re-posted from Writers SA website

Karen Wyld, an author, freelance writer and weaver, will spend a month in the Ceduna region working with the library and various community-based organisations to present activities for local writers and readers.

Karen’s residency is part of Writers SA’s Writers and Readers in Residence Project, in which South Australian writers undertake an artistic residency in regional communities to activate reading as well as writing in the town. The Writers and Readers in Residence Project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.

“We are thrilled for Karen to spend this time in Ceduna,” Director of Writers SA, Jessica Alice, said. “This is invaluable time for Karen to reflect and write, while making meaningful connections with community in the region.”

From school holiday activities, to 1:1 support for new and emerging local writers, and involvement at the annual OysterFest, Karen will be developing and presenting a wide range of activities for readers and writers.

“I’m grateful to have been offered this experience. With a background in community development, youth work, Aboriginal health, and arts, I’m really looking forward to meeting a diverse range of organisations and working together to present activities for readers and writers of all ages,” Karen said.

As a freelancer, Karen writes trade book reviews for Books + Publishing and has op-eds published in NITV, Meanjin, Al Jazeera, Guardian Australia and Indigenous X. She has a piece in the Spring issue of Meanjin, which is a fictional telling of four girls in Western Australia, who were part of the Stolen Generations.

Her debut novel, When Rosa Came Home, was shortlisted for a SA Readers & Writers People’s Choice Award in 2015. Her draft manuscript, Where the Fruit Falls, was shortlisted for the Richell Prize in 2017.

Karen has just completed Hardcopy 2018, after being awarded the inaugural ACT Writers & First Nations Australia Writers Network Indigenous Writers Scholarship.

While in Ceduna, Karen will be editing her novel, Where the Fruit Falls, which she worked on during the Hardcopy professional development program for writers.

She will also be commencing her next project, Bestiarium Terra Nullius: peculiar beings of uninhabited southern lands, which is a series of three novellas. Following the journeys of maritime explorers, such as Nicolas Baudin and Matthew Flinders, some of this work is based in the Great Australian Bight.

Karen has an interest in First Peoples and settler-colonial history. She said of this upcoming trip, “I will be traveling from my home by the sea, close to where Baudin and Flinders first met, along the coast they navigated, to write in a region that they also wrote about. And during my journey, I’ll be reflecting on first contact between these foreigners and the people of the country I will travel through—Ramindjeri, Kaurna, Narangga, Nukunu, Nauo, Barngarla, Wirangu, Mirning, Kokatha and Anangu.”

Karen will be in residency, on Wirangu country, between Monday 24 September and Monday 22 October 2018.

Karen will share updates of her residency and road-trip via Instagram, her blog and Twitter.

You can join Karen Wyld for a story-weaving workshop with Writers SA on Saturday 17 November, where within a yarning circle you will be taught how to weave a basket and learn the essentials of storytelling.

Remembering the Black Mist

 Originally published 19 September 2018 on Indigenous X


Recently I viewed the Black Mist Burnt Country exhibition at the National Museum of Australia. Launched on 27 September 2016, to mark the 60th anniversary of nuclear bomb testing at Maralinga in South Australia, the exhibition has already covered a lot of ground touring the eastern states.

This exhibition is a vivid and reflective collation that is raising awareness of the impact of nuclear testing in Australia. The cost for British and Australian army personnel and civilians was high. More so for Aboriginal people, who often weren’t even considered before the bombs went off.

Given re-emergence of interest in uranium mining and the proposal to construct waste dumps on Aboriginal lands, despite strong community opposition, this exhibition is also a stark reminder of how little some people have learnt from the past.

When British interest in nuclear testing became known, uranium deposits had only recently been discovered in Australia. Wishing to strengthen British protection post-war, newly-elected Prime Minister Menzies saw both security and economic opportunities in offering the British land for testing nuclear weaponry.

There was a lot of secrecy around these joint operations. Not only were citizens unaware of what was happening, in some cases even the Australian government was left in the dark by the British. Even now, many Australians are unaware of the historical background of British-led nuclear testing in Australia.

From 1956 to 1963, atomic bombs were set off in central South Australia, including at Maralinga. Prior to that, testing was conducted at Emu Field (SA, 1953) and Monte Bello Islands (WA, 1952 and 1956). The fallout from the last operation at Monte Bello Islands, off the Western Australian coast, reached Rockhampton on the Queensland coast.

Rockets were also tested in 1964. Detonated at the Woomera Protected Area (SA), the long-range path of the Blue Streak rockets moved across central SA to the Pilbara region (WA) and out to sea (between Broome and Port Hedland).

Aboriginal people were not consulted prior to any of these operations. They were often forcibly removed from the area or left to suffer the consequences of the fallout. There are no records of how many Aboriginal people became ill due to nuclear testing, or research into the generational health impact. Too many voices remain unheard.

Maralinga, meaning thunder in Garik language, is probably the most known nuclear weapon testing site in Australia. It was also the site where the most damage to people and environment was experienced.

Due to leftover plutonium, the land around the Maralinga testing range has remained toxic for many decades. After the British signed off responsibility in 1968, the Australian government has maintained control of the site.

In more recent years, the British government made minimal compensations to the surviving service personnel. And as a result of the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, some compensation was provided to Anangu people, and for clean-up operations.

The Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act 1984 provided freehold title to Anangu. Remaining parts of the land, which had been part of the Woomera Prohibited Area, were handed back by the Defence Department in 2014.

Despite not having been consulted by previous governments, Aboriginal people have always been pivotal to movements that advocate for socially and environmentally responsible management of uranium – from mining, to transportation, usage, and disposal of waste. One example is the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (ANFA), which celebrated twenty years of activism in 2017.

And Aboriginal voices were embedded in the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). A recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, ICAN was instrumental in lobbying the United Nations to agree to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

One of the most known voices for the anti-nuclear movement was Yami Lester (1949 – 2017). Yami Lester OAM, respected Anangu elder, educator and activist, was blinded by the nuclear fallout as a child.

It was Yami who first described the explosion at Maralinga as black mist, which the exhibition has taken as a title. Yami was a pioneer of the anti-nuclear movement, and his image rightfully takes centre place in the Black Mist Burnt Ground exhibition.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Karina Lester is one of many representatives of First Peoples voices within ICAN. This campaign includes 400 international organisations, so Karina has exchanged personal/familial stories of nuclear testing and warfare with First Peoples from around the globe. Her sister Rose is also a strong advocate.

The British and Australian government nuclear weaponry testing is part of the truth-telling that many are now engaging in. Raising awareness of settler-colonial history helps people to better understand the impact of colonialisation on First Peoples. Sharing stories, such as those from Maralinga, can also inform current decision-making – to stop the past repeating.

Top 4 books about Maralinga
If you’d like to learn more about nuclear testing at Maralinga, I recommend these four books.


Maralinga, the Anangu Story by Yalata and Oak Valley communities, with Christobel Mattingley

An illustrated children’s’ book, capturing community stories.

