Elaine Forrestal

The wonderful thing about stories

The wonderful thing about stories is that no matter what language they are delivered in, people everwhere enjoy them. There is something about the rythm, the intonation, the facial expressions, the gestures that crosses all language barriers and allows people everywhere to enjoy a good story.

I was reminded of this at the weekend when we visited our English friends who have lived in France since their two girls were in Primary School. On a previous visit, many years ago, the languages teacher at their school in Reims invited me to come in and talk to her class. She has a copy of my anthology, A Glassful of Giggles, and had been reading some of the stories to the students. Of course I was delighted. Back then my French was at about the same level as the students but the teacher had asked me to read in English and I was keen to promote my book. I arrived at the school a bit early, borrowed a few props from the Staff Room and got the whole class involved in dramatising ‘Something in the Cupboard’. I don’t know what they thought of my basic French, but we all had a great time dressing up and acting out the story. The use of everyday items like pots and pans, lids and wooden spoons, along with the repetition of made-up words to represent the sounds, made the plot and its resolution perfectly clear to the class full of French children, and our friends’ two daughters were absolutely thrilled to have the advantage, for once, of understanding every word.

Those two girls are now in university, but they have not forgotten that long-ago story. And they now speak perfect French.

Would Rose have been a feminist?

Rose de Freycinet, 19 years of age.

It is interesting to speculate whether Rose de Freycinet would have been a feminist, had she been born at a different time. Certainly she was a strong, indepedent minded person who was not afraid to take on the male dominated beaurocracies that controlled much of society during her lifetime. But, like strong women in our own time, Rose worked out how to get what she wanted. Rather than fighting against the constraints of French Naval Law, she infiltrated the system. By taking courage in both hands and stowing away as she did, remaining hidden on board l’Uranie until she was essentially out of reach of the Navy, she demonstrated that women could indeed survive the hardships and privations of shipboard life just as successfully as men.

Rose could also be charming and diplomatic. Many times on the three year voyage around the world she smoothed the way for Louis and avoided diplomatic confrontations. As a woman she was seen as less of a threat than the aristocratic Commander. Even, at times, exerting a calming influence on the crew, without compromising her own firmly held principals. Everyone, male or female, must forge their own path in life. While Rose was not afraid of confrontation, she had worked out other ways of getting what she wanted. Sometimes she failed, as we all do. But she was always prepared to get in there and have a go.

Vive la Rose sauvage!

The Ripples are still spreading after 200 years

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Celebrating 200 years since Rose de Freycinet’s historic voyage

Rose and Jose outside Rose’s distinctive tent at Shark Bay in 1818

Like Black Jack Anderson, who seems to regularly drop out of sight then pop up again, Rose de Freycinet is back in the spotlight.

The WA Maritime Museum has mounted a major exhibition, a highlight of which is the journal of Rose de Freycinet who, as far as we know, is the first European woman to set foot on Western Australia. Rose’s burning desire ‘to see the world’ prompted her to dress as a man and stowaway aboard the French Navy vessel, l’Uranie, much to the consternation of her husband, Louis de Freycinet. But the ship was already four days out to sea before she was discovered. The resulting voyage around the world almost claimed Rose’s life. However, in spite of encounters with pirates, cannibals, shipwreck, starvation and illness Rose kept a promise she made to her best friend, in secret. ‘You will see through my eyes, hear through my ears and live in my heart,’ she said. When Rose finally made it back to France in 1820 she presented the journal to her friend. It was never meant for publication, but it has since become an important historical document. Rose had given the world a rare female perspective on shipboard life and well documented accounts of people and cultures rarely seen by European eyes at that time.

Although l’Uranie, with Rose hidden on board, left France in September 1817, it was not until a year later that the ship landed in Shark Bay on the west coast of Australia. The timing of the current  exhibition celebrates 200 years since that landing which, among other discoveries, resulted in first contact being made with the local Malgana Aboriginal people. Rose witnessed this event and recorded it in her journal. The Malgana people also recorded her presence in their oral history. Their stories tell of a ‘woman with no legs, who floats across the landscape’. They had never seen a woman wearing a long dress before. If you haven’t yet read the whole of Rose’s fascinating story, check out To See the World at all good bookshops or direct from The National Library of Australia Shop.

The Exhibition at the WA Maritime Museum is on until December 9 2018.   

Clara Saunders in the Internet Age

Clara Saunders, circa 1894

The all-pervading influence of the internet has reached back into the past and touched Clara Saunders this week.

Some time ago the educational publishing company, Nelson, made contact with me and asked for my permission to use one of my blogs, as an example of informal writing, in the 7th Edition of their reference book, Look it Up. I very happily gave my permission and went on with what I had been doing. Then, with all the formalities done and dusted, I received a page proof. My text was intact, but the photograph of Clara I had used to accompany the blog had been changed. When asked the reason for this the editor said she had contacted the National Trust who only had one photograph of Clara Saunders and it was not the one I had used. Same person, different photo. Fine. Except that I had used the other one because I felt that it gave a different impression of Clara as a person. I passed on my reference information. Nelson agreed to contact the National Trust again but said that, as their deadlines were very tight by then, they would have to go with the referenced photo they had, unless the National Trust had the other one as well.

Clara Saunders, 4th July 1894

Of course I am happy to have Clara appearing in such a widely used and highly regarded reference book as Look it Up. But which image of Clara Saunders will appear?