(1921-2010) Australian writer whose subtle and detailed portrayals of her native land began with The Crooked Snake (1955), about a children's secret society which saves some endangered species. The central Landscape depicted in her work is that of Australia, then and now, and the basic story which she tells and retells is of the Thinning of the old Magic land with the invasion of white settlers. This does not preclude sympathetic treatment of life in Sydney, in nonfantasies like I Own the Racecourse! (1968 UK; vt A Racecourse for Andy 1968 US), but her central examinations of the nature of "ownership" – and of the mutual incomprehension of Aborigines and whites when "ownership" is at issue – give her best work a sharp, elegiac flavour.
Her first novel of genre interest, Down to Earth (1965 US), is sf. An Older Kind of Magic (1972 UK) serves as a kind of prelude to later fantasies: three urban children save a public Garden from a developer with the assistance of a variety of Wainscot spirits native to the enclosure and to the local Aboriginal Dreamtime. In The Nargun and the Stars (1973 UK) a displaced white boy, Simon, finds himself in conflict with the eponymous rock spirit, who is embodied in stone and whose short-term defeat at the hands of the sympathetic child cannot be permanent – for stone will last, but Simon will soon be a "whisper in the dark". A similar conflict breaks out in A Little Fear (1983 UK) between a dogged elderly woman and another unhuman spirit from the heart of the earlier country.
PW's central work of fantasy is Wirrun trilogy: The Ice Is Coming (1977 US), The Dark Bright Water (1978 US) and Behind the Wind (1981 UK; vt Journey Behind the Wind 1981 US), assembled as The Book of Wirrun (omni 1985). The central conflict – between ancient ice spirits and encroached-upon humanity – is here rendered in more subtle terms, because the human protagonist, Wirrun, is himself an Aborigine. In the first volume his alliance with the most ancient Nargun of all, to oppose the advent of the new ice age, is necessary to maintain a balance in the world between Good and Evil and to fight Chaos. The sequels change the adversaries but not the war.
Later novels include: Night Outside (1985 US), about elderly street-people; Moon-Dark (1987 UK), which once again argues for Aboriginal/white cooperation to cope with the long trials laid upon the land, and in which a war among the animals (described from the viewpoint of a Talking Animal) is caused by human demands upon their habitat; and Balyet (1989 UK), which reiterates similar material in the form of a Ghost Story. [JC]
other works: The Old, Old Ngarang (coll 1989 UK).
Alice Patricia Wrightson