Recollections of a Storytelling adventure
In 2012 a request circulated through Australia, inviting storytellers to Iran for the 16th International Storytelling Festival: ‘these tell-tale days of storytelling.... will be cherished like the rainbows glittering in the sky.’
I wrote to say I’d be honoured to travel to the land of my hero, legendary queen of storytellers, Scheherazade. Prior to 1935 Iran was known as Persia and in younger days I decked myself in harem outfits and hung saris from the ceiling, fancying myself as this most famous of narrators.
Before I could say 1001 nights, I was jetting off to Tehran to embark on an extraordinary experience that included a visit to Golstan Palace, comprising seventeen palaces and museums. I learnt of the numerous, varied traditions and cultures that had infused modern day Islamic Iran.
The festival was in Tabriz, capital of East Azerbaijan Province, once a major trading market on the Silk Road. A stop off at the old Abbasi Caravanseri (near Jolfa) and I imagined how stories from east and west converged on this very site.
I marveled at the strength and generosity of the women but was overwhelmed at how their educational opportunities were constrained. In September 2012 more than 20 universities introduced new rules banning female students from almost 80 degree courses. Nonetheless the first Iranian to win the Nobel Peace Prize was a woman, Shirin Ebadi, in 2003 for her efforts for women and children’s democracy and human rights.
One thing that’s stayed with me was a visit to a school to tell stories. Young girls nearing puberty were decked out in pastel coloured veils and cloaks, adorned with ribbons and flowers: next stage, the hijab. I reflected on my Catholic education: being adorned in a veil and white dress, a little bride of Christ. It had me pondering on our similarities rather than our differences.
It changed my flippant view on Scheherazade lounging in harems, to ponder on another Nobel Prize winner, young Malala Yousafzai, who fights for the right for women to be educated.
So who was the first Gay in The Village
@ The Story House and Garden:
52 Millar Street Daylesford
Saturday 11th March 3pm and 6pm
Sunday 12th March at 3pm
Bookings and details at
Once upon a time there was a small Village in the Central Highlands of Victoria. Like many
other regional towns in the late 70ʼs early 80ʼs it was dying. On weekends the shops
would shut and it became a ghost town.
But in 1997 things began to change in the small village of Daylesford where storyteller
Anne E Stewart had based herself and her two children. She observed the transformation
to bustling tourist town over the years and became interested in why ʻthe villageʼ had
become so gay friendly?
“When my children attended the local primary school many of their friends had same sex
parents so it often came up in conversations. It was the subject of jokes and teasing, even
songs.... thereʼs a bear in there itʼs gay school.”
Anne E Stewart with Millie Minogue dressed as St Dorothy of Daylesford
I started to investigate our gay town so I could tell my children the story, from there the
show was created “So who was the first Gay in Village”.
Of course the title was a take on Little Britain and I didnʼt think Iʼd really come up with a
definitive answer but I was keen to know why we had evolved like this
“Nothing much was written so I started to interview my GLBTIQ friends. Then I heard
about the Gay and Lesbian archives in Melbourne and I watched the documentary The
Hidden History of Homosexual Australia.
What I was to discover was interesting, poignant, moving and in places - funny.
Delving back in history I uncovered the story of Captain Moonlite. When I first arrived in
the district there used to be a festival to honour him in Ballan but then it was decided he
was thug and this celebration became the Autumn Festival. But the National archives
holds copies of a love letters that Moonlite sent to fellow Pentridge prisoner James Nesbitt
“Nesbitt and I were united by every tie which could bind human friendship,” wrote Scott
(underlining and all) during his final incarceration. “We were one inhopes, one in heart and
soul and this unity lasted until he died in my arms.”
Awaiting execution, Scott wore a ring made from Nesbittʼs hair, and pleaded with his
gaolers to bury him with the younger man in the graveyard at Gundagai.
“I long to join him where there shall be no more parting,” he wrote.
Then there was Dr Gweneth Wiswould who lived with her ʻcompanionʼ Isabella Bell in
Trentham. It was often said this remarkable woman was born well ahead of her time,
studying to become a doctor when the professional world was dominated by men. Known
as an eccentric character, she wore trousers under an army greatcoat and drove to house
calls through the remote bush in a battered ute.
