, then he too set up a wailing about what terrible future awaited his grandson.

Meanwhile the young suitor was puzzled by the absence of his sweetheart and her parents and descended the stairs to find the cellar flooded and all three overcome with grief. He went straight to the barrel and turned off the tap then asked the cause of the distress. When his sweetheart explained, he looked up at the ceiling and laughed.

‘I’ve never met three sillier people in all my life,’ he said, ‘but I will go out into the world to see if I can find some, and if I do I will come back and marry you next week.’
With that he set off up the stairs and out into the wide world, in search of  sillier folk than his sweetheart and her parents.

It wasn’t long before he came upon a woman who was pushing her cow up a ladder on to the roof of her house.

‘Why are you doing this?’ he asked.
‘Because there is fresh green grass growing on the roof and I want my cow to have it,’ she answered.
‘But why not cut the grass and toss it down?’ he continued.

The woman gave one mighty shove and the cow was now standing on the roof.

‘Because,’ she answered.
‘So are you going to stay up on the roof with the cow while she eats the grass?’
‘I’ve got better things to do than watch my cow eat grass,’ she replied, ‘I will be inside doing my chores.’
‘But what if your cow falls off the roof?’ he asked.
‘I’ll stop her,’ she muttered. ‘I’m very attached to my cow and won’t let anything like that happen. I’ve tied a rope around her neck and I’ll feed it down the chimney then when I’m inside the house I’ll tie that rope to my wrist and that way I’ll make sure my cow doesn’t fall,’ she said.

The man shook his head as she climbed down the ladder and went inside.

‘I think that is a silly idea,’ he said and walked away. ‘Now I know there’s at least one sillier woman than my sweetheart.’

That night he was approaching an inn when a fellow carrying a rake ran up to him and said, ‘Have you heard the news about the double death?’
‘No,’ he said.
’Silliest thing,’ said the fellow, ‘ a cow got hung from the roof of a house and her owner got suffocated in the chimney. Folks say she was very attached to that cow.’
The young man shook his head and surveyed the older man in front of him.

‘Tell me sir, where are you off to this night with a rake?’
‘It’s that time of the month again, when the moon falls into the river and we all take rakes and brooms and shovels to try and get it out. You can help,’ he said. ‘Follow me.’

The two hurried to a river where the whole village were roaming up and down the banks dipping their implements into the water and shouting. The young man looked up at the full moon rising and said to his companion, ‘ Look up into the sky man. The moon’s still there. That’s just its reflection in the water.’

A chorus of laughter greeted him.
‘You’re looking at the sun my good fellow,’ said his companion. ‘Don’t be looking up there, look in the water, that’s where the moon is, and we have to try and get it out before it drowns.’

After a few more attempts to persuade the moonrakers to give up their senseless quest, the young traveller returned to the inn and passed the night there. He had found a whole village of people sillier than his prospective in-laws.

The following morning he was awakened by the sound of thumping against the wall and upon investigation saw a man jumping off a cupboard in an attempt to get into his trousers which he had slung over a chair. He decided there and then to show the man a simpler way to put his trousers on. The fellow was very grateful to have been shown this simple trick and thanked the traveller profusely. However as the young man left he heard thumping again, and turned to see that the trouserwearer was attempting to leapfrog into his shoes. He shook his head in dismay and left the inn, determined to return home and marry his sweetheart. The following evening he asked permission to marry her.

‘So we are not the silliest people in the world after all,’  said the young bride to be.
‘Not by a long shot,’ he replied. ‘I have encountered many sorts of silliness,’ he replied. ’The silliness of being too attached to something, the silliness of not looking at a situation from different perspectives and the silliness of replacing bad habits with more bad habits.’
‘And what of my silliness?’ she asked.
‘The silliness of not living in the present can bring much needless grief,’ he said, and reached for his sweetheart’s hand. ‘So let us forget the past and not worry about the future but enjoy living now.’

And so they were married in the Spring and the following year they had a son who grew into a fine young man who was a credit to his parents and his grandparents, and he lived to be a wise old man who told silly stories. And this is one of them.



Photo: The Zealous Axeman  by Atlanta Clapton