Folklore and Cornish-Australian Identity

Across the Creek takes place in the Kapunda mine n South Australia where there is a green lake, a mine chimney and dangerous old shafts. Here is more of the story behind the fantasy in Across the Creek.The Cornish had a great belief in piskeys; people thought piskeys led folks astray with lights that looked like lanterns. It was believed some went ‘beyond the seas’ and it is this idea that I built upon in Across the Creek. What if they had come with the Cornish people to South Australia in the 1840s?

The small people mentioned in Across the Creek could be spirits of the ancient Cornish race in mythology. In Robert Hunt’s collection of Cornish folklore he states that they were thought to be not good enough for heaven but not bad enough for hell.1 They were getting smaller all the time until they would be lost forever. The small people helped humans they liked, enjoyed dancing and wore colourful clothes, the men usually wore green, with a blue jacket and a three cornered cap, sometimes with a feather in it. A browney, another elfin-like creature, was a kind and good household fairy who helped the family with whom it lived.

 Spriggans were a race of grotesquely ugly warrior fairies, who could alter their size at will. They were guardians of buried treasure and also lured children away. Any calamity was their fault.  In Across the Creek they became the ones to lure the children away. The superstitious Cornish in times past believed the knockers worked the mines and miners often left the crust of their pasty to keep the knockers sweet. There was a Cornish giant called Trebiggan and he was my inspiration for the water giant in Across the Creek. Robert Hunt describes Trebiggan with long arms that could pluck men from passing ships, and it was said he dined on young humans fried on a large flat rock near his cave.

The Indigenous spirits in the story were the ones believed in by the Ngadjuri people from the mid-north of South Australia. To show respect I have not described their appearance, nor have I related any stories regarding them. When writing Zenna Dare set in the same area I met with Fred Waria, Chairperson of the Ngadjuri People’s Council, regarding these protocols and I have carried these into Across the Creek. Knight’s and Pring’s research2 is invaluable as I found little else about the Ngadjuri to draw upon.

I saw the dragaroo, a fantastical mix of dragon and kangaroo, as a symbol of Cornish culture in Australia – that blending of the two, yet forming a different entity. It can be seen as an indication of the uneasy relation between the two cultures, of the assimilation that doesn’t always quite work. The dragaroo is neither dragon, nor kangaroo, nor does it function well as either and maybe it is better to be a dragon in a kangaroo’s landscape and learn the belonging that comes from being an Australian with a Cornish background and not deny what we are, as we become something new.

In Across the Creek I have tried to stay true to most of the laws of Cornish faery land, as in the passing of time, the types of beings there and the ways of escape. However, I also wanted to meld the old with the new, not just in the dragaroo, but in the consciousness of what being a Cornish descendant in an Australian landscape might mean. Aidan is a Cornish descendant in the twenty-first century, and calls himself Australian. He does not care much for magic, and manages to escape the clutches of the dragaroo by his own laconic character and intellect. Aidan is a product of his Cornishness, but it is the sum of the two, his Cornish-Australian character, that enables him to escape from Trevalia.

1Hunt, R. (1993). The Drolls, Traditions and Superstitions of Old Cornwall (1881). Felinfach: Llanerch Publishers.

2Waria, F. Knight, F. Anderson, S. and Pring, A. (2005). Ngadjuri: Aboriginal People of the Mid North Region of South Australia, Prospect Hill, SA: SASOSE Council.


2 thoughts on “Folklore and Cornish-Australian Identity

  1. Hi Linsey, so glad that you like these posts about Cornish folklore and identity. I am a 4th generation Cornish -Australian and very interested in all things Cornish.


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