Episode 3: Songlines, Myth & Fairytales

It’s been a tumultuous time, hopefully proceeding long overdue change in the realms of social justice and respect, in particular to our First Nations people and women and LGBTQIA+ communities.

In this episode we look at how different kinds of sound and storytelling can transmit knowledge and emotions, and also how we can raise new voices, change narratives, and maybe even change the world. This episode is dedicated to all fighting for respect, peace and justice.

The wonderful book seed for this episode is the first in the series First Knowledges by Margo Neale & Lynne Kelly called Songlines: The Power and Promise. Published 2020 by Thames & Hudson Australia.

With thanks to Radio National and the ABC, we heard from Neale and Kelly, and courtesy of the National Museum of Australia, heard some audio from the amazing exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters that Neale curated along with a curatorium of elders. I highly recommend listening to the talks that took place at a symposium and explore various aspects of the exhibition if you want more!

It was my honour to interview Deb Clark Lowah aka deborahN, and feature the collaborative soundscape Place-We-Be she produced for Ballarat’s 2021 Survival Day Dawn Service with Dave Clark, Sarah Jane Hall, Bonnie Chew and Tony Lovett and with guidance and sharing of knowledge from Wadawurrung leaders Tammy Gilson and Bonnie Chew. In this way we could celebrate those things not found in books as part of exploring different storytelling and knowledge systems. We also got to chat about Motown (check out Deb singing in the Motor City Sounds) and music as a catalyst for change, as well as Deb’s experience in the classroom and her research into Indigenous leadership as a musician and teacher of Torres Strait Islander heritage.

It was also a pleasure to interview artist and writer Sarah Hart on the power of reimagined fairy tales from a feminist perspective and her creative PhD reworking Sleeping Beauty. In this episode we hear Sarah read one of her poems, and we will hear more from our chat in Part 2 of this episode Fairytales Continued. Our indie book feature is with Redrock Books & Gallery in Horsham, Victoria.

Listen and subscribe here or scroll down for photos, transcript, and info about our Kids writing comp!

KIDS WRITING COMP: CHANGE THE STORY, CHANGE THE WORLD!

Write and illustrate a one page story based on a fairy tale but change up the ending towards a better, more equal world.

(2 age groups- age 5-10 and age 11-16)

Send to minervasbooksballarat@gmail.com or deliver to 115 Webb Avenue Ballarat East.

One entry from each age group will receive a Minerva’s Books voucher and all will have the chance to be recorded and feature in Episode 3 Part 2: Fairytales Continued!

Episode Photos

You can buy Amy’s collage below that accompanies this episode to support production of the show (click the pic), do a one-off or recurring donation, OR buy books through Minerva’s : )

Gather epiosode 3 collage 1.      Gather episode 3 collage 2

Huge thanks to all involved in this episode, produced on traditional Wadawurrung land.

Sound engineering: Dave Byrne, Iridium Audio

Minerva’s Idea by Ellen Sorensen

Podcast logo and episode design: Tiffany Titshall

 

Some other things and resources to check out:

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters Symposium

Dr Martin Nakata and cultural interface

City of Ballarat Koorie Engagement Advisory Group

Ballarat Community Alliance

In my Blood it Runs

Common Ground

Deadly and Proud

Kostas Novakis, a Greek musician and ethnographer who in the 1990s collected recordings of traditional folk music in the local Macedonian Slavic dialects. Neret song

 

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT BELOW TO READ OR DOWNLOAD

Episode 3 Part 1- Songlines, Myth and Fairytales

[A delightful sound of choir leading into plucked guitar and different voices introducing the show, with guitar continuing underneath]

Woman’s voice: Ah everyone, you are listening to Gather

Child’s voice: You’re listening to Gather

Woman’s voice with dog bark in background: To Gather

Woman’s voice with American accent: Gather

[Same guitar doing a sweet little riff with the faint sound of pencil scribbling beneath. Sound of guitar continues beneath the host’s introduction]

Amy Tsilemanis (Gather host, smooth and calming): This is Amy Tsilemanis and this is Gather, with Minerva’s Books and Ideas, where we’ll explore the lives of books and the ideas they ignite and illuminate.

