Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A new audience for 'old' Australian fairy tales?

The Internet offers collaborative possibilities as well as the ease of sharing. This blog, maintained as a writing tool for five years, has shared research that may not appear in my thesis. It also explored the personal narrative of a PhD journey as well as my relationship with Ernst’s work. Interested relatives and other acquaintances interstate and overseas discovered my blog through search engines. They have added to the research data available in State and Lutheran archival records and made personal papers and photographs available. Patterson and Lindberg (1991) claim that, ‘the private papers of authors and artists are important to the cause of learning’ (218) on two levels: one to allow insight and understanding about, the creative process of the author and at another as the ‘cultural heritage’ of how an author’s work has shaped or reflected for the reader, their environment. Relatives who have contacted me through my blog have offered further insight through their anecdotes, photographs and Ernst’s personal papers into her work. Rather than detract from a scholarly appraisal of Ernst’s published work, this intimate information has shed light on the quiet, background influences that impacted on Ernst’s life and her desire to write. 

Internet and irreversibility
While I have chosen carefully what I place or submit on the Internet, it must be acknowledged that what is placed cannot be removed easily and may be modified or reproduced. To a greater extent what happens to the materials cannot be controlled, particularly in social media applications. Podsam (2006) warns that while a physical copy of a work cannot be changed, open source software can change a digitised image easily with the potential for manipulation.  There is familial concern with the suggestion of unknown future digital storytellers having open access to Ernst’s stories.

In this digital age, the sharing of academic scholarship has changed.  The Internet means research can be communicated rapidly but also irreversibly. A Google search indicates information on sites that can be directly attributed to my research. These include: the Australian Women’s History Network page (Robyn Floyd, 2010), the website of Noble Park Federal Politician for Isaacs Mark Dreyfuss  (Constituency Statement May 26, 2011), a paper presented at the Australian Research in Education Conference (Robyn Floyd, 17 June 2010), comments added to the National Library Australia site and my continued editing of TROVE digitised newspaper articles about Ernst so that they are easily searchable (Robyn EF, 9 April 2011). There is also other information placed by others on the Internet: a number of article about my research  (Storytelling Australia, Thursday, July 5, 2012)

A Google search will yield images of The Magic Shadow.  Most are copies of Ernst’s The Magic Shadow Show which is the original front page of Ernst’s book published in 1913. Any book published anywhere before 1923 is in the public domain in the United States and so these reprints have now available as Ernst’s book was published in 1913. In order to analyse a copy I purchased a reprint. It was missing the last page of the final essay, was larger than the original book and had photocopy shadows that bordered the original pages. It cost fifteen dollars. The original book is freely available in digitised format from the Internet Archive.

The integrity of reproductions in this ePub market where books can be either downloaded to e-Readers or digitally re-printed can be questioned. Forgotten Books suggests that it is the world's largest online library advertising that it has over one million books available on demand using the latest technologies. One example is of The Magic Shadow Show available and downloadable on the ‘Forgotten Books’ website, placed in the category of Esoteric: Magic and Witchcraft (Forgotten Books, 2013). This is  somewhat disquieting as it suggests that the book has not been read. 

Reprinting, Revising or Remodeling?
Should Ernst’s works be reprinted, revised or modified to meet the needs and preferences of a twenty-first century audience? The re-working of fairy tales is common. When the Brothers Grimm published their first volume of Kinder- und Hausmärchen [Children and Household Tales](Grimm, 1812) containing eighty-six numbered and collected fairy and folktales they could not have foreseen the variety of adaptations of the tales two hundred years later.  Hundreds of versions in different languages, audio books, cartoons, anime, horror and interactive worlds no  exist. It could be argued that Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales should not enjoy continuing popularity in an era where the riddle of Rumpelstiltskin’s name could be easily solved using a search engine (Gollob, 2012) but they continue to be adapted for our era. In 2012, in readiness for the two hundred year anniversary of the publication of the Grimm’s’ first collection a number of new films offered to re-tell classic fairy tale versions with a contemporary twist: Snow White and The Huntsman (Sanders, 2012) and Mirror Mirror  (Singh, 2012) offer different slants on the Snow White fairy tale while Hansel and Gretel and the Witchhunters (Wirkola, 2013) moves enchantingly into the horror genre. One television series, Once Upon a Time (Kitsis, 2011) is loosely based on fairy tales. Cab fairy tales can be reworked or modified to meet a new generation of readers while still keeping the integrity of the original story?