As well as historic research I remember stunning headlines I tracked down in the State
Library of Victoria newspaper collection, the Melbourne Truth pronounced “Dykes go Bush:
They came in their utes with their dogs and their dungarees to build houses and help each
I recognised and remembered posters that Iʼd seen around town, in the archives down in
Melbourne advertising the all girl balls that happened here in the 90ʼs
Little by little I uncovered other stories, Friday nights at Alpha Gallery was always closed
for “Private Functions.” This was for a group of men from Melbourne to enjoy time together
in this backstairs location.
I also learned about the local response to the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic during
the 1980s. Every time I talked to men of a particular age, they had all lost friends and it
was so sad and poignant to talk about this time. I learned they had a peace mile around
the lake and three years in a row they walked the lake and had ceremonies down there.”
The show reveals lots more fabulous stories but probably the most important one as we
celebrate Chilloutʼs 20th anniversary is the formation of its precursor Daylesford and
Hepburns, Springs Connection, formed by the local lesbian and gay business people.
To hear how it all pieces together come and hear award winning storyteller Anne E Stewart
at a brand new Daylesford Venue the Story House and Garden
Bookings and details at
I was so thrilled that I put in the highest bid in the "Unmasking the Wild charity Auction", (convened by Isobelle Carmody in her fundraising efforts for Animals Asia's Asia Bear Sanctuary and the IBBY Children in Crisis Fund) for the mask made by Kevin Burgemeestre. He called the mask "The Messenger" and it is the most wonderful piece of art. I was so keen to have my own piece of Kevin's work and this mask had spiritual significance because of it's depiction of Waa the Crow. Where I live on Dja Dja Wurrung Country the Crow is one of the moieties and is know to have dominion over the hills and plains.
I've been lucky enough to do several literary gigs with Kevin and know him to be a fun fellow traveller and very generous of his time. Over the last year or so he and his wife have contributed to Timor Leste by creating the first series of Literacy books for the small country. I was devasted to hear of his passing,
I'm sad I never got to tell him that I had bought his mask but so grateful that I have this reminder of a gifted and talented artist. Much love to Lee.
1. Ash Tree
The hamlet of Shepherds Flat, several hilly kilometres past Hepburn Springs, has been home to five generations of the Tinetti family. This small township has a unique connection with Australian cricket.
Records dating back to the goldrush days show that the colonial sport of cricket was played intermittently on Tinetti's hill. The cricketing connection was firmly entrenched by the Crockett family just after the turn of the century. It began with the 1902 MCG Test Match between Australia and England. Test umpire Robert Crockett and English captain Archie MacLaren were casually chatting during a break in play. MacLaren was surprised that Australia did not cultivate its own bat willow and Crockett idly suggested that MacLaren should send some cuttings to Australia upon his return to the mother country.
Six months later the cuttings arrived sealed in a steel tube, but only one survived the heat of the equator. Crockett rushed this precious cutting to Shepherds Flat where it was nurtured by his younger brother James. From this single cutting grew thousands of willow trees at Shepherds Flat and the Crockett brand of bats became a household name amongst cricketers.
Sir Gawain and the Loathley Lady
Arthur was riding mournfully through a lonely forest when he heard a woman's voice address him: "God save you, King Arthur! God save and keep you!" and he turned at once to see the person who had spoken.
He looked ahead and saw a woman's form clothed in brilliant scarlet; the figure was seated between a holly-tree and an oak, and the berries of the former were not more vivid than her dress, and the brown leaves of the latter not more brown and wrinkled than her cheeks.
Lost Children's Tree
Moonah trees- Churchill Island
Nandi Flame Tree
With this tree I pay credit to an amazing women, Wangari Maathai The founder of the Green Belt Movement and the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
Wangari Maathai has always had an affinity for trees. As a child, she learned from her grandmother that a large fig tree near her family home in central Kenya was sacred and not to be disturbed. She gathered water for her mother at springs protected by the roots of trees. In the mid-1970s, Maathai, in an effort to meet the basic needs of rural women, began to plant trees with them. Her non-governmental Green Belt Movement has planted 30 million trees across Kenya, many of which still stand. In 2004 her work was internationally recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize.