Woman’s echoey fairytale like voice: Once upon a time in a small house beneath a hill lived two people and two cats, in the town of Ballarat, on Wadawurring Country. And there lived a weaver, a weaver of stories, voices and sounds, (she was also learning to make sweet beats but that is a tale for another time), and now you will hear her latest creation, Episode 3 of Gather.  

Woman’s voice (host Amy Tsilemanis): Hey its Amy here, thanks for that intro and welcome to songlines, myth and fairytales. In this episode we look at how different kinds of sound and storytelling can transmit knowledge and emotions, and also how we can raise new voices, change narratives, and maybe even change the world.

Since our last episode, in Australia we’ve had the complex Australia Day celebrations, that have also come to be known as invasion day or survival day for our First Nations people.

(sounds from protest rallies)

We’ve also had the Women’s march calling for long overdue change, for women to be safe and heard, right from the top in parliament down to in people’s homes and communities.

This episode is dedicated to all fighting for respect, peace and justice.

(piano music from Ellen Sorensen plays beneath)

In local Wadawurrung language that we’ll hear later in a special soundscape: mok borri (peace), nyatne (thanks)  and koling-wudunyal (let us walk together).

So, with some fabulous guests and creative works, here we explore the way knowledge, as well as the retelling or subverting of it, can be transmitted in many ways, through indigenous songlines, art and new technology, through sound, in new takes on fairy tales, and in ways that both incorporate and move beyond the traditional Western systems of books and record keeping.

We hear from Margo Neale, Senior Research Fellow, and Curator and Principal Indigenous Advisor to the Director at the National Museum of Australia,

And about the idea of the third archive, a hybrid space between Indigenous and Western knowledge systems and archiving practices, and projects that have explored this.

Margo Neale was curator (along with the curatorium, I love that) of the amazing exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, first shown at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra and is now touring nationally and internationally. It wasan Aboriginal led exhibition that took visitors on a journey along the epic Seven Sisters Dreaming tracks, through art, Indigenous voices and innovative multimedia and other immersive displays.”

This is some audio from the exhibition…

(audio clip with wind sounds and moody atmospheric music, welcoming to The Seven Sisters)

Amy narration: Margo Neale is also series editor of an exciting new book series through Thames & Hudson called First Knowledges which asks “What do you need to know to prosper as a people for 65,000 years?” and “provides a deeper understanding of the expertise and ingenuity of Indigenous Australians.” Neale is co-author of the first book in the series published in 2020 called Songlines: the Power and Promise which we’ll feature in the episode today as our book seed, and via a chat she and co-author Lynne Kelly had with Philips Adams on ABC’s Radio National. Big thanks for letting us share some of it.

We also hear from Ballarat artist and writer Sarah Hart, currently working on a creative PhD exploring fairy tales from a feminist perspective and as what she calls “miracles of endless reinvention, stories we can all lose and find ourselves in, and an accessible way to explore desire, power, and how we want to be in the world.”


And in the middle for our Things Found in Books creative segment this episode, we divert from the usual, and honour those things, and knowledges not found in books and share a sound work by local musician Deb Clark Lowah aka Deborah N that was created for Ballarat’s 2021 Survival Day Dawn service, and we hear from Deb about this piece and her work as a musician and teacher.

So to begin, what are songlines, also known as dreaming tracks. This is Margo Neale…

Woman’s voice (Margo Neal): Put simply they’re a knowledge system and they’re a knowledge system that emanates from country. And you and your listeners will have heard the oft quoted, you know, our history is written in the land, so you can visualize Songlines really as corridors or pathways of knowledge, criss cross the continent, laid down over millennia. And there are maps by David Milanjara where the whole continent is called land stories.

