Clockwork Faery Song


(This post was inspired by a photograph of a tiny clockwork faery created by Susan Beatrice, All Natural Arts)

Once upon a time there was a clockwork faery.
Beautiful and gold she was intricately tiny.
She would dance down among the flowers,
dance and dance for hours and hours.

She whirred and she flitted, flickering lightly
silver flashing sparkling whitely
She tiptoed and she spun so very sprightly
down in the flowers, way way down.

Every morning the spiders would wind her
set her spinning through the shining
dancing out, out among the flowers
dance and dance for hours and hours.

She whirred and she flitted, flickering lightly
silver flashing sparkling whitely
She tiptoed and she spun so very sprightly
down in the flowers, way way down.

There came a time when she got slower
All the spiders came to see her
They wrapped her up in a sparkling bower
and waited for her hours and hours

She whirred and she flitted, flickering lightly
silver flashing sparkling whitely
She tiptoed and she spun so very sprightly
down in the flowers, way way down.

The spiders spun so very gorgeous
webs of light and just adored her
She danced again, out among the flowers
dance and dance for hours and hours

She whirred and she flitted, flickering lightly
silver flashing sparkling whitely
She tiptoed and she spun so very sprightly
down in the flowers, way way down.

(c) CL H Harper 26 Aug 2013

The boy who learnt to hear: A Jumbly Tale

When my son was three he lost his hearing, when he was four he received a cochlear implant. The implant is truly remarkable technology. With artificial processing in one ear, I do wonder how much he misses out on, then I think don’t we all?

Too often I realise I listen with my perception and can mis-read intent. Another person’s behaviour and how they speak is a reflection of them. I see this particularly in my son who often misinterprets comments to be negative then will proceed to become exceedingly upset. It’s interesting how big the story is that we can create about an event or an individual because we listen with all we are.

If I read a story or listen to it told, I can apply it to myself and more broadly. If you tell me an anecdote about another person, I will not apply it to myself. I am not a subtle person. I do not practise paranoia. If I am told an anecdote I will listen to it that way, an anecdote about another person. People who attempt to send me messages this way are doomed to failure. If I am listening to you, I am listening to you. I consciously practise being present in my listening.

Every conversation we have, triggers thoughts, memories and responses. When we talk we can be reminded of other events. Our internal censors keep us on track. Quite often the thread of the story can be lost when the passing thought, triggered by the conversation, is more interesting. Those ‘senior moments’ are a sign of a life lived to the full with hundreds of memories and thoughts triggered by every conversation. it’s amazing we can conduct any conversations to conclusions.

We all know people who indulge in stream of consciousness talking. That is not conversation. I have a friend who is extra-ordinary. Mid flow a memory will be triggered and she will de-tour through that tale, returning to the original story at exactly the point she left it. She has a truly marvelous brain.

Brains, listening, perceptions, seeing, believing. It’s time for another Jumbly tale.

Let me tell you a story

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there lived a boy in a village with his mother. He was a lovely boy. He was happy in himself and concerned for others. He was happy to go to the market for his mum and pick up extras for Mrs. Lillapine, the Jumbly Man’s friend. Most of all, he was best friends with the Jumbly Man.

The boy’s dad had left long ago and his mum just got on with whatever needed getting on with. With a whole village to pitch in and Elders to watch over them, the boy never felt the loss of a father.

He and the Jumbly Man, since he was a tiny boy, would bumble off whenever Jumbly arrived at his house, fishing rod in hand. His mother would smile and greet Jumbly, hand over the picnic basket and off they would go. Fishing was what they did. As a little boy, he had talked and talked and laughed with the Jumbly Man, never questioning how he knew what he was asked or what was replied.

The boy got older and began to look about him. The village was still the same and this was reassuring. He was curious though. Curious about many things. Curious about Jumbly things. One cold Saturday afternoon, after a successful morning’s fishing, and the boy and his mother were cosily ensconced in the warm kitchen, he thought to ask.