Mima Smart: “Our story is a very important story that needs to be heard by children and adults across our country.”


m3.pngAtomic Thunder: The Maralinga Story by Elizabeth Tynan

Liz Tynan is an academic and former science journalist who has been researching British atomic tests in Australia for many years.

“In 1950 Australian prime minister Robert Menzies blithely agreed to atomic tests that offered no benefit to Australia and relinquished control over them – and left the public completely in the dark.”



m4.pngMaralinga’s Long Shadow: Yvonne’s Story by Christobel Mattingley

This book features the recollections of Yvonne Edwards (1950 – 2012), artist and community leader, on the impact that the nuclear tests had on herself and family.

‘Grandfather and Grandmother telling lots of stories. They had to live at Yalata. Their home was bombed. That was their home where the bomb went off. They thought it was mamu tjuta, evil spirits, coming. Everyone was frightened, thinking about people back in the bush. Didn’t know what bomb was. Later told it was poison. Parents and grandparents really wanted to go home, used to talk all the time to get their land back.’ Yvonne Edwards.


m5.pngCleared Out: First Contact in the Western Desert by Peter ohnson, Yuwali Nixon and Susan Davenport.

Through primary documents and personal recollections of Martu women, this book gives a behind the scenes look at rocket testing in the western desert in 1964. Patrols were instructed to track down a group of Martu women and children, who’d had no prior contact with settler-colonials, and remove them from their country.




Maralinga: the chilling expose of our secret by Frank Walker

An investigative journalist, Frank Walker’s book focuses on the impact that this testing had on scientists and British and Australian armed forces personnel.




More resources on nuclear and rocket testing on Aboriginal lands is available via the Black Mist Burnt Country catalogue and educational resources


Wild Women and Rebel Girls

Originally published on Indigenous X 12 July 2018

NAIDOC 2018 theme Because of her, we can has put the spotlight on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. All around Australia, people are sharing stories of the strong, caring, resilient and successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in their lives – past, present and future.

There is strength in knowing that First Peoples have been refusing to sit down, be compliant, give up or be silenced since invasion. Below are a few of these inspirational wild women and rebel girls. It is because of them, that we can and we do.

Fight like an Amazon

Born in 1800, Tarenorerer (also known as Te Nor) was a Tommeginne/Plair-Leke-Liller-Plue woman that fought back. Tarenorerer was abducted as a teenager and sold to white sealers living on the Bass Strait Islands. They called her Walyer. Sealers kept Aboriginal women and girls as slaves, often subjecting them to rape and assault.

From a young age Tarenorerer witnessed and experienced settler-colonial violence, but she refused to become servient to the sealers, and other invaders. Tarenorerer escaped and returned to mainland Tasmania in 1828.

In the north, she gathered Aboriginal women and men from different groups. Tarenorerer showed them how to use firearms and guerrilla warfare tactics, including attacks on colonialists’ sources of food and economics. She then led this group of resistance fighters, which included her brothers and sisters, against the settler-colonists.

Tarenorerer soon became infamous. G. A. Robinson, Protector of Aborigines, called her the Amazon of Van Diemen’s Land, after he heard how Tarenorerer would taunt men to come and fight her. She is known for saying that she ‘liked a luta tawin (white man) as she did a black snake’.

Abducted by sealers again, Tarnorerer was taken to the Hunter Islands. On Bird Island she was forced to hunt mutton birds for the sealers. There, she hid her identity by taking the name Mary Anne.

She was then given to John Williams, who lived with a group of white men, and the Aboriginal women they’d taken captive, on Forsyth Island. In 1930, she was moved to Swan Island, where her true identity was revealed.

Robinson ordered her to be kept in isolation, as he feared she’d lead another revolt. Sadly, Tarnorerer, undoubtably a courageous young woman, died from influenza in 1831.

Badimaya artist Julie Dowling payed tribute to Tarenorerer in her painting Walyer(2006)

When enough is enough

Daisy Bindi (Mumaring), a Nyangumartu woman, was born on the edge of the Gibson Desert around 1904. Her early life was spent on a cattle-station near Jigalong Depot (later known as Jigalong Aboriginal Reserve). As a child she helped her mother, who was a domestic on Ethel Creek station. Daisy became an accomplished horsewoman and worked alongside the men.

Concerned about working conditions and lack of wages for Aboriginal station hands, as well as ongoing police harassment, Daisy stood up alongside others that led the 1946 Pilbara strike. 500 men, women and children walked off the stations south of Nullagine, making their way to Port Hedland.

Daisy’s contributions were also instrumental in the worker’s rights movement spreading to inland Pilbara stations. Despite push back from authorities and settler-colonists, including violence towards the Aboriginal strikers, Daisy and the other station-workers stood their ground for three-years.

After a fall from a horse resulted in a leg amputation in 1959, Daisy turned her attention to access to education for Aboriginal children. Finding support from the Union of Australian Women in Perth, she successfully lobbied for a school in Pindan.

Daisy passed away in Port Hedland in 1962. Noonuccal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s (1920 – 1993) wrote a poem about Daisy Bindi in The Dawn is at Hand.

Uncaged birds sing the sweetest songs

Martu women Molly, Daisy and Gracie were well-known for the legendary great escape that inspired the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Sisters Molly and Daisy Craig, and their cousin Gracie Fields, were forcibly removed from their families in 1931. For many decades, Aboriginal children of mixed ancestry were removed by the government to force assimilation into white society. The children were sent to government or church-run institutions to be taught basic skills, before being allocated to white households or stations as unpaid child labour.

In August of 1931, Molly (14), Gracie (10) and Daisy (8) were sent to Moore River Native Settlement, but quickly absconded. Following Molly’s lead, the girls used the rabbit fence to navigate the 2414 kms walk home to Jigalong. Sadly, Gracie was re-captured before making it home.

Nana Molly eluded authorities many times as a young woman, keeping herself and her daughters safe. She walked the fence a second time in 1941, after freeing her baby daughter from Moore River Native [sic] Settlement. She was forced to leave behind her four-year old daughter, in the care of a family member that was at the Settlement. By 1944, both daughters had been removed from her care.

Tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children forcibly removed under these race-based polices, and they are known as the Stolen Generations.

Gracie Fields died in her early 60s, in 1983. Nana Molly (Craig) Kelly lived on Country, at Jigalong, until she passed away in 2004 at 87 years. Daisy (Craig) Kadibill lived most of her life in the Martu community of Parnngurr. She achieved her wish of returning home to Jigalong before she passed away on 30 March of this year, at the age of 95.

Molly, Daisy and Gracie’s escape inspired Molly’s oldest daughter Doris Nugi Garimara Pilkingtonto write Follow The Rabbit-Proof Fence(1996). Molly’s life also inspired the sequel Under The Wintamarra Tree(2002).

Auntie Doris passed away in 2014 at the age of 77 years, in Perth. Remembered around the world as a strong voice for the Stolen Generations, she was the matriarch of over 100 direct descendants.

Stand strong, like an ancient tree

The fight for country and kin continues, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman often taking the lead. The current Djap Warring Embassy in Victoria is one example of standing strong.

In the Ararat region over 260 ancient trees are marked to be bulldozed, to make way for the Western Highway project. These trees, including a culturally-significant birthing tree, are sacred to the Djap Wurrung peoples.

