Matt Huynh’s “The Boat”: Evoking Empathy in Digital Narratives

On Storytelling and Digital Narratives

Be it in an oral, written or visual manner, storytelling always has been (and continues to be) an important part of the human experience. Stories allow us to gain new knowledge. Stories can inspire us and comfort us. Stories can warn us. And: stories can teach us empathy. 

According to Arendt, a narrative weaves “the circle of selfhood into an ‘enlarged mentality’ capable of imagining oneself in the place of the other” (qtd. in Kearney 246). It is no surprise then that storytelling has a long history of aiding growth and learning (Kwak 5): by making the audience engage with the topic at hand from a different perspective and thus on a more reflective level, sympathy may be increased (10). 

Many digital narratives do not only work with this effect but seek to strengthen it. They do this by effectively making use of different media by combining auditive, visual, animated and interactive elements, which allows them to give “deep dimension and vivid colour to characters, situations, experiences and insights” (American Digital Storytelling Association qtd. in Boase 1). Many of them are actively being used to build empathy and social awareness (Kwak 10). 

The Boat

The 2015 interactive graphic novel The Boat by artist Matt Huynh is based on the short story of the same name by Nam Le from 2008. The digital narrative was created in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon and 40 years of Vietnamese resettlement in Australia (Huynh) and can thus be considered to bring new attention to a story that many may no longer actively be thinking of at this point in time: the Vietnamese boat migrations from 1975 to 1995 (Lehman 169). While it is, in parts, less detailed than the original narrative, Huynh’s work manages to make up for the ‘lost’ details by employing various digital techniques. 

Visual Effects

Even before starting the narrative, the reader is already confronted with somewhat chaotic visuals: heavy rain is swept across a black screen, underlining how exposed those within the story are to their surroundings. The moment one presses start, lightning as well as a swaying sky and waves are added as effects. If viewed on full screen, this almost leads to a feeling of swaying with the ship oneself, of being inside the narrative. Active effort is needed in order to take in what is happening visually; the gaze needs to wander across the screen – from top to bottom, from bottom to top, from left to right, from right to left. A loss of orientation, reminiscent of what the characters are experiencing, occurs in the reader as well, making the situation more understandable even if viewed from the safety of one’s own home. 

While it is possible to activate auto scroll, the effect of being part of the narrative becomes further increased if the reader chooses not to do so. In order to progress through the story, they must keep scrolling amid the stream of rapidly swaying imagery, thus creating “a dynamic relationship between narrative production and reception” (Lehman 170).  However, control can never be fully gained: the way the story is set up makes it impossible to predict what will appear where on the screen next. The visual journey the reader is taken on is one defined by uncertainty.

Audio Effects

Notable, too, are the auditive elements present in the narrative. According to Kwak, sound, if used intentionally, can “lead to the most engaging experience” for consumers of a digital narrative (23). In the case of The Boat, it is effectively employed to enhance the atmosphere already existent. As a result, and similarly to the visual effects described beforehand, it makes the reader feel part of the story, especially when following the recommendation of using headphones.

This effect, too, is intensified by its unpredictability. The reader is never quite able to adjust to the noises they hear. One moment the sounds of wind, rain, thunder and waves intensify, only to suddenly become dulled again. Undefinable noises cut in from the ship, noises one will never know the source of. Silence and more quiet sounds, too, become effective in enhancing the mood created by the story itself, never distracting entirely from the plot but instead working to underline it.


While the original short story by Nam Le is already highly emotional, and arguably more effective in helping one get to know the characters, the multimedia narrative for The Boat allows for a more direct confrontation with the topic at hand. By means of auditive and visual effects, the reader becomes engaged in the story in a way that makes it more relatable, that allows them to better understand situations they have never been part of themselves. This, then, is what turns Huynh’s work into what Kwak refers to as an “empathy-evoking digital narrative” (14).


Boase, Catherine. Digital Storytelling for Reflection and Engagement: A Study of the Uses and Potential of Digital Storytelling. Centre for Active Learning & Department of Education, University of Gloucestershire, 2013.

Huynh, Matt. “The Boat.”