So it’s sort of intersecting networks or like a spider web. Um and… and the other way of visualizing is like, well, just remembering it’s a non text based society. So it’s like dreaming tracks that connect sites of knowledge embedded in features of the land. And along these routes that people travel to learn from country and of course my contributions in this book was very much informed by the exhibition. So you don’t have to be on country to travel those routes. You can have country in mind. You know, it can be there. It can be in the songs your Aunty taught you. It can be in all sorts of other… in performances that you remember. Or have or have not travelled, because there’s some custodians, like in the custodians in this exhibition that hadn’t been back to country for 30, 40 or 50 years. But they could still tell you the stories and the song lines in the roots and all these knowledge centres. They hold actual knowledge. They hold ecological knowledge. They tell you how to survive in the land,

the social organization systems, the kinship relationships, the marriage rules.

As you went through the Seven Sisters you’ll see it was put into a story that you could remember for millennia by having, you know the great old tragic lustful pursuit of man chasing women but you know so there’s heaps of… what you call… lust, love, tragedy, comedy. All of that was in it as is all great narratives are but that was so that you REMEMBER it… remember it… but it actually contained all the location of food sources, water sources, seasons, rituals, ceremony and I’m going to say ecology, science, medicine it’s all in those activities of the Seven Sisters and that particular creation story.

Woman’s voice (host Amy Tsilemanis): And this is Lynne Kelly from the non-Indigenous perspective.

Woman’s voice (Lynne Kelly): I see the songlines in a completely different way because I can only glimpse the way an indigenous person reacts to it. But my interest was in the memory systems because my natural memory is appallingly bad and I realize that indigenous people were somehow memorizing an encyclopedia of knowledge of all the things that Margo was talking about but you talk about every animal and that’s hundreds upon hundreds when you include all the invertebrates. And every plant and everything you could do with them all. And all the weather and we can go on and on and on and my question became how the hell are they doing this when I struggle with the day of the week and songlines are the clue to it. So if you think about something at the same time as you’re thinking about a place, so you’re physically at a place or mentally at the place and think about any sort of knowledge like Albert Einstein at the front door of the house, they will be permanently linked and these are called memory palaces.

And the ancient Greek and Roman memory palaces are just very simplified versions of aboriginal song lines.

Amy narration: Songlines connect memory, place, song, story, performance, and importantly as the book discusses are “robust yet dynamic” just like Country. The book discusses art as culture made visible, and landforms and story places (like a library with knowledge embedded) become like a type of writing, like ancestral scripts. It is described how they become portable stories, a most ancient form of ‘indexing’ is singing up the land (food, seasons, animals, landscape, ecology, water). Singing and dancing the body, unlock the knowledge of the master archive. With examples like the Songlines exhibition, Neale and Kelly propose a bringing together of Indigenous and Western practices of storytelling and archiving in what can be called the 3rd archive.

Margo Neal: The exhibition you spoke of, Songlines, tracking Seven Sisters is a good example of the 3rd archive because it’s bringing together the Songlines, the knowledge of country by the traditional custodians into a format, that’s actually a western format, so it’s a combination of the western knowledge system that creates something called an exhibition, which is very alien to a traditional aboriginal lifestyle. So just having the western and the indigenous brought together in some format that’s accessible to both sides of the knowledge systems you’re actually creating a 3rd archive. So if you, for example, taken that again, if you took the custodians and the Seven Sisters, set out to preserve the songlines, the Seven Sisters songlines because all very elderly and the young fellas are no longer interested in hanging out in the bush with the elders and so they, so they got, this is how this started, it was initiated by… actually a decade or more ago, before things… the moons lined up. And they were looking for a way of preserving the archive or the knowledge in country which as I said before is how to live in a way that was sustainable in the 21st-century. So they drew on the western archives, so in other words they digitised the dreaming. So all the material was sort of gathered either in song, dance, interview, paintings, whatever, which was basically you know ground proof for future proofing and then there was all deposited in a aboriginal managed archive as well as the public face of the exhibition. This book is similar.