Young Aboriginal people, such as Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, are standing alongside Elders and community to protect these trees.

Because of her, we will

This year, NAIDOC has been a chance to honour the women that have come before us. And it is a theme that gives hope, as we look around us. Across Australia there are countless young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speaking up to power, refusing to sit down. The future is in good hands.

Road-trip for one

I’ve finally decided! I am driving to Canberra in the morning. My bags aren’t packed, but the CDs are. What is a road-trip without a soundtrack?


My Dodge Avenger is ready. After a year of being stuck in a garage, and the last few months of just local drives – she’s going to love this trip. As will I.

I really need to be on the open road. Sure, I could fly, but soaring is much better.


So why am I going to Canberra? To write. And to learn how to write gooder.

I recently received the inaugural FNAWN Hardcopy Scholarship. This enables me to participate in Hardcopy, a highly-regarded professional development program for writers. This funding will help me get to the two residential workshops. The first being this Friday to Sunday, with the welcome reception on Thursday afternoon.

I’ll be posting updates on this website/blog and on Patreon. And sharing photos of the trip there/back via Instagram. And, of course, twitter.

It’s 11 pm. I’d better pack! See you on the road 🙂





Put down your wounded
Open the windows
Let regrets fly free

Bring out your dreams
Tie ribbons to their talons
So they may frolic with sparrows

Touch the torch to the pyre
And watch your fears burn
Ashes to ashes

Stop the clock turn the mirrors
For nothing will ever be
The same again

Choices, alternatives, and giving corporate greed the finger

Note: Patreon have since announced that they will not be rolling out the changes in fees. I will stay on Patreon plus still offer the alternatives via this website. 
Dear Patrons,

Thank you for sticking by me, even if it’s just until I have made alternative plans.

Unlike some creators on Patreon, I’ve only said good-bye to a few valued patrons. And I totally understand why they have unsubscribed.

In response to messages I had about alternative ways to be my patron, I have set up a few choices. They are a bit rough, until I properly research free plug-ins for my website.Of course you are welcome to stay on this platform with me. I will continue to post updates here, and honour all the rewards.

Otherwise, alternatives ways to be my patron, where I carry the costs and not you, are –

For one off contributions to me as a creator, there are two choices:

  • A payme link (also found in my twitter bio) connected to my personal PayPal account.
  • A pay now button on my website, connected to my merchant PayPal account (with added customer protections).

Monthly subscriptions:
There is now a range of monthly subscriptions ($1, $3, $5 and $10) on my website.

These subscriptions are not linked to anything but soon I will add either a members only page or monthly e-newsletter via MailChimp. I will NOT add any one to a e-newsletter unless permission is granted, as emails can be annoying.

Eventually, I will offer patron/subscriber rewards and gifts.

And my temporary online clearance ‘store’ still has some great book bargains. All at cost price or lower, and free postage (Australia only)

Once again, I thank you for your patience and invaluable support. Some months, your contributions have been my only source of income. So I cannot thank you enough.

See you around – here, on twitter, on my website, and perhaps even in ‘real life’.

Much gratitude,

Terra Australis Cognitus

Hendrik Hondius Polus Antarcticus

Hendrik Hondius Polus Antarcticus

As usual for me, I’m already plotting and researching the next book, whilst still finishing the current manuscript. And, as usual for a writer drawn to magic realism as a socio-political storytelling device, it involves truth-telling of the macro (historical events, including injustices) through the micro (everyday life).

The next book comes from my fascination with the intersection of European superstition, religion and science during the 17 to 19th centuries, and the impact that has had on First Peoples (Australia). Focusing on the baggage that explorers, privateers and other pirates carried with them as they sailed the seas in search of fame, power and fortunes, I’ve delved back in to the history books.

Of course my envisioned fictional interpretation will include invasion, massacres, genocide, land/resource theft, and forced assimilation. It will look at the culturally biased reasoning behind these abhorrent actions. The foundations of systemic racism in Australia. In a way, this next story is an attempt to deconstruct racism and explore hope, through fiction as opposed to twitter rants.

Honestly, I am tired of talking about racism. I’d much rather we were at a stage of collective consciousness where it didn’t exist anymore. Or at least a critical mass working on mitigation of the harm racism causes. Instead, in Australia we are still having the ‘yes that is racist. And that. Can you at least listen? Urgh!’ conversation.

Delving in to Australian history, discussions about racism need to include facing up to theft. How can we talk about justice if we can’t talk about injustice? And as Australia was founded on a rolling-wave of robbery, then let’s talk about that.

In the seventeenth century, the legend of Terra Australis Incognita played on many a man’s imagination. The mythical unknown lands of the south were once thought to contain riches beyond belief, and perhaps a few scary monsters. The idea of Terra Australis came from a theory of balance – land mass/es of equal weight of those in the north must exist in the south.

Although scientific exploration was behind the searches for this unknown southern land, it was commerce that enabled the journeying. France, England, Portugal, Spain and Holland were all racing to find the best sources of spices, fabrics, wood, precious minerals, and more. And that meant finding the safest, most economical passages to these foreign lands. Wars were staged, pacts were made and unmade, unsavoury weather was endured, and new sea routes were opened. And still, the myth of Terra Australis Incognita existed.

Whilst it was England that first mapped the entire perimeter of the great southern land, documenting that it was indeed a separate continent, over a hundred years prior the Dutch were the first Europeans to set foot on this land. And the Spanish were the first Europeans to note that it was not connected to nearby land masses, such as New Guinea, as previously thought.

There were a few factors that stopped these other European nations from invading the territories of the First Peoples of the great southern land. And there was also the more ethical nations that came here to trade decades before the Europeans, such as the Makassans.

Of all the nations, it was the English who invaded, and set in place many decades of theft and violence. And they brought with them the seeds of systemic racism. Would things have been different if another European nation had ‘claimed’ this land? Probably not. Although, there is a slim possibility that they would have plundered the resources, and then left.

Terra Nullius was the lie that Australia was founded on. A culturally-biased belief that the land belonged to nobody. And this conclusion was reached by the English invaders’ believing that the First Peoples were not equal to them. In fact, they were not even seen as people. The earliest colonisers may have tried to justify their rationale with science, and even religion and economics, but at the very root of the violent occupation was racism.

And so the many decades of *Terra Furatus commenced. Theft of land. Which could not have occurred without Hominem Furatus. (attempted) theft of humanness. (*excuse the Latin via Google)

Racism is the denial of another’s humanness. This denial occurs on an individual basis (discrimination, antagonism, violence etc) and systemic (forced assimilation, inequitable services/treatment, police/custodial violence etc). Until systems of power (law, policing, governance, economics) and systems for people (education, health, commerce, social services) acknowledge inbuilt unconscious bias, then much needed societal change will be difficult to bring about.

The crimes of colonisation need to be acknowledged. The violence and theft need to be taught in schools and universities, and in workplaces/sectors. And this includes a more honest discourse on the world views of those who did the deeds – the explorers, the privateers, the missionaries, the pastoralists, the mavericks, the scientists, the politicians, the ‘heroes’ of history. Even if that is uncomfortable for those who now reside on stolen lands. There can be no justice until the past is acknowledged. And myths are debunked.