Huynh, Matt, et. al. ”The Boat” SBS, 2015, 

Kearney, Richard. Poetics of Imagining: Modern to Postmodern. Edinburgh University Press, 1998. 

Kwak, Seo Yeon. Digital Narratives for Self-Therapy. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2021.

Le, Nam. The Boat. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.

Lehman, Mike. “Kinotextuality in Matt Huynh’s The Boat”. Crossings: Journal of Migration & Culture, vol. 11, no. 2, 2020, pp. 169-185.

Soon…the real life horror story of the Australian town Wittenoom

For my blogpost I would like to introduce the novel Soon by Lois Murphy and would make a recommendation for you to read it. 

The novel deals with an abandoned city in the Australian outback, only a few people remained living there and the official road sign into town has been removed – but why is that? 

The fictitious city of Nebulah is hunted, hunted at night. But also, during the day, something feels off, even the birds have left town. Murphy creates an amazing atmosphere where we as readers can really feel the silence and the uneasy atmosphere that surrounds the city. She plays with the theme of the uncanny when on winter solstice a mystique mist arrives to town. This mist makes your darkest dreams and fears come true. Sometimes it even portrays pictures and makes people reappear that you are familiar with. The only escape is your home, a closed off space with doors and windows shut, curtains drawn and the tv on maximum volume to make the awful sounds of the outside disappear. 

The mist only appears at night, so “if you are out at night, you are already dead” (Murphy). During the day the last three residents try to carry on with their everyday lives. The ex-policeman Pete and his dog, Milli and Li try to stick together and remain living in the only place that they have ever called home. 

The story of Nebulah and its residents is not only scary and horrific, but also sad and very personal since the readers get to know every character and experience their lives. Each of the character has a personal story and a reason to stay in Nebulah – explaining why they cannot leave this horrific place. It’s a story of failed dreams and goals but also of friendship and a chosen family. 

Does the story sound familiar to you? Well Murphy said in an interview a huge inspiration was the story of The Mist by Stephen King. But she also mentioned that the story of Nebulah is based on a real-life town she came across during her travels. A similar fate reached the city of Wittenoom in Australia. Wittenoom is also almost completely abandoned by its former residents. Wittenoom was Australia’s only supplier of blue asbestos, but due to growing health concerns from asbestos mining in the area, the site was shut down and people began to move away. Now the area around Wittenoom is declared the largest contaminated site of Australia. However, until 2021 two people remained living in Wittenoom….

If reading the novel this story of Wittenoom reminds you of the story of Nebulah, well, don’t be surprised. Even so, Wittenoom was not hunted by a horrific mist but by poisonous asbestos. I recommend you to read Soon and dive into the story of Nebulah. Some parts of the story are written with such suspense you imagine living there yourself and running for your life, running to close the door behind you when the sun leaves the sky…

Subversive Horror in “Waltzing Matilda”

“Waltzing Matilda” is an Australian Icon. Many Australians carry it in their hearts as an unofficial national anthem. The text to the tune was written in 1895 by Australian Banjo Paterson and has struck a chord with people down under ever since.

The story goes as follows: a jolly swagman (wandering worker) is camping at a billabong (small body of water) when he spots a jumbuck (sheep) coming to drink. Delighted, the swagman catches and stows it away. However, he is interrupted when a squatter (landowner) and three troopers (policemen) come riding to arrest him for stealing the sheep. The swagman refuses to be arrested and promptly jumps into the billabong to drown himself.

Its broadly anti-authoritarian attitude and free-spirited message helped to immortalize ‘the jolly swagman’ in the nation’s canon and the song’s story has been a source for Australian identity for generations. I highly recommend giving it a listen if you haven’t already!

Now, to address the obvious. Paterson’s “Waltzing Matilda” is not really a piece of Horror literature. In fact, it’s not very scary at all (or is it?). One way or the other, listening to it will likely neither strike fear into your heart or send shivers down your spine. But still, there is something eerie about this tune. The text reminds us in the last stanza that the swagman’s “ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong”. This nod to the trope of haunting ghosts points us in a more harrowing direction than the many cheery iterations of the folk anthem would let on. When recontextualized as a ghost story, “Waltzing Matilda” sheds light on the creepiness of the jolly swagman’s story.

