by Josie Anna Stockdill
|Image by Kirill Nadtochiy|
In recent years 45% of those Australians that didn’t celebrate Halloween didn’t partake because they view it as an American tradition. Principally, I wonder why we are so ruthlessly anti-American on this? It seems a long lost battle considering that the Americanisation of Australia really kicked off in the 1920s.
Not to mention that Halloween is actually a Celtic tradition, which can also be linked as far back as the ancient Roman feast of Pomona or festival of Parentalia. On this base level alone we can safely claim it as a part of our founding historical cultures.
Moreover, we don’t need to deny that Halloween exists whilst the retail stores fill with pumpkins around us. There is no need to peer out the blinds enraged as garish costumed children loiter on the doorstep this 31 October.
If I had Halloween growing up, it may have taught me more about my culture and my history. I might have had a parade of fabulous Australian monsters and monstrous characters marching through my imagination, each one forming a grotesque costume and new scaring potential.
Yet trying to imagine what I could have been, I face another problem. Where are all the Australian monsters and monstrous characters? Why does nothing immediately spring to mind? Vampires? No. Zombies? Nope. Witch? Not really. Is R.L. Stine ours? Regrettably not.
There is an array of fantastic Aboriginal monsters. Unfortunately, a problem here is that despite sharing geography with these monsters, I do not share the same cultural consciousness.
That means that these monsters and monstrous characters, despite being awe-inspiring and scary, don’t do everything that they need to do for me culturally. I need more monsters.
Why is this important? What do monsters and the monstrous do anyway? As Professor Asa Simon Mittman explains in his coedited Ashgate Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous (2012)
Monsters do a great deal of cultural work, but they do not do it nicely. They not only challenge and question; they trouble, they worry, they haunt. They break and tear and rend cultures, all while constructing them and propping them up. They swallow up our cultural mores and expectations, and then, becoming what they eat, they reflect back to us our own faces, made disgusting or, perhaps, revealed to always have been so.
What culture in particular do monsters need to break, tear and rend? White Australia. To shreds.
We can use monsters and the monstrous this Halloween to critique the cultural logic of Australian collective identity – which is particularly friable. Excluding Aboriginal culture, when you think about it, Australian identity was constructed with no more than a grouping of fragmented people via a hasty collision with an alien place.
Additionally, in the case of the White Australian norm, we then went on to position our fundamental identity on a stratagem of power rather than an authentic distinctiveness. Why should we prod this fragile idea of the White Australian norm with monsters now? Professor Richard Dyer suggests mostly because:
White people need to learn to see themselves as white, to see their particularity. In other words, whiteness needs to be made strange. (White, 1997)
For some timely assistance on Halloween, we can all use monsters and the monstrous as theoretical constructs to better understand our identity, including (but not limited to) the strangeness in our whiteness and the complex relationship we have with our landscape.
By employing monsters and monstrous things in this way, we can creatively navigate an emotive journey through the good, bad, funny, scary and confusing characteristics of our country.
I propose that we create a Halloween tradition here that brings to life the monsters and monstrous characters of our past, present and future. There undoubtedly need to be monsters and characters from other cultures included in this tradition, as they make up our country too. Yet personally, I would most especially love to see some little Ngayurnangalku prowling our suburbs, and perhaps even a Babadook or two.
Halloween is not another negative result of the globalised world. It is an opportunity for Australians to do something culturally invigorating. It is an occasion for us to boast the truly exceptional plethora of Aboriginal monsters we have, while using our other monsters to explore how the people that went to (or were sent to) Australia forever transformed their identity.
What better way to do this than literally becoming the monstrous and exploring our landscape together on Halloween? We can violate reality and creatively consider what skulks behind contemporary Australia and our systems of categorisation. Best of all, you don’t need to be an artist or academic to fully partake in this national experiential investigation.
Spend some time thinking about how you are going to feed your Australian monster pangs this Halloween. Nurture them. Grow them. Test out your best ugly faces. We can start to claim our strangeness and find out what monstrous beings live here too – we might even discover a little more about ourselves in the process.
Your monsters can be an amalgam of the historical, the creative from books, TV, art and films, the personally imagined and feared, cryptozoology, or even the familiar made extraordinary.
You still need some Halloween ideas to get you going?
· Parade about as one of those upcoming Territorial fellows
· In a loving relationship? Dress as a steamboat and a Muldjewangk!
· Perhaps you are brave enough have a Fishman pool party
· Your kids could be just about anything from a Paul Jennings story
· In a last minute fix? Become a ghostly Boggo Road Gaol inmate
· For a new twist on the classic be inspired by artist Kirill Nadtochiy’s interpretation of a bunyip
· If you have more highbrow tastes you could revive the southern sea monsters mapped by cartographers Abraham Ortelius or Gerard and Cornelis de Jode (paper mache never hurt anyone!)
· An Australian of leisure? Crack a beer and watch a few episodes of the Extraordinary for more strange motivations.
If you want to throw an Australian monster mash or prowl the streets this 31 October please hashtag your terrifying photos as #monstralian
Feel free to share any Australian monster knowledge, original monster notions, monstrous characters or Halloween ideas in the comments below.