The History of Storytelling Australia Victoria
SAV has a long history of commitment to the art of oral storytelling in Victoria. Louisa John-Krol, a long-time member of our organisation, has researched and collated our foundational story. The result is thorough and detailed and will be a valuable resource for years to come. Thank you Louisa.
Formation of The Storytelling Guild
According to one of our life members Gael Cresp, “Storytelling is an age old art, which met with a strong revival in industrialized countries earlier last century. In England and North America, libraries introduced regular storytelling sessions and this impetus was later reflected in Australia.”
On 16th October 1978 a group of people, all teachers or librarians, whose work brought them into frequent contact with children, met to discuss their concern that children were missing out on the oral tradition of storytelling, an important part of a child’s cultural heritage. They felt that children’s knowledge of nursery rhymes, fairy tales and other cultural icons, was in decline. Erica Thomas initiated the meeting. Other attendees were Virginia Ferguson, Philip Sydenham, Jacky Talbot and Barbara Tout. Life member Nell Bell recalls Montgomery Kelly (hereon known as Monty) being present at this meeting as well as a Literature Conference at Frankston, where he and other storytellers inspired Nell with their performances.
At Erskine House, Lorne, the idea of the Storytelling Guild surfaced. Nell, Monty and others fell in love with that venue. It was affordable, so they conceived the idea of an international storytelling conference for Australia that occurred there a couple of years later with attendees from around the world. Inspiring discussions about storytelling ensued, not only as a written mode but also as an oral tradition.
On 29th November 1978, a public meeting occurred at the Learning Exchange Hall, Malvern. About forty people attended (teachers, librarians, actors, parents), forming a Storytelling Guild, electing an executive Committee of five, with Philip Sydenham as President and Virginia Ferguson as Vice President. The name “Storytelling Guild” was chosen because the group liked the idea of an organization modeled on the medieval guilds in which master craftsmen taught apprentices to care for the quality of their work and maintain the reputation of their craft. Aims were to:
1. Promote storytelling in the community by bringing together people from all sectors to share experiences and stories.
2. Encourage people to tell stories and to develop their skills in the arts.
3. Produce a newsletter (that came to be entitled The Harper).
4. Produce a directory of storytellers.
5. Organise storytelling activities.
Western Australia pipped Victoria to the post, forming its Guild on 14th June 1978, a few months before Vic followed in November. Other guilds soon formed: New South Wales in 1980, South Australia in 1982, Tasmania in 1984, then Queensland and Australian Capital Territory in 1987. Both WA and Vic will celebrate their 40th anniversaries in 2018.
Montgomery Kelly recalls that two other key instigators of the Vic Storytelling Guild were Marie and Richard Turnbull. Marie, based in the Camberwell library system, learned her stories by heart. Philip Sydenham was a librarian at Pakenham and Narre Warren. Julie Halpin and Erica Thomas were the Guild when Monty came along in 1980.
For many years, in winter, the Victorian Guild held a weekend conference at Lorne, when members and visitors would attend lectures, workshops and of course, told stories far into the night. Attendees included Nell Bell, Anne E Stewart, Gael Cresp, Monty Kelly and Gillian Di Stefano.
Our newsletter had its first issue in Winter 1979, featuring a Letter of Encouragement from Patricia Scott in Tasmania. According to Monty, the title The Harper came from the Dragon Riders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey, for when harpers came to entertain the people, they knew songs, stories and news from other dragon holdings.
The symbol of the harp, or lyre, which appeared on badges, letterhead and banners, referred to the Celtic bard and to the Greek musician Orpheus.
There was also a membership application form. Membership, as now, was open to anyone interested in storytelling. Members ranged from parents, teachers and librarians to actors, writers, balladeers, and of course listeners. Establishment of a constitution followed in 1981.
During the 1990s, under leadership of such storytellers as Morgan Blackrose and Gil Di Stefano, regular evenings were held entitled The Storytelling Cafe, featuring “The Odd Spot” that encouraged interdisciplinary formats, such as dance, poetry, sandbox art, music or puppetry. There were also workshops, which included overseas storytellers, e.g. Anne Pellowski from the United Nations, who was gathering stories for preservation. There were also links with New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, China, USA, England and Singapore. A 2003 edition of The Harper acknowledges Arnold Zable as patron.
Each State guild had its own name, constitution, newsletter and program of activities. Although there has never been any central coordinating body, the guilds have exchanged newsletters and visits since their formative years, also holding National Conferences. According to a “Guilds” article by Nell (Swag of Yarns 2002), the first national guild-to-guild storytelling conference was a joint Vic /ACT effort, “Across the Waves”, at Albury on the Hume Weir, followed by “Rainbow Gathering” WA, Sovereign Hill Vic, NSW in Sydney 1997, ACT Canberra 1999 and SA Adelaide 2001.
On 24th April 2006, Victoria’s Storytelling Guild became an incorporated non-profit association. By special resolution at a meeting on 4th March 2012, members voted to change the Guild’s name to Storytelling Australia Victoria (SAV). The end of SAV’s financial year is 31st October annually, with Annual General Meetings being held prior to 31st March the following year.
These people have been awarded Life Membership in recognition of their contribution to the creation and continuation of Storytelling Australia Victoria.
The late Nell Bell (founding member). Blog post about Nell by Louisa John-Krol
Anne E. Stewart www.anneestewart.com.au
Gael Cresp http://www.gaelcresp.com/
Storytelling Australia Victoria holds detailed biographies of these storytellers. They are available on request.
The SAV Logo
After co-founding The Storytelling Guild of Australia (Victoria) in 1978, renamed Storytelling Australia Victoria in 2012, storytellers Montgomery Kelly and Nell Bell designed our first Guild logo, a silhouette fairy bearing a harp against a red background. According to Nell, they wanted to make a connection with the bards of old. This image appeared on the cover of the Guild's original newsletter, The Harper.
Next, along came green badges featuring a map of Australia with gold border. Montgomery Kelly and Nell Bell designed the badge
There was also a cream banner featuring a gold harp on that same green insignia, with green and gold tassels. (The maker of this banner is unknown).
The single harp/lyre against black & white background came later and was designed by David Wong.
On 2012, storyteller Susan Pepper, created the quilted banner that is currently seen at our events.