REAL faeries don’t wear plastic tiaras or wave sparkly wands, say eco-faerie Cara Walker.
She’s on a mission to send the Disneyfied image of faeries up in smoke and give them back their ancient reputation as fierce wilderness warriors.
Walker will be dropping by Maylands library for Book Week to teach local kids about looking after the wilderness, just like the faeries of old would protect their land from interlopers.
From Irish stock, she discovered her great great grandfather had been a famous storyteller (or seanchaidhe). It spurred her to learn the stories of old, and she went from village to village chatting with old timers around kitchen tables and in bars to learn the forgotten folklore.
“When you realise where faeries came from it seems sacrilege to teach kids about Disney-style faeries!” she says.
And for a lot of old timers in Ireland the creatures are very real.
“In the Aran Islands I was talking to a gentleman who was speaking English at the start.”
As a few brews were downed he’d switch in and out of Gaelic and was telling stories of the fair folk who’d cause mischief around his house and bother his wife, and they were very tangible creatures to him: “This guy was saying ‘the wee bastards, I chase them out with my broom!”
Even governments have acknowledged faeries’ domain over nature: In 1999 the Clare County council delayed and rerouted a freeway at great expense to protect a tree that was said to be a meeting point for the faeries of Munster.
But the stories aren’t being passed on to the younger generation, disappearing along with the Gaelic language: “It’s kind of sad: Irish itself is a dying language. It’s taught in schools but it’s drummed into them very academically,” she says, and it fails to capture imaginations. “The stories are going with it.”
Back in Australia, Ms Walker has been using the faeries of the old world as a way to teach kids about looking after nature.
“We do a whole lot of songs and dancing to bring in a love of Australian animals, and [teach] what the children can do to help the wildlife,” she says, melding Australian bush songs with the old stories.
She works in schools and finds many kids have little concept of nature. She brings in containers of dirt from beach sand to mulch for kids to stick their hands into and overcome their fears.
“There are some children who cannot get their hands in there!” she chuckles. “They dip their finger in and scream and need to go and wash it. It’s the fear of the unknown… I explain what’s in it and that it’s safe to explore.”
She also teaches them how to plant and care for their own seedlings, or how to make wands out of things they can find in the bush rather than buying a moulded-plastic one with a Barbie logo on it.
She’s at the Maylands Library to talk to school kids for Book Week on Tuesday August 23 from 10.30am to 11.30am, and there’s also a few other adult-focused events coming up too. You can get info on all the sessions on 9272 0980 or http://www.bayswater.wa.gov.au/library.
by DAVID BELL