There are a handful of horror elements woven into the plot and style of the swagman’s tale. The repeated phrase “you’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me” wraps up each stanza, evolving throughout the song to refer from the sheep that is about to be killed to the swagman himself. Observing this motif changing in context from a somewhat empty expression to a cynical comment to an animal about to be slaughtered to a violent threat by an unyielding land owner can be read as both uncanny and unsettling.

The setting of the Australian bush is also significant. The archetype of the swagman exists only in the context of a vast and unconquered environment. The swagman travels by foot because he must and camps where he pleases because he can. The squatter exists as a counterpart to the swagman, hogging land he has no right to claim, and reacting to intruders that only take what they need with uncalled-for chicanery. Thus, the landowner, in coordination with the police, violates a central tenet of the Australian national image and transgresses on the autonomy of the folk-hero, the jolly swagman.

The lack of hesitation and matter-of-factness with which the swagman decides to drown himself is perhaps the most clear horror element and is especially unsettling by subverting expectations. The message here is clear: death is better than arbitrary abuses of power.

Again, “Waltzing Matilda” is not horror literature on its face. Accordingly, the horror elements outlined above become most apparent if you are actively looking for them. However, presenting the song in an appropriate context can exacerbate and truly bring to light its creepy inner-life. This potential did not go unnoticed to writers, giving us horror-twists on the classic story such as in the 2017 movie The Marshes where the a ‘jolly swagman’ character becomes a nightmare incarnate for city-dwelling researchers venture into remote nature to conduct research.

One could also argue that the infamous “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” by Eric Bogle borrows from the discussed unsettling elements to create its eerie atmosphere to underline the searing anti-war message. Here, “Waltzing Matilda” accompanies the soldiers killed and mutilated in the battle of Gallipoli as creepily subversive background music.

Exploring “Waltzing Matilda’s” hidden horrors is a very worthwhile task, and I invite anyone to try to tease out some hidden meanings by holding a horror lens to your favourite non-horror texts.     

Cargo: An Emotional Take on the Zombie Apocalypse

Short Film vs. Feature-length Film

by Eva Musat & Julia Riffel

The 2013 Australian short film Cargo, written and directed by Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling is about a father who must save his young daughter from zombies by trying to escape and find a safe haven from the virus that has swept Australia. The short film was later adapted in 2017, made into a feature-length film by its creators, and categorized as an Australian post-apocalyptic horror drama.

Even though the feature film is based on the original screenplay of the short film, the two films differ considerably from each other.

Firstly, it is important to note that the feature-length movie graciously honored its predecessor by not changing the Australian setting. Instead, it only amplified the beautiful scenery from the short film, showing a visually stunning outback. This heightens the feeling of isolation throughout the father’s journey and demonstrates to the audience the harsh circumstances he must deal with in his struggle to survive.

The main difference between the two media pieces is the way the respective formats work. In the short film, we don’t get any background information and are directly thrown right into the action. Only gradually we are shown the situation and introduced to the characters. We have the basics of the idea: some kind of virus that turns the people into a kind of zombie and a father trying to find a safe space for him and his baby – all without speaking. This is a particularly interesting aspect of the short film since it manages to keep its viewers entertained with no dialogue throughout the duration of the movie. The viewer focuses on what is shown on the screen – the visuals. In a typical movie, this would mean carefully planned shots, changes in lighting, and overall powerful cinematography to make up for the lack of verbal content. However, Ramke and Howling use the camera to focus only on the plot, there are no unnecessary landscape shots or subplots, making it a highly efficient storytelling method.

In the full-length version, we see a little more of what’s going on. We get an additional 20 to 30 minutes of exposition that leads us up to the point where the original short film starts. We also have more developed relationships within the family as the mother is still alive at the beginning of the movie. This makes the movie far more tragic than the short film version, as we see how they turn into zombies and how Andy, the father, has to overcome his selfish feelings. There is also a sense of urgency that is not present in the short film. After being bitten, you have around 48 hours until you turn- there are even first aid kits for this! But the movie version is also far more gruesome as it shows the turning (not recommended for people with a weak stomach). Andy’s journey through the feature-length film is extended by various subplots and even more painful traveling while trying to come up with the best plan to save his daughter, all of which the director accompanied with wide-range landscape shots. Because of all this new and extensive information, the viewer is fully immersed in the experience of the story and by the end of the movie, one or two may even shed a few tears.

