An Overview of Australian Horror Fiction

(Originally published in Reading Down Under: Australian Literary Studies Reader, edited by Amit Sarwal and Reema Sarwal. New Delhi: 2009)


It can be difficult to define a “horror story” without imposing personal considerations upon its subject matter, for what one reader might find frightening another may not. This statement is especially prevalent when attempting to discuss the history of the Australian horror story, and is further complicated when considering the horror genre did not exist before the 1970’s.

The term ‘horror’ can be described as “[ . . . ] a strong feeling caused by something frightful or shocking” (New English Dictionary and Thesaurus 1994: 297), and therefore such a subjective—and personal—definition can encompass a wide variety of content. Issues that were frightening to early European settlers in Australia would strike far less a chord of fear in contemporary society, and no doubt many readers today would question the cataloguing of such old stories as horror. However, these colonial stories reflected the fears and terrors relevant to the society of their time.

 A horror tale is a story being told so the reader might experience one of the most primal emotions humans have – fear. Such stories give us a sense of adventure, an adrenaline rush, while in a controlled and completely safe environment. Whether this thrill helps us to relate to what our ancestors went through when confronted by danger (eg, the flight or fight instinct), or is used simply as escapism from the state of society is open to discussion. Indeed, perhaps too much can be looked for to explain the genre’s popularity when in actuality, escapism from an increasingly hectic and troubled world is the only answer required. What is obvious, however, is that ‘horror stories’ have entertained readers across the world for hundreds of years, and they are likely to continue to do so for many more.

For the purpose of this article [1], “horror fiction” will be defined as stories that seek to draw out, exploit and focus upon general feelings of fright, fear or shock in the reader, through one means or another.

This article does not attempt to further define the genre or clarify the accuracy of the word “horror” as a label, nor does it seek to cover every horror story, collection or magazine published or edited by Australians since colonization. Such a formidable task would grow to thesis size and require years of investigation and collaboration. What is attempted herein is a generalised overview of Australian ‘horror fiction,’ covering some of the more important aspects in the genre’s evolution within Australia. Overlaps into other genres (e.g. science fiction, fantasy, crime etc.) are unavoidable but have not been actively pursued due to word restraints.

Each section of this article presents key points in different aspect of the genre, from the early works of the early nineteenth century settlers to the highly productive local publishers of wartime Australia, through to contemporary small press outlets, Best-of anthologies and novels—both adult and children. Critical studies of Australian horror stories and their authors are briefly discussed in the final section.

The Beginning—Early Australian Horror

Late 19th century Australian horror stories had a gothic focus on the grim realities of life for the European immigrants in such a harsh and desolate, almost apocalyptic world, a world like they had never before experienced. Much of the horror in these stories was derived through the suffocating ‘bush’ and the isolation of the outback (eg, “The Conquering Bush” by Edward Dyson, 1898). The supernatural existed predominantly in the form of ghosts, spirits of the dead seeking retribution for some vile deed or wanting to be put to rest (eg, “Spirit Led” by Ernest Favenc, 1890). And the outback, for such a desolate world, was surprisingly filled with such frightful aparitions. Other stories focused on the horror of more natural human emotions; revenge, lust, greed, and desire (eg, “The Chosen Vessel” by Barbara Baynton, 1902; “Hollis’s Debt: A Tale of the North-West Pacific” by Louis Becke, 1897).

There were, however, the occasional story regarding something more overtly horrific and otherworldly. Three such examples are: “The Devil of the Marsh” by H.B. Mariott-Watson (1893), which details the account of a man who set out to meet up with his loved one, only for her to turn out to be a devil of the marsh; Ernest Favenc’s “A Haunt of the Jinkarras” (1894), in which two Bushmen encounter human-like beings and other monstrosities in a cave deep beneath the ground; and “The Old Portrait” by (James) Hume Nisbet (1900), whereby the main character unearths an old portrait of a vampire who comes to life and seduces him.

But perhaps the first ever Australian ghost story is “Fisher’s Ghost: A Legend of Campbelltown,” originally published by an anomalous author in Tegg’s Magazine in 1836, but later credited to John Lang (Crittenden 2007). John George Lang (1816-1864) was the first Australian-born novelist and the first Australian crime writer (Sussex 2006). Lang published several other colonial ghost stories, including “The Ghost upon the Rail” (Household Words 1853), which, along with Fisher’s Ghost comprised the first fictional retellings of a real-life (and now famous) murder case that happened in Sydney in 1826. Lang is considered the creator of the ghost in this otherwise true tale, although the first appearance of his ghost was in his poem, “The Sprite of the Creek!” (also known as “The Spirit of the Creek!”), in 1832.

Mary Fortune (1833-1910), who also wrote under the pseudonyms “Waif Wanderer” and “W. W.,” was the first Australian female writer of crime stories (Sussex 2005). While she is principally remembered for her detective stories, she also wrote several tales in which unnatural or horrific events take place (for example, “The Dead Witness” in 1866, and “The Little Chap” in 1895). She also wrote what could be considered the first Australian “vampire” story, “The White Maniac: A Doctor’s Tale,” which was published in The Australian Journal (1867).

Many early horror stories were published in the highly successful The Bulletin (1880-2008) or The Australian Journal (1865-1962), the latter being Australia’s first literary weekly publication and the first Australian magazine to promote local talent. Over 70% of its content was devoted to fiction, with writers including Marcus Clarke, Mary Fortune, Lionel Sparrow, and James Skipp Borlase published within its pages.

