(E)very spirit appearing in this and my two previous stories, The Nargun and the Stars and An Older Kind of Magic, belongs originally to Australia and its Aborigines. Many of them are beliefs still living; some are remembered from a generation ago; a few have outlived the people who believed in them. They claim their place in an old convention, these even older and perhaps purer spirits of the Aborigines’ domestic life. And I claim a writer’s leave to employ them in my own stories in my own way.
Patricia Wrightson, The Ice is Coming, 1977
Patricia Wrightson never pretended to be an Australian Aborigine, nor did she pretend to write on their behalf. Which is why I find it sad that her name is to be found nowadays amongst those who have misappropriated Aboriginal identity. Her books, whilst incredibly popular in her time, are little known today, and few are still in print. To me, Wrightson gives these Aboriginal spirits dignity. Her books make me proud to be an Australian, they teach me something about my country, and help me to see Aboriginal myth and storytelling as something worthy of remembering and enriching to my Australian identity. While I am still excited to find quality children’s literature written by Aboriginal authors, Oodgeroo Nooniccal, Dick Roughsey, Sally Morgan, I believe there is still a place for the superb writing of this much awarded white Australian author.
Patricia Wrightson’s books bring to life the magic of the Aboriginal world. Instead of the Brownies and the Boggarts of England, her books contain Pot-kooroks, Nyols, Turongs, and the Nargan. Ah yes, the Nargan.
The Nargun and the Stars is probably the best written of Wrightson’s books, and I scheduled it as a family read aloud as part of Jemimah’s AO8. It’s the story of Simon Brent, who is sent to live with his elderly cousins, Charlie and Edie, on the death of his parents in a car accident. Charlie and Edie are farm folk, and for Simon the countryside of Wongadilla is a whole new world. How can he live with these people that he doesn’t know and can’t relate to? He doesn’t even feel that he can bring himself call them by their names, so he calls them nothing.
But Edie and Charlie are more than just farmers. They’ve lived all their lives at Wongadilla, and they really know the land. They may be white, but they have the knowledge usually held only by the Aborigines, and they know the creatures with whom they share their farm:
Edie and I used to talk sometimes: whatever there was before white men came, like elves and spirits and that, they must live somewhere when you come to think about it. We only know the Wongadilla ones, because they’ve always been here and we happened to come across them when we were kids. I reckon most people never even dream of ‘em. Never expected you to see ‘em either, at least not for a good while yet.
But Simon has seen them. And heard them. And spoken with them. Simon has also done something that Charlie and Edie had never done – he has met the Nargun. The Nargun is a great rock spirit, older than time itself, and it doesn’t belong at Wongadilla. The Nargun is angry, and when it starts to kill the sheep, and seems to be threatening Charlie and Edie and Simon as well, it is clear that it needs to go.
As Charlie works with Edie and Charlie to drive the Nargun away, he learns to love and respect them as well, but he also learns to love the land that is now his home. He comes to know the ancient spirit creatures – the mischevious Pot-koorok, the Turongs and the Nyols, and he learns to work with them to find a way to rid the land of the Nargun. But how to move something that can shake the universe? That has always been since before the beginning of the world? That is only controlled by the rhythm of the earth?
This is a great book, filled with deep issues for further discussion – the need to care for the environment, Aboriginal spirituality and ‘Dreamings’, Australian mythology, the poetic style of Wrightson’s writing. It is a wonderful book for AO8 Australian literature, and my family enjoyed it very much. Better still The Nargun and the Stars is in print here.