Overall the two movies are quite different in the way they work and the lasting impression they leave behind. The short film is more effective in its storytelling yet it lacks the emotional part that the feature-length film creates. The 2017 version manages to make a lasting impression of the painful experience Andy has to go through by focusing on his journey and different aspects of it.

Shadow of Drought

“Shadow of Drought“ is a short story from the short story collection The bone chime song and other stories by Joanne Anderton. It is written from the perspective of a teenager “Lou”. She constantly compares her experience to a horror movie and throughout the story you can find a lot of clichés that you would expect in one.

Five teenagers, namely Jim, Nathan, and Rob, as well as Emily, and Lou, are the main protagonists of the story. Their characters are similar to the stereotypical cast of a horror movie. The loud one who is responsible for the doom that befalls them (Jim), a naïve but pretty blond girl that is into makeup (Emily), the smart and natural girl who knows something is up (Lou), the leader (Nathan), and the one who sacrifices himself to save someone else (Rob).

They live in a small town and one day come across a creature which follows and kills them one by one. At first, they think it’s a statue, but they are soon convinced otherwise. Jim, who actually touched the creature, is the first one to die.

The small town is in a time of drought. It hasn’t rained in a very long time; the animals are dying and the ground is dry. It’s hard to survive and there is not much of a future here.

The creature comes at night, kills them, and turns them into creatures themselves. They end up looking like the statue. Black and thin with their eyes gone. After Jim’s death, two creatures are seen standing in the distance, just watching, and they increase in count after every death so it seems like the teens join the creature in its endeavor after having been killed.

The town knows of this creature and everything points to the fact that they have made some kind of pact with it. The life of the teens in exchange for rain. After the second death, rain starts to fall and it doesn’t stop.

After Jim and Emily’s death, Nathan complains about their looming fates whereupon George, a guy they went to school with, tells them that they are selfish and asks who is more important; some useless kids without a future or the rest of the town. George thereby hints at the fact that they are sacrifices for the town. He also tells them that they are lucky because they just stumbled upon “it” without understanding it, and now have everybody’s respect for being a sacrifice. He seems jealous, and it appears like George knows more about the creature and its history.

Rob and Lou decide to escape town after Nathan dies. They decide to jump on the coal train that passes by every afternoon. However, the whole town is watching them, so they are followed to the train tracks and are even chased when the town realizes what they are planning. Rob helps Lou to escape but is then caught by the towns people before he can escape himself. Lou manages to escape the town but soon realizes that the creatures followed her and did not stay within the town. And with the creatures following her, so does the rain.

There are quite a few gothic elements in this short story. First of all, there’s an omen foreshadowing that something bad is going to happen. After Jim touches the statue in the beginning of the story, his hand turns black. First the teenagers think it is paint from the statue, but Jim isn’t able to wipe or wash it off. The black sticks and indicates that something is not right.

The dry landscape doesn’t appear to be particularly gothic, but the storm, the rain, and the black clouds that are forming throughout the story are. This creates an eerie and gothic environment even though the landscape itself isn’t. An ongoing theme is the deaths of the teenagers and their funerals. There are scenes at the morgue and at the graveyard.

I found it interesting how often something black is referenced. The story begins with a description of the creature. It is compared to a shadow and then Jim’s hand becomes black after touching it.

After he was killed, Jim turned completely black. The funeral clothes are black and stand in contrast to the white coffin. The coal train transports something black. The creatures are “all dark”, they kill at night and bring dark rainclouds. There is a black hearse and people in mourning clothes who are forming a funeral procession. The color black is often associated with and is used to symbolize death, evil, and misfortune. The recurring use of it helps to create the gothic atmosphere.