The suggestion by Hart (1950) that, ‘books flourish when they answer a need and die when they do not’ (285) intimates that it is the market or the readers who decide whether a book is resurrected.  Dot and the Kangaroo (Pedley, 1899) an early Australian fantasy, published five years before Ernst’s Fairy Tales from the Land of the Wattle, has been re-printed and translated into many languages, the original story has been produced in book and digitised form, animated and filmed with a spin-off series created (Richards, 1988:56).  Consider also the fairy tales of Tarella Quin whose fairy tale books were reprinted numerous times.  Quin published her first fairy tale, Gum Tree Brownie in 1907 with enlargements and variations appearing with regularity in 1918, 1925, 1934 and 1983. The actuality was that Quin’s publishers were still in business during these periods which allowed for the opportunity for these books to be re-published. 

Consideration of the changing perceptions of what was considered appropriate for a new audience was taken into account when Gum Tree Brownie was republished. The title was changed to reflect the omission of the story that gave the book its name. It was entitled The Other Side of Nowhere: ‪Fairy Stories of the Never Never (Quin-Daskein, 1983). It is given an Australian flavour with the reference to the ‘Never Never'.  Two stories that did not suit the coeval socio-cultural world were omitted. Cruelty and death were not seen as suitable topics for children’s books or at least in the manner portrayed for children in the 1980s. In the first story omitted, ‘Gum Tree Brownie,’ a brownie is captured and taken hostage in a cruel and capricious manner. The distress of the brownie is discernible and blatant. In the second tale ‘Exit to Faerieland,’ the author of the fairy tales in the book is met by all his creations and as he is old (and it is inferred he is about to die) is taken with them back to fairyland. A tale about the death of a child or person was common in many children’s books written in 1900s in an era of high child mortality and perhaps, the suggestion that a friend could be thought of living on in fairyland was comforting.

Discussing the digitisation of Hans Christian Anderson’s works Posdam (2006) questions whether Anderson would have embraced the technology as ‘spreading the availability’ (142) and encouraged a new readership or preferred an audience to whom only the original was available. While many of the stories are dated by social attitudes and norms, some like The Fire Elves (16-9), have historical significance in the description of fire fighting methods of the early twentieth century. The story evokes the fear of the community, illustrates fire fighting methods and community spirit when a fire begins. Ernst tells us that, ‘soon men gathered from all parts, armed with wet bags with bags and sallied forth to meet their common enemy’ (Ernst, 1904:18).  Fairy Tales from the Land of the Wattle

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Australian fairy tales firmly fixed in the bush environment

In the bush near Olinda Creek Falls we are transported into the 1900s to recreate the atmosphere that inspired Ernst to place her fairies in the bush. This month the Women's History Network published a blog post from me that discussed the life and fairy tales of German national Beatrice Wilcken. Wilcken also set her stories in the bush in New South Wales.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Completion Seminar

What more can I say? This is the beginning of the end. Feeling nostalgic I thought I'd look back and read some of my blogs.... this one had a high number of hits. It was entitled How to do a PhD, work full-time, and still have a family life. Obviously it resonated with PhDers out there. After six years I can say my 'small chunks' plan worked. 