Colonial horror stories by authors such as Marcus Clarke, Ernest Favenc, Barbara Baynton, (James) Hume Nisbet, Mary Fortune, Lionel Sparrow, and Guy Boothby, amongst others, have been published in numerous anthologies over the decades. For example: Gordon Neil Stewart’s Australian Stories of Horror and Suspense from the Early Days (1978); Australian Horror Stories, edited by Bill Wannan (1983), The Oxford Book of Australian Ghost Stories, edited by Ken Gelder (1994), The Anthology of Colonial Australian Gothic Fiction, edited by Ken Gelder and Rachael Weaver (2007), and Australian Gothic: An Anthology of Australian Supernatural Fiction, edited by James Doig (2007).

The stories in these anthologies are steeped in gothic sensibilities and cover a range of human encounters with terror and dread. In addition to the colonial stories, The Oxford Book of Australian Ghost Stories also included stories by contemporary authors Terry Dowling, Lucy Sussex and Sean Williams.

Macabre – A Journey Through Australian Horror will be released in mid-2008 and will include stories dating from 1838 to the present day, from Lang’s first ever ghost story to modern stories never before published. The anthology is edited by Angela Challis and Marty Young, and will document the evolution of the Australian horror short story from colonization, through two world wars, and into the new millennium.

Although there are a number of colonial authors who have written horror stories, only two will be afforded further attention here. Guy Boothby (1867—1905) wrote over 50 books in one decade before his death, and although he was also better remembered for his crime and mystery stories, several of his novels contained elements of the supernatural or occult. Such examples include Pharos the Egyptian (1899), The Lady of the Island (1904), and his five-book series of Dr. Nikola novels (1895-1902). Boothby is also remembered for ghost stories such as “Remorseless Vengeance” (from Uncle Joe’s Legacy, 1902, and reprinted in Terror Australia, 1993), and “A Strange Goldfield” (from The Lady of the Island, 1904).

The Scottish-born artist Hume Nisbet was another notible writer of the weird around the turn of the twentieth century. Drawing on his life in Australia, he wrote more than forty books, plays, poetry, and short stories, including two of the first Australian-penned actual vampire stories (eg, “The Vampire Maid” and “The Old Portrait”), both of which appeared in his collection Stories Weird and Wonderful (1900). An earlier collection of stories, called The Haunted Station and Other Stories (FV White, London) was published in 1894 and included the popular macabre tales “The Haunted Station” and “The Demon Spell,” amongst others.

Curiously, Aborigine content does not feature prominently in colonial horror stories. There are a couple of tales whereby the native Australians are presented as uneducated brutes, but the earliest story to feature the ghost of an Aborigine is “The Red Cap Spectre of the Robertson” by E. Downs (1896).

As a side note, “Yara Ma Tha Who,” written by Australia’s first indigenous author David Unaipon (originally published in the 1920’s and later reprinted in Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigine, 2001) is listed as the only entry under “Australia: Vampires,” in J. Gordon Melton’s The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead, published in 1998 (Althans 2007). While it can be argued that Fortune’s “The White Maniac: A Doctor’s Tale” is about a vampire, there are certainly vampires in Nisbet’s “TheVampire Maid” and “The Old Portrait.”

Stories that focused on the emotions of fear and/or horror continued to be published after the 1900’s (eg, “Dr. Grahame’s Great Experiments” by Arthur Bayldon, 1910; “The Gland Men of the Island” by Max Afford, 1931), but the apparent abundance that existed up to ~1910 was on the wane. The horror short story experienced a slow but gradual demise in the new century, and it would remain an apparition of its previous self until the 1980’s. However, novels and novellas fared a little better.

Trade restrictions put in place because of a shortage of US dollars during World War II effectively banned unnecessary imports from reaching Australia from 1940 until the late 1950’s. The direct result of this embargo was a flourishing local pulp and comic book industry (Congreve et al. 1995). Transport Publishing Co. (an imprint of Stanley Horwitz), Currawong Publishing Company (active between 1942 and 1951) and Cleveland (established by Jack Atkins in 1953) released a number of horror-related books during this period. Many of these titles are extremely difficult to obtain, but fortunately, part of the publication record has been preserved through the research of Steven Paulsen (Bloodsongs 1995) and confirmed by Graeme Flanagan (2007).

During 1948 to 1952, Horwitz published a series of “Scientific Thrillers” that blended horror, mystery and science fiction (Paulsen 1995; Flanagan 2007). Allan Yates (writing as “Carter Brown”) and Gordon Clive Bleeck (as “Belli Luigi”) provided some of the stories for the series, although most of the stories were published under unidentified pseudonyms.

Cleveland also published several horror or horror-related novels and novellas during the early to mid-1950s. The titles were The Mystery of the Abominable Snowman (1954), Back from the Dead (1955) and The Living Dead (1955), all of which were written by Michael Waugh.

Between 1962 and 1966, Horwitz released the James Dark series of horror-related books (Paulsen 1995). The first five books in this series were written by James Workman, with the final one written by Richard Wilkes-Hunter (who would go on to publish a number of books under the pseudonym “Caroline Farr”). The titles of the James Dark books were: Impact (1962), Havoc (1962), Terrifying Stories (1963), Horror Tales (1963), Sweet Taste of Venom (1963) and Spy from the Grave (1964). Workman also published Shock Stories (1962) and The Witch Hunters (1963) under his own name.