Another recurring thing is the railway. This can be seen as foreshadowing and it is always reminding you that an outside world exists. The group is sitting in the shade of broken train tracks; the coal train is passing the mourners on the road, and the next day the remaining teens are sitting beneath the old railway tracks again. Rob and Lou also decide to escape while sitting there. The road out of town runs along the train tracks and Lou actually gets out of town by train.

I found the short story to be very interesting, but it left me wanting to know more about the creature. Where did it come from? And what is it? What exactly is the pact the town made with it? How often does it happen? Does it only exist in this particular town or are there more? What does Patersie have to do with it? The creature was first seen on his land, and his farm somehow is still green while everything else is dried up. All these questions remain unanswered and in the end, I don’t know any more than Lou did.

“all the uncanny golems of the Gothic imagination“ – traces of Frankenstein in James Bradley’s Ghost Species

by Mariam Schmitt

There is something exceedingly exciting about the prospect of reversing death, be it in the form of a person or an entire species. By artificially bringing to life a being that should no longer exist, one dares to go beyond, defying nature. Fascination lies both in the act of playing God and the idea of a creature that is somehow human though still wholly different. But no act remains without consequences; in this case the creator’s downfall from hubris seems just as significant as the rejection and loneliness such a being would be subjected to. Of course, there are countless examples to be found in literature dealing with these moral implications, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein among the most popular of all. James Bradley’s Ghost Species likewise takes the route of creation with the help of science, focusing on the revival of extinct species. Overlap between the two exists plenty, to the point of a film adaption of the former being mentioned in the latter:

After that she seeks out other movies, not just about cavemen but about robots and monsters and patchwork people, all the uncanny golems of the Gothic imagination. Across that winter and into the summer she watches everything she can find, looking for guidance in films: Frankenstein, Splice, Blade Runner. Every time the story is the same: the thing created is monstrous but also tragic, its desire for life a violation of the natural order. (Bradley, 178-79)

These words are placed within the first chapter providing Eve’s point of view, fittingly creating an introduction to the way she attempts to separate her own perception of her identity from the othering constantly inflicted on her. She might be alienated from humankind as well, but even more so is she estranged from her supposed own kind: Other Neanderthals have been long extinct, and any portrayals in the world of art also fail to offer solace and understanding. There is however a sense of her striving to create her own narrative, one which after all does not seem to be that different from that of a sapient adolescent. Her relations to friends and what is generally understood to be her family are characterized by the same experiences and feelings of belonging like those of any other person. Any uncanny aspect about Eve is done away with by the novel shifting its perspective to her point of view; the chapter titled “I was a teenage Neanderthal” also inviting pop-cultural associations.

Similarly, Frankenstein’s monster also turns to other stories, which “consisted of Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter” (Shelley, 93), for guidance within a society that has thus far abandoned him. He has yet acquired only limited language and social comprehension; these books, that he reads “as a true history” (Shelley, 94), accordingly function as a source of learning. This suggests that language and culture play an important role in transforming someone into a human being, whereas Ghost Species puts a focus on Eve’s experiences and the way they shape her future. Eve is granted a kind of agency which the monster does not receive even while recounting his own story. After all, in Frankenstein the telling of narratives is perpetually interwoven and epistolary, therefore denying clarity.

The artificial creation of Frankenstein’s monster can be seen as science eliminating the need for biological motherhood, though its absence is often reflected upon negatively within the novel. Paradise Lost, mentioned earlier and in the novel’s epigraph, serves as the reference point upon which the constant battle between creator and creation falls back on. Eve, her name certainly inviting similar biblical connotations, does have a mother figure, but as her life fades she must ultimately fight on her own. She brings about hope for the planet – however one in which Homo sapiens might not share a part.

Works Cited:

Bradley, James. Ghost Species. 2020. Hodder Studio, 2021.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818. Oxford University Press, 2019.

What a Dead Mother Can Tell Us

The story Sleepless by Jay Kristoff deals with a guy named Justin. He turns out to be a serial killer and his online girlfriend is the next victim. However, in the end the hunter becomes the hunted. In the following though, I will explore the relationship between the hunter and his divided selves.