“Mum, how old is the Jumbly Man?” he asked. Mum stopped moving and looked up surprised, “Well, not old, he went to school with me.” Surprised in turn, the boy’s mouth fell open. His mother interpreted correctly and smiling scolded,” Now, now, I’m nowhere near old enough to be an Elder!” The boy grinned at her. That was what he had been thinking. Still, that made him think of another question.

“Mum, when the Jumbly Man was a boy, could you understand him?” His Mum stopped again and turned to look at her son. “Well, yes, he talked just like the rest of us.”

The boy was astonished. He always knew what the Jumbly Man wanted or it became clear by his actions. Everyone in the village was the same. It was just that it had only just occurred to him that the Jumbly Man could not have always been this age but he was very surprised to think of him as a boy. A boy who did not have his words back to front or his sentences inside out.

“Mum? Did something happen to the Jumbly Man, Mum? Did something happen to make his words all jumbly?”

“Well, yes Son, but it isn’t my story to tell. You will have to ask the Jumbly Man.”

The boy was stunned by this suggestion and for the first time wondered how he could understand the Jumbly Man and how he could get his story. It seemed very important. He got off his chair and turned to go when another question presented itself.

“Mum, did the Jumbly Man have another name when he was a boy?”

“No darling, his family were the Jumbles, tinkers in times passed. His name is Adam Jumbles, Jumbly for short. It is you children who call him the Jumbly Man.” Mum smiled at him and bent to the oven.

Well! Never had there been so many astonishing revelations in one afternoon. It wasn’t how he thought the Jumbly Man was at all. The boy looked outside and stood watching the clouds blow passed his bedroom window as he pondered. He stood there for a long time, thinking. He had imagined that he could teach the Jumbly Man to speak. Now he wanted to know his story and was willing to listen to however it came out.

Just then a ray of sun cut through the scattering clouds as the Jumbly Man himself emerged proud in bright red gumboots. He saw the boy through the window and waved then da dah-ed his new red boots. The boy laughed and understood the invitation, ran for his jacket and his own boots.

and that is the end of the story.

(C) CL H Harper 23rd August 2013

Folktales and stories

Who is to say that the stories we know today as folktales were not just someone’s story long ago. We know that rhymes and stories were couched in particular ways for gossip, warning, learning and sharing. Stories travelled far. I have been thinking about this since someone asked me why I put my son’s story on a folktale discussion forum. I will keep thinking some more as it is an interesting question.

That led my thoughts to consider what was a folktale and the stories of this land where I live, Australia.

folk tale


1. a tale or legend originating and traditional among a people or folk, especially one forming part of the oral tradition of the common people.

2. any belief or story passed on traditionally, especially one considered to be false or based on superstition.

I tell a lot of folktales. I adapt a lot of traditional tales for current day. I have permission to adapt into popular story structure tales I have been given permission by First Australians to tell.

My heritage is Scottish, Irish and Australian Aboriginal. I don’t know a lot about my different heritages but feel a keen urge to tell Aboriginal stories. Dreaming stories are creation and teaching stories. They fit into current definition of folktales and they weave history, explanation and warning together. Of fascination to me is the spiral nature of these stories. Children will know the stories without the detail meant for adult ears. Detail is garnered through song, story and dance, family and community experiences and conversation depending on what stories your mob have responsibility for and how connected you are to your community. The understanding of a story is considerably more by adulthood, even though at heart it is the same tale.

Some of these are cautionary tales, some are explanations. They rarely conform to beginnings, middles and ends. The stories link in with others to weave songlines, depending again on Country and what element you have responsibility for strengthening. I do not yet know any stories from my own heritage but my youngest daughter knows hers. I worry for what she will not know that she does not know, if you know what I mean.

(Please note that these are my theories, my experiences and my way of viewing things. Please do not quote me!)

So much language, song, story, dance and culture in Australia has been lost due to a violent history from the first non-Aboriginal invasion. Determination to wipe out the “blacks” (who were considered part of the flora and fauna of Australia, I kid you not), assimilate or herd onto missions created a bloody and broken history that Kevin Rudd’s apology in 2008 barely stroked the back of, let alone gave great comfort and certainly not recompense.