“Caroline Farr” was one of Horwitz’s most popular Gothic authors of this era (Paulsen 1995). As previously mentioned, Farr was a pseudonym, fist used by Lee Pattinson in 1962 with The Intruder, and then by Richard Wilkes-Hunter up until 1977 for such titles as; Web of Horror (1966), Mansion of Evil (1966), The House of Tombs (1966), Witch’s Hammer (1967), The Possessed (1973) and Castle of Terror (1975).

In 1943, Currawong Publishing Company published Ape of God (an Australian retelling of Frankenstein) and its sequel Monster at Large, both by Vol Molesworth (1924-1964). Molesworth was well known for his science fiction stories written prior to 1945—he had published ten novels in four years by 1950 for Currawong (Turner 2000). Some of his work was strongly influenced by H. P. Lovecraft, in particular, Blinded They Fly (1951) and Let There Be Monsters (1952), both of which were published as chapbooks.

Thrills Incorporated was Australia’s first science fiction magazine, similar to Astounding Stories and Weird Tales (Stevens 2000; University of Melbourne 2000). It was published by Associated General Publications (which later changed to Transport Publishing Co.) and was edited by Alister Innes, Donald H. Beard and Susan Horwitz. Twenty-three issues were published monthly between March 1950 and June 1952. Like the Scientific Thrillers series, most of the stories in Thrills Incorporated were written by a small number of authors under various pseudonyms, including Gordon Clive Bleeck (who also wrote under the pen names Belli Luigi, Ace Carter and Wolfe Herscholt and Durham Keith Garton, writing as Durham Keys, KE Dresser, Al Ryan and EV Zinns (Stevens 2000). The stories were predominantly science fiction, although Issue Two, with stories by Wolfe Hercsholt, Boris Ludwig and Otto Kensch, was perhaps the closest to horror the magazine came.  

The import embargo was finally abolished in late 1958, allowing English multi-nationals (e.g., Sphere, Corgi and Futura) to move back in and soon dominate the Australian market. This effectively put an end to the vibrant local speculative fiction era.

Small-press Magazines and Short Stories

Although there were the occasional horror story being published in Australian science fiction fanzines/magazines [2] (e.g., The Cygnus Chronicler and Futuristic Tales magazine) in the late 1970s—early 1980s, horror as a distinct local genre did not begin to flourish until early 1984 (Paulsen 1994). Since then, there have been close to fifty Australian fanzines, newsletters or small-press magazines published with a focus on horror or with regular horror content. This peaked during the 1980’s and early 1990’s in what was a boom time for horror.

While the Australian scene has been a constantly changing landscape of small-press publications—some of which have lasted little more than a year—several publications have left an indelible imprint upon the history of Australian horror.

The lightning strike that gave the genre life was The Australian Horror and Fantasy Magazine (AH&FM), edited by Barry Radburn and Stephen Studach. Leigh Blackmore joined from issue no. 4 onwards (Studach 2007). AH&FM (published by Dark Press) was Australia’s first semi-professional magazine devoted to horror/dark fiction, and provided the first regular outlet for Australian horror literature.

AH&FM lasted for six issues between early 1984 and October 1986, with the last issue a double 5-6 all-female edition, co-edited by Carol Dobson and Nerida Radburn. In total, thirty-one original stories and twenty original poems were published, of which about half were contributed by Australian writers (Studach 2007).

Following the demise of AH&FM, Leigh Blackmore brought the remains of the magazine and along with Chris Sequeira and Bryce J. Stevens, founded Terror Australis: The Australian Horror and Fantasy Magazine under the R’lyeh Texts imprint. The semi-professional magazine launched in 1987 with a 170-page issue featuring predominantly Australian stories behind a feature story by Brian Lumley.

Terror Australis ran only for three issues between 1987 and 1992, with Issue no. 3 a special “Jack the Ripper” issue with a feature story by Ramsey Campbell. However, the magazine made a big impact on the Australian horror scene, with several stories given honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Fifth Annual Collection (1992), edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. More importantly, though, Terror Australis was to be the precursor to the anthology Terror Australis: the Best of Australian Horror, published in 1993.

In January 1989, a fanzine called EOD (Esoteric Order of Dagon) Newsletter (named after a secret fictional society created by H. P. Lovecraft), released its first issue. Edited by David Tansey, the newsletter was devoted to publishing new Australian horror writers and by the end of 1990, 14 issues containing 27 stories from 23 different writers had been published (Paulsen 1994). Tansey then retired from the newsletter and EOD was taken over by Chris Masters, who transformed it into EOD Magazine. The first magazine issue was released in March 1991, the final—a double issue—in 1994. EOD Magazine would go on to publish ten issues containing fiction by some of the leading names in Australian horror at the time (Rick Kennett, Bill Congreve and Sean Williams).

In 1990, two of the longest running and most respected Australian speculative fiction magazines released their first issues: Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy (1990-2000) and Aurealis (1990-present). Throughout the next decade, these two magazines rose to the top of the speculative fiction field, publishing a number of horror stories along the way by some of the Australian genres biggest names (Sean Williams, Terry Dowling, Jack Dann, Robert Hood, Stephen Dedman, Kaaron Warren, Lee Battersby and many more).