While reading the novel especially the relationship between Justin and his mother caught my eye. Over the duration of the story the reader is kept in the dark about the fate of the mother. Their interactions can be interpreted as weird, but the author wrote it in a way that you would only notice those signs on your second read-through. In the end it gets reveled that the only thing left from her is a corpse. So, I want to take a closer look at Justin’s conversation with the corpse or, more precisely, with himself, signifies.

The mother first appeared during the online chat between wolfboy_97 (Justin) and 2muchc0ff33 (Cassie). At the moment where they were about to get intimate, she interrupted the conversation. This situation repeats itself multiple times throughout the novel. The reason is that “She’s just like the others”, “She’s nothing but a tramp”, “Wicked. No good. Dirty girls”. If you think about the fact that Justin is basically telling himself at the same moment that she’s no good but also defending her, things get interesting. It gets clear that he is still indecisive about what he really wants and can’t commit to a sexual connection to Cassie. Therefore, the interruption symbolizes an escape route that hands over his responsibility. Thus, his mother is his justification to avoid the situation. In addition, we can see Justin’s doubt in his ability to form a relationship with women. If his only goal was to avoid sexual interaction, his mother’s words could be anything, they wouldn’t matter. However, she insults her untruthfulness in particular. This indicates Justin’s unsureness and hesitation. So, his doubts about committing to a relationship and trusting others surface.

Another interesting situation is when his mother asks him, if he is a good son and she tells him if he keeps this up, he is going to burn in hell. In this instance the mother symbolizes his remorse. It seems that Justin is partially aware of the crimes he committed. However, due to the fact that his mother is the one who says it and not himself, he isn’t fully admitting it. Once again, he shifts the responsibility away from himself. “She does this sometimes. Tells me to take her back to the place the county put her after the accident”. In this instant Justin’s partially awareness gets noticeable again. He knows that he shouldn’t have dug her out of the ground. But again, because he isn’t saying it on his own, he is still shifting the responsibility away. The reason being that he needs to be able to justify his actions so that he can continue his behavior.

To conclude Justin is conflicted and has commitment issues. His insecurities can be seen in the one sentence which he repeats multiple times “There’s no delete key IRL”. Justin’s Mother in “Sleepless” portrays his remorse and doubt, but also his justification. His remorse about his crimes, the doubts about commitment and trust and the justification of shifting responsibility to continue his actions.

Picnic at Hanging Rock – A spoiler free introduction to an Australian Gothic classic

Over the course of this semester, we have talked about a lot of Australian media, be they novels, short stories or short movies. Since the semester is ending, I find it only fitting to go out with a bang and talk about the iconic Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay, rightfully considered by many to be one of the best in Australian literature. I agree wholeheartedly and would even go as far as to say that, though my overall knowledge is still limited, Picnic at Hanging Rock is an essential for the Australian Gothic. Why? Good question! Let me invite you to learn more about it, don’t worry, there are no spoilers.

But first, here is some basic information:

The movie I am basing this post on, was directed by Peter Weir and came out in 1975, but is actually based on the Joan Lindsay’s novel of the same name. It is set in Australia (surprise!) in the year 1900 and focuses on Appleyard College, an ‘’Educational Establishment for Young Ladies’’ which is under the strict monitoring and regulation of its headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard. On Valentines Day of that year, the College plans a trip to the Hanging Rock, for the girls to be free and enjoy themselves for a day. Needless to say, that is not exactly what happens.

Let’s now look at some of the Gothic elements present in the movie, starting with the most obvious, the Hanging Rock itself. Many years ago, the indigenous people of Australia used the rock formation to hold sacred rituals and practiced their role as its custodians, before being forcefully ‘uninvited’ by colonialists. Its’ unusually sharp edges and overwhelming size loom silently above the people’s heads and the mere aura it gives off is almost tangible. The name ‘’Hanging Rock’’ alone is mysterious enough to pique your interest completely (at least that was the case for me).  Truly a fantastic example of the sublime with a distinctly Australian twist. In complementary fashion, the surrounding environment helps flesh out the sublime nature of the location even further. Wide, open fields of uneven, pale yellow and light brown terrain with hills and scattered groups of trees, varying in density. It evokes a sense of infiniteness that fits the Gothic genre like a glove. The thought of the cast being out there in this infiniteness, not guarded by the confines of Appleyard College helps strengthen the feeling of eeriness exuded by the rock. I find that the outback is a pretty genius spin on the staple of the Gothic, the fog. Whereas the fog aims to reduce vision to scare characters, readers and viewers alike, the outback does the exact opposite. Our sight is not hindered whatsoever, we can see precisely how empty and barren the land before us is and that is what makes the great outback just as scary as the fog. You know you’re at the mercy of nature.

