Storytelling, Stories & Taletelling from History with Anna Jarrett Professional Storyteller, Centennial Park NSW Australia



By Anna Jarrett

Published in Interpreting Australia Newsletter.

Autumn 2004.  Issue 25.

Newsletter is available on Interpretation Association Australia’s website


© Anna Jarrett

“All the world loves a story”
Sam Ham

Imagine a small group of children walking through the forest on a historical discovery adventure. At the start of the walk, the Ranger is dressed in ranger uniform and the kids are in their summer play clothes. By the end of the journey, the Ranger and the children are all dressed in historical costumes with an early 1900’s look, and a reenactment of the Federation Of Australia Celebration is being enjoyed by the whole group. This was the scene at Centennial Parkland’s Summer Holiday Program and here’s the story behind how the program was developed.

Centennial Parklands features three of Australia’s most historic parks and has provided a leisure retreat for city folk for one hundred years. Every holidays, the Parklands presents a variety of family holiday activities including some innovative interpretive programs. Last summer, the Park’s interpretive team decided to explore Centennial Parkland’s grand history through a dramatic storytelling program called “Hunters and Convicts”. I worked with the interpretive team of three, to create an interactive ninety minute program which would appeal to young people between the ages of six to twelve.

The idea behind the program was to create a celebration of place and to help children and their parents to gain a deeper appreciation of the park’s history and importance. Being a holiday program, the challenge was to bring history alive and to make it sound exciting as well as fun. Rangers Rachel, Anna and Karen searched through the Park’s library to find a wonderful range of stories, fascinating facts and telling historical pictures. The first step was to train up in storytelling so the staff attended a one day seminar which I presented in collaboration with John Pastorelli and the Historic Houses Trust called “Working With Stories”. The second step was to gather every possible idea for the program and to brainstorm possibilities. The third step was to spend a day exploring all these possibilities as well as collating the research, finding the best stories and the strongest storyline.

Finding the stories about a place and crafting them for retelling, is the art of storytelling. As a professional storyteller and interpreter, I worked with the rangers on an intensive creative consultation where we looked for the characters, the quirks, the surprises and the downright disgusting stories which are all part of the Park’s history. Fortunately, these tales were abundant and our biggest challenge was choosing the best tales for the program. Guiding questions and a theme list helped us to stay focused as we revealed layers of stories within stories and felt the excitement of bringing history to life. In fact, Centennial’s history is so lively that it started jumping out of the pages at us and we had to hold it back! We asked:

What was Centennial Park before it was a park?
What did the area look like?
Who lived there and what did they do?

We placed the research in a timeline of four periods which moved from prehistory to early settlement to the 1900’s to today. As we plotted and planned, the Park history revealed itself with a motley crew of characters including travelling Aboriginal people, convict workers and overseers, night soil men, petty thieves, the gentry and other V.I.P.’s. We connected each of these characters to specific events and actions, then we explored the characters’ relationships with each other. With all these characters inhabiting the spirit of times past within the park, we asked, “How can we tell the Park’s BIG story in the space of a short holiday program?

This brought us to the final stage of designing the program so that it would hold the attention of a group of up to fifteen children. Stories are strongest when they’re grounded in their place and given a clear context. We chose a few spaces within the park where we could bring these stories to life using a variety of storytelling techniques from visualization to playing games to role playing. Once the spots were chosen, the rest of planning was easy. Using a process similar to editing, we brought the stories into a tight structure of three stories in three places. I left it up to the rangers to decide how they wanted to tell their stories as everyone has their own style of telling and presenting. Finding your own style as a storyteller also helps you find your strengths.

What a great program it turned out to be! Ranger Karen led the group through the paperbark forest to Lachlan’s Swamp where we were taken back in time to ponder what life was like before plumbing and easy access water. Lots of historical information was woven into questions and answers which engaged the children in the process of being time travellers. With the scene now set, we were ready to move to the second scene, at the edge of the forest next to open space. Karen told a few stories which captured the conflict in character stories. Children were invited in pairs to dress up as the characters and to tell the story from their point of view with the audience acting as the jury. Lots of laughs later, we were invited by Karen to move on to the third scene – the reenactment of The Federation Celebration next to the formal gardens. Everyone played a role in this freeze frame staging and what a colourful scene it was! There were ladies having a tea party, pick pockets, police, a photographer and even Sir Edmund Barton!

Sharing stories about a place is a powerful way to learn a little history as well as to make personal connections. Attendance for this program was high, the feedback from both the parents and the kids was totally positive and there were lots of requests to do more of this sort of programming. Here’s to more stories being told and to storytelling being nurtured as an integral part of the art of interpretation.
Note: Telling Tales is no longer in print. It has been replaced with a monthly e-newsletter and "The Storyteller".

For more information please contact:
Rachel Ely, Centennial Parkland Ph: 9339 6629

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Anna Jarrett, Travelling Storyteller Ph: 4472 3718

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Last updated, Monday February 08, 2016


All content © 2004/2016 Anna Jarrett t/a the Travelling Storyteller