Although multi-award winning Eidolon folded in 2000 after releasing 30 issues (including four double issues), Aurealis continues to provide a market for established and new Australian writers of horror.

Bloodsongs (initially edited by Chris A. Masters and Steve Proposch) was the first “professional” magazine dedicated to horror to be published in Australia. The magazine launched in January 1994 with the first 7 issues published by Bambada Press (Melbourne), before the US-based Implosion Publishing (Orlando) took over production and moved the magazine offshore. Bloodsongs eventually folded in 1997. Due to the graphic nature of its first issue, Bloodsongs was given a R18+ classification and was banned altogether in the state of Queensland (Congreve et al. 1995). Prominent Australian speculative fiction writers Robert Hood, Bill Congreve, Sean Williams, Richard Harland, Rick Kennett, Stephen Studach, Kirstyn McDermott, Lucy Sussex and Stephen Dedman made appearances in the magazine, all of whom have gone on to forge lasting reputations in Australia.

The vibrancy of the horror genre began to wane as the 1990s crept towards the new millennium, reflecting the demise evident worldwide. Bloodsongs was no more, Eidolon would soon be gone, and the numerous other small-press ventures had mostly ended their publication runs. There had been no Australian Best of Horror anthology since Bonescribes in 1996 (discussed in detail in the next section), and once more, horror was relegated to a bit part in the dominating fields of science fiction and fantasy.

And there it would remain for a number of years.

However, since the new millennium, horror has returned to prominence in Australia and is once again a genre distinct from science fiction and fantasy. The internet has played no small measure in this rise, with several online magazines coming into existence and the option of email submissions to international magazines and collections opening the world to Australian writers.

New millennium Australian magazines publishing horror include (or have included) AntipodeanSF (1998-present), Orb Speculative Fiction Magazine (1999-Present), Ticonderoga Online (1999-2000, returned in 2004-Present), Redsine (2000-2002), Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (2000-Present), Potato Monkey (2001-Present), Dark Animus (2002-Present, and the only Australian print magazine to focus on original, dark, gritty pulp science fiction, horror, fantasy and/or weird), Borderlands (2003-Present), Shadowed Realms (2004-2008), Ripples Magazine (2005-Present), Reid’s Magazine (2005-2006), New Ceres (2006-Present), Wyr[e]d (2006-Present), Eclecticism (2007-Present), Shiny (2007-Present), and Midnight Echo (2008-Present).

Shadowed Realms will end its run in 2008 and was Australia’s only professional-paying magazine specialising in dark speculative flash fiction (stories less than 1000 words). Edited by Angela Challis, the bi-monthly online magazine featured international authors Poppy Z. Brite, Greg Beatty and Kurt Newton along with prominent Australian authors such as Terry Dowling, Stephen Dedman, Richard Harland, Robert Hood, Lee Battersby and Martin Livings. Book of Shadows, edited by Angela Challis, was published in late 2006 and presented a compendium of the best dark flash fiction from the first six issues of Shadowed Realms, along with a selection of original stories.

Best-of Anthologies

A large number of Best-of anthologies have also been published in Australia since the late 1980’s. Many of these collections have contained stories that have been reprinted or listed as honourable mentions in various editions of the preeminent The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, a collection of the best in speculative fiction from around the world, published annually since 1988.

While AH&FM was the first Australian magazine dedicated to horror, Intimate Armageddons (1992) was one of the first anthologies of original Australian horror stories published in Australia. Intimate Armageddons was edited by Bill Congreve, who was to go on and found MirrorDanse Books in 1994, one of the longest running independent publishers of speculative fiction in Australia. The anthology contained eleven stories by some of the best genre writers in Australia, including Terry Dowling, Robert Hood, Sean Williams, Geoffrey Maloney, A. G. Clarke, Peter Corris, Sue Isle and Sean McMullen.

Concurrent with Intimate Armageddons and from the ashes of Terror Australis magazine, came the groundbreaking mass-market anthology Terror Australis: The Best of Australian Horror. Edited by Leigh Blackmore, the collection was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1993, only a few months after Intimate Armageddons. Terror Australis the anthology contained 28 stories—20 of which were original, as well as a reprint of Guy Boothby’s “Remorseless Vengeance,” first published in 1908.

The first Australian female anthology of horror stories was published in 1993 by the Women’s Redress Press. Shrieks: A Horror Anthology was edited by Jillian Bartlett, Cathi Joseph and Anne Lawson, and confronted—with a horror slant—feminist/social issues. This was not the only female speculative fiction collection to be published in Australia. She’s Fantastical: The First Anthology of Australian Women’s Speculative Fiction, Magic Realism and Fantasy (edited by Lucy Sussex and Judith Raphael Buckrich) was published by Syballa Feminist Press in 1995. This anthology was shortlisted for the 1995 World Fantasy Award and the 1996 Ditmar Award for long fiction [3].

In 1996, MirrorDanse Books published Bonescribe: Year’s Best Australian Horror 1995, edited by Bill Congreve and Robert Hood. The anthology was set to become the first in an annual concept, but the release of The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vol. 1 in 1997 and Vol. 2 in 1998 (both edited by Jonathan Strahan and Jeremy Byrne and published by HarperCollins Australia) prevented this from happening. HarperCollins did not release any further volumes after volume two, however.