Naturally the movie also has its fair share of uncanny moments. It may be debatable, but I think even Appleyard College itself can be considered uncanny from a modern point of view, as the regulations and restrictions for the girls are so twisted and far removed from what we consider acceptable today, it makes the facility seem even creepier than the rock itself. Though there are plenty of traditional examples as well, like all clocks simultaneously stopping after they arrive at the rock formation. On top of being creepy on its own, it helps blur the concept of time which supports the previously established atmosphere. Later on some of the girls start behaving in strange ways, acting outside of the norm they’re used to at Appleyard College like disregarding orders by their supervisors. It appears as if they are being lured in by the rock and have no control over their bodies.

To really get the whole picture, I highly recommend you watch the movie (or read the novel but the movie really is excellent), as my words can do neither the cinematography nor the soundtrack justice in any way. There is so much more to uncover, like the theme of order vs. chaos being represented by Appleyard and the outback respectively, but I wanted to keep it concise and focus on the Gothic elements. Once more, I urge you to watch the movie yourself, even if it may be fairly slow and definitely not an action-packed blockbuster. In regard to the Australian Gothic though, it is undoubtedly one of the all-time greats.

Bonus fun fact: Legendary Australian Singer-Songwriter Nick Cave held an amazing concert right at the real Hanging Rock not long ago (November ’22) together with Warren Buffet, which you should also check out 😉

Sleepless by Jay Kristoff

Foreshadowing and Analysis

By Mara Geißen and Laura Himmelmann

Sleepless by Jay Kristoff, is a short Australian horror story and part of the book Slasher Girls & Monster Boys, released in 2015. The plot revolves around a man who is in a six-month chat relationship with a young girl. Leading up to the point where they will meet for the first time in real life.

The story starts off quite innocent, with chat history being written out and filling the pages. It carries an unsettling note that grows more suffocating with every passing dialogue. We as the reader follow Justin’s POV and learn that he lives alone with his mother. A woman who had an accident and has been bedbound ever since. His only escape are the daily chats with coffeegirl, her real name is not being revealed until the very end.

The Relationship to his Mother

For a few pages we are being led on by the weird atmosphere. If we pay attention, the foreshadowing is placed perfectly and sets an eerie feeling that drags on throughout the story. Justin describes his mother as sickly, her skin is tight on her bones, her eyes a pale blue, soulless almost. There are tons of scented candles placed around her bed, a mosquito net covering it so she is shielded. While it seems caring, it creates questions as well. If Justin is 17, why is his mother describes as old and fragile, unable to do anything alone?

Surely one could track it back to the apparent accident that took place. However it does not explain the number of candles and the ever-appearing perfect interruption whenever Justin is chatting. As well as her endless talks about how every girl he has been with has been terrible and that she is the only woman that should matter. It mirrors possessive behavior. What makes it weird though is, that every time we experience a conversation between them two, she does not say anything new, it is always the same.

Sentences that focus on his chats, God, and Jesus. A repetitive order that contradicts a natural, changing conversation one would have with their mother every new day. To give it an even more unsettling note, we recall the conversation Justin has with his mom, after he brought her out onto the terrace to let her watch the sunset. She does not even react to it, but cries about not wanting to be here, wanting to be gone, dead and free.


