Storytelling the ancient art, with Anna Jarrett Professional Storyteller, South Coast NSW Australia



Anna Jarrett

Published in Peaceful Willow
Donna Thomson interviews Anna Jarrett
September 2007


Connecting through Storytelling
by Donna Thomson

Anna Jarrett and Storytelling

Storytelling is an ancient art and tradition found within all cultures of the world, used to bring people together, to teach, to carry on an oral history of individuals, families, communities and the world, and of course for enjoyment. Sadly, storytelling has become almost a ‘lost art’ and elders are passing away without having passed on their stories to the younger generations. As times have changed, younger generations have lost the great respect they had for their elders and communication gaps have increased dramatically.

It’s time to unite the generations again and bring people of all ages together – to increase understanding, compassion and respect. Storytelling is one way of doing this – of connecting generations and communities by sharing from the heart. This is the belief of storyteller Anna Jarrett who has shared some of her wisdom, advice and experiences about the art of storytelling with us in the following interview…

What sorts of messages can be conveyed through storytelling?

“Any message can be more easily delivered and received through storytelling. The diverse tradition of stories and storytelling genres reflects the depth and diversity of human experience and expression of that experience. In stories we find lessons about love and hate, peace and war, friends and enemies, success and failure. Layers of messages are often encoded within the symbols of the story and these messages are received and understood by the listener in stages, depending on one's own life experience and readiness to listen.”

Does someone have to be born a storyteller (e.g. have a natural ability to weave tales) or can anyone learn to do it?

“We all have stories to tell. Some of us are natural communicators and Storytellers. Some of us have to learn the art. Some of us have an innate understanding of the art simply by being brought up within a storytelling culture. I believe that anyone can learn to tell a good story if they focus on the stories they really want to tell. Not everyone can be a professional storyteller/entertainer or a story facilitator but we can all enjoy learning to tell a story in a way that will engage other people.

When I decided I wanted to be a professional storyteller, I sought the company of tellers from around the world, who taught me all about the oral tradition and its many forms of delivery. I have always been a natural communicator and performer but it has taken me awhile to learn the subtle, beautiful art of weaving a really good tale and understanding what it means to speak deeply from my heart.”

What is your most memorable storytelling experience with young people and why was it special?

“I enjoy sharing stories and working with stories with people of all ages. The most memorable moments are when I see the flashes of wonder and understanding in people's eyes and when I see people laughing together and sharing the whole story experience.

On a personal level, my most memorable moment was when I started bedtime reading and storytelling to my baby girl and her eyes lit up and she smiled and cuddled up to hear some more. It was a moment of sharing the magical story world and all the possibilities which live in the realm of story.

On a professional level, the shows and workshops which I remember the most are the ones when young people feel excited and empowered to share their own stories. One night at a Young Naturalists Camp, after telling stories, every child had a story of their own which they were inspired to tell and so the night became a long and wonderful one with some fantastic stories and storytelling!

The other memorable moment was when I did a storytelling residency at a middle school in America, focussing on ghost stories. By the end of the week, a handful of teenagers were ready to tell their own ghost stories (many were true) in front of the whole middle school - 250 kids!. The lights went out and the stories unfolded. In the middle of the show in the middle of a story there was an uproar and the lights had to be turned back on to separate two fighting girls and bring them back to safety. With the problem addressed, I asked the whole group if they wanted to hear the rest of the stories and they did. I asked the tellers if they wanted to tell the rest of the stories and they did. The lights went down again and the magic of the stories continued to unfold. How brave all the new storytellers were. Everyone left full of the excitement, the connection and the wonder which storytelling brings.”

What do you feel is unique about storytelling as a way for older generations to communicate with the younger generations?

“Storytelling is a way of communicating from the heart. When we share our stories with someone we love, and they listen, we learn about each other and share feelings and thoughts about our lives. Life is changing so rapidly, sometimes it helps to hear a story to make sense of things, to give a little structure to a chaotic world, to offer a fresh perspective on ways of seeing and being. When we share stories about ourselves and our feelings, we become very real, and in some ways raw. It’s always comforting to know that someone else has experienced a similar feeling, whether it be sorrow, joy, anger or disappointment. It’s also comforting to hear how someone else has coped with difficult situations. Sharing stories is a gentle way to offer guidance and insights into life's lessons. We can learn a lot from listening to each other. Learning to listen and making the time to listen is part of what makes storytelling unique. It’s quality, intimate, connected time in a hurried high tech often impersonal world.

