Saturday, April 10, 2021

"Take Care"

I've been enjoying doing some family history lately. It's partly because I want to explore how to encourage decolonisation in Australia and partly because I like looking for stories amongst my family's history.

I came across a poignant story last night as I was filling in details on my mother's side of the family - one of the McLeans who migrated from the Isle of Skye to Australia.

Donald McLean, my great, great, great grandfather arrived in Sydney on the 13th December, 1837 on the 'Mid Lothian'. His arrival documents described him as a 'shepherd' and that he was 'fit', 'in excellent health','can read and write', and the Captain attested to his 'excellent character'. Here he is as an older man.

Now soon after arriving, Donald and his wife Mary, (nee Carter) also from the Isle of Skye, and their first son David moved to Muswellbrook where Donald found employment as a farm labourer.

There is an interesting story about David's baptism and a tragic one about his end but they're not the ones I want to tell you about just now, interesting though they are.

You see Donald and Mary eventually had 10 children and one daughter was also called Mary. She was born on Sandilands Station in Bonalbo and eventually, on the 16th November, 1874, at age 23, she married John Mulcahy at Tooloom.

Now this is where the 'Take Care' comes in. Have a look at his photo. I think he's a pretty handsome young man and it's not surprising that Mary McLean fell for him although I can't really say why their first son was born three months before they were married except to say that it was pretty common in those days.

By 1879, they had had four sons and John joined the silver rush on the Boorook silver field at Tenterfield. On Friday the 25th July, he and his work mate, William King, were working a silver reef at Addison No 1 north claim and it was Johns turn to go down the shaft with his pick to do some more digging. William King didn't say what he said to John as he started to wind him down the shaft but he said that John called out for him to stop that there was a loose stone in the pit wall that he wanted to take care of.

King asked him if he needed a stick or something to knock it out and John pointed a suitable one out, grabbed hold of it, balanced on part of the wooden frame and began to poke the stone out.

You see he was taking care that the stone wouldn't at some time fall out of the wall of the pit and strike he or his mate Bill as they were digging below.

What happened?

Ah, he over balanced and fell and landed on a ledge halfway down, struggled for a while and then, before King could get down to help, rolled and fell the rest of the way down the pit.

The Coroners Inquiry brought in a finding of 'accidental death'.

Mary and John's 4th son was just 7 months old. Must have been a shock. It took Mary 6 years to re-marry. This time to Jasper Iverson who, gossip says, jumped ship to join the Tooloom gold rush.

Did anyone say 'Take care'?

(Thank you to kallquistP for sharing images of Mary McLean and John Mulcahy and Jen Jasper Iverson on Ancestry. I assume that the photo of Mary and Jasper outside the farm house is at Tooloom but, take care, I'm not sure.)

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the country on which my ancestors selected, lived, cleared, farmed, logged and displaced the vibrant and adaptable Aboriginal communities which thrived there for untold millenia before colonisation.

Friday, January 10, 2020

A story about Storytelling, the narrative and Neural Coupling

Well, I'd like to take you back to 2010.  It was a big year around the world.

Lots of things happened.

UK Telegraph image of the burning platform

2010 was a year for disasters, for example, the BP Deep Horizon oil drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing eleven workers and causing massive oil pollution, approx 134 million gallons, of the marine environment.

Brussels Airport - solarimpulse__DSC8994

2010 was a year for technology successes, for example, the Solar Impulse, a Swiss solar electric aeroplane, was successful in achieving the first 24 hr flight for a solar plane.

2010 was also a big year for the science around storytelling.

A Princeton Campus Bldg - Karl Thomas Moore
Let me take you to Princeton University, one of America's favourite and highly respected Ivy League universities in New Jersey.

Three researchers, Greg Stephens, Lauren Silbert and Uri Hasson, published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA, that recorded their findings about storytelling and neural coupling.

Here's the link for the academic paper:

What did they do in the depths of Princeton Uni?

They organised an fMRI scanner and recruited One native-English speaker, one native-Russian speaker, and 12 native-English listeners, ages 21–30 years.