When I began my PhD my good friend R2 (that makes me R1 as in Scrabble) suggested twenty hours a week was the requirement for part-time PhD so that's what I do.  I kept a log for a while to make sure I was on track but as with all procrastination activities the excel spreadsheet eventually gave way to a similar time wasterHere's my grand plan. Not particularly innovative. Small chunks. Bit by bit. Nibble away. Concentrated effort at times of low work pressure; full-time for 50% of holidays and whatever-whenever for the rest. At least 4-5 hours on the weekend if full-time work is full-on and nothing can happen during the week. Bite size bits....research via TROVE, reading an article, writing a paragraph, interviewing by phone... can all be done in chunks. A hour here. An hour there. Chunk by chunk it is coming together. 30000 words and six folders of research and only 50000 to go. Of course, there are Saturdays when it takes 3 hours to get started and it's 3pm before I manage to formulate a single useful sentence. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Larrikins, bush tales and other great Australian stories

I have just finished Graham Seal's new book Larrikins, bush tales and other great Australian stories. A comfortable 'read' after thesis tomes, full of interesting yarns, tall tales and intriguing details that come to life in a fascinating 'storyscape'. I'll admit I meandered through it with a coffee in hand, choosing chapters at will. I began with the chapter 'After the Kelly's' as it connected me to my own family story of my great grandmother who was given a lift to school by Ned himself. Blog Link to story How many stories such as this are passed down through the generations and beg to be told. Seal has rescued some of them from obscurity.

Seal's comments on Olga Ernst in this book made a late entry into my thesis. His labelling of Australian fairies as 'fairies in the paddock' had a resonance as I agreed that our fairies liked to live on the fringes of the towns, in the paddocks and the surrounding bush not far from human habitation. Interactions and meddlings in the affairs of men, and their daily routines, was definitely pleasurable. One of my favourites is 'Tim'. When Tim rescues ‘Cocky’  (a Lake George fairy under a spell) he is given  something useful to an Australian farmer, magic words to make a bad tempered cow into an excellent milker. I think our fairies were less mischievous and a tad more practical in their application of magic than their European cousins.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Synopsis of tales in Fairy Tales from the Land of the Wattle.

