Storytelling in Interpretation with Anna Jarrett Professional Travelling Storyteller and Story Consultant

 Storytelling in Interpretation


By Anna Jarrett

Published in Interpreting Australia, Summer 2005/06 Issue 31/32

Interpreting Australia Newsletter is available on Interpretation Association Australia’s website



© Anna Jarrett

“Storytelling is the oldest form of face to face interpretation. We have always told each other stories in order to remember our past. To pass on shared histories and to learn how to live”.

The Ancient Art Of Storytelling, IAA Conference Paper 2003. Denise Fowler and Anne E Stewart.

There’s no better feeling for an interpreter than that moment of knowing the audience are in the palm of your hands. They’re waiting in anticipation for every word as you weave a captivating story about life in a particular place. It’s that moment of deep connection, of passionate involvement, of awe and wondering, which I’m fascinated with. As a professional storyteller and story consultant, I’m interested in exploring the role of storytelling in our culture and how we use storytelling to interpret people and places of  significance.

In the last month, this gradual exploration of story has been unravelling at two major events in Australia – The Australian National Storytelling Festival in Perth, and IMTAL (International Museum Theatre Alliance) Conference in Canberra. With topics ranging from Anne E. Stewart’s Finding Your Narrative to Jo Henwood’s What Do Museum’s Want From Storytellers, I’ve found a robust range of storytellers and story styles, being voiced into the Australian landscape.

Now is the time to be thinking seriously about the stories we tell and the impact of those stories. As interpreters and storytellers, we hold a great responsibility to really know and understand the stories which we tell. These stories help make sense of our culture, and as Liana Joy Christensen says, “The stories we tell about the world are directly connected to our actions and non actions in the world.” (1)

When we shape a body of information into a story, we are relating the stories of people and place to the whole person – the heart, the mind and the spirit of the individuals in the group. As interpreters, we need to learn the storytelling tools to bring stories to life, as well as to develop a deeper understanding of the issues and ideas related to working with stories. Conferences like IMTEL, are a unique opportunity for interpreters and program managers, to reflect on the stories which their institution or organization is telling, and to consider a diverse range of approaches to telling these stories.

The National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra is a world class example of how multiple layers of existing stories as well opportunities for the expression of emerging stories, can be given a space and place to be told. Denise Fowler, Programs Coordinator of The National Museum, is pleased to say that NMA “uses storytelling as one of its key interpretive tools, both in the design of exhibitions as well as for public programs”. (2) They have worked with storytellers from the initial planning stages of the museum right through to now. The National Museum employs storytellers to write commissioned stories on specific exhibits, to collect stories as part of the curatorial research and to present public programs for children, families and adults. Storytelling is taken so seriously by NMA that they have a dedicated Story Place, The Boab Tree, where families gather every week to listen to and to create stories together.

As a Storyteller, I dream of the day when every community knows its history, where every place has a space for storytelling and where story sharing and story making are an integral part of our everyday life again. Intepreters are in a unique position to work with stories and to inspire us all to find points of connection with our individual and shared histories. Writer, Philip Pullman, says this so well:

“It is only in telling the stories that we touch the big things, the important things…The important thing is the heart of the story, where the life is, where the emotions are, where the humanity is”.(3)

In the following issues of Interpretation Australia, I look forward to “Talking Story” with storytellers and interpreters around Australia. If you would like to contribute your ideas or questions to this series of articles, please contact me.


(1) Christensen, L.J. (2004) Slow Story Manifesto, Southerly, Vol 64 Number 2

(2) Fowler D. and Stewart Anne E. (2003) the Ancient Art Of Storytelling, IAA

Conference Paper 2003

(3) Pullman, P. (2003) cited in Panorama, Canberra Times, July 20 2003

            Also References in The Ancient Art Of Storytelling

For more information on Australian storytelling, see the Australian Storytelling  website

Anna Jarrett

Anna Jarrett is a professional Storyteller, Trainer and Story Consultant based on the South Coast of New South Wales. She designs and presents storytelling and oral history programs for communities and organizations including Historic Houses Trust NSW, Sydney Olympic Authority, Australian Storytelling Guild NSW, TAFE NSW, IAA Conferences and Workshops.





Last updated, Monday February 08, 2016


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