We wish Nell Bell, our oldest surviving Life Member, a joyful 90th birthday on 29th July 2016. Nell is a founding member and former president of our association under its original name, The Storytelling Guild of Victoria, formed 1978.
Nell Bell began her contribution to children’s literature and storytelling in 1942 when, as Assistant Matron of Ashfield Foundlings Home in Sydney, she introduced story time. Raising her own children, she became a kindergarten teacher in Eltham. Nell's interest in stories led her to further training: in 1975, 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. Later she visited New Zealand and America. Attaining her Secondary Teachers Certificate, Nell started a Children's Book Club and published an article entitled The Importance of Oral Literature in the Education Department magazine.
In the 1980s, Nell obtained a Post Graduate Diploma in Children's Literature at the University of Melbourne, as well as a Graduate Diploma in Children's Literature at Toorak Teachers' College / Victoria College - Toorak campus. As Librarian in Charge at Templestowe Technical School, Nell was part of a program that taught Understanding Literature to senior students. Nell remembers that oral storytelling was in Year 12 exams “for a few glorious years”.
As part of the 1988 Bicentenary, Nell joined a delegation of Artists in Education sponsored by the Australian Federal Government and JF Kennedy Cultural Centre in Washington sent to America as representatives of Australia.
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 was Artist in Residence at several colleges. She has been a member of the Victorian Branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia and the Victorian Committee for UNICEF.
Nell was the first storyteller employed at the first fairy shop in the world, Wonderwings in Richmond, where she mentored storytellers from the late 1980’s into the 90’s.
In parallel during the 90’s, regular evenings were held entitled The Storytelling Cafe. There were many workshops, which included visits from overseas storytellers.
In 1995 Nell took a major role in developing students' skills for performances at St Martins, South Melbourne as part of Artists and Environment Designers in Schools (AEDIS). Nell's storytelling skills won her an invitation to participate in the launch of Children's Week at the 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 as a storyteller at Camp Quality and Children's Hospital in Melbourne and Radio of the Air School in the Northern Territory. To quote The Harper (Autumn 1997), the Guild’s first newsletter that started in 1979: “Nell has a great love of people and a strong belief that story can show that all aspects of life are a continuing cycle to be celebrated and shared”.
Articles by Nell in JB Rowley’s journal Swag of Yarns include “Here Be Dragons” (1998), “Crooked Mick” (2000), “Bilby Saves Easter” (2001) and “Thanks for the Memories” (2005).
In 2005, Nell Bell was awarded the Leila St John by the Children's Book Council of Australia, administered through the Children’s Book Council of Australia for services to children's literature, acknowledging Nell’s generosity of spirit and love for children. In 2011, Nell’s daughters Susan and Bronwyn and members of the Storytelling Guild of Victoria accompanied Nell to be presented with this medal.
Recently, Nell participated in Bridging The Gap Through Art. A news report caption read: “Generation gaps don’t come much bigger than the gulf between elderly citizens in primary care and primary school students”.
Nell now resides at Westgarth Aged Care Facility, Melbourne.
As Nell’s storytelling family, we give our heartfelt gratitude for all the great years of mentorship, dedication and inspiration. Thank you, dear Nell.
History of our harp/lyre logo, banner and badge: HERE
Report of our visit by Louisa John-Krol in Victorian Fairy Tale Ring blog: HERE
“Seanachie, keeper of the old lore”, is how Anne E. Stewart calls Nell: HERE
Nell is also mentioned here: Wikipedia
Thank you Louisa John-Krol for this article and all the work you are doing, researching and collating the history of Storytelling Australia Victoria (formerly The Storytelling Guild of Victoria).