The complete book of Fairy Tales from the Land of the Wattle can be downloaded from NLA but here is a synopsis of each story.
‘The Origin of the Wattle’, pp. 1114.
As the waters of Lake Eyre recede plants and animals perish or migrate, and a race of fairies with golden hair who inhabit the area is in danger of extinction. A successful appeal to Oberon, king of the fairy tribes, ensures they are changed into wattle trees with their hair becoming beautiful golden blooms. The seeds of the wattle have the ability to survive drought and bushfire ensuring their immortality. Usefully the wattle fairies also provide early settlers with ‘wattling’ for their huts.
‘The Fire Elves’, pp. 17–19.
The sparks from a man’s pipe create some mischievious fire elves who fuel a bushfire that races towards a small cottage with ferocious speed. Men rally from the surrounding area armed with wet bags determined to beat it. Just when it seems they will fail, rain falls and destroys the elves.
‘The Fairy of The Vase,’ pp. 23–26.
The fairy of the Japanese vase on the mantelpiece is enthralled by the stories of Strasburg by the clock and other fireplace ornaments. A spray of wattle placed in the vase encourages the fairy with her friend (the Vase fairy) to adventure through the window and into the paddock beyond. They listen to the wisdom of the wattle tree and return contented.
‘Sunradia’, pp. 2944.
This four-chapter story follows the adventures of fairy Sunradia, the guardian of birds, flowers and insects, during a day in her life.  She is rewarded for healing a wounded butterfly by being taken to meet the Goblins of the Earth and Water. She joins the Goblin King for a feast but he entices her to destroy the weir banks, which will result in the deaths of people living below. Before this can happen she is rescued by the Sisters of the Air and shown the treasures of their aerial home. Falling to earth with raindrops she meets the Ant Queen and learns about ant colonies before returning home.
‘The Unselfish Mermaid’, pp. 4748.
A  mermaid who needs to find a purpose in life is encouraged to rescue a sick man from a witch’s spell by the Wind. The witch becomes angry when she helps the man and turns the mermaid into a She-Oak. The man returns to his life oblivious of her sacrifice.
‘The Opossums’ Jealousy’, pp. 5153.
A wealthy family of Opossums give shelter to a fairy that was caught in a storm. When they find the fairy keeping company with the elf king and realise that she is about to marry him they conspire to prevent this. However the selfish opossums are thwarted by a little moonbeam who rescues her.
‘What the Jackass Saw’, pp. 5759.
The Jackass begins by telling jokes to his family then recounts the story of two races who lived in the Australian Alps: the white fairies and the little black gnomes. The Jackass explains that these races were good friends. However, the only child of the fairy queen makes rude remarks about their skin colour. The King of the gnomes is angry and turns her into a black and white bird. In fear of consequences of this action the gnomes flee to caves while the fairies look in vain for their Princess forever.
‘Where do the pins go?’ pp. 6166.
A small boy’s sister has poured pins down a crack in the floorboards and wonders aloud where pins go. Instantly he is spirited to the South Pole by the Genius of Thought where he meets the Fair Queen of Forgotten Things. She explains that these pins have been prevented them from fulfilling their duty. Pins that have worked hard are transformed into lovely fairies and allowed to enter her kingdom. The Queen gives the lost pins back to the boy so they can resume their work and become worthy of rest in her kingdom.
‘How Cats Got Whiskers’, pp. 6972.
Many centuries ago in Persia cats had no whiskers. A naughty kitten called ‘Steal-all’ is owned by a powerful witch. He steals and is constantly in trouble, but the witch keeps him out of her high regard for this mother. When he finally overturns a cauldron of Elixir of Youth and Beauty the witch sews him to the verandah post through his upper lip. Eventually Steal-all breaks free but the threads ends became the whiskers that can now be seen on all cats.
‘The Bunyip and the Wizard’, pp. 7580.
A wizard loves the mermaid and visits a witch for an Elixir of Youth and Beauty. The witch decides the wizard is the mate for her but he does not reciprocate. The witch plays a trick on him. After drinking the potion he believes will make the mermaid fall in love with him he falls in love with the witch. The mermaid unaware of this drama meets the Bunyip who reciprocates her feelings and they decide to be married in the centre of Australia.
‘Adiantina and the Giants’, pp. 83–87.
A race of mighty giants lived in the mountains of Victoria. They are friends with a water-nixie who lived in a ferny gully. Unfortunately the nixie displeased the magician who cast a spell on her. The  magician told the giants how to break the spell. The giants break the spell but the magician becomes very angry and turns the giants into trees. The nixie asks to be changed into a plant also and now grows beside rivers and streams as the Maidenhair fern.
‘The Fairy Fortune and the Old Year‘, pp. 91-94. 
During the celebration of Old Year’s Eve Fairy Fortune counsels the Old Year who looks despondently at the misfortunes that have occurred in his year such as the drought. She consoles him and offers the opportunity to be changed into whatever he chooses. He decides to be a rain cloud in order to provide rain in the correct seasons. The New Year, youthful and joyful, arrives with the hopes of a happy new year.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Australian Fairy Tale Conference 2015

Early Australian fairy tales (1870 - 1911) were characterised by their placement of European faerie folk into distinctively Australian environs. Though the early ‘fairytalers’ appropriated traditional fairy tales structures, the strong connection a challenging landscape encouraged the inclusion of pertinent social, and historical contexts that resonated with their audience. Located firmly in the unique Australian landscape these tales have a definite ‘green and gold’ hue- not by transforming straw into gold but illuminating the green/gold foliage of the bush. From tirades against drinking excessively to gentle admonishments about gender roles, the early fairy tales speak to us of our past and may in fact, edify our future.

The Australian Fairy Tale Society Conference     Sunday 21st June, 2015 - Winter Solstice.                    Transformations: Spinning Straw into Green and Gold

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Hans Ernst : The 'Kangaroo' plumber

This post is not about fairy tales but about one of the 'off ramps' of research that make it such a fabulous journey. I was fascinated by the achievements of Olga Ernst's younger brother and discovering a University prize in Melbourne named in his honour. This blog post thanks his grandchildren Gail, Belinda, Jon and Alice and his niece Helen Dixon for assisting my research.


