KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Books

Joyful Strains: Stirring the multicultural melting pot

by Martin Hughes , January 23, 20133 Comments

This week Affirm Press publishes Joyful Strains, a book celebrating the experiences of 27 new Australians on their expatriation to these shores. I am a new Australian and also publisher at Affirm Press. And did the editors put these two things together and ask me to contribute to the book? Did they shite.

Worldly readers may pick up from that peculiar phrase that I’ve come to Australia via Ireland. Fairly late in the production of this book, it was decided that we needed an Irish contributor to differentiate the typical experiences of Irish and British expats. Names were bandied about, and I kaiboshed them all, trusting that the penny would eventually drop and the editors would invite me to contribute my perspective. Blank. ‘There must be somebody!’ I moaned in my thickest brogue. Heads shook. ‘Someone who could introduce some levity, thurty tree a turd and all that,’ I beamed. ‘Ah,’ said editor Kent MacCarter, ‘You…mean someone like Chris Flynn!’

So that’s how Northern Irishman Chris Flynn came to feature in Joyful Strains, and I’m tinkering around trying to make myself relevant. And sure, Chris Flynn wrote a very funny story for the book but then he didn’t even hang around long enough to see it published! He has relocated to Berlin, no doubt by now contributing to a book on New Germans called Past the Deutschie!

But I’m still here, ever dependable, trying to draw attention to Joyful Strains, which has come together better than any of us could have hoped. It’s a delicious sup from the melting pot that is modern Australia. And unlike most celebrations of multiculturalism, it focuses not just on exotic differences but instead on how those differences have had to shaped and moulded – with varying degrees of difficulty – into the Australian way of life. As newish Australian JM Coetzee says, the contributions range from ‘the affectionate to the bitter to the hilariously funny to the probingly intelligent.’

It’s especially satisfying for me to publish a book like this because any profits we make will be donated to PEN Melbourne, which advocates on behalf of persecuted writers the world over. I just love this juxtaposition; writers who were (mostly) free to emigrate wherever they pleased drawing attention to the plight of others who have precious few freedoms at all. And PEN Melbourne’s spirited support of those seeking sanctuary on these shores brings me right back to why I became an Australian in the first place.

I got residency to come and live here about 16 years ago. It wasn’t arduous; I filled out a form and went about my business. Two years later, while living in a bedsit above a Pizza Hut in London and sharing a bathroom with a couple of Neanderthals in the flat below, I received a brown envelope containing an invitation to come live in Australia. I didn’t think twice before booking a flight and winging my way to a new life.

Several years later, after putting down shallow roots in Melbourne, an image in a newspaper stopped me in my tracks. It was a photograph of hands clasped through a chain-linked fence, probably at Woomera Detention Centre circa 2002. Those hands expressed so much and came to symbolise for me not so much the desperate struggle of refugees to find security, but the desperate struggle for compassionate Australians to reach those in need, to circumnavigate the politics and offer a helping hand. It made me realise just how ridiculously easy it had been for me to immigrate here. The symbolism struck me so strongly that I applied for citizenship. In the back of my mind was the fear that this cruel Australian Government might some time change the law and revoke my residency. But the overriding compulsion was that I wanted to become an Australian citizen, have my rights enshrined, and then take that passport out into the desert and pass it through the wire to someone more deserving.

I knew it would make no difference at all to that individual but the rabble rousing publicist in me thought it could send a powerful message – the idea of someone prepared to give their (Australian) life for another. Of course, by the time the wheels of bureaucracy turned, the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre in the desert had closed down because it was attracting too much heat.

I was eventually invited to attend a citizenship ceremony at Collingwood Town Hall in Melbourne. All I really wanted by that stage – me being so big on symbolism – was the gift of the wattle, which, from the moment I first arrived in Australia as a backpacker, was associated with becoming an Australian. And I liked that. But the ceremony was frankly embarrassing, so lacking was it in warmth or atmosphere or positivity or gravitas. Getting my learner’s driving permit was more memorable, and Frances O’Brien from the Librarians could have organised a better do. And instead of my coveted wattle I got a tacky miniature koala with the welcoming message, ‘Made in China!’

I could hardly believe the disconnection! On the one hand, Australian officialdom was feverishly manning the barricades to keep people out or in detention centres (‘we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’) and then so blasé about welcoming new citizens (‘whatevs’).

It really devalued citizenship for me, to the point where I never really identified as Australian. Until I first read this book, to be honest. To be immersed in the experiences of 27 others who’ve converged on this place really opened my eyes to how special being Australian can be. And it’s the first time I’ve felt truly proud to be even a loose thread in the multicultural quilt that is Australia today – it almost compensates for being overlooked in the book. I am, they are, we are Australien.

Melbourne readers: Joyful Strains will be launched tomorrow, January 24, 6-8pm at the Bella Union Bar, Trades Hall Carlton.

Martin Hughes is a publisher at Affirm Press.

 




  • Pingback: Come to the launch of Joyful Strains Thursday 24 January 6pm at Bella Union » Melbourne PEN()

  • Danielle Burns

    Flicked through this book during the lunch break @ KYD workshop last weekend and was thoroughly captivated by its honesty, hilarity and heartfelt emotion – well done guys!

  • http://www.cordite.org,au Kent MacCarter

    Thanks much, Danielle. Pleased you enjoyed what you’ve read. One of the foundations of the book is the honesty, so nice to read that that’s come through.