As an adopted child of a non-Aboriginal family and myself growing up an Aboriginal child in permanent care, I find myself in an odd spot. We are connected to local Aboriginal community and attend community events, in fact often help organise them. However, I do not know her stories and while she is a well-storied child, I do not know the stories of her Country. We know both sides of her birth families and share often. Still I know what it is like to grow up unclaimed, to not know the land where your spirit belongs and I would not wish that on anyone. My daughter is well claimed and loved and knows exactly where she belongs and who she ‘owns’ (she’s a little possessive). She will find her stories.

I have worked in Aboriginal community for years and only recently moved to work in broader community. The parallels and differences are fascinating. There is nothing a new migrant, refugee or asylum seeker has experienced in their settlement journey that has not been experienced by an Aboriginal person in their own country. I firmly believe culture is a place where we can meet.

So, let me tell you a story

Long long ago in the Dreaming, the Warrior spirits watched Biame’s creation and told Biame the calls of the Clever Men and Women. They saw that people and animals were not helping one another, there was no kindness or understanding of each other’s place in the world. When they reported this to Biame, he was furious. Before he did anything he resolved to come and see for himself.

He changed himself into an old blind wombat and sat on the path of a billabong to wait. It was an hot summer day and the bush was still. The heat drew the scent of the eucalyptus that hung above Wombat’s head. Old blind Wombat was so hot he began to pant.

Animals walked down the path to the billabong. Wombat placed himself in their way, and called out asking them to help him to the water. They hit Wombat and pushed him off the path and went on their way to the billabong.

Old blind Wombat sat and the day grew hotter and hotter. He heard people coming and again placed himself in their way, calling out asking for help to the billabong to drink. They laughed and jabbed him with the blunt ends of their spears, joking about rolling him into a fire for a feed. Pushing him out of their way, they went on down to the billabong.

The day got hotter. The air was parched with no hint of a breeze. The stillness was broken only by the low sound of the hover bees as they searched for nectar. The eucalyptus scent was stifling and the wombat desperately needed a drink of water. Along came Kangaroo, carrying her joey in her arms. Wombat again put himself in the way and called out. Kangaroo stopped and offered her tail to guide the wombat to the billabong. So they went, slowly down the path and when they got there, they both had a long long drink.

Kangaroo’s ears flicked! She stretched up, balancing on her tail to look. Hunters coming with spears! Pushing Wombat behind a log to hide him, she leapt high for the hunters to see. They did. They shouted and ran around the billabong after her. Kangaroo took off running as fast as she could with the hunters not far behind.

She looked over her shoulder and saw them gaining. She could not run fast enough with her baby in her arms. Quickly she hid him in the long grass and ran on again. Kangaroo ran until she was exhausted and the hunters were left far behind. She began to make her way back to her baby in the grasses. Kangaroo hunted everywhere but could not find her child. Distressed she made her way back to the billabong and told Wombat everything that had happen. Weeping, she fell into an exhausted sleep.

Now that old blind wombat who was really Biame was so proud of Kangaroo that he took a strip of bark from the paperbark tree and placed it across her belly. Then he found her baby and tucked it into the new pouch.

That is the end of the story.

(with permission of Elder M.Smith, Wiradjuri Tribe, NSW, Australia 1995)

This tale is far from the bare bones story I first heard and it is pared down from the story I told in kinders and schools. There is no need for a moral, it is understood. I had permission to create it for modern ears as the Elder wanted the story shared and I was in a position to do so.

And now, I have shared it with you.

Tricky Tricksters

My son has autism.

He came to live with me when he was 9 years old. He was small for his age and the two years that he had been in and out of foster care had frozen him. At the age of three he contracted pneumococcal meningitis and lost his hearing. At four he received a cochlear implant. At six his primary carer (grandmother) died and he went into care.

Like most children in care in Australia, he was in and out of care as the department tried for reunification with his alcoholic mother. She tried, she really did, but the lure of the bottle  was too strong. The impact on children like my boy though is traumatic.

By the time he was brought to me, he was frozen. There were often times when he stood still, nothing going on in his head, waiting for someone to tell him what to do. At seven he said that he was saving all his hugs for his mum, so the carers stopped hugging him.

