The Song of Wirrun by Patricia WrightsonRobin: The Song of Wirrun is a trilogy set in modern Australia in which a young man of the People encounters the ancient spirits of the land. The author, whose own ancestry is European, draws on aboriginal mythology in her depiction of the “gnomes and heroes and monsters” of Australia. Rather than transplanting elves and dragons and the like to an alien country, she looks for “another kind of magic,” one that belongs. She divides the humans of Australia into three races: the Happy Folk, the Inlanders and the People. Yet “the oldest race of all lives among them and is hidden. This is a race of creatures born of the land itself: of red rocks and secret waters, dust-devils and far places, green jungle and copper-blue saltbush. They are sly and secret creatures. The People have known of them for a long time and said little. As for the other two races, if a man of them ever meets an earth-spirit he is silent for lack of a word and so no word is said.”

Many of the spirits, particularly those referred to as “earth-things” – have their own particular place and do not tend to travel. It is when they roam abroad that the People, who have their own old songs and rituals for the purpose, must take a hand. This is perhaps the biggest difference apart from the setting – that the knowledge and traditions of the “old ones” are believed and respected, not dismissed as fanciful and out of date. These books are not only unusual and fascinating, but powerful and haunting.

The trilogy is also called The Book of Wirrun. The individual books are: The Ice Is Coming; The Dark Bright Water and Journey Behind the Wind (sometimes just called Behind the Wind)

The Ice Is Coming The Ice is Coming by Patricia Wrightson
The Ninya are ice men who live in ice caverns under the burning desert in the heart of Australia. “They are the makers of ice and their blood is white.” Though green-eyed and beautiful, they are quarrelsome and ruthless. They once, aeons ago, ruled the land, but were driven back by the Eldest Nargun, a rock spirit with the power of fire. Their leader proposes that they should travel south and conquer their ancient enemy, so that they may rule the land once more.

As they debate, a Mimi, a frail rock-spirit of the north, is swept up by the winds and dropped in the centre of the country where Wirrun, a young man of the People, is camping. He doesn’t see her. Nor does he see the Ninya, though he sees ice on his water bag and a brief vision of an inverted landscape. Enough to worry him and eventually lead to a meeting with the spirit of the mountain, the hero Ko-in, who guides him to a hidden power of the People and unites him with the Mimi. For the danger is to all the races of the land.

The reluctant Mimi teaches Wirrun how to fly on the wind and acts as a go-between with the earth spirits he encounters – the fierce little Wa-tha-gun-darl, the grey Nyols, the clawed Bagini, the white bird-spirits called Yauruks, and others. Even the fearsome Bunyip helps in its startling way.

The Dark Bright Water by Patricia WrightsonThe Dark Bright Water
While the Mimi, heroine of The Ice Is Coming, is on her long way home travelling through the rocks, another spirit from her country finds herself far from home. The dark-haired Yunggamurra, water-spirits of the northern rivers, who appear silver-grey from their coating of river-slime, are playful and excitable, but can be dangerous to the unwary. During a fierce storm, one is torn out to sea, where the salt water burns her, and in a desperate attempt to get back to fresh water, she becomes lost in tunnels and caverns under the earth. She is lonely and desolate: “She was used to wild laughter and singing, savage play and the joining of hands – all her life, wherever she looked, she had seen herself everywhere in her sisters. Alone she had no self.” When she falls prey to some jealous earth spirits, the disturbance is felt over a wide area.

Meanwhile, Wirrun is finding it hard to be regarded as a hero, only wanting to retire back to normal life. He is also haunted by a song, which although he doesn’t realize it, is the calling-magic of the Yunggamurra. When he is summoned back to the central country where the elders suspect a supernatural agency is interfering with the water, he goes unwillingly. Seeing the tracks of the enormous Pungalunga from the air, he is soon convinced that strange spirits are abroad. Mainly female spirits, it seems, including the Unthippa who have no heads, the dancing Mungga-mungga and the tailed wives of Koolen. His cheerful friend Ularra is transformed into a beast by the seductive Abuba. When Wirrun rescues – or captures – the Yunggamurra, he only wants to return her to her sisters, which puzzles her. Doesn’t he know the rules? Well, no… it is almost only by accident that she becomes the golden girl he calls Murra.

She warns him that he should keep her from the water, but he doesn’t have the heart to as she loves it so much, but in Behind the Wind her sisters find and reclaim her. He must win her back as well as facing the unnatural red-eyed monster menacing the land.

Advertisements