Amy narration: The book states “it’s time to go beyond learning about Indigenous cultures and start learning from them.” Amazing exhibitions and books like this, Songlines the Power and the Promise, along with books like Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and the recently world heritage listed aquaculture site Budj Bim build on years of resistance to put to rest the myth that Indigenous Australians were nomadic and with primitive understanding, but rather are the world’s oldest living culture with deeply sophisticated knowledge systems, and much we can learn from.
Myths are powerful and can play various roles. Here we’ve seen the myth of the seven sisters, it has been said perhaps one of the world’s first stories, an epic myth saga that has been found in cultures all around the world to convey information about the sky, about gender relations, about physical and moral wayfinding, and in Indigenous Australia containing deep layers of knowledge and meaning.

On the darker side, we can see that the myth of Indigenous Australians as backward and nomadic contributed to what allowed horrific violence and ongoing colonisation from stolen land and children, enforced education and assimilation, to genocide and slavery, the effects of all this still alive today with youth incarceration, and intergenerational trauma and disadvantage.
Myths of course can also be used for nationalist means and this has become symbolised in Australia’s national celebration of Australia Day on Jan 26th each year, marked as the arrival of the First Fleet in what is increasingly known as Invasion Day or Survival Day for the First Peoples who they met on the shore. The strong opposition to acknowledgement of this and calls to change the date have been fuelled by a Nationalism that calls upon such arguments as tradition, but in fact was created by a particular government in the 1990s and Australia Day celebrated in its current form with a public holiday, bbqs and Australian flags, didn’t exist before that. 
Myths are powerful.

So with these thoughts in mind, we shift now to explore a creative response, a collaboration produced for this year’s Survival Day Dawn Service in Ballarat. And how connection to Country can be amplified for both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people through what our guest, musician and educator Deb Clark Lowah describes as the storying of sound. Here shared stories of Australia may also lead to shared care and responsibility.

For Things Not Found In Books this episode we honour different knowledge systems and the use of creativity to feature a soundscape called Place We Be, produced by Deborah N in collaboration with a number of local musicians, traditional custodians and community members, and which provides an opportunity for reflection. 

Here’s Deb and then her beautiful piece.

Woman’s voice (Deb): My name is Deb Clark. I’m actually Deb Lowah and I like to use that name because it’s my Torres Strait Islander family name, all my children have that name in their name. And I am an educator and I have worked in education for over 25 years and within that space I’ve seen many, many changes and I am really grateful and privileged to be a part of some of the changes that I’m seeing happening in the local community here in Ballarat. And I have completed a Master of Educational Leadership in indigenous leadership for the purpose of building my own understanding of space in place for me.

I also am a musician and that’s just been part of my life since I can remember. Perhaps more so in a space now I actually play music that is original and I also like to lounge at my own songs however I like.

And my way that’s my a.k.a. Deborah N and is how I’m known in the music scene. But I also am part of a Motown band, called Motor City Sounds and we play lots of music that’s about soul and the label of Motown and I think for me the reason why I’m part of that, not that I love doing karaoke covers, but because the music itself actually is the music that brought change to the world.

(live recording of Motor City Sounds playing the song Think)

And I’m very much about social justice. It’s kind of one of those pillars of truth in my life that I keep coming back to and I think about my life growing up and I’ve just always gone back to that space of like ‘oh how come that’s the way it is’ and so strangely enough I am not just like every muso that sings songs. I think in a Motor City Sounds band because it’s Motown and the Motown record label itself created so many opportunities for people of colour and black artists around the world and really began a change in the minds of many, many, many, many countries. The label itself still stands firm in my mind as a very much point of change. In my own music I’m a storyteller. I think more so than a musician I am a storyteller. I like the way that words surrounded by music and sounds create a feeling of emotion so even though I’ve been writing music for a long time I think that’s probably more so what I am. As a storyteller I think most musicians who write songs are storytellers.