“As trees grow, they give you hope and self-confidence,” Maathai said recently. “You feel good, like you have transformed the landscape.” So it should come as no surprise that within an hour of learning she had won the peace prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace, Maathai planted a tree. It was a nandi flame tree native to her home region of Nyeri, Kenya, where Maathai was when she heard the news. Never one to stand on ceremony, she knelt on the earth and dug her hands into the red soil, warm from the sun, and settled the tree into the ground. It was, she told the journalists and onlookers gathered, “the best way to celebrate.”
I was with Maathai that day. Rubbing the dirt from her hands, she took the occasion to turn her message to the world: “Honor this moment by planting trees,” she said as the media jammed her cell phone. “I'm sure millions of trees would be planted if every friend of the environment, and especially of me, did.
Putting the pieces together
It was in the mid-1970s that Maathai became aware of Kenya's ecological decline: watersheds drying up, streams disappearing, and the desert expanding south from the Sahara. On visits to Nyeri she found streams she had known as a child gone—dried up. Vast forests had been cleared for farms or plantations of fast-growing exotic trees that drained the ecosystem of water and degraded the soil.
Maathai began making connections others hadn't. “Listening to the women talk about water, about energy, about nutrition, it all boiled down to the environment,” she told me recently. “I came to understand the linkage between environmental degradation and the felt needs of the communities.”
She hit on the idea of using trees to replenish the soil, provide fuel wood, protect watersheds and promote better nutrition (through growing fruit trees). “If you understand and you are disturbed, then you are moved to action,” she says. “That's exactly what happened to me.” Below Wangari Maathai tells the Story of the Hummingbird
Brigit of the Mantle, I've always been pleased to share my birthday with the feast day of Saint Bridget
Brigid is the patron saint of Ireland, poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers (White), cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies (Roeder). She is still venerated highly in Alsace, Flanders, and Portugal (Montague), as well as Ireland and Chester, England (Farmer).
In the legend of Saint Brigid’s Cloak or Mantle, she found the perfect spot to found her abbey in Leinster, in a place called Kildare. There was an old oak, sacred to the Druids on the premises, making it a holy site. She went to the King of Leinster with four of her maidens and asked him to donate the land for an abbey. The King refused to give her the land. Brigid prayed to God for help, then asked if she could have just the amount of land that her mantle would cover. Laughing in derision, the king agreed. Each of the four maidens took a corner of the cloak, and walked East, North, West and South, the cloak stretching as they walked until it encompassed the parcel of land she desired for her abbey. They king, seeing the miracle, fell to his knees, and could deny her nothing, converting then and there to Christianity. Brighid built her church there, under the shade of the old oak, not far from a well, also dedicated to the saint. A cathedral was built on the site in the thirteenth century, but the original foundations of Brigit’s church still exist!
An Irish blessing: Faoi bhrat Bhríde sinn. May you be under Bride’s mantle. Ireland itself is sometimes described as the ‘green mantle of Brigit’, and the colour green is also associated with the faeries, which links her to her original status as a Goddess among the Tuatha de Danaan.
Red Box - Eucalyptus Polyanthemos- Tony's Tree
Beautiful words. Beautiful tree - it's a Red box...Eucalyptus polyanthemos.
On a rainy day in St Kilda.....
On a rainy day in St Kilda Botanical Gardens, my sister Jane and I finally saw the plaque to our brother Tony being installed.
Look forward to meeting family and friends there in finer weather, please visit to enjoy the gardens and a quiet moment. It's in the 'native trees' corner and best to go in the gates on the corner of Dickens and Herbert streets
In Loving memory of
Anthony John (Tony ) Stewart
son of St Kilda
Whose spirit resides in Balibo, East Timor
20 4 1954 - 16 10 1975
River Red Gum
When my brother Gregory Stewart was wooing his girlfriend, Elisabeth Quin, now his wife we offered to help plant trees out the front of his In-laws farm. As I recalled it was bitterly cold and even snowed during our tree planting venture. But here they are, some thirty years on. The variety of trees planted are below.