His first night at my house I said the rule was that you had to have a big squashy cuddle goodnight. That little boy could not get into my arms fast enough. All sticks and bones and desperation. His case manager took him home after the weekend and asked if he thought he might like to live with us. “Oh yes,” he replied, “they just love me!” We do.

The combination of deafness with artificial processing of sound, autism, a short term memory disorder and a language disorder combined to cocoon him in his own world. Even today he will speak his mind (yes, he is very opinionated), asking questions and answering himself. On one occasion, when he was still small, he was chatting away to himself in his room and his case worker dropped in for a visit. “Oh, has he got friends over?” “No, that’s just him,” I smiled. “Goodness, it sounds like an entire basketball team!” Sure did.

As he thawed, he began to release a lot of anger. I had no idea so many things could get broken. The only thing that really upset me was my ceramic frog in the front garden. This large frog had many adventures as my bush garden was used for hide and seek by the neighbourhood children. I was never sure where it would end up, it was always moving around. One morning I came out to find it smashed to pieces. I burst into tears and my boy looked at me in bewilderment. It has taken many years for him to grow empathy and understand that actions have impact.

Growing empathy. His response when people hurt themselves was to point and laugh, sometimes when it was scary, not funny at all. Step by tiny step I took him through appropriate responses. When he was ten he would play with my Scruffy dog, who being a little old and grumpy, would growl at him when he had had enough. My son would storm off into his bedroom and draw pictures of die scruffy die. I explained over and over that using your feet to ‘play’ with an animal was not appropriate and hurt him. “He should know,” my boy cried in frustration, “he should know I didn’t mean to hurt him!” Two years ago my little Scruffy mate died. I was bereft. The neighbours brought the children to the vet, where Scruf and I were waiting, to say goodbye. All the way there he patted the back of his younger sister and said, “It’s alright, it’ll be okay. He knows we love him.” My boy dug a beautiful hole in the garden for our dog and we sung Scruffy into sleep, all crying. My son cried too. He understood and had grown in empathy.

We love to laugh. It’s one of my favourite occupations and I often play tricks on the children. My son loves it when the trick is on him. One time we were visiting friends in Port Macquarie and walked along the river esplanade. There was a large sign for the caravan park and on top was a matching set of pelicans. “Look!” I called to my son, “Check out the pelican statues! They move too!” He watched in amazement as the pelicans turned their heads at the same moment to look out to sea. Then one flapped it’s wings. I was doubled over from laughing. “Oh Mum! That was good, I really thought they were mechanical statues!” He often asks me to tell that story and has it on his list for his 21st.

There was the time I hired a Hyundai Getz as my Mitsubishi Lancer was having panels repaired. I opened the door to my son and as he hustled in out of the rain, I pointed to the little Getz and remarked “Look what all the rain has done. It shrunk the car!” He turned in astonishment, then grinned and shook his head, “Oh, Mum! That’s funny.” He’s always been a good sport about my tricks although other people can be critical. He is often reluctant to change the batteries for his cochlear implant, just because he can’t be bothered. When it is obvious to me that he hasn’t changed them, I talk intermittently as if sound is cutting out. He just rolls his eyes and gets the batteries out of his pocket. I’ve had other people take exception to this joke but if it works for us, it works.

Last year my boy’s mum died. She died of her alcoholism and it was so sad. The best Christmas had been two years previously when we had all been at my place and we have the loveliest photo of the mums and kids from that time. He spoke at her memorial service. He speaks really well. When I met him he spoke in a staccato monotone. She would have been so proud of him, he spoke beautifully. We all cried.

He’s eighteen now and getting his driving licence, finishing school and getting ready to head out into the world of work. We were fortunate to receive a bungalow from Kids Under Cover so he has his own little unit in the back yard. Feeling very grown up.

How does autism come into all this? You know what, it does and it doesn’t. Understanding the disorder gave me a place to teach and helped me understand how he learnt things. He finds it difficult to keep his opinions to himself and shares them volubly. He finds it difficult to understand others’ behaviours and is not very tolerant of differences (yes, that is ironic as he is the boy who walks through our small town talking to himself out loud and gesturing). He deals with depressive and anxious thoughts and has me to remind him how many people care for him and to count his blessings.

