Right from its inception, Kumakana is intended to be culture building, challenging the traditional western ways in which we look at the Australian bush as something wild, something to be tamed.
Kumakana intends a broader sense of the real.
The myth and legend of Kumakana engages the bush itself as a character tied to a whole cast of multidimensional planes. It attempts to challenge many of the conventional tropes that define the Australian Legend so long dominating our gaze of the Australian bush.
In the beginning, it is the mystery of the bush that draws Lavender Jensen into a series of events driving her to enter the Kumakana forest.
When her imagination is challenged to provide resources for surviving the summer, ‘a desire to disappear into the blackness of the forest swept over her’. This feeling is linked to the behaviour of a pair of magpies ‘that perch high in the trees at the edge of the great forest, chortling back and forth like matrons snickering at the school gate’, and her witnessing of ‘sly, spectral, movements crawling on her skin as [hidden eyes] stared out from the shadows that consume the light’.
One of the magpies steals her earbuds and, in her pursuit of the thief, she inadvertently enables an injured joey to escape her father’s care, which intensifies her pursuit. Clearly, she doesn’t want to disappoint him through her carelessness, and she thinks ‘… life wouldn’t be worth living if she went home without the joey …’.
But it is the sudden appearance of a laconic Aboriginal youth whose puppy is responsible for the theft of her ball—who promises the return of her things—that takes her to the brink, and the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ moment that serves as the threshold into a different world.
The reader quickly discovers that the Kumakana forest is a community orchestrated by the intersection of multidimensional planes, one of which is the forest itself. Others comprise Lavender Jensen’s reality, Jerramunga’s alternative reality, the world of the forest animals and that of the Gronups. This intersection sponsors the unfolding of dialogue that invites the reader to consider the real from an alternative perspective.
The barriers that Lavender Jensen encounters, from the inaccessibility of a direct return to the world of the everyday, to the trickery of the old snake Cedric, are transforming moments of the narrative, enabling an exchange that lifts understanding across the different worlds the forest offers up, including a version of its own.
It is through this that community becomes the central organising principle of the Kumakana narrative.
The forest, for example, is a community of vegetation, ranging from the trees that rise like columns
‘in the rampart of a great fort, forming part of a landscape that sits idly, waiting as the crackle of their leafy crowns tosses whispered incantations to the winds, passing myths and legends of dark days and forgotten languages’
… to the ‘wall of springy ferns—the kind that snap back to their upright positions and slap you in the face after being pushed aside to pass through.’
Kumakana’s cosmic design not only uses the forest to present multiple obstacles, but to introduce passage-ways into that which remains mysterious.
Of particular note is the tingle tree.
The tingle tree is a massive tree unique to the south west corner of Australia, without question one of the world’s mightiest trees—in competition with the Californian redwood and the mountain ash for sheer size and presence. But largely unknown away from its natural habitat.
Throughout the narrative, the tingle features as barrier, signpost and passage-way, an iconic symbol of solidity and great age; it is central to the history and community of the novel, propelling the image of the Gronups as a centre of power that is both under and outside of their agency in the survival of the natural order. It is the gateway to the great corroboree captured in the Kumakana song.
Deep in the heart of the Kumakana Forest,
’Neath the towerin’ spread of the tingle tree.
There’s a party tonight in the southern moonlight;
A murna in the forest spreading out on the breeze.
Kumakana Gronups in the shadows of the night,
When the sun’s gone down and the moon is bright.
Callin’ everyone to the tingle tree …
For a hootin’ tootin’, boot scootin’, knees-up, chivaree—
Hell raisin’ jamboree, corroboree.
This novel is positioned as an important read for those ‘who believe there is always a better way’.
Letting go entrenched beliefs is crucial.
When Lavender is trying to convince the vixens that Gronups are real, she asks Wonaiea to let the foxes see him, to which he replies: ‘I can’t … To see a Gronup you have to let go your beliefs’.
We establish our beliefs from what we think we know, from the way we construct our reality. According to Jeanne Rosier Smith, Trinh T Minh-ha (p16) writes that it is ‘only westerners who believe that elements such as the sacred and myth are incongruous with the real’.
I take the view that my writing is always an act of making, it is never fully made but an experience that positions the work as a natural extension of myself—that is, it does not exist outside of me and therefore, as Karl Marx would have it, constitutes a ‘prolongation of my body’. Writing itself, is therefore an act of belief, a form of possession and dispossession of the self.
The reading experience Kumakana offers enables examination of a real that I claim defies the western notions of legend and myth as make believe, while at the same time not claiming it to be a transmission of any Indigenous knowledge system.
It turns my writing, like a growing tumour, into an extension of me, functioning the same way as my balding, or my fluctuating corpulence—it is an added dimension that can’t be excised, an outgrowth that takes on a pathology of its own. I know there are those (Foucault and Barthes, for example) who would argue the writing exists outside of the writer, and the reader takes from it what he or she wants.
This is true to a point, but just the same as my writing of Kumakana couldn’t happen without the background of a pre-colonised Australia, or the presumed ‘fact’ that a spirituality existed without the notion of the Christian god, the reading of it could not take place without the writing from outside the conventional western ideas of myth and legend.
The idea of Kumakana, to both examine and create elements of the sacred, such as notions of the way we incarnate creation and the workings of nature that are given reverence, is to add to the myth and fantastic that goes with spiritual characters and god-like forces. It achieves its experience by mixing these elements of the sacred with some actual history belonging to the natural world and facts of people and place. This works to generate a different sense of the real, one that challenges the perceptions of how the common western views are formed, views that tend to hold that myth and the sacred are incongruous with the real.
Of course it requires a small amount of magic, which the reader must process more deeply. The result is a form of magical realism that does not position it only within the frame of Indigenous culture—as is the prevailing nature of critical discourse around magical realism—but removes it into a space somewhere other, where human and non-human move together in a single pattern.
Kumakana will be launched in Febrary 2017 by Crotchet Quaver
Fill in your details below to be on the book launch invitation list