Firebrace, Dreamtime Storytellerof the Yorta Yorta people has entertained audiences all over
Australia as well as America, Scotland, New Zealand and Asia. He has inspired
audiences in Alaska, the Yukon and British Columbia. He has performed with the
Sydney Youth Ballet and at the Sydney Opera House. In 1997 Francis appeared at
the world renowned Scottish International Storytelling Festival
in Edinburgh, Scotland. At the National Storyfest in Sydney he kept
audiences spellbound. In January 1997 he was part of the biggest Australia Day
Party outside Australia in Vietnam.
Yet, when he was a boy he was overwhelmed by people in groups of more than ten!
You see Francis was brought up in the bush and it wasn't until he was seven
that the family moved to the "big smoke." That is, they moved to the
township of Euston with a population of approximately 300. He was born out of
wedlock to a white woman. His father was Aboriginal and his mother was still
legally married to another man.
My father and mother ran away at midnight in a horse and sulky. They
followed the river for around 250 miles. We lived in the bush in a tent until I
was around 3, then a house with a dirt floor till I was 6. Then we moved to
Euston. At that stage the largest group of people I had ever seen was about 9
or 8, so I was spellbound when I saw all these people in town. I started school
when I was 7. I had a hard time because I was one of the only aboriginal kids
there. I had to fight a lot. I didn't know any different so I
figured it was pretty normal. I grew up wanting to be white. I'd look in the
mirror and cry because I wasn't fair skinned like everyone else. That was
sad but it was part of my learning and it gives me compassion for other people.
I left school when I was 14. I was bright, but I wasn't interested much in
I went droving. (herding Cattle) My father was a rabbit trapper and we
used to catch kangaroos with snares and things. By the time I was 21. I owned
my own droving plant. I was also married to a Polynesian/Aboriginal girl
and we started a family. We used to travel around in a wagonette. When I was
21, I rode a horse from Gunnedah to Narrabri to join a cattle drive and I went
to Queensland. My wife joined me later, with my first daughter Terri. That was
a long time ago.
I was a stockman until I was 28. Then I went to Canberra and became a
filmmaker. In 1976 I won the International Moomba Film Festival. People did
not know I was aboriginal. I used to keep that quiet because it wasn't popular
I had five children with my first wife. I lost my daughter, Lorri, when she was
23, to cancer. I stopped the film I was working on. I thought I'd go back to it
another time. I never did go back. I sold my house, bought a boat and went to
the Whitsunday Islands and became an entertainer.
This was a turning point for me, when my daughter died. I let go of my
material values and suddenly I found my freedom. By letting go of the past I
opened the doors to the future. Living on a boat for 11 years, you learn to
look at this incredible society in which we live. I realised I'd been one of
those fools chasing monetary gain and possessions. I changed my outlook. I also
started telling stories and found the tourists were very interested. When I
came down to Sydney I started to tell stories to some kids who were drinking
and smoking grass, you know, and they related to them.
The teachers heard me and I was approved by the Education Department of New
South Wales to tell stories in NSW Schools and that kicked me off. I've never
I tell stories to speak the truth in an entertaining way so that people hear it
and before they know it the seeds are
planted. Story is the most natural, the most powerful, the most spiritual
way to connect with people. I can help to make a better world for children
and for other people.
The lyrebird story I tell, which comes from the Blue Mountains is about the
abuse of power. The lyrebird teaches the frog to sing. The frog got big headed
and tried to sing down the moon. Of course the moon ignored him and he sang
louder and louder until eventually his voice went. That's why the frog can only
croak. But the lyrebird, who was willing to share his power, still has a
beautiful voice and still sings in the Australian bush to this very day.
I'm a travelling storyteller. My stories are not just from the Yorta
Yorta area and people, I get them from all over, and we swap stories with
one another. I learned some from the tribal people in the Northern
Territory when I was droving.. (herding cattle) Some of my stories are
from my father. For instance Jerri Jerri, the Willy Wagtail, my father was
always nervous of him. Jerri Jerri is mischievous and he brings
trouble. He gets close as he can, listens to what you are saying and then off
he goes, carting yarns (stories) all over the place. My father would
throw something at them to frighten them away, but he wouldn't hurt them. He
used to tell me not to hit them because if you do there will be big trouble.
All my stories are selected for their meanings and positive messages. The
only way to make change is to go out there and give people another view of
life. That's what I do through my stories, my paintings and my philosophy.