research

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.

Short Stories, stories

Folklore & Nature

Human survival has always been dependent on the natural environment and many mythologies show links between folklore and human fear of environmental instability. I was curious to explore folklore dealing with how past and present cultures attempt to explain and avoid disastrous environmental fluctuations. As human survival is so clearly linked to a stable environment, natural disasters like floods, drought and severe storms have been explained by many different folktales, explaining how appeasing supernatural forces could avoid climatic catastrophe. Long and short-term disasters were often viewed as societies or specific families who had failed to appease the supernatural beings who had power over the environment. Such examples occur throughout different cultures and folklore but the common themes involve a bargain between the mortals inhabiting lands under the power of supernatural beings, whether they are the Fair Folk of Irish folklore, the jinn of the Middle East or powerful spirits of Japanese folklore. According to folklore, a bargain with these supernatural beings can protect the land from poor harvests, drought, floods or harsh winters. I am exploring how these bargains could occur over generations with supernatural beings acting as guardians for a specific family and the effect for the environment when reneging on such a bargain.

research

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.