Bonescribes contained stories by some of the biggest names in Australian horror, and also included an informative and highly recommended article called “A History of Australian Horror” by Bill Congreve, Sean McMullen and Steve Paulsen. The article is a revised edition of several sources, but based on an original article “The Hunt for Australian Horror” by Sean McMullen and Steve Paulsen, first published in Aurealis 14 (1995).

A few re-print horror stories appeared in the collections, The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and the award-winning (1999 World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology and two Australian Science Fiction Achievement Awards—now the Ditmar Awards—for Best Artwork and Best Anthology in 1998) contemporary Australian speculative fiction anthology Dreaming Down Under (1999) edited by Jack Dann and Janeen Webb. For example, the Aurealis Award winning “Passing the Bone” by Sean Williams (originally from Eidolon no. 20) appeared in The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, volume 1. But in general, horror was a disappearing genre towards the end of the century, its heyday gone as it was the world over.

In 2003, horror saw a resurgence with the release of the first dedicated horror anthology since Bonescribes in 1996. Gathering the Bones was a landmark anthology that brought together the best new horror short stories from the United States, Great Britain and Australian writers. Edited by Dennis Etchison, Ramsey Campbell and Jack Dann (one editor per continent), the collection was published by HarperCollins Voyager in March 2003. Australian authors appeared alongside the likes of Ray Bradbury, Kim Newman and Graham Joyce, amongst others. Simon Brown’s story “Love is a Stone” went on to win the Aurealis Award for best horror short story in 2003.

Southern Blood: New Australian Tales of the Supernatural (edited by Bill Congreve) was also published in 2003 by Sandglass Enterprises. This collection contained gothic and supernatural stories by the best genre writers in Australia, and went on to be shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Award for Best Anthology, for the International Horror Guild Award for Best Anthology, and for a Ditmar Award for Best Collected Work.

MirrorDanse’s first mass market release was The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy 2005, Vol. 1, edited by Bill Congreve & Michelle Marquardt, and distributed by Tower Books. This collection showcased twelve of the best stories of speculative fiction published by Australian writers in 2004, with horror a minor component to the collection (e.g., stories with a dark horrific edge included: Margo Lanagan’s award winning “Singing My Sister Down” from her award-winning collection Black Juice (2005), “No. 3 Raw Place” by Deborah Biancotti, and “Birds of the Bushes and Scrubs” by Geoffrey Maloney). Since this initial release, Volume Two was released in 2006 (and included “The Red Priest’s Homecoming” by Dirk Flinthart, which was shortlisted for the inaugural Australian Shadows award in 2005), with Volume Three published in 2007.

In late 2006, Brimstone Press, an Australian independent publisher of dark fiction, released the first volume of a new annual series called Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror (edited by Angela Challis and Shane Jiraiya Cummings). This reprint anthology showcased the best Australian dark fiction and essays published during 2005, and included stories by award-winning authors Lee Battersby, Robert Hood, Richard Harland, Kaaron Warren, Lyn Battersby, as well as non-fiction by Josephine Pennicott, author of the award-winning dark fantasy trilogy The Circle of Nine, published by Simon & Schuster. The 2007 edition (presenting the best horror stories published during 2006) was released in early 2008.

And while not truly horror, Daikaiju! Giant Monster Tales (2005), edited by Robert Hood and Robin Pen is a highly successful collection of twenty-nine original stories from local and international authors that pays homage to giant monsters (Godzilla, King Kong, Rodan, Mothra etc.). Eight-times Hugo-winning US artist Bob Eggleton provided the cover for this collection. Two sequels were released in 2007.

There are many other Australian anthologies (eg, ShadowBox, 2005; FlashSpec volume one, 2006; Fantastic Wonder Stories, 2007) and single author collections—Daydreaming on Company Time (1988) by Robert Hood, The Reluctant Ghost Hunter (1991) by Rick Kennett and Chico Kidd, Penumbra (1997) by Stephen Studach, The Grinding House (2005) by Kaaron Warren,the award-winning Black Juice (2004) by Margo Lanagan, Through Soft Air (2006) by Lee Battersby, Doorways for the Dispossessed (2006) by Paul Haines—that have been published in Australia and contain tales of terror, but it is impossible to cover or even list them all in the length of this article. For further information, the reader is directed to the Recommended Books list on the Australian Horror Writers Association’s website:

Contemporary Novels

While it is impractical to discuss all of the Australian novels that have been published under the various guises of horror (speculative fiction, dark fantasy, general fiction etc.) over the years, certain mention shall be made to a handful of novels that have had some form of impact upon the genre.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967) by Joan Lindsay is one of the cornerstones of Australian horror fiction. The novel is set in 1900 and concerns a school excursion by girls from a Private School to Hanging Rock (a real geological feature) in Victoria’s Mount Macedon for a St. Valentine’s Day picnic. Three girls and a teacher mysteriously vanish after climbing the rock and their disappearance is never explained. The book was made into a movie directed by Peter Weir in 1975, and became a critical and commercial international success.

In 1983, “Harry Adam Knight,” a pseudonym for Australian-born author John Brosnan and English author Leroy Kettle, published Slimmer. While there had been the odd novelisation of movie scripts in the late 1970’s (The Last Wave by Petru Popescu in 1977 and Patrick by Keith Hetherington in 1978), Slimmer marked the real onset on horror novel publications within Australia. Knight went on to publish The Fungus (1985), published as The Death Spore in the US, and Bedlam (1992), and while Carnosaur (1984) was also published under Harry Adam Knight, it was written by Brosnan alone. Carnosaur tells the story of dinosaurs brought back to life through genetic engineering—the story is a predecessor of sorts to Jurassic Park.