First of all they recorded the two speakers telling a story while they scanned the neural activity in their brains. Then they told the listeners that they were going to listen to a story while having their brain scanned and they were told to "please pay attention because you will be asked to write down the story immediately after the scan."

They then compared the scans. What did they find? - neural coupling.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
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When a listener was actively engaged in the story, the same areas of the brain lit up as the person telling the story.

When a listener couldn't engage in a story, for example, the story was told in Russian and the listener didn't understand Russian, no neural coupling occurred. In other words it wasn't enough for a storyteller to be telling with feeling or rhythm, for example, the listener had to be provided with the right information the right narrative.

Also, when a listener was actively engaged in a story, the listener would begin to predict what was going to happen in the story ahead of the storyteller. The listeners neural processing happened before the tellers.

Perhaps the most important part of the research however, in terms of communication and in terms of storytelling is that, Stephens, Silbert and Hasson showed that, the greater the degree of neural coupling between teller and listener, the greater the listener understood the story.

Want your listeners to understand? Tell a story to them in a way that encourages them to engage. 

In the Story Space

Well for storytellers this was a big event but also no real surprise. Storytellers know when their audience is engaged. We use our own jargon to describe it - 'in the story space', 'hooked', 'right there'. Adults are usually too self-conscious, but so often children will sitting listening to a story, totally absorbed, mouth open, off with the story somewhere.

 We know that storytelling is a two way process - tellers and audience actively engaged. We also know how to bring stories alive for our listeners. How to take them on the journey.


So forget disasters like the BP Deep Horizon tragedy, forget triumphs like the Solar Impulse flight, the big news for 2010 was Stephens, Silbert and Hasson at Princeton demonstrating neural coupling with storytelling.

You can do it in your storytelling as well.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Video about the effect of effective stories on the brain and behaviour

This video brings up all sorts of questions about storytelling and the effect of good storytelling on brain chemicals and personal behaviour. Can an effective story increase altruistic behaviour?

I had an interesting phone call this morning from a fundraising campaign. They wanted sponsorship for a cause that I considered reasonably appropriate - a support book for soldiers with post traumatic stress syndrone. The telemarketer was using quite emotive words that were clearly meant to make me more altruistic - 'young diggers', 'kids' etc. When I said, 'kids' don't you mean adult soldiers? He had to agree but still kept on presenting Australian soldiers as poor suffering kids. He didn't tell me a story either.

So story techniques can be used for all sorts of purposes but you can't dot point the technique though. You have to tell the story and tell it in a way that engages.

Watch out for the 'dramatic arch' idea however, on it's own it is not enough to make a good story. Listeners need to be able to recognise the setting and empathise with the characters. It helps heaps if characters in the story actually speak and there has to be a resolution. That was one thing that annoyed me about the story in the video. We weren't told the resolution. The story ended with the problem.

Hopefully Aussie Diggers will have some good resolution to their issue of getting better support for those of them suffering from the impacts of serving in the defence forces. Here's the FaceBook link

Monday, September 09, 2013

Do we need stories to change our mind?

Wow big election weekend over. It was great to take part in the democratic process of choosing the next Australian government in a range of ways.

I lobbied for issues that I considered important in the weeks leading up to the election. My Senate vote was below the line, took some care with 80 odd possibilities. I handed out policy scorecards for GetUp encouraging people to make their choices by taking into account important social and environmental issues rather than personalities and I handed out how to vote cards for my current favourite political party.

All of this happened in an atmosphere of relative peace and consideration for others. Mind you I did witness one voter give supporters of one party a really violent tongue lashing outside a polling booth. It was quite a surprise.

How do people change their minds and do something different to what they normally do?

Here's an interesting article that suggests that people need appropriate stories to encourage that shift from the habitual to the new. It suggests that people are reluctant to change stories. We invest a lot in our chosen stories and are reluctant to step out of them. We use stories as guides to action.

I don't agree with everything that Shawn Coyne says about those changes but it is worth a read.

It is clear to me that stories can help us change habits or help us make a decision or reinforce not changing, not surviving.

