Monday, July 28, 2008

Sourcing Tall Stories and Yarns

As a storyteller with a website called 'Storytelling In Australia' it's not surprising that I get an email from time to time asking me about 'tall stories' and 'yarns' and where to find them. Here's one from Van below.

G'day Daryll
I found your name and email address on the 'net. I hope you do not mind this contact.
I am 63, live in semi-retired fashion on the Central Coast of NSW, and I have just finished several "swag" tours attached to a round-Oz motor bike trip. Great!!

On the swag tours I had to mix it with, typically, a smallish bunch of Australian old-timers such as myself, and a bunch of young'uns from overseas. Again typically, the oldies know the first line of half a dozen songs and bugger all tall-stories, and I'm not much better so I make up stories. The young'uns absolutely LOVE it. But because I am fairly limited in imagination, my stories are less exotic and enthralling than ones I know I have heard [but not remembered well enuff to tell].
So - this email is to see if you can help stear me in the right direction. Can you suggest an author, or even a book or two, which runs short st0ries - both fair dinkum bullshit and fair dinkum stories?

Also - there was a fascination with the Aborigines, and to my never-ending shame, I was unable to tell these people anything, in story form, of the Aboriginal legends and stuff.
Can you help any?
All the best....Van [Davy]

Van, it sounds like you're having a great time and I applaud you for your effort in telling stories around the campfire and making them up as you go as well. It's such an important part of the Aussie storytelling tradition.

However there are plenty of good tall stories out there that are worth finding. When I'm travelling I'll often stop in second hand bookshops and go through the Australian Folklore section looking for books like Bill Wannan's 'Great Australiana - Folklore, Legends, Humour, Yarns'. Bill published quite a few great books. There's an obituary for him on Warren Fahey's site at that gives some more of his titles. A couple of good ones are:

- 'Come in Spinner :A Treasury of Popular Australian Humour' and
- 'Bullockies Beauts and Bandicoots: Australia's Greatest Yarns'.

Look for other people like Bill Scott and Patsy Adam-Smith eg,'The Shearers'. Also don't forget about some of our bush ballads. A lot of those old songs are stories in their own right. An old collection but a nice one if you find it is 'Favourite Australian Bush Songs' compiled by Lionel Long and Graham Jenkin and 'The Bushwakers Australian Song Book' is a good collection.

Yarns are good value as well. They're not tall stories as such but laid back stories about events and people and day to day life. Some of Bill Scott's collections are great, for example, 'The Australian Yarn'.

Now just to show that yarns are stilll being created and collected there's an interesting little collection on line at where you can download a pdf of collected yarns from around Australia.

Another tip is to look for local collections of stories or histories about particular towns or regions. They will often have good yarns in them and sometimes tall stories.

You probably should have a couple of 'Crooked Mick' from the Speewah stories in your repertoire as well. You can find a couple here thanks to the Macinnis family.

Indigenous stories are another question. Especially because we are in Australia, I believe we need to respect Aboriginal stories and especially the Dreamtime stories. There have been quite a lot published by Indigenous authors and what I would suggest that if you read one and think - 'that's a great story, I really want to tell it' then get in touch with that author through the publisher. You see that particular Aboriginal author would only have published if the story was his or her's to publish. Really though, the best people to tell Dream Time stories are the traditional owners of those stories. When you try to tell them away from the country and culture they are about, they lose their power.

Well there you go. There's some suggestions for you. Keep having fun on the swag tours. Any suggestions of other titles from anyone else is welcome.



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