Brosnan and Kettle also collaborated under the pseudonym “Simon Ian Childer” for Tendrils (1986), before Brosnan wrote Worm (1986) by himself using the same pseudonym. Brosnan also wrote Torched (1986) under the name “James Blackstone” with fellow Australian author John Baxter.

In 1993, Richard Harland released The Vicar of Morbing Vyle, a gothic fantasy that would reach cult status in Australia. Harland followed this up with a prequel in 2004 called The Black Crusade, which won the 2004 Aurealis Award for Best horror novel as well as the 2004 Golden Aurealis for overall best novel. The novel contains the bizarre “love-vampires,” while the hero of both books, Martin Smythe, has made a few appearances at Australian speculative fiction conventions across the country. Harland is one of Australia’s leading speculative fiction multi-award winning authors. His children’s animal story Sassycat: The Night of the Dead (2005) was a Notable Book in the CBC awards list, and made the shortlist in the Aurealis Awards for Best Children’s Fiction of 2005.

In the mid-1990’s, Pan Macmillan sponsored G. M. Hague to write a series of Australian horror novels. Ghost Beyond Earth was published in 1993, and he was marketed as ‘a neat blend of Dean Koontz and Clive Barker’ (Sydney Morning Herald). Hague went on to release A Place to Fear (1994), Once Bitten, Never Shy (1995), and Voices of Evil (1996).

The winner of the inaugural Aurealis Awards for best horror novel in 1995 was Terry Dowling’s An Intimate Knowledge of the Night (1995), a collection of loosely-linked stories featuring classics such as “The Bullet that Grows in the Gun,” “The Daemon Street Ghost-Trap” and award-winning stories like “The Last Elephant” and “The Quiet Redemption of Andy the House.” Dowling was the first Australian author to be nominated for a Bram Stoker Award (the premiere horror award presented by the HWA) for his collection in the Best Novel category, and he has since become one of Australia’s most internationally acclaimed writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. “Scaring the Train” (the closing novelette from the collection) was also nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and appeared in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, 9th Annual Edition, edited by Ellen Datlow.

In 1997, The Infernal by Kim Wilkins was published and went on to win the 1997 Aurealis Awards for both Horror and Fantasy. Wilkins is the multi-award winning author of Grimoire (1999), The Resurrectionists (2000), Angel of Ruin (2001, winner of the 2001 Aurealis Award for horror), The Autumn Castle (2003), Giants of the Frost (2004) and Rosa and the Veil of Gold (2005). She is also the author of the successful young adult series about Gina Champion, a teenage psychic detective, published by Penguin. Wilkins’ earlier works fit more comfortably within the horror genre than do her later books.

Although it is a far stretch to define Mudrooroo’s literary writings as horror, images of ghosts and demons fill much of his work. In his vampire-trilogy The Undying (1998), Underground (1999) and The Promised Land (2000), Mudrooroo (born Colin Johnson) uses the vampire as a metaphor representing colonizing predators and the corrosion of Aborigine culture (Turcotte 2005). The trilogy (which is in a way a sequel to the magic-realism Master of the Ghost Dreaming, 1991) concerns a European vampire called Amelia, who is preying upon Australians because she enjoys the taste of eucalyptus in their blood.

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood was first published in 2004 and won the International Horror Guild Award for best first novel, as well as the Dracula Society’s Children of the Night award. The novel was also commended in the South East Asia and South Pacific Region of the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Harwood remains the only Australian to have won the International Horror Guild Award, although The Etched City by K. J. Bishop was shortlisted in 2003.

In what was a coop for Australian horror, independent Australian mainstream publishers Lothian Books announced a new Dark Suspense series of adult fiction in 2005. The first three novels (The Mother by Brett McBean, Carnies by Martin Livings and Prismatic by Edwina Grey) were published with national distribution across Australia in 2006, with the forth (The Darkness Within by Jason Nahrung with Mil Clayton) released in 2007 by Hachette Australia. Prismatic went on to tie with The Pilo Family Circus by Will Elliott for the Aurealis Awards Best Horror Novel in 2006 (Elliott’s The Pilo Family Circus also won the Golden Aurealis Award for Best Overall Novel as well as the ABC Fiction Award in 2006, and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for best first novel). Unfortunately, with the acquisition of Lothian Books by Hachette Livre in 2006, the series was discontinued before it had the chance to develop.

Children and Young Adult Fiction

Young Adult and Children’s horror has flourished more so than adult horror in Australia throughout the years. Select works important in the genre for one reason or another are discussed below.

Shudders and Shakes: Ghostly Tales from Australia, compiled by Anne Ingram (1972), was the first published children’s anthology, but this was largely a collection of “real-life” ghost encounters with minimal fiction component. The first contemporary collection of original horror fiction stories for children was A Handful of Ghosts, edited by Barbara Kerr Wilson (1976). The anthology contained thirteen stories by thirteen writers, including Ivan Southall, Colin Thiele, Hesba Brinsmead and Sally Odgers, all who have gone on to become highly successful award-winning fiction authors.