Who was Hans Ernst?
There were no babysitters in the small mountain town of Wandiligong where his mother Olga Ernst (nee Johanna Olga Straubel), a young widow of 34, was given a position as an Assistant Teacher in 1897. Consequently Hans began school earlier than most children grasping the opportunity to learn in his mother's schools.

Keen to fly planes, Hans Ernst left in his 20s Australia working his passage over to the US on board a ship. Though his career in California began as a bicycle repairman his ability to see what needed to be improved was soon obvious. He invented the rail car berth-lifting device and a curved dome for club cars to reduce the sun's glare while working for the California Pullman Co. During World War I, the Ernst served in the Royal Canadian Air Force continuing to fly as a hobby until his late 70s.

If inventing was his passion, persistence was his strength and by the time Hans Ernst retired he held over one hundred patents for engineering machines. Engines ran cheaper and faster because of Ernst’s brilliant designs. One of his major technological contributions was developing the first hydraulic feed for milling machines. Substituting hydraulic for mechanical power, heavy-duty machines could feed work more quickly and precisely, dramatically increasing productivity and reducing costs. "It would be difficult to estimate its effects on the economy of the country," a Milacron history said of Ernst's "Hydromatic" breakthrough in the 1920s ("Hans Ernst," 1996).

An inventor who saw problems as a challenge, other inventions included the mechanism that lifts the upper berth of railroad cars into the ceiling. One of his inventions a spiral point drill that used in bone surgery was used on him when a broken hip aggravated past chronic leg injuries.
Not one to retire, after 32 years as Milacron's director of research he joined the University of Cincinnati's faculty, organizing a graduate engineering program that allowed student to gain industry-based experience while completing degrees. He wrote for numerous journals, established the science program at Tel Aviv's Technion. 

In 1938, he was invited to return to Australia and give a lecture at the Australian Hall in Sydney and visit family (Herald, 1938). He was honoured with the first 'Outstanding Engineer Award' of the Technical and Scientific Societies Council of Cincinnati, and in 1957 received the American Society of Tool Engineers' first national research medal.
Never one to forget a debt, in 1942, the Melbourne Working Man’s College (now RMIT) was surprised to receive by wire the large amount of 300 pounds to create an award for the best Electrical and Mechanical students in their final year. In 1903, Ernst had been on the verge of abandoning his studies when an unknown benefactor had stepped in and paid his tuition fees. Professor K said, “I remember Hans Ernst as an earnest young man determined to overcome all obstacles” ("Student who made good in USA: Gift to help another," 1942).

Other inventions
  • ‘Turri Prize’ in 1909 for his invention of ‘Steering Gear for Aeroplanes’ page5image19776
  • ‘Turri Prize’ 1910 for invention ‘Speed indicators for Aeroplanes'.
  • His paper entitled "Physics of Metal Cutting" has been called the bible of research in that field machinery that he developed made possible mass production of metal components for turbine blades, automobiles and numerous household appliances.
  • The rail car berth-lifting device and a curved dome for club cars to reduce the sun's glare. 
  • The development of automatic hydraulic cycles and bearings for grinding machines, cutting fluids, unique valves, various hydraulic and electric circuits, and a radioactive tracer method for measuring tool wear. 
  • Ernst's original hydraulic drive mechanism survived with very little change for more than three decades.
  • Hydraulic devices and machine tools became virtually inseparable as a result of his work forever altering and improving factories' mass production techniques. 

A man with a warm and wry sense of humour, Ernst was firmly guided by the motto: Not what's in it for me, but rather, what is in me, for the job! even when faced with opposition from machine designers who queried the necessity of adding Rube Goldberg-like hydralic pipes and deviced and nicknamed him ‘the kangaroo plumber'.

Ernst, a religious man who taught Sunday School, viewed his research in spiritual terms as seeking the answer for ultimate truths. He wrote that he believed the verse "'Seek and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you,' was not a pious phrase, but proof of the Eternal Master's plan in the creation and in the unfolding of secrets of our universe"("Hans Ernst," 1999).

Other successes
The Hans Ernst Prize is awarded to an outstanding student completing final year of the Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical Engineering) Program at RMIT .    ©Robyn Floyd.