Selected by James Doig,
Published by Wordsworth Editions, 2010.
You can write what I know about Australian ghost stories on the back of a matchbox and still have room for a full size photo of a matchbox. Come to think of it I didn’t even know Australia had a ghost story tradition, stretching back over 100 years, so I was fascinated by this book which collects some of the best.
Twenty tales are included here by authors who range form British and Irish settlers to Australians who moved back to Britain. All of this cultural exchange leads to a rich diversity of tales. As James Doig points out in his excellent introduction there is a “quality in the Australian landscape that lent itself to the exploration of the supernatural”.
Some of the highlights for me were, The White Maniac: A Doctor’s Tale by Mary Fortune, although probably the least “Australian” story here this tale oozes quality as we follow a Doctor’s quest for a forbidden love. The following two tales by Ernest Favenc, Spirit-led and A Haunt of The Jinkarras do take us deep into the Australian landscape, full of spirits and strange creatures.
The Bunyip by Rosa Campbell Praed is less a story and more a series of linked incidents focusing on The Bunyip, the Australian equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. A Colonial Banshee by Fergus Hume mixes Irish superstition with Australian manners in what turns out to be both a funny and frightening story.
Several stories focus on mining and the best are The Accursed Thing by Edward Dyson, which takes us deep underground and A Strange Goldfield by Guy Boothby which is full of deserted settlements and the spirits of the pioneer miners.
Finally the highlight of the collection for me was The Cave by Beatrice Grimshaw a strange story of isolation and terror on an uninhabited island. It’s full of rich powerful imagery and is genuinely unsettling.
And so it transpires that Australian Ghost stories are not all full of rabid Kangaroos or crazy Koalas, instead we are fed a rich banquet of tales covering a huge diversity of material from haunting to psychological terror. There are some excellent tales here and many writers who demand further exploration.
As always Wordsworth Editions have created a treasure trove of material, presented in a way which will inform and educate as well as entertain you and..as always it retains that excellent value for money which is the hallmark of Wordsworth editions. So go here and buy a copy its bonzer mate!
Rating 4 out of 5