There was never a Terra Australis Incognita. It was just a myth that led to invasion and centuries of ongoing settler colonisation. To the First Peoples who’d been living on the great southern lands for 80,000 years, and to their neighbouring nations across the seas, this land was Cognitus > known. What was unknown before the arrival of Europeans was racism. And the many injustices that have racism at their core.

Justice is the logical next step. And justice can take many forms – treaty/ies, truth-telling, land rights, retribution, repatriation, plus more. But justice won’t be possible until the widespread unconscious bias is no longer denied, and the harmful impacts of racism are addressed.

The past can show us the way forward. Researching history leaves me in awe of the courage and achievements of those long dead. Imagine what future generations can achieve if we, the present, are committed to being brave, truthful, and empathetic. Many nations around the globe seem to be in a dark age, but I still have hope.

Illustration: Hendrik Hondius’s plate. Originally published in 1637. Above version is from Jansson’s Grooten Atlas, showing Tasman’s explorations of the western coastline of New Holland, ‘Nova Hollandia detect Anno 1644’, the southern tip of Van Dieman’s Land and an edge of New Zealand. Source: State Library NSW – http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/collection-items/polus-antarcticus 

Support me to keep writing
If you like what you read on this site, please consider supporting me to keep on writing. There’s a PayPal button on this page (see top right-hand corner. Or drop-down box on some hand-held devices)

Or buy some leftover stock from my ex-bookshop – all heavily discounted.

And I am also on Patreon

You can also find me on
twitter @1KarenWyld

Instagram @meanderingwyld


When being a writer is no longer fiction

20170905_140449Spring is here – in theory. And August is finally over. Its my least favourite month of the year. Now that September has arrived, the weather might still scream winter but there are strong signs of new beginnings.

Post-bookshop, I’m finally getting back on my feet. I’m still in debt, but not as severe, and I’ve almost caught up with mortgage arrears.

There is a mountain of books on my dining room table, which I really need to clear. Now that I’ve mastered the set up of a basic eCommerce site, I am selling the leftover books at discounted prices. Shipping is set for Australia, but if you send me an enquiry I can give a quote for overseas shipping (note: it won’t be cheap).

If you were wondering – yes, that is a photo of me. For those that know me offline, you’d know how much I hate photos of myself. So this is a very rare photo. But this week I had to bite the bullet, do a quick read up on ‘how to take selfies for the middle-aged & ugly’, and then just do it! Because I had an opinion piece accepted by Al Jazeera, and they insisted on a bio photo. So the choice was to run and hide (like I usually do when the word ‘photo’ is mentioned), or to just do it. This time, I made the choice not to hide.

Talking about being published, I’ve had a piece published on the Indigenous X site. It’s about ongoing administration issues with government funding for First Peoples in Australia. This article was updated and republished on Independent Australia as Not ‘Closing the Gap’: Nigel Scullion and Indigenous Funding Failure .

Seems like I’ve become an accidental journo. Later this month I have a reporting assignment at the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association’s conference. In addition to being a great Indigenous-led organisation, its their 20th year, so I am really looking forward to their conference.

The conference reporting I am doing is in collaboration with Croakey news services. The first conference I reported on was for First Peoples Disability Network in June. I wrote two pieces on that event, including a conference wrap up, as well as tweeting and live video interviews.

I’ve had some consultancy and freelance writing work post-bookshop, but its not resulting in enough income to support a household. So I’ve started applying for jobs. I’ve had a couple of interviews, but not landed a job as yet. Looks like I need to keep promoting my consultancy services.

I recently started managing the newsletter, blog/website  and twitter account (@FNAWN_) for First Nations Australia Writers Network. FNAWN is a great organisation, and I’m pleased to be contributing to their growth.

And time for the really exciting news – last week I discovered that I had made the long-list for the 2017 Richell Prize! This was such an unexpected surprise. I entered the first three chapters of my work-in-progress, Where The Fruit Falls. The prize includes mentoring, to help shape a draft into a manuscript that is hopefully publishable.

The Richell Prize is presented by Hachette Australia, in memory of Matt Richell who passed away suddenly in 2014. Partners in this prize include The Guardian and Emerging Writers Festival. The short-list will be announced early October, and the prize winner in November. I’m not expecting to make it to the next stage, but that won’t stop me from feeling very pleased to have got this far.

And it gives me renewed inspiration to finish this manuscript. Its been put on hold for far too long, due to sorry business, family responsibilities, financial crises and, in general, the ups and downs of now being a member of the sandwich generation.

Anyway – onwards and upwards. And, now that spring is in the air, perhaps I can even dare to dream of getting back on a motorbike…….

Support me to keep writing
If you like what you read on this site, please consider supporting me to keep on writing. There’s a PayPal button on this page (see top right-hand corner. Or drop-down box on some hand-held devices)

Or buy some leftover stock from my ex-bookshop – all heavily discounted.

And I am also on Patreon

You can also find me on
twitter @1KarenWyld

Instagram @meanderingwyld

Lot 2: son of a basket


This second item in my Silent Auction of Stories is hand-made. By me. And it has a story.

First, what is it:

This basket has been made with natural and dyed raffia, using a pierce-and-sew method. It features two side-handles. It’s a fairly large basket, being 16 cm high with a diameter of 34 cm.

Its story:

Did you know that baskets are actually just stories in another form? Each one holds stories. And you can feel these when you pick them up. They have within them the story of their creator, and how they were feeling at the time they made the basket. And the stories of the land they were made on, and the conversations overheard as each layer of the basket was created. So no wonder I, a storyteller, weave baskets.

This basket is a replica of another basket I made. Both were made early in my weaving phase. I prefer the original but this son of that basket is okay. And has an interesting tale.

In 2007 I was selected to be part of a Womad artist in residence program, facilitated by Sandy Elverd. It involved a group of textile artist from around the world, working with the Tjanpi Desert Weavers.

There were about 20 women, and we worked solidly for about five days to create an installation that was a feature of Womadelaide 2007. We created a life-sized desert camp scene – fireside, utensils, people, camp dogs and fauna all made from grasses, wool and other fibre. The basket and fibre-bushfoods on my home page were made as part of that installation. That basket has it own story – but that would be too much of a digression.

Working with the Tjanpi Weavers on that installation was an amazing experience. I learnt some new weaving techniques from some of the most prominent Aboriginal weavers in Australia. And time spent in a weaving circle is full of laughter, cultural learnings, and lots of sharing of stories.

I’d recently started the Southern Weavers Group, as part of my role as a community development officer. This project provided a regular social activity for local elders, as well as a means to talk about health, diet and lifestyle (due to funding through an arts and health program). Younger women also participated in some of the activities, such as weaving camps. It developed into a social enterprise, which is still in existence, as the elders are paid to teach weaving in schools and community events. These sessions involve raising non-Indigenous people’s awareness through sharing of stories.

