The Inaugural Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference

The one thing I hate about writing conference posts? There are so many great papers and you want to discuss them all, but you also have a pile of marking to catch up on, papers to review, feedback to provide in your normal day to day life… so I’ll do my best with a quick post!

Reilly McCarron and Jo Henwood put together an incredible day, bringing together storytellers, authors, academics and artists of all sorts. As our fabulous MC, Jackie Kerin, said, we’re now ready to take on the world with our tales!

I was particularly thrilled to finally meet Kate Forsyth, whose Bitter Greens deals with the Rapunzel tale. It’s a work of historical fiction featuring one of my favourites, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. I think we were a little like excited school girls on the final panel, both enthusiastically speaking to the tales of French women like La Force, d’Aulnoy and Lhéritier! And Kate mentions Basile, too, in her novel! Can’t get better than that, right? Do read it!

It was also great to hear Danielle Wood, author of Rosie Little’s Cautionary Tales for Girls and the forthcoming Mothers Grimm. I was a little suspect of Mothers Grimm, I admit. I always get slightly squinty-eyed when the topic of motherhood and the Grimms comes up! But I love Danielle’s take on the ‘good mother.’ It’s wicked, in more ways than one.

Carmel Bird gave a terrific keynote that spoke to the ‘great lie’ that informs Australian Fairy Tale. I’ve dealt with the topic before and I know how difficult it is to address and she did an amazing job.

It was so great to hear about early attempts at an Australian fairy tale tradition, too. Belinda Calderone, who steers the Monash Fairy Tale Salon, raided the Monash Library’s rare books collection and uncovered some notable gems. I think she inspired a few people to go and explore their libraries and rediscover the tales hiding away there. Robyn Floyd gave a marvelous account of one of those early fairy tale pioneers, Olga Ernst, wearing a period-inspired ensemble that sort of distracted me because her puffed sleeves would have been the envy of Anne Shirley! Teena Hartnett then performed one of Ernst’s tales about the fire elves and she injected a good dose of vernacular that I think is the trick of bringing these tales back to life. Indeed, I think there were a few fire elves in the building… there may have been a small incident with flame! Jo Henwood also gave a performance of a tale about an Australian Thumberlina that had some terrific references to local Sydney locations and botanicals. It’s fantastic to hear the storytellers do what they do best! It’s one of the ‘treats’ of working in the field that we get an excuse to listen to wonderful storytellers. Tobby Eccles did a great job of speaking to just this issue and how important it is to recognise and catalogue these oral tellings.

Sarah Gibson also expanded on her work on the Re-enchantment project. It’s still growing! There’s an e-book now that you can download on iTunes. I was particularly enthused by her take-away that there is no single way of interpreting tales. I have to admit, when you’re wound up in trying to make your own stand, you do sometimes forget that other people will see things differently! (Her enthusiasm for Shaun Tan also made me happy!)

It was something of a privilege to be on the final panel, even if Jackie was mischievously encouraging me to spark debate by being pro-Disney!! We were discussing cultural editing and I think that panel could have gone on the whole day if you had have left us to it!

All in all, it was a brilliant day and if I’ve forgotten to mention anyone or anything, it is only because I’m in a rush and it’s all still sinking in! Plus I very cleverly left my conference pack with Belinda, because I didn’t have room in my overnight case… so I don’t have all my reminders with me! However, the new AFTS website will be up soon and I’m really looking forward to keeping in touch with everyone and continuing about fifty different discussions that were begun.

PS: Apologies if I did pass my cold on to the entire Australian fairy tale community. Of all the times to come down with a cold…

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