He also has a very big heart and cares passionately about many things. He cares passionately for us, his family and justice. He is almost ready to step out and find his place in the world. He is beginning to understand how I taught him by watching his little nephew who has autism and seeing the step by step process.

My son has autism. I couldn’t be more proud.


The Jumbly Man

Typos, Spellos and Wordos, I love them all.

Years ago in telling one of my favourite stories, The King Who Wouldn’t Wash, I mispronounced the dire punishment he constantly promised. Whenever the king demanded his servant complete an impossible task, he threatened to sever his head. I pronounced this as severe, instead of sever. A storytelling colleague came up to me after the tale (which was enjoyed) and pointed out my error. I laughed. After all severing an head is quite severe, so it all works, doesn’t it?

This has been part of my long love affair with weird and wonderful words and the creation of them. Not so long ago, a member of my team at work, wrote the word resolution on the board. She spelled it Resoulution, with the first o scrawled in an heart shape. I have thought often of that word. Re – soul – ution. Isn’t that what we all strive for? The resolution of our spirits? A realigning with the divine? Works for me.

I enjoy my own typos and spellos enormously and have been known to chuckle long and loudly at my own errors. Often those errors can reshape a word (like resoulution) or sentence, shift perception or thought. There are times when words in current usage simply don’t fit what it is you are wanting to express. Then it is time to create new words. Yes, we create new words, or new senses or understanding of words in current use. One that comes to mind is reconciliation. This is a noun and I feel a strong yearning for it’s use as an adjective. What I needed was the word reconciliative. It takes practice to pronounce and practice to use and I am dedicated to the birth of this new word. I have used it often in meetings, presentations, emails and encouraged others to use it. You too, use the word five times in the next 24 hours and you will wonder how you did without it. Unless of course you are not interested in reconciliative events. See! Excellent use.

Some of my other favourites are random capitalisation and occasional misplaced apostrophes. So many grammatical errors to enjoy. I make many of my own, especially with the use of tense. So, what story to tell?

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, long long ago, there was a man who was unable to speak clearly. Every word came out backwards and every sentence jumbled but he was so earnest and of such good cheer that his neighbours and friends always spent time with him.

They may have come away uncertain of the conversation and what exactly they had agreed to do but they always came away with a smile. Somehow, the Jumbly Man, as the children called him, always managed to collect on the conversation. He would turn up at dawn at a neighbour’s house and it would be understood that they had agreed to go fishing. Or the Jumbly Man would turn up with ball and picnic basket and the children knew there was fun to be had.

One day the Jumbly Man wasn’t anywhere to be found. No-one had noticed at first until the children went home for dinner and asked their parents where he was. The adults brushed it off, assuring the children he would be around the next day. He wasn’t.

Most concerned, the children looked everywhere. They looked in the park and the playground, at the shop and the school house, then down to the river in case he was fishing. When they couldn’t find him anywhere they ran to the meeting house to tell the Elders.

The Elders listened carefully as you hope Elders would when faced with a group of concerned, solemn-eyed children. Asking the children to select two leaders, the Elders did the same, and the four walked together to the Jumbly Man’s house.

Parents and others noticed their focus and followed. Down they went through their village, to the pathway at the end that led to the Jumbly Man’s cottage. By now everyone was trying not to think the worst, hearts were beating at what they might find. Parents were disappointed in themselves for not listening to the children earlier. What had happened to their Jumbly Man?

The Elders and children stood at the door of the Jumbly Man’s house and knocked, then waited, until they heard a soft sound within. Pushing open the door, they looked inside. Tucked up in his bed with a red nose of a nasty cold, was their Jumbly Man, smiling at them.

The children flew across the room and wrapped their arms around him. The Elders smiled, relieved and set to tidying the room, setting a fire and warming water for a drink. The Jumbly Man chatted in his jumbly language and the children all crowded in and laughed along with him, so glad that he was safe.

Don’t you wish we all cared so for the Jumbly ones in our lives? A few jumbled words can add such richness.

and that is the end of the story.

(c) CL Harper 5 August 2013