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Vigil

One of my recent reads was the paranormal urban fantasy, Vigil by Australian author Angela Slatter. The first book in the Verity Fassbinder Series follows the paranormal private detective Verity Fassbinder set in an alternate version of Brisbane city, Australia where Verity acts as a mediator between the mortals (Normals) and the paranormal community (Weyrd). Verify herself is a half-blood, orphan daughter of disgraced and executed Weyrd criminal. While her only inherited trait from her Weyrd ancestry is a remnant of the infamous strength her father once possessed, she acts as an investigator for the Normal police system and the Weyrd Council.

Set in an alternate version of the modern day city of Brisbane, both resembling and not similar at all to the real Australian city, Verity is tasked with investigating the darker side of the Weyrd world and closely linked to her own father’s demise. Those in the Weyrd community who refuse to discard the old traditions of hunting and consuming Normals have continued their predelications despite the Weyrd Council outlawing such traditions when Verity’s father came to the attention of Normal and Weyrd communities alike. Now Verity must confront those aspects of her own past and family connections when a wine is sold among the Weyrd community made from the tears of Normal children. To keep the peace between the Normals and prevent them from discovering the Weyrd community among them, Verity begins to investigate deep into the old, traditional families among the Weyrd and close to the Council itself. Into this already atmosphere fraught atmosphere, a powerful and uncontrollable force is hunting both Weyrd Councillors and normals alike. As if the issues Verity needs to investigate were not dangerous enough, the sirens inhabiting Brisbane, near-immortal winged bird-like women are being murdered around the city. The threat to the peace between Normals and Weyrd begins to escalate and the potential for disaster increases as Verity needs to solve three cases or risk the Weyrd of Brisbane being revealed to the outnumbering populus of Normals.

Vigil is a debut novel by Angela Slatter and the first in a trilogy of urban fantasy with a basis in myth and folklore. Likened to US Urban fantasy author Jim Butcher I also found similarities with US urban fantasy author Patricia Briggs. However, Angela Slatter’s Vigil was refreshingly different, the style and characters as unique as the world-building behind the novel. The strong research in myth and folklore is clear in Vigil and it is woven throughout the story to create a new work without the dreaded ‘info-dump’ moments which make the history and lore of the Weyrd feel a genuine component of the world-building process. In sum, Vigil transports you to an alternate Brisbane which feels like it could be real if you just look close enough. A highly recommended read!

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South of the Sun winners!

Australian Fairy Tale Society

At last!

The editorial committee putting together the AFTS anthology “South of the Sun” have finally chosen their winners. It was a truly difficult job – we were inundated with talented submissions and we’ve spent many a long hour short-listing, re-short-listing, arguing and finally agreeing on the following. A big thank you to everyone who sent in their entries.

Congratulations to everyone who’s on the list – and commiserations to those who didn’t make it.

·Anezka Sero ̶The Snowgum Maiden

·Lindy Mitchell-Nilsson ̶Jack, the Beanstalk and the NBN

·Yvette Ladzinski ̶The Lonely Mosque

·Melissa Min Harvey ̶The Wild Moon Call

·Clare Testoni ̶The Lyrebird

·Krystal Barton ̶North Coburg to Flinders St Station

·Rachel Nightingale ̶Riverbend

·Jackie Kerin ̶No Horse, No Cart, No Shoes

·Angie Rega ̶The Tale of the Seven Magpies

·Danielle McGee –The Origami Mother

·         June Perkins – Into…

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Australian Tawny Frogmouth Folklore

The tawny frogmouth is a species of nocturnal bird native to much of Australia. It is well known in Australian landscapes for the staring red-gold eyes, the camouflage resembling a branch or broken tree stump and it’s seemingly unworried response to human presence.

I was walking in the early morning at a pine forest near where I live and was fortunate enough to spot a tawny frogmouth camouflaged against a pine tree trunk.

Although the tawny frogmouth is often considered like an owl, it is more related to a nightjar but many Australian nocturnal birds share similar symbolic roles in indigenous fables and folklore.

Among the indigenous cultures of the Noongar from Western Australia, the nocturnal birds like the tawny frogmouth and owls were associated with the shamanic powers of the ‘clever men’ and the opposing dangerous forces of night:

Traditionally associated with the dark totem, the owl was believed to be a totemic familiar of the ‘boylya-man’ or sorcerer (”clever man”) and the darkness of night was perceived as a dangerous time when ghosts and supernatural spirits were ever-present.

Owl Beliefs in Nyungar Culture by Ken Macintyre and Barb Dobson.

