Last Friday I managed to get out of the house (no small task) and into the Melbourne Town Hall. At this most impressive of venues, amongst many people (some very like me, others very not) I was told a few stories…
The Gala Night of Storytelling 2011: Voices from Elsewhere, began the Wheeler Centre’s 2011 program and also marked the centre’s first birthday. I’ve got to say, I think that the Wheeler Centre and all who sail in her, should be given a little clap – it’s a noble endeavour and very warmly received, as evidenced by the impressive crowd in attendance.
The evening itself was a rich mix of themes, places, and people.
The program began very locally, with a generous welcome and a quiet reminder of Melbourne’s sometimes dubious history.
And then came Mem Fox. Bright yellow jacket and a shock of red hair, a delight. In a tone typical of her picture-book storytelling she told a tale that had goosebumps up and down my arms, the hairs on the back of my neck standing straight up and cold chills running down my spine. The contrast of tone and content was quite unsettling. Her story, of a family, was short and powerful. When she finished, the audience was more than a little rattled.
Yannick Haenal was next, and was earnest. He delivered in French, and I caught myself closing my eyes while he told his story and listening in much the same way as I’ve done in the past at concerts. The French language is just a little bit musical. I didn’t understand very much (it’s been a while since High School French), but I could sense that it was a serious story, and its translation proved this to be the case.
Next up was John Birmingham, more familiar in content and style. The story that he told, with its martial arts theme was humorous, as you might expect, but was just as earnest in its own particular way. I certainly found myself buying into the idea that his friend’s commitment to a discipline, and his ability to follow his own intuition was what allowed this story its happy-ending.
The next two writers, Abha Dawesar and Murong Xuecun told us stories which had lovely magical twists. Murong’s ironic set-up was compelling, and it was great to watch him watching us as his story was translated. He seemed to take great delight in the fact that we were laughing in the right places.
Sonya Harnett, like John, told a story that I could latch onto very quickly. She chose a story about her Mother, and her Mother’s nursing textbooks. My Mum was also a nurse, and I still have the little pocket-sized nursing guide that I was so fascinated with as a kid. I knew exactly what Sonya meant when she described the fact that she couldn’t quite reconcile the grotesque of the texts with her care-giving Mum.
Dagma Leupold‘s recollection of a dream was quite lovely, and I thought her slight detachment from the room was quite fitting given the subject of the story.
Nam Le was both insightful and hilarious. Much like Sonya’s story, he managed to capture what it is to expect one thing, and get quite another thing entirely. A funny guy, he summed up nicely why it is so important not to act on assumptions, but also exactly why we are so inclined to do just that.
And then there was Archie Roach. I could have listened to Archie for a whole extra hour, but alas, only one song. It was a fabulous way to finish the evening.
I was really fascinated to see how this type of program came together, and I really was impressed by how well this format showcased the writers’ work, their influences and their backgrounds.
To finish, can I just say that if you have a chance to get to any of the Wheeler Centre events – please do. A pure indulgence in some fine writing and new ideas. Their program for the first bit of 2011 can be found here…