I used a train-the-trainer approach, by accompanying one or more members of the group to workshops and conferences, so we could learn both business and weaving techniques from other First Peoples around Australia. Some of the women had learnt sedge-grass weaving from their elders, as children, so the program was both a re-learning their own cultural weaving and learning new techniques from other regions.

One day, while making grass-sculptures and baskets with the Tjanpi Weavers, I felt a bit guilty that I was there and not any of the elders from the Southern Weavers group. So I asked if I could invite a few, and the next day Aunty Rose came with me. Aunty is now gone, but I still remember spending that day with her and the Tjanpi weavers. That is one of the stories that are within the baskets we made.

As an artist in resident, we were provided with weekend passes to Womad, where we ran weaving workshops for attendees. I’d never been able to afford to go before, and had always been curious, so this was a little bit exciting. Until – guilt set in again.

The arts-patron that had funded the Tjanpi Weavers project at Womad popped in to check on our progress. Speaking with her, I mentioned the group I’d started and how good it would be if they could go to Womad and see this installation. So she gave me a few day passes for them.

Grateful, I gifted her with a basket. It was the original of the one pictured above. But much better. I loved that basket, but it felt right to give it away.

A few days later, I escorted a group of local elders to Womad. There wasn’t enough tickets for everyone so, as usual, I let them choose who got to go. A younger woman, who is a talented artist, missed out. She, like me, had never been able to afford Womad tickets, so she was a little bit disappointed. But it worked out ok, as all the elders got tired quickly and chose to go home. So I rang her and arranged to meet outside the gates, to give her the wrist-band that I’d asked one of the elders for. We had to take it off very carefully, to not damage it or her wrist. (shhh don’t tell Womad).

In the meantime, the group of guest artists were preparing to leave the installation tent and go see a performance. It was a singer and choir from their Country. Ahead of me a young girl was struggling to push an elder in an old wheelchair with flat tires. I jumped in and gave her a hand. Once we got to the stage, the sun was setting. The performance was amazing. And I felt privileged to have watched it in the presence of elders who were related to the performers.

As soon as it finished, I got a text to say that my friend was nearly at the gate. So I walked out to find her. Sitting under a huge fig tree was an old man. He beckoned me, so I went over there. He told me, proudly, that his son was going to perform inside the gate. He couldn’t afford a ticket, so he’d sat outside, hoping to hear the performance. The performance I’d just witnessed. I told him that his son had just been on stage. I noticed his look of disappointment at not hearing his son sing.

So I told him the story of his son’s performance. How beautiful his voice was, and the choir backing him up. I told him some of the names of the elders I’d watched the performance with, and he said they were related. I told him how some of the elders had been crying with pride. And as I told him this story, he had tears running down his cheek.

I then saw my friend, and said good-bye to him. As I walked back inside the magical space of Womad, I was a bit emotional. Firstly, because I just had an emotional interaction. And secondly, I was damn angry. Pissed off at the exclusiveness of Womad. Annoyed that even when Aboriginal people are included on the stage, we are still excluded from the audience because of those damn overpriced tickets. And deeply sad that this proud father did not get to see his son perform, in front of his kinsfolk.

Anyway, I digress once more. Later, missing the original large orange basket that I had gifted, I made this replica. Which is why it is a son of a basket. This basket might not have been at Womad, but it has been infused with the joys, creativity, sadness, and connectivity of my experiences of participating in the 2007 Womad Tjanpi Desert Weavers program.

Let the silent auction begin!

A refresher on how this will work:

  • If interested in the item, you can send me your confidential bid via twitter DM (@1KarenWyld) or by using the contact form on this website.
  • Remember to factor in packaging and postage when you are bidding.
  • Once at least one bid has hit the reserve level, I’ll close the auction and contact the highest buyer.
  • Bidding is restricted to people residing in Australia only, due to delivery costs.

If you aren’t interested in owning the item, but you did like its story, then feel free to contribute to more stories. There is a PayPal pay now button in the upper right-hand of this page. Or you can use my PayPal payme account.

Also see Lot 1: The Maiden

Silent Auction of Stories


I can’t believe its nearly four months since I had to shut down my bookshop! Time does fly. Financially, I wasn’t doing too bad post-shop. I finally caught up with overdue mortgage payments, and was able to pay bills (mostly) on time. And I was still living frugally but without the high-level stress every time I answered the phone or opened a letter.

As much fun as working from home (aka in my PJs) has been, the freelancing work has dried up. So I have amped up the job hunting…..right in the middle of financial year end/start. Not great timing.

That (new) pile of bills isn’t going to magically disappear. So its sale time!

Here’s how this will work:

  • Every few days, I’ll do a blog post featuring an item that’s on offer via silent auction.
  • Each item will have a short write-up on its ‘story’. ie where it came from, what it means to me, etc. I’ve always been fascinated in the stories behind belongings, so hopefully I can also tell such tales.

Silent auction:

  • If interested in the item, you can send me your confidential bid via twitter DM (@1KarenWyld) or by using the contact form on this website.
  • Remember to factor in packaging and postage when you are bidding.
  • Once at least one bid has hit the reserve level, I’ll close the auction and contact the highest buyer.
  • Bidding is restricted to people residing in Australia only, due to delivery costs.

If you aren’t interested in owning the item, but you did like its story, then feel free to contribute to more stories. There is a PayPal pay now button in the upper right-hand of this page. Or you can use my PayPal payme account.

Time to go searching for an item, and share its story. Stay tuned!


There’s no fantasy – just realism, with a sprinkle of hope.

Hat and photo by me.

For the past two years, I’ve participated in Zoe Brook’s annual blog-hop. This year, life got complicated. However, I put my name on the list, hoping by the time late July came around, life would have stopped wobbling, and I’d be writing again. Well, things have settled down (a little) but I’m still not writing. Haven’t written for about five months. And it’s now late at night on the 31st July, and this year’s Magic Realism Blog-hop is coming to an end. So it’s now or never. But how can I write a post when I’m still dealing with so many huge changes (aka chaos)?

Perhaps it can be done with magic realism.

If you’ve ever read some of my previous posts on magic realism, or comments in online groups, you’d have noticed that I’m a tad protective (aka pedantic) about my favourite literary mode. That’s not a typo. Magic realism is not a genre. And it’s certainly not fantasy. I will let Glen Guest, a first-time Magic Realism Blog-hopper, explain why its a literary mode. And as far as discussing why magic realism is not fantasy – that will have to wait.

I’m only just coming out of this fog I’ve been in. I’m just not capable of theories, fancy words and deep discussions right now. I can’t possibly write coherently about magic realism; a difficult, intangible, mostly misunderstood subject.

Rather than withdraw from the blog-hop, I’ve decided to apply magic realism to steer me further out of the fog. If, as I’ve argued many times, magic realism is about meaningful aspects of life, both the micro and macro of ordinary and extraordinary lives, and a safe way to talk about difficult moments in shared histories – then why not apply this literary mode to what’s happening in my life? Autobiography, with a touch of magic realism. As it’s a literary mode, and not a genre, then this is possible. And doing so would also serve the purpose of personal healing, not just allow me to meet a writing commitment.