(Woman sings with music)

Well obviously there are many opportunities for communities to put things together and I was asked by one of the local community leaders Nicky Foy to put my name down so they could put in for some an opportunity to create something that would be used as a part of survival day and the dawn service it would be a piece that she called a soundscape.

I’ve done many different kinds of music. I’ve never actually done a soundscape officially. I think we’ve done so many of those things where you play around with sound but this time it was about being able to take a moment to reflect after the dawn service so this piece was to be very much connected with that ability to come to the dawn service to watch the dawn service online and then to step away take some time for yourself and connect with the things that you heard and to allow yourself to, I suppose be taken on a journey whilst you thought about it that was connecting you to the space, that we’re in this space. Which is why it took me a while to think it through but Place We Be kind of sat with me really well. Place We Be is about the fact that the sounds, it was created on Wadawurrung country and the sounds are all ones that I literally went out and recorded with a little microphone that we use often for different things and I wanted it to be very authentic.

And so that’s what the Place We Be piece was to be. Giving people the opportunity to connect to the country that they’re on.

(An excerpt of Place We Be soundscape plays with birds, and clap sticks)
Deb: We were on a small… what do they say? A small dial, a small turning piece. The people who were able to support us in the collaboration came along and created such a beautiful conversation. The conversation that we had was around what I had already pieced together and then the layers that came last were the language layers. And the clap sticks, poyong I think is how you say it? Bonnie will tell me if that’s wrong. So the lovely Bonnie Chew who is a Wadawurrung woman on country here connected to Ballarat here and families here. She came along and was able to support me along with Tammy Gilson, who was also able to give some support along the way with some of the language pieces. So when I say the language pieces what I mean is taking words that were within the piece itself and placing them in the spots where it made sense to and doing that we were able to build that story that I always think about when I’m doing something. We had Sarah Jane Hall came along, was really keen to participate in it and came along but also played some clap sticks. As well as that the three of us were able to sit around and really yarn through what it was that we were hearing and what it sounded like and honestly they heard things that I hadn’t necessarily picked up at that point and it just made for a really beautiful weaving of what the sound were going to be and to be able to accentuate certain parts for different reasons. There’s one part that sounds exactly like fire, which was not my intention but so beautifully and accidentally done cause I literally picked up sticks and snapped them when I was walking through the forest with my recorder. My husband was walking around with me recording whatever I was doing and he recorded that and when I popped it in there, I popped it in there separately and then I hadn’t picked up on it. We were talking for a while about how it was the perfect storm for creating a fire sound which then later lead into the cleansing sound of water.
I remember saying to the people that were working with me on the production ‘we have to go to country first’. So we actually recorded every second first so that it layered onto the tracks first and then all the other things came. The synth that we put through it, the guitar was one of the last things put in. Just to layer that whole journey the guitar can do. And then of course we had the lovely Tony Lovett come in and play the didgeridoo. Which I really wanted to acknowledge the didgeridoo is not an instrument of this space. I think its position in the way in which we hear aboriginal music has its place. And there’s a lot of conversations about how… Tony for instance has travelled all around Australia played in different places, learnt from so many different people. And I was really proud to have him agree to come along and participate in it. I wanted to acknowledge as you can see on the soundscape that it’s an instrument taken from the spaces up in the North End of Australia. So that people know that we know that. We know that it’s not a Victorian instrument and I think across Australia people recognise it though. And it has become iconic to the Aboriginal space. It has a real majestic and calming and… I don’t even know, so many words you can use that describe a feeling that comes from almost not where the high is but a little bit low and a little bit deeper when you hear the didgeridoo played. That in itself I kind of asked him to do some different things and from that we pieced in together what you can hear on the soundscape now. Again a natural organic journeying of the space that we’re in. The place we be.  