I recently recorded my Granma telling her life stories and in listening, I learned so much about Australian history, family culture, people relationships and most importantly of all, I was reminded that we are all connected. Within our family we find parts of our own story from the past and with this information, sometimes we travel more easily on our journey into the future.”

What advice or tips would you give to parents and grandparents who would like to pass along some of their life experience and family history to younger members of the family?

“Start a family album with a selection of photos from key moments in your life. Write short anecdotes under these photos which tell a little of your story and give the photos meaning. Leave the album out in the lounge room for young people to look through at their leisure. Make an album of their life too and swap photo stories. My five year old daughter loves all our photo albums especially the little photo story books which I make which retell the story of one experience like My visit to Granma's in New York. She also loves the album with all the family history photos. Many of the people she's never met but she loves to hear about them.

Have a family slide or movie night with a selection of really good photos which have great memories. I grew up with family movie nights and it was the one time all eight children gathered peacefully with Mum and Dad, laughing and sharing all kinds of stories. What a great memory.

Ask someone in the family to video you telling some of your favourite stories which you'd like the family to always remember you by. It might be helpful for you to hire an oral historian to do this professionally. I have been privately commissioned to do numerous life story recordings and the individual's have found it empowering and easy to tell their story to someone who is "neutral"/an objective listener.

Tell family stories around the dinner table. Light the candles and take the time between dinner and dessert. It’s a great time for listening and sharing.”

What do you hope to achieve as a storyteller and what are you most passionate about?

“Oh my goodness, where do I begin? I guess the main motivation for being a professional storyteller is to help make a better world through storytelling and story sharing. My work focuses on cultural harmony, environmental connection, personal healing, celebration and community building. I am passionate about story as a very powerful tool for facilitating change on a personal and global level. I am passionate about sharing the joy and sense of connection which I feel when I tell stories and when I hear stories. I wish for many more people to share stories and to help keep storytelling as an integral part of our culture. As long as we have our stories, we have a way of making sense of this world and framing all our world experiences as one big story. A story which is constantly changing. A story which we have the power to create through our thoughts and our actions.”

Our thanks to Anna Jarrett for the above interview. Find out more about Anna at the bottom of the page.

Listening to Others’ Stories

Cultures, communities and individuals around the world are now starting to make use of digital technologies to help tell their stories. The internet provides people with a tool that not only allows them to reach their immediate family and community, but to reach others that they may never meet in person, but who they can connect with through shared stories. It’s also a wise tool for older generations in appealing to younger generations who are attracted by multimedia technology.

In Australia, there is a new website which features Dreamtime stories as animated movies – stories of love, loyalty, duty to country and aboriginal custom and law from Central Arnhem Land. With the catchphrase, ‘Ancient Stories, New Voices’, Dust Echoes has the aim of “bringing everyone back to the same campfire - black and white. We are telling our stories to you in a way you can understand, to help you see, hear and know. And we are telling these stories to ourselves, so that we will always remember, with pride, who we are." (
Tom Lewis, actor, musician, Indigenous consultant)

The Aboriginal peoples of Canada also have a
website where stories have been collected from the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples of the country to continue to storytelling tradition that has been lost to many as their elders pass away without passing on their stories. Rosa and Melvin John are First Nations storytellers who specifically talk about the importance and sacred art of storytelling, the act of storytelling and the qualities that are important to storytelling such as pride, humour and healing – see

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image has a Digital Storytelling program that guides people through creating their own stories using multimedia, focusing on community stories, family history and wisdom gained through personal experience. You may be inspired to create your own stories like the ones found on their website.

Share Your Stories

We hope this article inspires you to share your own stories! Peaceful Willow would like to share your stories, to increase unity between young and old, brother and sister. If you have a story to share from your heart, please send us an email

About Anna Jarrett
Anna Jarrett is an internationally acclaimed storyteller based in NSW, Australia. Anna is dedicated to bringing a storytelling culture back into our communities and does this via story circles, school tours, community cultural projects, oral history projects and more! See Anna’s website for more information




Last updated, Monday February 08, 2016


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