So I did. And this is the result > The Man Who Would Live Forever

And with that, I will now crawl back under my warm bed-covers, to the safety of my ship on a sea that is beginning to calm, now that this latest storm has passed.


If you’re wondering about the hat in the above photo: I made that recently for a Mad Hatters social event, that my work colleagues and I attended. After weeks of sorrow (massive job losses at work, loss of role models, death and illness in the family etc), I just didn’t know how I could muster the right energy to attend a social event. Knowing a break would do me good, but still immersed in grief and loss, I made my own hat. It has symbols relative to loss and hope, death and life: skull (death), snake (life), rose (beauty), moon charm (creativity), Star tarot card (hope); and feathers of a peacock (luck), willy wagtail (trickster), eagle (guidance), and raven (wisdom). Dressed wholly in black, I wore my hat with pride and danced off some doom & gloom.



This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop. Over twenty blogs are taking part in the hop. Over three days (29th – 31st July 2015) these blogs will be posting about magic realism. Please take the time to click on the button below to visit them and remember that links to the new posts will be added over the three days, so do come back to read more.

The Man Who’d Live Forever: A Eulogy

That moment between dreaming and awake, listening to my heart beat. thump….thump….thump

The phone rang. I picked it up, even though I’d normally ignore it this early on a Saturday morning. Some how I already knew. The sound of the beating heart was not mine. And that sound – that heart – had stopped.

At the gathering, words were spoken. Stories shared of a brother, a cousin, a friend. A workmate. A running buddy. A husband, life-long mate. 

As I read out my mother’s words, her eulogy, the sounds of a distant ocean gave me courage. Laughter was shared as I spoke of how my parents met. Only I heard the sounds of a tail, softly hitting the cold ground.
The soldier with the red beret, when spying the mermaid for the first time, had no doubts. He even said so, to the mermaid, the day they’d met: they would marry. With a flip of her tail, she laughed him away. She was still young; enjoying her freedom after too many years spent in harsh captivity. Determined, he wooed her, in the dance hall by the sea. And not long after he whisked her away, across the plains of red sands, in a tiny red convertible. Too soon, both uniform and fish-tail had been put aside, and the convertible was exchanged for a much larger car.

In present time, as the speeches unfolded, similar threads could be seen. A good man. Quiet. Humble. Determined. Health-concious. Fit for his age. Cheeky sense of humour. And achievements were listed. What wasn’t voiced, but heard by all, was the shared-shock. The disbelief. How could he be gone so soon? He wasn’t supposed to die yet. Not until at least a century of years had been spent on this earth. If anyone could live forever, it was him.

Nice memories, but who will speak of a father? Will not one of you come forward?

Not the ghost-brothers, although they are certainly here, unseen, to bear witness. My older brother will share memories in his own time, with friends. Not the absent sisters. Although their distant whispers are heard by some. Feathers flying, beaks reaching for soft spots, talons scratching. Even monsters have fathers.

Yes. And somewhere, deep inside, they hold close memories of childhood.

Can you not give a eulogy? Speak of a father, who was somewhat mysterious but still beloved.

No, speaking up would anger the sisters further.

Poor excuse! You’re just scared.

Scared of what?

Of accepting he’s gone.

Be grateful that there were no loose threads, nothing left unsaid between you. Be glad that he lived a good life. And remember that he died doing what he enjoyed most in the world – running beside an ocean.

It is now later. So much has changed. So many challenges have been confronted, dealt with, absorbed. The process of grieving, accepting and letting go will take some more time. That is how it should be. So now its the time for treasure hunting, finding good memories.

To recall a childhood. We didn’t have much, but we had space – an old falling-down rented farmhouse. Like moths to a light, we would fly wildly, occasionally returning to circle around our father as he worked in the shed or out in a paddock. If asked, he would show us what he was doing, passing on knowledge that we were too young and foolish to pay attention to.
The third oldest of six, I was the first to master the art of riding a bicycle, thanks to my father. Although he used an unorthodox (ie dangerous) teaching method, it worked. And it also set me on the path of overcoming fear. He would take us to the top of a small hill that met a rocky road, which ended at a stone barn wall. Holding on to the seat, he’d instruct us to start peddling, following behind us, holding on to the seat. It was at that moment when I turned, to discover that he was no longer holding on, and I was a few metres away, that I had to make a split-second decision. Let fear get in the way, so I’d wobble and eventually fell over. Or keep going, and watch the wall get closer. Or believe that I can do it, and steer the bike away from impending impact, and off down the road. I took the third option. And learnt how to take control of my own path.

A short time later, my fascination with horses developed. There were two, plus one donkey, during my childhood. And none of them were fond of being ridden. My favourite was Arabella. When I first saw her, in the auction ring, I knew she was destined to be mine. More unicorn than horse, she would only let young maidens handle her. Even though she tolerated my company, she’d rarely let me on her back. Sadly she had a most tragic accident one stormy night. I shed a tear the next day, as she was carted off. Not because she was destined to be the food of caged kings, but because I had loved her.

My father was somewhat an absent father, even when present. As a travelling salesman, there’d be times when he was gone for weeks at a time. And when finally home, he would don running shoes and head off. For hours and hours. Behind his back we would joke that he ran to get away from us; far away from the noise of so many wild children. Perhaps he did. Still, it was what he loved doing. He ran and ran, right up to his last moments on earth.

As a quiet person, he’d also escape to the solitude of his own space – in an office full of books. As I got older, I’d sneak into that space when he was away from home. That library was a place of learning, full of non fiction; mostly books with maps on how to be a better person, how to set goals, and personal growth. In that library I developed a passion for learning. A short while before that, my father also helped me to combat my dyslexia – gifting me a gadget that taught speed reading. Memorising the patterns of words opened up pages of new worlds for me, and once I could read, I devoured any book I could find.

Then I grew up and moved out. Soon busy with children, study, work and interests of my own, time with my parents became rare. Even rarer after they bought that ancient caravan, and became grey-nomads. Happily drifting around Australia, chasing the sun’s warmth for the sake of ageing bones. 
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I started to make an effort to communicate differently – to ask questions, consciously collect family stories. And over the past eighteen months, although they were usually in another state, I had a few unexpected opportunities to spend time with them. Increasingly, it was in those moments that he’d share stories, mostly of relatives that I had never met or barely heard of.

With time, those memories, those stories, will become even more important. Now, they help me to stay strong. To accept that the young soldier has gone. As has the son, brother, husband, friend, uncle, father, father-in-law, grandfather, great-grandfather.

Still, he lives forever. Even though, all too soon, people will have forgotten what he looked like; needing photos for prompts. And sometime in the future, perhaps after a hundred years have passed, he will be spoken of no longer. His features will no longer appear in the faces of children. Particular characteristics or quirks no longer attributed to him.

Still he lives forever. In the blood, the DNA, of those who are yet to be born. And, perhaps, the good deeds they are yet to do, the personal goals they will achieve, will have been possible because of my father’s legacy. There is no ending, not really.

