On February 20th, 2011, Nell Bell was accompanied by daughters Susan and Bronwyn and members of the Storytelling Guild of Victoria when she was presented with the Leila St John Medal at Wattle Park Chalet in Surrey Hills.
Nell Bell, life member of the Storytelling Guild of Victoria, was awarded the Leila St John Award in 2005. The award, administered through Children’s Book Council, is awarded for services to children's literature in Victoria. On February 20 all past recipients, who received a paper award, were presented with a medal in keeping with the CBC’s new policy.
Those of us in the Victorian Storytelling Guild know Nell was a founding member of the Victorian Storytelling Guild and someone who is always willing to share her knowledge and help others. Her contribution to the Guild and its members has been recognized in a life membership of the Australian Storytelling Guild Victorian Branch. But, why is she a worthy recipient of the Leila St John Award?
Well, according to the reasons outlined on the nomination form, Nell Bell is defined by her generosity of spirit and her love for children, beginning her contribution to children's literature in the 1940s when, as Assistant Matron of Ashfield Foundlings Home in Sydney, she introduced the first story time for 3–5 year olds. This story time became a regular session run by Nell.
Nell's interest in stories led her to further training in that area and in 1975 while working as a librarian at Preston East Technical School she taught Introduction to History of Literature and Books. In the same year she toured schools and libraries in China as part of an education program. After qualifying for her Secondary Teachers Certificate the following year Nell went on to start a Children's Book Club and introduced students to literature via storytelling in the class room. She also published an article—The Importance of Oral Literature—in the Education Department magazine.
In the 1980s, Nell obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Children's Literature at Melbourne University as well as a Graduate Diploma in Children's Literature at Toorak Teachers' College. As Librarian in Charge at Templestowe Technical School Nell was part of a program that taught Understanding Literature to Year 11 & 12 students.
By now Nell had realized her passion for oral storytelling and was included in a group of Artists in Education sponsored by the Australian Federal Government and the JF Kennedy Cultural Centre in Washington sent to America in 1988 as representatives of Australia. Nell's focus was the use of oral literature in secondary schools and universities. Back in Australia, Nell conducted seminars in regional universities for mothers of new-born babies on the importance of literature and stories.
Nell was the first storyteller to perform at Dromkeen and has been Artist in Residence introducing students to literature via storytelling at Methodist Ladies College, Richmond Girls High School and Presbyterian Ladies College. She has been a member of the Victorian Branch of the Children's Book Council and the Victorian Committee for UNICEF.
In 1995 Nell took a major role in developing students' skills for performances at St Martins, South Melbourne as part of AEDIS (Artists and Environment designers in Schools). Later that year Nell's storytelling skills won her an invitation to participate in the launch of Children's Week at National Gallery of Victoria.
Nell has always been quick to volunteer her services as a storyteller for the free children's concerts at national Australian storytelling conferences and has also volunteered her services as a storyteller at Camp Quality and the Children's Hospital in Melbourne and the Radio of the Air School in the Northern Territory.
All of that and more is why Nell Bell is a worthy recipient of the Leila St John Award.
photo and post by JB Rowley: Nell far right