What would make an effective change story?

I suspect that the story should be one in which the listener can see themselves as one of the characters in the story. That character should be one that cuts through the accumulated distress, addictions and well worn grooves of life. It might remind the listener of the person they once were before they got trapped in their current persona. It might remind the story listener of the person they dream they would like to be, if only ....

Karl Döringer CC Wikimedia
A narrative for change could even just show someone easily overcoming a  problem or challenge and succeeding in change.

The example that Shawn Coyne quotes from 'The Examined Life' by Stephen Grosz is of the woman who survived the Twin Towers destruction because she was prepared to leave all of her personal baggage behind in the office and exit as soon as possible while others went back to try and save personal effects or stick to prearranged commitments. It is a good story to demonstrate effective change behaviour.

I like the Elizabeth Kubler Ross change curve diagram as well. It shows that we may have to go through emotional change in order to change stories.

I wonder what story the new Australian government managed to tell those people who voted for them? I find it a bit hard to crystalise but it seemed to revolve around how bad the central characters of the old government were for the country. It worked even though the previous government had actually had a good economic record, achieved positive change with some major projects and served a full term in a challenging minority government situation. There was another story about jobs being more important than climate action as well.

Often we can find that other stories can make it harder or easier to accept a potentially important narrative. These can be narratives that we've used to say 'this is the sort of person that I am'. So sometimes a reminder of those stories will be enough for us to decide to stay 'in them' or to keep valuing them or to get really frustrated about having to let them go.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Care for Carers Stories on PlaceStories

Lee FullARTOn has completed a great report about that fantastic Care for Carers 2013 project that I was involved in.
In between the games participants shared stories

 She's made good use of the PlaceStories web hub to publish the report. 

Here's the link to the Postcard about my participation:

Care for Carers 2013 is a good example of how storytelling can contribute so positively and creatively in community projects. In this flood recovery project, my storytelling session was used as both warmup for the project and to provide stories that the children could offer as caring gifts to their carers. They also used the stories as the basis for other art work and performances that they created with other artists.

It was a pleasure to work with Lee again. She is amazingly creative, very organised and, like all good arts workers, flexible and responsive.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Readers Cup, Owls and Enchantment of Stories

I'm feeling really good about being a storyteller this afternoon. I'm just back from a couple of shows at Redlands College Library for the local annual Readers Cup event. Had fun telling 'Clever Turtle' to the Year 4's in a way that demonstrated telling to Year 1's and 'Thomas Rhuag the Seal Catcher' to the Year 8 and 9's.

They're both well worn old favourites of mine and were well received. One of the Year 9's volunteered a thank you after  the Librarian had already done so and then came over later to add her own personal thanks. Stories really do impress and involve and engage.

One of the teachers remembered me from the gig I used to do at Cleveland and Capalaba Libraries some years back. She said her then preschooler, now 20 year old son, was normally hyperactive but would sit and listen and join in so well. They were great sessions those. We were able to put so many things together well for our young audiences.

As part of my presentation I was talking about using props and keeping them simple. I demonstrated a wooden owl shaped whistle and mentioned the stories created for the Enchanted Forest Park at Ashgrove. I was pleased to be told by one of the Yr 9's that she really enjoyed the park.

Coming home I found an email from Cindy Anderson saying:

'My 4 year old son has recently rediscovered the Enchanted Forest at Ashgrove. Although we have been to the park many times over the years, he has only just realised that the mushroom tells stories and is completely enthralled by them. We are now going a couple of times a week so he can sit and listen to them! It's such a great place and experience and I am truly grateful to you for your role in creating it. It's so wonderful that kids can still experience such a joy in something so age old and lovely.'

Isn't that wonderful!

Section of the Enchanted Forest Playground in Dorrington Park, Ashgrove, Brisbane

View Enchanted Forest Playground in a larger map

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Splashing Around the Catchment Recovery Project

Loved this 2012 project. It really showed the value of creating and telling stories as part of recovery from disasters. Good thinks happen in the Lockyer Catchment.