Euro-Colony fantasy (was Re: Dart-Thornton (was Australian Fantasy))

Kathleen Jennings s368333 at student.uq.edu.au
Tue Jun 25 21:52:19 EDT 2002


>Not necessarily.  Yes, there's nasty history, but there's also non-nasty
>history -- at least in Australia you also have the hero versus the
>landscape... and a number of epic ballads!  "The Man From Snowy River"
>springs to mind...

The landscape can be a very powerful element - often underestimated, but
sometimes it's the strongest character. I like books where the landscape
seems to move and direct the plot (there were a couple of scenes in DWJ's
Time of the Ghost which were like that).

There are also some books and I want to say they're by Gary Crew but they're
probably not. I'm not sure whether they're fantasy or horror. The remains of
a colonial-era shipwreck, severed hand (with a ring?), the skeleton of a
lizard, mandrakes, min-min lights. Mixed the Australian
landscape/climate/history with the cultural heritage. Freaked me out at the
time.
Why is some of the strong *Australian* fantasy so scary/wierd? Maybe the
same reason earlier mentioned American Gods is bloody - that's part of its
being Australian. We don't have the numbers the Americans do, and even today
you can get a feeling for what it must have been like in the early days. So
vast, so strange, so wild, so empty. People Vanished. They still do.
Lassetter's Last Ride (which also has a memorable line by someone on the
verge of starvation "Missing Men Identified By Fingerprints on Tadpoles") or
Picnic at Hanging Rock (eek!), there's still a very powerful feeling of not
really belonging or understanding. Some of Paul Jennings' short stories are
very clever, very well-written and Australian too. They tap into some of the
essential wierdness of the environment (wierd to our eyes, at least). We
aren't anchored to the land by our stories as are the aboriginal people or
people in other countries. There are stories there, but we're still working
on them.
I'm not easily scared after I close the pages of a book or walk out of a
cinema (I'm very jumpy during, however. It's more fun that way). Some of
those Australian books can have me looking sideways for weeks. Easter
holidays at our home in Western Queensland, there'd usually be three boys in
the shed and half a dozen girls in the house (regular visitors). We were
going to all sleep in the shed one night, then watched Picnic at Hanging
Rock (in which NOTHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS and the rocks DON'T HAVE FACES
whatever my mother is convinced) and EVERYONE slept in the house.
Just walking along our road there were prints all over - goanna, echidna,
cow, pig, dingo, other things I never recognised. In the bush, you'd hear
noises and swear there was something there. Things move in the long columns
of light between the trees. Knowing about explorers, about buried shepherds,
about axe-heads, escaped big-cats, about my father's dam-dwelling bunyips
and my mother's stories told to keep little girls from wandering out the
gate (they always had happy endings, but still!), about scrub-bullocks,
about Azaria Chamberlain who would have been a week or two older than me if
she had lived, and then add the fact that if I was out alone it was usually
because I was trying to chase the dairy cow home for the night and it was
getting dark, and the cow-skulls in the ironbark scrub had a touch of Yorick
about them in daylight but could scare the wits out of you if you tripped
over them in the twilight (and someone who visited once had a t-shirt with a
giant carnivorous kangaroo on it)... I always moved a little quickly back to
the house and shut the door on my heels. (None of this helped by the certain
knowledge of snakes and red-backs and the fact we had an outdoor toilet
(i.e. thunderbox) until I was 15).
Oh, we have the stories now, all right. We just haven't had the time to get
comfortable with them! There's something of the horror of the
not-quite-known in old European folktales, but their fantasy can afford to
be a lot more light-hearted. I think we still live in an imaginative
dark-ages - and the imagination works overtime in the dark.

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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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