The fantasy for younger readers, Across the Creek, uses Cornish folklore in an Australian setting, that of an abandoned copper mine, perhaps the most Cornish setting that an Australian could devise. Aidan Curnow is drawn into a land called Trevalia when he steps on stones across the creek which runs through an abandoned mine near his town. Raff is a piskey who leads Aidan into the land where a dragaroo attacks them. Aidan escapes and runs back across the creek, never meaning to go there again.
I read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey not long before I wrote Across the Creek and many aspects of ‘the hero’s journey’ can be noticed. Like a true ‘hero’ Aidan returns to Trevalia hoping to find his friend Jenice and, led by Raff and haunting music, travels underground through the old mine tunnels, until he finds a green lake and meets the Lady of that land. Aidan discovers his friend Jenice has been living there along with other lost children but the Lady says they have now been captured by the warrior faeries, the spriggans. Only a mortal who is brave enough to survive a dragaroo attack and return, can save the children.
I based the idea of lost children on the Cornish story, The Lost Child of St Allen which can be found in antiquarian Robert Hunt’s Drolls. When the boy was recovered he told everyone how he was lured by music into a dark grove and found himself at the edge of a lake. A beautiful lady led him to an underground cavern built of crystal and supported by glass pillars. This influenced my depiction of the Lady’s cave in Across the Creek, though I made the landscape predominantly Australian – the crystal pillars became quartz and the lake is the copper dam in an unused open cut mine.
The lost child is a recurring symbol in Australia’s history, from the Cooper/Duff children in 1864, Louis Viewsseux in 1858 and Clara Crosbie (who was lost for three weeks), to the Beaumont children and Azaria Chamberlain in the twentieth century. These lost children have inspired art and narratives as in McCubbins’ painting, Lost, and Pedley’s story, Dot and the Kangaroo (1899), Marshall’s Walkabout (1963) and more recently, Broome’s Cry of the Karri (2001). Researcher Peter Pierce is concerned with what the image of the lost child reveals about Australian feelings of insecurity, and states Australians are fearful of where they are lodged in place and time.1 Even creek crossing is a frequent symbolic representation of a journey into the unknown2 and though I did not consciously call the novel Across the Creek because of this, it remains a story of Aidan’s journey into an unknown, underground world where lost children are found.
The use of fairy tales shows children that although there is a struggle against severe difficulties in life, if they persevere they can overcome obstacles and emerge victorious. The work of folklorists Briggs and Bettelheim is invaluable in this area. Fairy tales address issues such as the love of life, the need to be loved, self-identity, and, fear of death, as in Across the Creek. This story explores feelings about death and missing persons in a way a child can grasp. The Pied Piper was probably a story to help explain the loss of children to the plague. In fairy stories, however, death may not necessarily signify the end of life. Snow White wakes up, for instance, and Aidan finds Jenice Trengove alive.
(Siphoned from my PhD thesis: Jack & Jen in Oz, 2005)
1 Cheater, C. ‘Lost Children – Review’. Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History. http://www.jcu.edu.au/aff/history/reviews/pierce.htm
2 Boots, J. ‘The Lost Child at the Centre of the Intuitive and Reparative Experience.’ Psychoanalysis Downunder – the Online Journal of the Australian. http://www.psychoanalysisdownunder.com/PADPapers/pap3/lost%20child_jb.htm
PS I’ve just realised these older academic links don’t work now. I’m trying to find their new whereabouts. No 1 quote is from Peter Pierce, (1999). The Country of Lost Children: an Australian anxiety. Oakleigh: Cambridge University Press.