Eucalyptus ovata - Swamp Gum
Acacia melanoxylon - Blackwood
Eucalyptus camaldulensis - River Red Gum
Acacia mearnsii - Black Wattle
Nasreddin Hodja was lying in the shade of an ancient walnut tree. His body was at rest, but, befitting his calling as an imam, his mind did not relax. Looking up into the mighty tree he considered the greatness and wisdom of Allah.
"Allah is great and Allah is good," said the Hodja, "but was it indeed wise that such a great tree as this be created to bear only tiny walnuts as fruit? Behold the stout stem and strong limbs. They could easily carry the pumpkins that grow from spindly vines in yonder field, vines that cannot begin to bear the weight of their own fruit. Should not walnuts grow on weakly vines and pumpkins on sturdy trees?"
So thinking, the Hodja dosed off, only to be awakened by a walnut that fell from the tree, striking him on his forehead.
"Allah be praised!" he exclaimed, seeing what had happened. "If the world had been created according to my meager wisdom, it would have been a pumpkin that fell from the tree and hit me on the head. It would have killed me for sure! Allah is great! Allah is good! Allah is wise!"
Never again did Nasreddin Hodja question the wisdom of Allah.
I first heard the Story of the Waratah at a Sydney Storytelling Conference, it was told by Francis Firebrace, a Yorta Yorta man, I believe the story is from the Blue Mountains area
The Old man said that long ago, all the waratahs were white.
In those days the first wonga pigeon camped in the forest with her mate, and they grew fat on the rich food on the ground. They never flew above the trees, because they were afraid of their enemy, the hawk.
One day the wonga pigeons mate went hunting for food but did not return to the camp. She became anxious and set out to search for him, but without success.
After she had been searching for a long time she plucked up her courage and decided to fly above the treetops in an attempt to see him from a height.
She had just left the shelter of the trees when she heard the call of her mate down in the forest. With her heart full of gladness she turned to fly down to him.
But she was too late. The circling hawk had seen her. Swooping down, he clasped her in his sharp claws, tearing her breast open as he carried her upwards. Her blood rained down on the forest, but she tore herself free and hid among the blossoms of the waratahs.
The hawk had just flown away when she again heard her mate calling to her.
Although she was weak from the loss of blood, and could only fight short distances, she endeavoured to reach him. Every time she rested on a white waratah, to recov her strength, her blood stained its bloom. In a final struggle she reached yet anothere waratah and ther she died at the last blood ebbed from her wounded body.
Today the old man explained, it is possible, though it is rare, to find a waratah that has not been the blood of the lonely wonga pigeon who lost her life while searching for her mate.
Wurrundjeri Wattle and William Barak
There is a tree that grows in Barak’s homelands and it is know as the Wurrundjeri wattle and over the centuries the aboriginal people discovered many and varied uses for the wattle. Barak always said it was the best wood for a boomerang, find the right bend in a wattle branch and you had yourself the makings of a fine hunting tool.
Since the white settlers had arrived it seemed to take on an additional meaning, for as the elders of his people died, Beruk observed that it was always at the time the wattle was in bloom. Barak’s father died when the wattle was in flower down by the Yarra River near the Melbourne Zoo and every year at the same time would visit that place. Aboriginal people have come to associate the wattle with death.
He too knew when his time was come and he told his friends that he would be dead before the wattle bloomed again and so he died on the 15th August 1903, as his good friend said,
with love to our friends the Alma nuns
I want to publicly acknowledge an old friend of my mums, Marea Catherine RUSH, ( nee Brady ) who passed away in September last year. Her family got in touch and informed us that their mother had left some money in her will for the people of Timor Leste. We decided that our friends the Alma nuns were in great need of support, coincidently it has all come through on independence day. Much Love and thanks to the Rush family
In a shout out to Jesuit Social Services and the Artful Dodgers studio young refugees are making their mark in a award that reflects cultural diversity in Victoria.Young entrepreneurs, scientists, activists, and volunteers are among the outstanding Victorians recognised tonight at the 2016 Victorian Young Achiever Awards.
Patron for the awards and Minister for Youth Affairs Jenny Mikakos joined more than 500 guests at the Awards Gala Presentation Dinner in Docklands to celebrate the achievements of young Victorians who are making a real difference in our community.
The Coffee Club Arts and Fashion Award – Fablice Manirakiza, Read more about Fablice and his acheivements here