Review by Richard Tutin
As I was reading this offering by Graham Seal, I was reminded of the old Disneyland television programme. During the introduction to the various lands, Frontierland was mentioned with the line about featuring “tall tales and true from the legendary past”.
Great Australian Mysteries certainly gives us the tall tales and true not only from the legendary past but also the very near present. Seal covers a lot of territory within the pages of this book. As well as mysteries of the land as told by the peoples of its first nations, he also covers mysteries associated with the sea, treasures that have been lost, war, the outback and mysterious places. He finishes up the smorgasbord with a selection of stories about vanishings or disappearances and unsolved mysteries.
Each section or theme is well researched and presented in an easy and relaxed style and manner. He doesn’t want to frighten readers but draw them in using short precise stories.
Australia’s ancient mysteries such as the sacred stones that have been likened to Stonehenge and are found on Wadawurrung country between Melbourne and Geelong in Victoria are skilfully laid out and are a fitting start to this fascinating book.
Some mysteries are not new and have been covered by other publications and authors. The search for the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt, for example, is well known but is included because it remains unsolved. Seal tries in these instances to add any new research that has been recently done to try and resolve these longstanding conundrums.
He also tells the stories of interesting finds and occurrences that have not always been included in the history books. First Nation stories about Spanish coins being washed up on beaches have only recently been taken seriously. Yet they are based on good evidence of what may have occurred as ships of various nations sailed by the Australian continent on their way to what have been called the Spice Islands but were wrecked during the journey.
Great Australian Mysteries urges readers to seek more on particular topics and stories. It offers a taste of what can be found but reminds us that mysteries take time and effort to be solved and explained. Until that time they are fascinating and show that the Australian landscape and its people harbour stories that raise more questions than provide answers.
The cover of the book talks about spine tingling tales that are waiting to be told within its pages. Though I enjoyed the tales and their variety of subject matter, I did not feel my spine tingle as I read them. It did get me in though so I can say that the cover did its job of getting me to read the book itself.
It will be interesting to see if, one day, some of these mysteries may be solved. In the meantime, this collection reminds us that Australia is and always has been a land of mysteries.
Graham Seal is Emeritus Professor of Folklore at Curtin University in Western Australia. He is a leading expert on Australian cultural history and the bestselling author of Great Australian Stories, Larrikins, Bush Tales and Other Great Australian Stories, Great Australian Journeys and Australia’s Funniest Yarns.
Great Australian Mysteries
by Graham Seal
Allen and Unwin