ONCE UPON A time – and the story begins. Story is one of the most powerful tools in the minds of human beings, having deep and far-reaching cultural and political significance. It depends on language and imagination, two other precious tools. It works its magic by its music. Once upon a time Australia ‘existed’ only in the imaginations of people in the northern hemisphere. It was an alluring dream, perhaps, or a myth, a paradise to be desired, a Great South Land below the equator, balancing the world, but unknown. Then explorers came by sea and gradually discovered the solid reality of the landmass, and bit by bit they mapped the coastline. Myth was then, and is now, never far from the surface in Australia. It is nourished by fact, explained and embellished by fiction, spoken and written, and in its turn it informs the way lives are lived and perceived.
One of my personal favourite tales of early historical Australian myth is the story of the Portuguese sailor Pedro Fernandez de Quirós who came in search of the Great South Land in 1605. He found Vanuatu, but believed it to be the place he sought. He named it Australia Del Espiritu Santo. So far the story is romantic but not really extraordinary, so why do I like it so much? Well, there’s more. In the nineteenth century, Archbishop Moran of Sydney believed that de Quirós had in fact discovered Australia, had named it as the land of the Holy Spirit, and had established the New Jerusalem near Gladstone in Queensland. This lovely Australian yarn was taught as historical fact in Australian Catholic schools for many years. I am not really being critical of the Archbishop, I look upon him tenderly, admiring his fine Irish ability to work so boldly with fairy tale to strengthen the faith of his f lock. Yes, yes, children, you are living in the land of the Holy Spirit. Happy ever after. Of course I have here taken the Archbishop into a little narrative of my own, weaving his fiction into my fiction and coming up with a smile and a shamrock.
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