Australian Fantasy (was Re: Obernewtyn (was recommended books))

Kathleen Jennings s368333 at student.uq.edu.au
Sun Jun 23 21:59:20 EDT 2002


Hear, Hear!
The 'new Australians' (Anglo-Saxon or otherwise) are displaced peoples in
two senses. They do not belong to the land of their heritage, and they do
not belong to the heritage of their land. So even in Patricia Wrightson, the
children see a world which is alien to them. It was amazing for me, in
Europe, to walk through places where the cultural history which we as
Australians have ties to is not just remembered or echoed but real. Living
next to the black forest where you almost expect to see fairy tales come to
life. Growing up as an imaginative child in a widely-read family, my sister
and I played out all our favourite fairy-tales, but the magic of a few years
of child-hood in sub-tropical Brisbane is quite different - mango trees and
mulberries and lantana I know, and the uses of a palm tree (wreaths of the
date-palms ivory vines, arrow-heads cut from the bark), but spring in
England? I knew I would know the names of the flowers if I heard them, but
their shapes and colours and scents were strange.
And the rest of my childhood, on a cattle property in western Queensland:
Whatever books I might lose myself in in the cool of my room, outside was
different. The stories we made up always had something else besides the
traditional tales. The stories which seemed most real there were Henry
Lawson's. Dragons? Dragons were grand and distant. Bearded dragons you could
catch in the garden, however, and goannas on burnt trees looked like
aboriginal paintings - red and yellow ochre. The bunyips which were cautious
around adults but would eat the toes of small children disobedient enough to
swim in the dams by themselves? Now they were very real, and terrifying. The
native Australians were long since gone,  but the axe-head we found was
solid. Our neighbour ploughing a paddock turned up the grave of a shepherd
killed. The place names were ancient, the stories of the landmarks tied to
battles - for supremacy or for survival. Stories of cattle and horses, fire,
local characters, the numerous near-death encounters of our neighbour's
children. Sites of tragedy, of adventure, of the stampede caused by an
imprudent train-driver. Vanished towns, strange men, strange creatures. The
legend of the Jackson Panther, of great paw-prints found in the land of the
road, kept me awake at night where stories of haunted fortresses provided
only a pleasant chill. And sleeping under the stars below the granite outcop
and waking to the jangle of a horse's bridle, the smell of camp-fire smoke
and gum-trees and the howl of dingoes out in the grey dawn?
As Sally says, we have to adapt. Some of the best fantasy shows this - the
legends and myths which tie the people (whichever people) to their land can
be very powerful, whoever reads it. Europeans have an advantage in that they
do not need to recognise this past, this connection. Some American authors
have used the cultural history of their country to weave great fantasies.
And the Australians are younger still, but we have been here long enough, I
think, to feel some connection, however tenuous. If we have made our mark on
the land, it has also made its mark on us.
Kathleen
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Hve blásnautt er hjarta sem einskis saknar.
How destitute is a heart that misses nothing.
       - Ýmir, Einar Benediktsson
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Kathleen Jennings
s368333 at student.uq.edu.au

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