Grab a Book or a Map: the choice is yours


What does a book and travel have in common? A lot really. Both take us to new places. Enable us to see the world a bit differently. Books and travel challenge us. They might even cause us to feel fear. Or wonderment. We are shown things that we don’t really want to see. They burst our bubbles. Both build up hopes, crash us down, take us for a wild ride; then give us a satisfying ending. And, hopefully, leave us with fond memories.

We open a book and turn to the first page, or we embark on a journey, map in hand, for the same purpose – to find ourselves. ClichĂ©d? Sure. There is nothing wrong with the occasional clichĂ©. So what can be found when one travels to a different country, to attend a writers and readers festival? Yourself, of course.

It’s the half-way point of the 11th Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. I have traveled to Indonesia for the first time, to volunteer at the Festival. I have a love:hate relationship with travel. As an introvert I like space. I like my home-space. Its quiet, its familiar, it is not crowded. Still, I love travelling: seeing new sights, learning about other ways of living, trying new experiences. However, there is always a point where I feel homesick, or have enough of crowds and noise. Not this time.

I’m enjoying volunteering. It’s a great way of travelling solo. It gives a purpose, an anchor. And it enables you to meet others. Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is an amazing event to be volunteering at. I’ve only been to one writers festival before – the same one – fifteen years apart. Both times I left frustrated, annoyed, dissatisfied. I put this down to the event lacking diversity, devoid of risk, just a tad bland. Not so with the Ubud event. That said, I have already felt frustrated and annoyed. That’s okay though. These emotions are good teachers.

Let me take you on my journey of the past two days, of a first-timer experiencing Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

Yesterday (2 October 2014) was the first ‘real’ day of the Festival. And I manage to get to a reasonable number of sessions, to hear guest writers. As I am volunteering, I need to fit sessions around my roster. This means that I can’t attend all sessions on my wish list. Rather than be disappointed, I decided before I left home to ‘go with the flow’, and be content with the free time allotted to me. This tactic has served me well.

The first session I attended was a warm welcome to the Festival. Titled Custodians, it paired Clarrie Cameron (Nhanhagardi Elder from Western Australia) and Nyoman Sadra (Tenganan villiage, Bali). Chaired by Emma Masters, the session was like a flowing song. Both speakers had their own unique ways of talking, harmonising well with each other. Clarrie and Nyoman yarned about what it meant to be the holders of cultures that were feeling pressure from outside influences and changing times. They spoke of the importance of learning and maintaining culture and traditions, and the need to pass these on through the generations. Both men shared what it meant to care for their land, their Country. They spoke of the power in words, and being mindful of how its used. And within this sharing, commonalities were found. I left this session with a warm blend of feelings. I left feeling proud of my Aboriginal heritage, and feeling hopeful for the future of humanity.

Walking up the road to Neka, I was looking forward to the next session – The Right Track. I had not read this writer’s book, but had heard of her epic journey some forty years ago. I walked in as Trisha Sertori began her discussion with Robyn Davidson (Australia). Poised, honest and confident, I admired Robyn for her trek across Australia in the 70s. A story that has been shared with the world through print and film. I connected with the way she described her personal revelations in the desert of Australia. That sense of connection was broken when Robyn began to share her views on First Nation peoples of Australia. Her words pricked at that warm feeling that session one had gifted me. When the audience began to asked for her opinions of the ‘Aboriginal problem’, I became annoyed. And then saddened. Leaving the venue with the all-familiar beasts of white privilege and cultural bias snapping at my heels, I stomped back down the road. Trying to put aside my annoyance, I reminded myself that we are all products of our own times, cultures, experiences and word-views. We each have our own truths.

I went in search of other truths, ones which I feel more comfortable with. Luckily, the next session was Patricia Grace (Maori writer of New Zealand), speaking on the Small Holes in the Silence. A quietly spoken speaker, Patricia talked of the influence culture and family had on her writing, and what it meant to tell everyday stories that some may see as political. With thoughtful questioning by Nic Low, the idea of changing aspects of stories was discussed, with the position of outsider or insider playing a big part in perception. Patricia has a grace and sense of humbleness that enabled young audience members to feel comfortable enough to ask for writing advice. And her suggestion was simply good: to write we must read, and read some more. Of course published writers know that it takes a lot of hard work, but being a reader is the core element of becoming/being a writer.

Then I tried one more session – Stepping Back from Consciousness with Eimer McBride (Ireland). As a new writer, thrust into the world through a highly awarded first novel, Eimer was a refreshing speaker. She is obviously attached to her characters, talking of them as if they were family. Some call her work experimental, which is another word for hard to market, but I felt that her writing was from another time. A time when words had beauty and a storyteller was a respected member of community. More poetry than prose, her writing might be challenging for some. Writing should be challenging, like it was before commercialism became the gate-keeper of publishing. Eimer’s personal journey to becoming a published novelist would be inspiring for many people who dream of becoming writers. Her patience, determination and trust led to being published by a small, emerging publishing company. Within a year, her first book has accumulated major literary awards, and has earned her the title of the new James Joyce. Big shoes to fill for a first time writer.

At that point, I called an end to day one and returned to my villa – to read. Under a mosquito net, I read a book by a Balinese author that was written in 1930s [Anak Agung Pandji Tisna’s The Rape of Sukreni]. With a book and a punnet of strawberries, I was soon lulled by simple words of every day life, and fell asleep.

I awoke determined not to succumb to crankiness, and went for a night walk, and a beer. Returning with a new attitude. Combining the words I had gathered from all four sessions, I acknowledged that I can’t change others. I can only change myself, and be more aware of the power of my own words. And with words I can perhaps plant seeds that will grow. There are many people out there, planting seeds. I had heard many caring gardeners that day, who perhaps had nurtured some brave and hopeful thoughts among their eager audiences.

On day two, I woke with determination to listen in a different way. The first session reinforced my aim for the day. Wide Awake Language was a celebration of the songs within prose. Again, it was full of reminders of how culture and everyday life mold us as people and as writers. The speakers were from diverse cultures and nations, but each had a deep respect for the rhythm of storytelling. Panel chair Eleanor Limprecht lead the discussion, allowing it to weave magic on the audience. Bumyamin Fasya (Taskikmalaya, Indonesia), Eimear McBride (Ireland) and Sjon (Iceland) are proud writers of difficult books. Books that make the reader work, leading them to a more fulfilled experience. As a fan of difficult books, a lover of complex prose, I really enjoyed hearing the panel members read extracts from their books, and share their passion for words.

From there I entered the underbelly of expats and tourists. In a packed session called Poison or Passion: The Rise of the Super Bule, Balinese Putu Semiada and Wayan Juniartha, and expats Made Wijaya, Rucina Ballinger and Peter Wall had the audience in laughter, squirming in their seats and questioning where they fit in the equation. In the end, the answer to the question was probably that expats and tourists were a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Next I went to sit with the Great Greats. Clarrie Cameron (Australia), Patricia Grace (New Zealand), Fiona McFarlane (Australia) and Sulfiza Ariska (West Sumatra, Indonesia) shared their perspectives on the role of Elders. Chaired by Nic Low, this session paired speakers from different generations and cultures. However many common threads were evident. Like the earlier sessions, I felt a connection to what was being shared. So with the frustration of day one well and truly soothed by three excellent sessions, I reported to my afternoon shift as a volunteer.

