Academic journal article Antipodes

The Exception That Proves the Rule? National Fear, Racial Loathing, Chinese Writing in "UnAustralia"

Academic journal article Antipodes

The Exception That Proves the Rule? National Fear, Racial Loathing, Chinese Writing in "UnAustralia"

Article excerpt

"[. . .] the child Bob had been confused because his father, for all his professed hatred of the Yellow Peril, had made him visit the Yipsoons several times a year, particularly at Chinese new year, and he had maintained a sullen respect for old Mrs Yipsoon.

'They're different, that's why,' Gordon Gibson said when Bob ventured to question him. 'They've been here since the gold rushes. They're practically Australian. They're the exception that proves the rule."

- Hsu-Ming Teo, Behind the Moon (279)

IN THIS ESSAY I WANT TO EXPLORE THE IDEA THAT AN EXCEPTIONAL cultural space, which I am calling "unAustralia," offers a deconstructive vantage point from which we can observe at work the normative ideological processes (the "rules") that promote an experience of national belonging for some by excluding others. The interplay of Asian, Aboriginal, and European identities and histories in Ouyang Yu's poetry and in Simone Lazaroo's The Australian Fiancé (2000) is complemented and complicated in Hsu-Ming Teo's Behind the Moon (2005) where she creates a mixed-race Asian refugee character who is of Vietnamese and black American descent. These texts bring into post-Hansonite Australia the history of racialized fear and loathing that is foundational to the formation of Australia as a territorial nation-state, as many commentators have noted. My interest is in the textual representation of moments when the "homeliness" (Freud's heimlich) of the hegemonic national narrative is disrupted by confrontation with the excluded Other (coded as yellow or black or both in my selected texts). These moments of "unhomeliness," these irruptions of Freud's "uncanny" (unheimlich), shape the symbolic textures of Lazaroo's novel and Teo's, and are perhaps best introduced in terms of Ouyang Yu's poetic deconstruction of normative Australian national discourses.1


Ouyang Yu's poetry offers a powerful critique of the white supremacist discourse of Australian nationalism in poems like "Fuck You Australia" and "Advance Australia Unfair," which begins:

Australians all let us rejoice,

For we are not young and nothing's free;

We've golden guns and patrol boats for real,

Our home is guarded by sea;

Our land abounds in Nature's gifts

Taken of a people poor and rare;

In history's page, let every stage

Advance Australia unfair!

In joyful constraints then let us sin,

"Advance Australia unfair!"

Ouyang Yu has been dubbed famously by Wenche Ommundsen "the angry Chinese poet" for his provocative denunciations of Australian racial and national discrimination.2 In the poem quoted above, his invocation of the Australian national narrative through the anthem reverses the values that are celebrated as characteristically Australian: egalitarianism, the "fair go," tolerance, "mateship," and hospitality. Rather than welcoming migrants, Navy patrols maintain a constant surveillance to keep "foreigners" out; rather than celebrating the "discovery" of terra nullius, the land and its resources are stolen from the original inhabitants.

In this extremely clever poem, what Yu offers us is a deconstruction of the epistemologica! basis of Australian nationhood. He adopts a radically "Other" interpretive perspective with the selective changes he makes to the national anthem. For example, the original line "Our home is girt by sea" is subtly but satirically changed to the militaristic "Our home is guarded by sea." The lines "Our land abounds in Nature's gifts / Of beauty rich and rare" become "Our land abounds in Nature's gifts / Taken of a people poor and rare," where the focus upon natural resources is supplanted by a focus upon dispossessed indigenous peoples. The definition of Australian ethnic nationhood has always been complicated by Aboriginal antecedence and Asian proximity. Yu reminds the reader of this as he satirically juxtaposes the natural or territorial with culture and politics. …

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