March 28th, 2022Farewell to Anne, ‘the ground’s
not the same’
FOR Anne E Stewart, brilliant storyteller, one long narrative is about to end and another to start.
After some 31 years she is moving to be near her daughter and two grandchildren in Brisbane.
When it comes to Anne, the shop-worn phrase about being on a journey has seldom been truer. Storytelling has taken her across the globe, while at home, she has given much to the district and beyond.
After a happy childhood, the next stage was grim. Born in Melbourne in 1958, she was doing matriculation when her world and that of her family was shattered. Her brother, Tony, was killed in East Timor by Indonesian soldiers, along with two others in a Channel Seven news crew and two members of a Channel Nine crew. Anne’s anger is still potent. “We were told he ‘went missing’, but ‘they’ (the government) knew they were dead, but (for diplomatic reasons) had to lie.”
After a couple of false starts her career began at, of all places, a party in Torquay. She learned of a job in Geelong and at 19 became an assistant children’s librarian in Geelong and found her groove working for the Bellarine Peninsula Bookmobile.
After being pushed into storytelling with the team from the Jolly Jumbuck, a Storytelling Van sponsored by the State Library of Victoria to promote literacy, she was also put behind the steering wheel. Off she went, entertaining children across the state with Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea.
This came naturally because she grew up in a family of storytellers, she says, with plenty of competition to tell a yarn at home.
From the start, she set out to develop a love of language and literature in the youngsters. Now she tells her stories to those of any age, promoting cultural understanding, social justice and helping people with their unique stories.
Her storytelling skills were honed by going to Darwin, dropping into remote and fascinating outback spots in her boyfriend’s plane. Darwin was also where she first encountered bias towards indigenous people, leading to a 25-year relationship with the Dja Dja Wurrung people here and work on the shire’s reconciliation advisory panel.
Like so many young Australians at the time she roamed Asia and Europe even finding paying work at a Scottish storytelling festival.
Once back home, she won the 1998 Storytelling Competition in Port Fairy. She has been invited to tell stories in places as distant as Iran, Colombia, Mexico and even Timor.
Daylesford came up on her radar after her brother Greg moved here. He has just retired as a doctor. Back then, she says, an affordable house could be found.
Once here, Anne plunged into running the Words in Winter writers’ festival, organised the New Year’s Eve Parade for nine years, spent a similar time as Daylesford Primary School Council president and six terms as president of the Swiss Italian Festa while her two children were learning Italian. She had four terms as the president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Storytelling Guild.
Reflecting on the changes she has noticed here, she remembers the many theatrical performances at the Powerhouse, opposite the former police station in Daylesford, and gigs at the Palais and Town Hall. Today, she finds, the focus is more on hospitality and business.
“But, she adds, ”there are still people with passion, although it just doesn’t feel like my ground to dig into.”
Five years ago she was struck another blow when her partner, Rod May, an ecological farming pioneer, was killed in a road accident aged 63.
Awaiting her in Brisbane are her daughter, Cassandra, a tailor, and grandchildren aged four and almost two. Anne’s son Dominic is a physiotherapist in Melbourne.
“I’m very proud of my kids and contributions I made to the town for their benefit,” she says. “I’m pleased with my storytelling efforts and the huge amount of experience I’ve had in Australia and worldwide, and that I’m known as a storyteller.”
Her sunny side bursts through early in our interview when she tells of how much she is looking forward to the Olympics being held in Brisbane in 10 years’ time. She is eager to help with the Cultural Olympics. Her story continues.
Words: Kevin Childs
Image: Poppy Dahmer/Daylesford Strong Women Exhibition 2015