REVIEW: TALES OF AUSTRALIA – GREAT SOUTHERN LAND

TALES OF AUSTRALIA: GREAT SOUTHERN LAND

Various authors, edited by Stephen C Ormsby & Carol Bond
Satalyte Publishing eBook RRP $4.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

GSLCoverBookwebWhen you picture Australia, what do you see? What words come to mind when describing the Great Southern Land? As I tried to jot down a few, it occurred to me that it is hard to encapsulate this diverse land in its “beauty and terror” (to paraphrase from My Country by Dorothea McKellar) in just a few words. Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land is an anthology in which eight Australian authors share their visions of this country, but not in the way you’d expect. It’s a journey into the Australia of each author’s imagination or memory, with elements of fantasy and horror alternating with the ordinary. Reading some of the stories, you get the sense that secrets are being shared, that the arcane history and reality of Australia is being offered to you, the reader, as a privileged gift.

The story of the Batavia, shipwrecked off the Western Australian coast in 1629, is re-imagined in  “Disciple of the Torrent” by Lee Battersby. It’s a dark read, one that discomforted me with its chilling characterisation and macabre events, but gave me a taste of Battersby’s writing … and while it’s not my usual genre, Battersby nailed the horror.

This Corner of the Earth” by Dean Mayes follows and it’s a move back to reality, as the narrator revisits his childhood home. It was a refreshing read that counteracted the horror of Battersby’s tale, and it had a calming sense of familiarity about it. Not a lot happens, but then sometimes life is just … ordinary. We say hello to people on the street, recognise people and places from the past … and move on.

“Acts of Chivalry” by Sean McMullen about a werewolf running amok missed the mark for me – or perhaps I missed the fact that it was a dark comedy, when I read it. In hindsight, I see how that was the intention (I wondered why no one really seemed to care that people were getting butchered and I’ll put my lack of insight down to my mood at the time), but it didn’t really strike me as being particularly Australian.

“Dreams Didgeridoo” by Salwa Samra is a poetic read about a young girl whose dreams intersect with a young boy’s mission to find something lost. It’s a mixture of poetry, fantasy/spiritual and mundane, and I felt drawn into it, perhaps enchanted by these lines of the recurring poem:

…and then there was this sound

a trumpet call of sorts, profound

a call from the Ancient of Days …

Likewise, “Jaylin” by A. Finlay mixes reality with fantasy (or is it the other way around?), contrasting “the stable version of insanity” that holds many of us ransom (we work to live) with the freedom and “magic” of the Australian bush. The call of the bush, so strong and inviting … but would it be able to overcome the trappings of civilisation? The bush is known to lure people within, it’s call mysterious (remember the way the girls moved towards the rock in Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay?). This story was probably my favourite, because it tapped into my own desire to live a simpler life.

Set Your Face Toward the Darkness” by David McDonald, told in journal style, also hit the spot for me. It’s a dark gothic story that re-imagines the fate of explorers Burke and Wills. While touching lightly on social commentary about the invasion of the country, the tale also shows the characters’ growing understanding about the natives’ “connection to the spirit of the land”, with descriptions of the harsh terrain emphasising the growing terror and isolation they feel. A great sense of place, well-developed tension and all-round, a good story.

“After the Red Dust” by Charmaine Clancy and “Bobby, Be Good” by H.M.C round out the anthology. If short stories are your thing, and you’re keen to see how Australia “looks” cross-genre, I’d recommend this.  

Thanks to Satalyte Publishing for making the e-Book available to me. To buy the book, click here.