(soundscape begins with the sound didgeridoo, clap sticks, the crunching of gum leaves on the ground and native bird sounds. A guitar plays gently before the didgeridoo rises in intensity. Some voices whisper in the background. All sounds rise in intensity until they fade away back to didgeridoo, synth and ambient sounds of the Australian bush)

Deb: Well I think sometimes it’s like if you’re writing a song with words, I don’t know how other people do it, but for me a sound always comes first. There’s always a sound and you know everyone plays songs with G, C and D, we all know that. But then it’s where the melody or the harmonies the melody sits with that. I think sounds do the same thing. I think that where we place the kookaburras was placed because that’s where it sat and it’s not the same as a tune or a harmony. It’s not that melody of a harmony but it still tells a story and I suppose story takes you to a space that’s familiar. I think the thing about stories is that people relate to them. To be honest maybe if we haven’t placed those things where they are, I think people still have a deep connection to the sounds that are around them. I think what people don’t realise is that they hear them more than they realise they hear them. Place We Be for me was an opportunity to give others who are listening to it a chance to go yes I have heard that and then to connect with what that sound means. Whether it was in fact the rain that came wasn’t rain, it was always gum leaves every time it was just gum leaves used in a different way. So the storying of those sounds is that you’re walking and maybe you’re in a country space or maybe you’re walking to the city I don’t know but those sounds are really… I don’t know why those sounds are so familiar but they just are. I mean I suppose I do know why they are, because it is our home and so when we belong to a space and we do.

I don’t know how patriotic people feel but when you think about being connected to country sometimes we talk about it as aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people and you feel like people get what you’re saying but then people talk about sustainability and you kind of go yeah that’s kind of it. But there’s a spiritual connection like there are people who live with country who would rather die where they’re sitting from something they could get healed from going to a hospital than go off their country to a hospital to get medicine. There’s a deep connection that people have when they have that connection and I’m not saying you listen to Place To Be and you get that but there is there is something that transfers when you kind of understand that.

And I think there are so many stories about things that of happened in the world. Where people have mourned things that been taken from their country. And have created problems. I don’t know… the uranium when the Japanese, when the uranium mine leaked and people in the remote communities of Western Australia knew that it was uranium from their country that was seeping into the ocean. There’s that connection, I think we can all make a connection with things where we go, ‘did something I do, is there something about the ripple effect of life that’s affected me.

And the connection that we have with country is far, far deeper. I don’t know if you ever looked at the Fibonacci sequence? I don’t why people don’t know about the Fibonacci sequence but as a teacher the Fibonacci sequence is a mathematical sequence that you see in nature. It’s kind of his powerful as when you see the image of a river system that reaches the ocean or even a river system through the land and you compare the shape of it with the vein system of our body. It’s the same shape. It has the same infrastructure and so there’s a powerful connection that we have that we don’t know we have so when I think about storying of sound… Maybe it’s a storying of feeling as much as it is sound that connects us.

(Soft piano, one of Deb’s songs)

My thinking about education, we can sometimes disassociate learning of every day things with what happens in schools. There’s a really important conversation to be had I think in the education sector across-the-board. I think early childhood does it very well. Across-the-board there seems to be a fragmenting of what that learning is and how that learning happens within schools because we have this great desire.

To create children who grow into teenagers who are capable of contributing economically and in viable ways to the world. Sometimes that comes at the expense of who they are and their identity and no truer would that be than often our aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and the smorgasbord of other minority groups that come from that. So throughout my study I was able to and privilege to read and learn about lots of different people’s perspectives on that and Nakata is one of the writers who spoke about something that I think is very much that third archive.

That Margot speaks about and that would be the idea of a cultural… here you are faced with a cultural interface, that because there are things that happen in the western perspective in those ways the light brick walls you know that stand there and that’s what they are. Are very different to the aboriginal Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and ways of being which don’t stand as firmly a brick wall does.
And I’m not suggesting that one is better than the other, neither is better than the other, they’re just different in the way in which they’ve been built. And I started very much thinking about myself as a teacher and as someone trying to project to the world in the local space that there’s a chance to make real change in good ways.
Is innovation and the innovation has to be different to western ways and different to aboriginal ways of knowing. It needs to be something new and I don’t mean like something shiny. I mean something that lends itself to be the idea of ways of knowing in the western cultures.