In 1985, Paul Jennings crashed into the market with a string of short story collections aimed at the younger reader, all of which went on to become commercial successes: The Naked Ghost (1986), Unreal!—Eight Surprising Stories (1986), Unreal!—More Surprising Stories (1986), Quirky Tales—More Oddball Stories (1987), and Uncanny!—Even More Surprising Stories (1988). Jennings would go on to pen several more successful volumes, such as, Round the Twist (1990), Unbearable! More Bizarre Stories (1990), and Unmentionable!—More Amazing Stories (1991).

Victor Kelleher, who wrote one of the first “locally” published contemporary children’s horror novels, The Green Piper (1984), also published Baily’s Bones in 1988, the first work of children’s horror to win an award; it was joint runner-up for the South Australian Festival Award (Paulsen 1995). Del-Del by Kelleher was released in 1991, and was short-listed for the Australian Children’s Book of Year Award for Older Readers, and short-listed for the prestigious Carnegie Medal in the UK. In 1999, Kelleher’s Into the Dark (1999), a novel that delves into the legend of Nosferatu, was shortlisted for the 1999 Aurealis Awards for Best Young Adult Novel, with Born of the Sea (2003) winning in 2003. Kelleher remains one of Australia’s most celebrated writers for both adults and children, with more than 25 novels to his credit. He has also written under the pseudonym Veronica Hart, publishing Double God in 1994 and The House that Jack Built in 1994.

One of the most important children’s horror novels is undoubtedly Strange Objects by Gary Crew, released in 1990. The novel was the first horror novel of any kind to win major literary recognition in Australia (Paulsen 1995), picking up the Premier’s Literary Award, a NSW State Literary Award, and the prestigious Children’s Book of the Year for Older Readers. It was republished in 1994 under the adult imprint Mandarin due to its huge success.

Gary Crew has gone on to become one of Australia’s most internationally awarded authors. His horror/suspense fiction includes Angel’s Gate (1993), First Light (1993), The Watertower (1994), The Viewer (1998), Mama’s Babies (1999), Memorial (2000), Gothic Hospital (2001), Beneath the Surface (2004 and winner of the 2004 Aurealis Award for Children’s Short Fiction) and was the series Editor of Lothian’s After Dark series of Macabre Tales.

In 1991, Mandragora by David McRobbie was short-listed for the Children’s Book of the Year Award. McRobbie is the best-selling children/young adult author of the thriller See How They Run (1996), which was adapted as a gripping ABC/BBC television series (1999) and Eugene Sandler PI (2000), adapted as a series for the ABC/ITV. McRobbie is also the author of the 1993 bestseller, This Book is Haunted.

Another children’s novel that received critical and popular success was The Gathering (1993) by Isobelle Carmody. The novel won the 1994 Children’s Book of the Year for Older Readers award and was joint winner of the 1993 Children’s Peace Literature Award. Carmody has gone on to critical success with a number of science fiction, fantasy, children’s and young adult’s fiction works. Her novel Greylands was joint-winner of the 1997 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel. While this novel is marketed as fantasy, it contains some very definite horror imagery and would be more accurately described as dark fantasy.

In 1994, Random House started the “Hair-Raisers” horror series of books by “Lee Striker,” a pseudonym for well known Australian Children’s writer Margaret Clark (Paulsen 1995), multi-award winning author of over 100 books of fiction. Hoping to emulate the success of R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, “Hair-Raisers” proved very popular with teenagers. Twelve titles were published, including Revenge of the Vampire Librarian (1995), Bite Your Head Off (1996) and Body Parts (1997).

“Hair-Raisers” was not the only successful attempt at an Australian Goosebumps series. There was also the “After Dark” series published by Lothian Books, with Gary Crew as the series editor and forty titles published by various authors from 1995, as well as the nine-volume “Creepers” series by Bill Condon and Robert Hood from 1996 to 1997. Hood has also released the successful four-volume young adult “Shades” series in 2001, a series of stories about Shadow creatures waging an anti-human war. The titles included Shadow Dance, Night Beast, Ancient Light and Black Sun Rising.

Catherine Jinks is the author of the critically-acclaimed and international best-selling Templar Squire Pagan Kidrouk series of novels for children, as well as the ongoing Allie’s Ghost Hunters and the Ghost story series. She has also written adult horror, including the well-received The Road, published in 2004.

Critical Studies

Unlike the related genres of science fiction and fantasy, critical studies on Australian writers or works of horror are not so readily available. There are certainly no compendium volumes currently available analysing the works of Australian horror writers as there are for science fiction/fantasy [4]. 

There has, however, been much research conducted on the general works of colonial writers such as John Lang, Marcus Clarke, Barbara Baynton, Henry Lawson, Ernest Favenc and Mary Fortune, all of whom delved into the horror genre to a certain extent. Another aspect of research that has received much attention is the Gothic in colonial “horror”—or more accurately ghost–stories, and the Vampire as a metaphor for Colonisation. Such examples include Gerry Turcotte’s “Australian Gothic” (1998) and “Vampiric Decolonization: Fanon, ‘Terrorism’ and Mudrooroo’s Vampire Trilogy” (2005) and Jane Jacobs and Ken Gelder’ The Postcolonial Ghost Story (1999). Further studies on Indigenous Gothic have also been undertaken by Katrin Althans, “Re-Biting the Canon: Indigenous Gothic in Mudrooroo’s Vampire-Trilogy” (2005) and “Indigenous Gothic in Black Australians’ Cultural Expressions” (2006), as well as ongoing research as part of Althans’ PhD.