Now day two is done, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I can fit in three sessions before I have to do another shift in First Aid. There are a few comfortable choices in the program, but perhaps I should pick at least one challenging session. After all, if I continually choose the same familiar book to read from, then I lose invaluable opportunities to discover myself. Does that sound too clichĂ©d? I don’t care – I’m in Ubud.


In Search of Magic Realism in Ubud

20141001_151221 Procession at Wos River bridge, Ubud. Photo by Karen – Oct 2014.

The sun has set on my fourth day in Bali. Its my first time in Indonesia, and I’m travelling alone, so I am privileged to be seeing everything through the naive wide-eyes of the first-timer. That is just one of the gifts of travelling – fresh experiences. So what are my first impressions?

At first glance, Bali is the epitome of duality. An eclectic mix of old and new, where tourist-consumerism meets simplicity. A harmony of noise and quiet reflection. Where internet connectivity fluctuates, making it hard to connect to the outside world in a place where people from around the globe find it so hard to leave. A tasting plate of colour, flavour, aromas, heat and music. An island where creativity and the arts are entwined with spirituality. An oceanic moist island of magic. It’s a place where magic realism is bound to thrive.

Note to self: research Balinese literature, and seek out magic realism authors/novels – when internet connectivity is more stable.

Two days ago I arrived in Ubud, after a night/morning in Seminyak. Or, more accurately, recently I arrived in paradise. A paradise that is a balance of yin and yang, darkness and light.

My home for the next week is an ex-ashram that has been reborn as a group of hill-hugging villas. My little slice of paradise overlooks Champuhan Hill, with a perfect view of endless tropical flora and moist clouds embracing the earth. Somewhere down the valley a river flows by, and over on the horizon the mighty volcano Mount Agung is occasionally seen, when the clouds and mist momentarily part.

Travelling solo is not at all a lonely experience. I have already met a few of my neighbours. Who, by the way, have insisted in invading my space whenever the fancy takes them. Its okay though, I quite like their company. There’s Kutut and Waylan – the two long-tailed small marsupials that like to play on the villa balcony. Apparently they might be the source of the sounds I heard last night – a noise similar to a drunk’s hiccup. There are also geckos sharing my room. That’s okay, as they keep the mosquitoes under control – sort of.

On the other side of my villa is humanity. Busy Jl. Raya Sanggingan is the closest road. It’s not as busy as central Ubud, but it still has a steady hum of scooters during the day. Its even busier in Ubud at the moment, because of significant ceremonies, with devotees from all over Bali attending. And tomorrow the street will become even busier, due to the 11th Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, with people from all over the world attending. Which is why I am here.

Despite signing up as a volunteer on a whim, I’m not regretting my rash behavior at all. I attended the volunteer orientation yesterday, and completed a shift in First Aid. So far, so good. With two days before my next shift, I have time to explore Ubud, and learn about Bali.

Unlike other parts of Indonesia, Bali culture is built on a unique version of Hinduism. In just the few days I have been here, I am already witnessing how important these beliefs are to everyday life. Especially now in Ubud, in the midst of ceremonies. Yesterday, sitting on the steps of a warung (street-side cafe) I watched thousands of Balinese proceed down the street. White clothing was accentuated by splashes of colour. Carrying creative sculptures, and offerings of fruits and flowers, this colourful and musical procession went past. Unlike Christian ceremonies of my childhood, among the reverence was a sense of playfulness. Again, that duality.

This sense of duality is what also struck me when I visited Neka museum yesterday. Full of paintings, architecture, stone carvings, ancient keris (knives), Neka is an art gallery/museum that blends the ancient with the new, traditional with contemporary. And among the paintings and the ornately carved doorways, I found story. Non-written stories.

Many of the paintings and carvings featured epic stories: of battles fought over eons; gods who took animal form to cavort with maidens, leaving behind demi-god offspring; of kingdoms lost and won; ageless heroes’ journeys; of revenge and acceptance; beautiful mythical sea-maidens; and times when animals were much more than simple beasts. Contained in the art were stories familiar from around the world, told since the beginning of time, in many languages. This art had a sense of playfulness. Some were even mildly erotic. And much of the works had obvious religious themes. There were also modern themes of the impact of Dutch colonisation and the more recent invasion of tourists and expats. Despite this, there was strong proof of the continuing survival of Balinese culture.

Then a thought struck me: the artwork I was most attracted to were painted versions of magic realism literature. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you would know I have a thing for magic realism. Not the emerging works, which are best placed within other genres, but the older works from South America and Europe. So my latest quest began – to find magic realism literature from Balinese authors.

With minimal internet connection, a simple search on-line was not an option. Instead, I needed to connect with people, find some leads. Have a yarn. The first person I talked to when I left my villa today was an expat artist from USA. She told me how there weren’t many Balinese fiction writers. This had a bit to do with the very strong oral storytelling culture. However, she did have a book of short stories at home that she felt would fit what I was seeking. So I arranged to meet her tomorrow, to borrow the book.

Strolling down the road, I stopped at the bridge, where the two rivers meet. The procession of people returning from the purification ceremony, held on a beach many miles away, was about to come down the hill. I found a place to respectfully watch, and waited. The sounds alerted us to the procession’s arrival, before any people were sighted. And then they came. Like the day before, but even bigger and more vivid, thousands of people past by. Women carrying offerings on their heads, and men struggling under the weight of gilded towers.

After the gods had passed, the barongs and rangdas arrived. Women and men were hidden under huge effigies, and groups of men led strange shaggy dog-lions and hybrid dragon-beasts. As they crossed the road, and moved towards Pura Gunung Lebah temple by the Wos River, the policemen opened the roads to traffic again. An endless sea of scooters, stretching up the hill into Ubud central, surged forwards. I walked up-hill, dodging scooters, people and trucks, feeling light as air despite the steep climb and humidity.

A short while later I found myself passing a bookstore. Perhaps they will have the novels I am seeking? I looked and looked. Lots of best sellers from Western nations, and an endless selection of Bali-inspired reflections by writers from other countries. There were some beautiful books on Balinese artwork and its environment. And there were many books on Hinduism. No local fiction though. So I asked the assistants if there were any fiction by Balinese authors. They said no, but one assistant handed me two books written by Balinese authors. She called them novels, not fiction. After that slight lost in translation moment, I read the covers. One was a modern story, with a whiff of potential magic realism. The other had been written in the 1930’s. It was this older book I selected: The Rape of Sukreni by Anak Agung Pandji Tisna.

I feel as if my search for magic realism in Bali is off to a good start. Now if you would excuse me, its way past midnight and I have a book to read. And a Writers Festival to attend in the morning. Oh, and Ketut and Waylan have snuck through the open balcony doors, and are making a dreadful noise running around on the wooden floors and in the rafters. Perhaps they were the uninvited guests who ate half my banana today? I’ll go and feed them on the balcony, and then settle in to read under my mosquito net, as I listen the sounds of nature.