And different to the ways that aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people think but allows people to enter the conversation.

I’m unapologetic about having aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people’s images up there of Sally Morgan or Bruce Pascoe or local aboriginal people in the community Deb Milera or Nicky Foy. I will put those pictures in my room every day because I want the kids to see them and to know who they are alongside all the other amazing people who may not be aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

These are the little conversations that you just wish would happen at home because then this pathway to innovative spaces, then you could see it happen with such greater ease if people could understand that that’s all we’re talking about is equity, not equality, for all people.

Amy: Huge thanks to Deb for letting us share her piece Place We Be. You can listen to an extended version of that at Deb’s SoundCloud to which I’ll provide a link to in the notes and for sharing her passion for music, storytelling, teaching and social justice and I learnt the important difference she highlights there between equality or being equal and equity helping those most in need, so always lots to learn.

And now we turn our attention to a different kind of story, the fairytale and those people using this form to address representation and opportunities to change narratives, perhaps providing a new voice to those oppressed or sidelined in the past. Recently on the wonderful Brain Pickings Maria Popova featured Rebecca Solnit’s retelling of Cinderella and Solnit’s conviction that “key to the work of changing the world is changing the story.” Her Cinderella, Popover describes as “an empowered and empowering retelling of the ancient story, which dates back at least two millennia and has recurred in various guises across nearly every culture since, reflecting and perpetuating our most abiding cultural myths about love, work, gender, success, waste and want, the measure of prosperity, and the meaning of purpose.”

Sarah Hart, a wonderful multi-disciplinary artist based in Ballarat, is doing something similar with her creative PHD and she is using Sleeping Beauty to reassess relationships between women in fairy tales. We’ll hear more from Sarah and about that in Part 2 of this episode Fairytales continued, but here she is on the power of stories, and reading us one of her poems.

Woman’s voice (Sarah Hart): I think we can use stories to tell ourselves how we want life to look.

I think they can really… they can operate in two different ways. They can be revealing of what is happening today but they can also, you know, be optimistic and say this is how we want to be. And this is how we can live. These are the things that we value and would like to carry forward and write those stories and they will become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Amy: Yeah the self-fulfilling prophecy as positive thing rather than a horrible one.

Sarah: Yeah, it’s just like a magic mirror in a way. I mean it’s a reflection but it can also tell us the future if we let it. So this is a poem that I wrote several years ago, that ended up being published in an anthology in the UK called Three Drops In The Cauldron and it was a collection of poetry based on fairytales or inspired by fairytales. And this poem I guess is inspired by my own experiences growing up, don’t take that too literally, and also that idea of magic being just below the surface of the everyday. It’s always just right there.

Which I think is one of the things that always appealed to me always about fairytales. It’s a poem called The Mud Queen.  

On those early skin stretched summer days she’d play in the dam,

play at being amphibian

living in the half light the lukewarm world of the surface

hours she’d lie there, half in half out of the water

pushing her fingers through the white clay

which gave like sluggish solid silk

eyeballing the frogs who stared from the bulrushes

confused but flattered by the attention

but at 18 she stopped playing and as the dragonflies dipped their jewelled wings

and the heat rolled in across the fields

as it found her lips and skin and coursed like a tide down and through and into every bone of her

she made a face out of clay with wet and finely gritted lips and kissed it into being and then how joyfully the frogs bellowed, how they cricked and boomed

as their queen drew her king from the damn bank sank through the glittering haze and disappeared just below the surface.

Amy narration: And so, the use of stories, representation, myth, and different kinds of archives can help us think about power and voice, knowledge, and how we want to be in the world. In the next episode, a part 2, will be many more fabulous folk and goodies and and between now and then we’ll be running a story competition for kids and young adults. Write and illustrate a one page story using a popular fairy tale but changing the ending. We’ll then select some to be recorded and featured in the next episode. So we’d love you and your young ones to get involved. Check out all the details in the notes.