There are many other individual papers, essays and theses available that discuss aspects of ghost and gothic stories as presented in Australian literature, but it is not possible to list them all here. Readers interested in pursuing such avenues of research should contact any of the Australian universities, who will be able to put them in contact with researchers.

Ken Gelder, editor of The Oxford Book of Australian Ghost Stories (1994), has also compiled The Horror Reader (2000), which provides an examination of the history of the genre itself (both literature and film) from a global perspective, but while this is an informative account of horror as a whole, it does not specifically focus on the Australian scene.

In 2008, a new journal studying the works of Australian authors– novel, short story and poetry – in the context of the “weird tale” will be published. Studies in Australian Weird Fiction will include themes, topics, issues and single-focus essays, accompanied by interviews, symposiums and notes of interest, and will be edited by Benjamin Szumskyj.


Colonial horror, while not a genre of its own, existed in the mainstream as ghost stories written by some of the literary greats of Australia. The early tales of terror were filled with gothic views of the harsh Australian bush and the problems facing the European settlers in such a world. While ghosts made up the majority of the so-called horror stories, the supernatural or otherworldly was present in other guises in the occasional tale.

Never as popular as science fiction or fantasy, horror was carried along on the shirt tails of these related genres for much of the twentieth century. Import restrictions during and immediately after the Second World War saw one of the first boom times in horror stories in Australia, with the publication of pulp-style paperbacks. This popularity waned in the late 1950s once the trade embargo was removed, and it wasn’t until the early 1980s that horror once more surged into prominence, and perhaps for the first time in Australia, became a genre distinct from science fiction and fantasy. During the late 1980s to early 1990s, there were more than twenty small-press magazines/newsletters actively publishing horror fiction by local authors. This boom reflected the growth of horror across the world, but towards the end of the century, horror fell from favour and returned to a sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy.

Horror has risen from the grave in the new millennium, and is being published in all its forms and disguises, from flash fiction to mainstream novels, single-author collections to anthologies, although the actual descriptor “horror” might be missing from the labels. Since 2005 alone, there have been more than 15 Australian-based anthologies containing elements of horror either released or opened for submissions, numerous single-author collections, an increase in the number of horror novels being published, and the ongoing publication of the ever-changing small-press magazines. And the good news for Australian horror writers is that support for the local industry—both in the small press and, more encouragingly, in the mainstream—is still growing.


[1] For more information on anything discussed in this article or any other questions related to Australian horror fiction, contact either the Australian Horror Writers Association ( or the Southern Horror Yahoo group (

[2] Fanzines/Magazines (excluding film magazines and comics) with horror content since 1980s are The Australian Horror and Fantasy Magazine (1984-1986), Terror Australis: the Australian Horror and Fantasy Magazine (1987-1992), EOD (Esoteric Order of Dagon) Newsletter (1989-1990), Eidolon: The Journal of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy (1990-2000), Aurealis (1990-Present), Skinned Alive (1990-1993), EOD Magazine (1991-1994), Vandemonian (1991), Daarke Worlde (1992)—a spin-off from the short-lived Melbourne Horror Society, Prohibited Matter (1992)—an offshoot of the Gargoyle Club, as too was Sociopathic Times, Shoggoth (1992), Dark Times (1993)—the journal of Melbourne’s The Vampire Legion, Dark Angel (1993-1995), Severed Head (1993-1998)—official magazine of the Melbourne Horror Society, Bloodsongs (1994-1997), Terror Zone (1994), Sociopathic Times (1994), Tabula Rasa (1994-1995), Cold Cuts (1995)—the official magazine of the Sydney Horror Writers, originally the Gargoyle Club, SkinTomb (1995-1998)—formerly Skinned Alive, Avatar (February 1995-December 1995)—distributed by David Tansey & Charles Whateley, but NO EDITORS—everything sent in was published, Burnt Toast (1990-1993), Fatal Visions (1989-2000), Altair (1997-2000), Corpus Infernus, AntipodeanSF (1998-Present), Harbringer (1998), Masque Noir: The New Wave of Australian Avant-Garde (1998-2000), Misanthrope (1998), Orb Speculative Fiction Magazine (1999-Present), Abaddon (1999), Redsine (2000-2002), Dark Animus (2002-Present), Borderlands (2003-Present), Shadowed Realms (2004-2008), Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (2000-Present), New Ceres (2006-Present), Ripples Magazine (2005-Present), Potato Monkey (2001-Present), Reid’s Magazine (2005-2006), TiconderogaOnline (1999-2000, returned in 2004-Present), Wyr[e]d (2006-Present), Eclecticism (2007-Present), Shiny (2007-Present), and Midnight Echo (2008-Present).

[3] For information on Australian speculative fiction award schemes and lists of award-winning stories, please visit the Aurealis Awards website <>, the Australian Shadows page of the Australian Horror Writers Association <> and the Ditmars website <>.

[4] One of the most concise encyclopaedias of Australian horror fiction published to date is The Fear Codex compiled and edited by Bryce Stevens (Mitcham, SA: Jacobyte Books, 2000), which is, unfortunately, no longer available. This CD includes information on Australian horror fanzines, magazines, small-press publishers, authors, illustrators, organizations and clubs.

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