Grist For A Red Desert Mill

australian_folkloreAUSTRALIAN FOLKLORE

Bill Beatty (2007) ISBN 9781921276057

One of the things that sometimes gathers discussion among them who like imaginative fiction is why is it that some places in the world, notably Europe and the Americas are acceptable settings for otherwordly, fantastical or magic realist stories whereas there is a relative dearth of such work with a genuinely antipodean streak to it.

Certainly, there has been the odd science fiction or fantastical story set in Australia. There’s even a bit of a tradition of science fiction stories where the protagonist stumbles across evidence of aliens (or actual aliens) somewhere in the Australian outback, usually with hints that the local native peoples knew about them all along. We do get the odd gothic bush tale and we have had a few urban fantasies set in Australian cities, but broadly speaking the Australian character and the magic of the landscape the people and the animals and plant life are never entirely captured by these attempts – or at least not to my mind.

A book like Bill Beatty’s Australian Folklore also puts safely to shame the idea that the Australian character is somehow not magical or weird enough for such stories. It is a book full of vivid retellings of old treasure stories, shipwreck tales, ghostly doings, weird totems found in caves (and promptly lost) and many other things aside. There is the raven that was called Professor on account of its habit of bringing excellent and rare biological specimens to an early Sydney university (presumably in return for food). There is that odd private museum in the middle of the Australian outback that contained many quite unexpected things, including quite rare objects like a Roman chainmail shirt. It’s the one where you had to know the owner, and know the museum was there, and you had to get off at a train station halfway between here and nowhere in particular to even visit the place.

Australian Folklore the sort of book that fires the imagination. Along with engagingly-written prose, it has a liberal dosing of glossy illustrations. It’s the sort of book that makes me want to write a whole series of imaginative tales written for the Australia that I’ve gotten to know when out walking in wet mountain ash forests, in the deserts of the centre or wandering through the impossible garden of the wildflowers of WA. And if you’ve ever wanted to write weird and wonderful and gothic stories for the Australia you know through travels and lifelong acquaintance you should go get a copy of it. After all, Australian Folklore makes it clear that there’s more than enough magic to share around.


About Christopher Johnstone

Christopher Johnstone lives in Melbourne
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