The shamanic healers of many different indigenous Australia nations and cultures are sometimes known ‘clever men’ and in the Noongar cultures of Western Australia, the clever men were sometimes associated with the nocturnal birds to protect their tribe:

It is not uncommon to hear stories of how certain bulya or ‘clever’ men were believed to have the ability to transform themselves into a night bird such as the owl or mopoke and under this guise were able to watch over and ‘police’ campsites at night time to ensure that the inhabitants were safe from intruders, and also to act as a deterrent against young men becoming involved in sexual transgressions prior to initiation, or breaking the incest taboo. Culturally, the owl may be viewed as an agent of social control in that it is able to fly silently throughout the night, and aided by its powerful, penetrating night vision, is able to watch over people’s night time activities and then report back to the ‘clever man’ to whom it is considered a type of “familiar spirit’

Owl Beliefs in Nyungar Culture by Ken Macintyre and Barb Dobson.

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Namarrgon: Lightning Spirit

Namarrgon is an indigenous Australian creation ancestor, a powerful spirit of the Arnhem Land plateau in the Kakadu region responsible for violent monsoon storms of Northern Australia. In the indigenous stories of Namarrgon, violent lightning and thunder storms each tropical summer are associated with the axes he throws, splitting the clouds to cause thunder and lightning as the axes strike the ground.

” All things in the landscape were left by the creation ancestors. They taught Aboriginal people how to live with the land. From then on Aboriginal people became keepers of their country. “
Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre

Namarrgon resides in the sandstone cliffs of the Arnhem Land plateau but the Creation story tells his travel inland, moving from the coastline toward the sandstone cliffs where he leaves an eye on the escarpment, ever gazing eastward where he waits for the summer storm season. The summer monsoon lightning storms are preceded by vast numbers of Leichhardt’s Grasshoppers, called the alyurr in the indigenous languages, representing Namarrgon’s children. While feasting on the pityrodia plants, the alyurr call to Namarrgon who responds with the lightning and thunder storms of the coming monsoon.

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Legend of the Platypus

The platypus is an iconic Australian native semi-aquatic, burrowing, egg-laying mammal (monotreme) with an unusual soft-bill, webbed feet and a thick “beaver-like” tail covered in a soft fur pelt. An indigenous Australian legend details the origins of these eclectic physical features according to indigenous cultural heritage. The indigenous Australian legend retold in Aboriginal Stories by A.W. Reed, recounts the legend of shared ancient kinship between the groups of the ancestral indigenous  Peoples before they possessed human form.

The legend of Platypus details an argument between the Lizards, Birds and Animals, the totemic ancestors of the indigenous Peoples. The Lizards, Birds and Animals argued over who was more ancient, more powerful and rightfully belonged in the waterhole. The culmination of the debate is the Lizards decide to take the waterhole. The Frilled Lizards use their powers to call a storm, flooding the landscape. While the Birds could fly away and larger Animals flee from the flood waters, the Platypus became trapped and drowned. After the flood and much later, the Lizards, Birds and Animals gather again and realise the few numbers of once-plentiful platypus. One of the Lizards, the carpet snake recounts the sighting of an old platypus living far away. Finally, the old Platypus travels to meet with the Peoples and he tells them of his heritage. The Platypus explains he is the most ancient of the Peoples, related to the first group, the Lizards sharing a semi-aquatic lifestyle but he also shares kinship with the egg-laying Birds, but Platypus also has a fur pelt, claiming kinship with the Animals. The legend of Platypus details the shared kinship between the different and most ancestral Totemic groups from which the later human-form ancestors claimed heritage.

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Bangarra: Storytelling & Dance

Bangarra Dance is a premier Australian Dance company bringing the powerful, but often unfamiliar, indigenous Australian legends from the Dreaming to international audiences. Bangarra have developed a unique and celebrated style of contemporary dance, combining  powerful and evocative movements in indigenous Australian dance with the continuing traditions of indigenous Australia for storytelling through dance.

In 2018, Bangarra launches the international premiere of dance production, Dark Emu, originally a celebrated book of the same title by indigenous author Bruce Pascoe who through historical records and indigenous legends, showed the inaccuracies of early records during European colonization in understanding the cultural adjustments, technologies and modifications indigenous Australians had developed over thousands of years of continual occupation. The result was an under-estimation of the necessary changes within indigenous Australian culture and the gradual changes over time to the natural landscape.

Corroboree was a popular production spanning many years and international tours highlighting the origins of life by retelling three key indigenous Australian legends from the Dreaming when animal spirits roamed the land and humans were not yet created.​

Terrain was a production evoking the rich connection between the indigenous Australian cultures and the land, exploring the respect for country, using the dry-flood patterns of Lake Eyre as a powerful reminder that humans are reliant of the land.