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Burnt Woman of the Mission: Gender and Horror in an Aboriginal Settlement in Northern New South Wales

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Abstract

“Burnt Woman” is one of the most talked-about spirit figures of the Aboriginal (Bandjalang) mission in northern New South Wales, where I conducted my fieldwork between 2011 and 2012.1 She is a ghost looking for her lost child and for revenge, appearing as an Aboriginal woman from “long ago” with a face half beautiful and half disfigured by fire. She habitually haunts the mission and is known to everyone who lives there. The landscape surrounding the settlement seems made for her as a wanderer from another world—the shady bush locations on the mission back-road, the graveyard at the foot of the mission hill, the blind spots in the hilly landscape, the creeks, swamps, and often-flooded open fields shrouded in winter mist are all her haunts, all places where she is prone to shriek and scream on cold, dark nights. The following is just one account of her actions:

My partner’s cousin isn’t from here, but he was visiting the mission. We had a black car here. He was a bit drunk and he slept in it one night, while we slept inside with the kids. Later, he told us there had been a woman knocking on the window of the car. It was Burnt Woman! She was standing sideways, showing the pretty side of her face, and she got him out of the car. She made him follow her, all the time showing him her pretty side. He was in a trance! Next thing, he woke up over there, near the shed down there, a long way from here. She’d captured him and was taking him away. He must have snapped out of it and realized who she was, because she turned around and showed him the burnt side of her face. He bolted back up here and locked himself in the car! Next morning he told us that there’d been this pretty girl knocking on the window, saying “Come on. Come on.” She had long black hair; she was very pretty. She kept tempting him, but he sure got a fright when she turned around!

Keywords

  • Aboriginal Woman
  • Black Hair
  • Aboriginal Settlement
  • Nearby Town
  • Dark Night

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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© 2014 Yasmine Musharbash and Geir Henning Presterudstuen

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Alimardanian, M. (2014). Burnt Woman of the Mission: Gender and Horror in an Aboriginal Settlement in Northern New South Wales. In: Musharbash, Y., Presterudstuen, G.H. (eds) Monster Anthropology in Australasia and Beyond. Palgrave Macmillan, New York. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137448651_6

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