So I’d like to leave you with the question: which tales and traditions, myths, songs and stories do we want to pass on to generations of the future and which do we want to leave behind or transform?

Some final words from Deb and then Margo.

Woman’s voice (Deb): Every child that walks in my room, my job is to empower them, to see a pathway, to bring change, no matter how big or small, that change has a ripple effect. Just like the change that people who bring about negative change can do. So it, it is a really powerful position to be. Teaching’s a tough job. But what we know is that I always tell the kids in my class, if I’ve got grade five, six. I always say to them in seven years time you’re going to vote for the next prime minister.

Like you’re the next people to vote the next… but who are you voting for? What are you vote? What do you stand for? You know, what are you accept? The behaviour that you walk past is the behaviour that you accept. Are you going to walk past it? How are you going to involve yourself? Are you going to do it in a safe way? And what can you, what difference can you make? And if you can’t make a difference, why not? What is it? What’s happening that stopping? And let’s work on that. Like, let’s be empowered people.

Woman’s voice (Margo): After this, the drought, fire and pestilence that has beset this country. You would think, as some people are now realizing, that consulting with traditional knowledges held by aboriginal people would actually be a really good way of learning how to live sustainably on this planet. So that’s one, but the second is that as this exhibition was invariably saying, if you want to share this continent and you want to be Australian. Then you got to know your stories, beyond the last 240 years, because if you don’t, you’ll never take root. You won’t ever belong. You’ll only ever be a transplant. So in this exhibition as in this book, it’s basically saying ‘look we’ll tell you your stories, we’re not just sharing our stories, we’re telling your stories so that you know them and not only so you know about the place you live, but you’ll also take some responsibility for saving the songlines, for saving the heritage, that you are a legacy of, you’re a beneficiary of this now, on the shared continent.

Amy narration: If you’d like to get yourself a copy of Songlines: The Power And The Promise, it is available at all good bookstores but where I got mine, (along with a copy of the 99% Invisible City for all the beautiful nerds out there) was Red Rock Books & Gallery in Horsham, Victoria. Now sometimes booksellers are a little bit shy so just a shout out here to Marian who runs the place, Horsham’s only independent book store which is located right in the heart of Firebrace Street.

Their shelves are well stocked with children’s books, young adult fiction, classics, historical, gift books, comics, science fiction and more. They also carry the VCE English and Literature texts. Along with the wide variety of books you’ll also find a selection of stationery, gifts and locally dyed wool, plus the gallery where exhibitions are free to attend and change monthly. There’s always something interesting to discover so get on in for a look.

Thanks so much for listening and we’d love to hear from you with any of your thoughts. I wanted to share a little something following from the last episode and my discussion of Neret, the Macedonian village my dad’s family is from. I was invited to join a Facebook group for people connected to the village. Here is a beautiful recording of an old song that was shared. It was recorded by Kostas Novakis, a Greek musician and ethnographer who in the 1990s collected recordings of traditional folk music in the local Macedonian Slavic dialects.

(short excerpt of traditional Macedonian folk music plays)

This episode of Gather, with Minerva’s Books & Ideas, was produced by me, Amy Tsilemanis with sound engineering by the amazing Dave Byrne.

Our book seed for this episode was Songlines: the Power and the Promise by Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly, published in 2020 and number one in the series First Knowledges out through Thames and Hudson.

We heard a snippet from the exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters with thanks to the National Museum of Australia, and the audio from the Philip Adams interview with Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly on Radio National with big thanks to the ABC.

Music featured was Minerva’s Idea by Ellen Sorensen, Carry me by Deborah N and her collaborative soundscape Place We Be, and her singing with the Motor City Sounds c/o Rex Hardware. Go Motown.

You can find us online at minervasbooks.com or on Facebook and Instagram and remember you can support the show in various ways from one-off or recurring donations, buying the collages that accompany each episode, or by buying books. Make sure you’re subscribed and we’ll see you next time.

(live recording of the Motor City Sounds band plays for a short time and then fades out)

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