Turning to the girl Justin has been dating online for 6 months. The girl, called 2muchc0ff33_grrl in the online chat, is 16 years old and a normal teenager, upset about homework and her mother. Her name as well as the title of the story indicate the theme of insomnia. Coffeegirl drinks too much coffee because of nightmares. She opens up to Justin and explains that she has difficulties sleeping because of voices that keep telling her sad things that make her cry and get mad. Even when she is awake, she still has the feeling that voices are there.

Moreover, it is also worth mentioning that during one of their conversations, Coffeegirl and Justin talk about a case of a serial killer. She reports that belongings of five girls he murdered, were found in the serial killer’s house and that he has been missing for 12 days. Justin seems relatively uninterested in the subject and only makes statements about how many serial killers keep trophies of their victims.

The topics seem to be discussed relatively casually. Just normal chats between two teenagers talking about their problems, news and interests. But as a reader, one is aware that nothing is ever mentioned without greater meaning behind it.

The Revelation

The story initially focuses on a meeting between Coffeegirl and Justin. At their first meeting, however, Justin does not introduce himself as wolfboy_97, but pretends to be his dad. Here we discover what the reader may have already guessed. Justin is not 17 years old and not a teenager, but a grown man. During the meeting between Coffeegirl and Justin, he takes the reader back in time. He tells of his former girlfriends, Alice, who was the first and he made a mess of, Lucy, who had a bad mouth, and Sally, who woke up too early.

All the girls are not good enough, so there is only one polished bone, one silver dumbbell and one retainer left, and the ground owns the rest. To top it off, Coffeegirl is witnessing Justin talking to his mom and the guesses are being revealed as true. She has been dead for a long time, placed on the bed to keep Justin sane. By now the reader knows. Justin is the serial killer. Coffeegirl is his next victim. The conversation about the serial killer was not a coincidence. It was a foreshadowing for the reader, for us.

Modern-day Australia Meets Old India

the underrated show that is The Elephant Princess

Imagine you are 16 years old again, what did you struggle with? School, perhaps or a crush. But can you imagine a giant elephant appears out of thin air in your backyard including its peculiar keeper? Probably not. Now imagine that exact keeper tells you you’re a princess and about to inherit the throne of the magical kingdom Manjipoor in an India long ago. This is the beginning of the Australian children’s tv show The Elephant Princess. The show is not as well known in Germany as for example H2O – just add water, this is probably because of its fairly short run. The first episode aired in 2008 and the show’s last in 2011, but it also only had 2 seasons and 52 episodes total. What makes the show worthy of being talked about is its look and the storytelling. The animations look really good for what the year 2008 and the show’s budget had to offer. The story is quite compelling for a ten-year-old. The magic and costuming make it perhaps even more pretty to look at. It even helped grow the portfolio of now Hollywood-actor Liam Hemsworth, younger brother of Thor himself Chris Hemsworth. 

So, let’s talk about it a little more in depth. The opening theme is a poppy up-beat song. Children will probably dance to it even before they have seen the first scene of the show. Alex (the main character) is mostly relatable. She struggles with growing up, school and her band, she has troubles with  guy named Marcus (played by Liam Hemsworth) whom she likes and sometimes argues with her best friend Amanda. 

It is also really nice to see some real character growth from both Alex and Kuru, the of elephant Anala. At first Alex struggles with the fact that she is supposed to free Manjipoor out of its misery and her magical abilities that come with being the princess of a magical kingdom. As the show progresses Alex becomes more and more comfortable with the idea of her inheriting the throne and starts to feel a sense of responsibility. Kuru is at first fairly sceptical of modern-day Melbourne, since Manjipoor finds itself a few centuries back in time. He also cannot understand that Alex is not overly excited about the news he broke to her and continues to call her “princess” against her will. Throughout the show however, Kuru starts to accommodate with the advances of the 21st century and even attempts to use technology. He also relaxes when it comes to Alex, not pushing the princess title. He starts to become more of a friend rather than a babysitter. 

So, if the children around you are interested in fantasy with an Indian look definitely give it a watch. You can even find all the episodes on YouTube. 

Editors Note: This is a review of the show that optimistically reads the Indian representation. It is however completely worth taking a closer look to consider whether the show appropriates or appreciates Indian culture, and we’re always happy to hear thoughts and discussion on the subject!