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

theartofasking_image

Julia Tulloh

Living on fans: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Rather than enticing people to pay for music through marketing campaigns and radio play, Amanda Palmer is interested in connecting with her fans, becoming friends with them, and creating a system of exchange within the community that is formed. This means that art is not often payed for with money. Read more »

womeninclothes-600

Carody Culver

Closet Concerns: Women in Clothes

Women in Clothes wants to tell a more inclusive story, to reveal the pleasures, hang-ups and complexities that reside in the simple act of dressing ourselves, and to remind us that we don’t perform our style rituals in a vacuum. Read more »

4285342-3x4-700x933

Kylie Maslen

The Harp in the South and other stories I wasn’t taught at school

The classics I studied at school were certainly great works, but how relevant are these books to young Australians? Yes, they were valuable to study as examples of technical skill. But they were all by men, all white and all dead. Read more »

theartofasking_image

Julia Tulloh

Living on fans: The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Rather than enticing people to pay for music through marketing campaigns and radio play, Amanda Palmer is interested in connecting with her fans, becoming friends with them, and creating a system of exchange within the community that is formed. This means that art is not often payed for with money. Read more »

Taypic

Julia Tulloh

Lovers, haters, and TaySway’s 1989

TaySway is a polariser: haters really hate her. The issue for many feminists and critics is that they simply don’t like Taylor’s version of authenticity, which happens to be embodied by a blonde, white, straight, American women from a reasonably privileged background. Read more »

15115828030_526f79c515_z

Julia Tulloh

The celebrity spokesperson phenomenon

What should we expect celebrity advocates to deliver? Emma Watson is not a full-time activist, but if she inspires young people to take an interest in gender equality, is that not a good thing? Read more »

Screen-Shot-2014-10-01-at-11.22.21-AM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Can too many parts destroy an adaptation? The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

It’s a relief to feel the weight of fidelity lift off an adaptation film, as Mockingjay: Part 1 becomes a meta-exploration of fame, franchise and future. Read more »

Maps to the Stars

Rochelle Siemieonwicz

Monsters in Los Angeles: Maps to the Stars and Nightcrawler

Both Maps to the Stars and Nightcrawler are peopled by monsters who may look human, but are actually spiritually deformed and morally repugnant creatures of the most loathsome kind. The suggestion implicit in each of these thrillingly creepy stories is that these ‘freaks’ are born out of and adapted to the hellish spiritual landscape of LA. Read more »

WinterSleep-2-poster-450

Rochelle Siemienowicz

A matter of time: very long films

It’s a fatal moment for any film lover: that instant when you look away from the screen and check your watch, holding it up to the light to judge how much time is left before you can escape. A wince of pain as you realise there are still 40 minutes to go. Read more »

IMG_0086

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Pictures of pictures: Monument Valley and the rise of the in-game photographer

Presenting screencapturing a game as a form of camera-free ‘photography’ gives rise to a conceptual issue. If the ‘photographer’ is moving through, and capturing, a world created entirely by others, then who exactly should take the credit for any images created? Read more »

IMG_4309

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Patrons and gamemakers in the shadow of Gamergate

There is a lot to unpack about Gamergate, and a great deal more that isn’t at all worth taking seriously, but what the patronage pseudo-controversy has drawn attention to is the fact that there are potentially huge issues with moving to a model of monetary transactions in which our payments are increasingly networked and ‘social’. Read more »

ST_Ello_600

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Rise of the High-Minded Startup

Ello’s manifesto is the key to understanding its relative success, and how it has managed to sign up hundreds of thousands of users despite offering a wafer-thin feature set. Read more »

00page

Danielle Binks

Disability or superpower? Deaf identity in YA

‘We actually need more stories about deaf and hard of hearing characters and for their experiences to be shared in stories. Often, young readers believe they are ‘alone’ in their deafness and do not realise that there are many others like them.’ Read more »

Anne of Green Gables

Danielle Binks

Books that take you there: YA literary tourism

How has literary tourism taken on new dimensions and greater capitalism, thanks to youth literature – both old and new, book and film? Read more »

9781863956925

Danielle Binks

Mean girls, bullies and private school privilege: Alice Pung’s Laurinda

Alice Pung’s Laurinda is hard-edged satire cloaked in contemporary YA: exploring class dynamics, everyday racism and bullying. Read more »

2530720_1332353117589.53res_500_400

Chad Parkhill

Mo money mo problems: The value of music in the age of streaming

While music streaming services have existed for a few years now – practically aeons in internet time – it is only recently that their impact on patterns of musical consumption and on musicians’ and labels’ revenues has truly begun to be felt. Read more »

2839965900_c23f818c97_z

Jane Howard

How many women composers? Classical music’s invisible women

After receiving yet another press release for a classical music concert, I tweeted an email I’d sent to the publicist asking why there were no women composers in the program. From then it became a regular task I set myself: when I received a music press release, I’d ask #howmanywomencomposers, and post the results on Twitter. Read more »

3827910256_89135334f0_z

Chad Parkhill

Who killed Amanda Palmer fandom?

Fans and consumers tend to avoid music made by people whose actions disagree with their moral compasses, and, conversely, to reward those whose actions align with them. But are they right to do so? Read more »

105768385_5672eae965_z

Stephanie Van Schilt

Bananas without pyjamas? Budgets cuts and the next generation of ABC kids

From my humble beginnings watching kids’ programming, I learnt that ‘Your ABC’ was indeed, our ABC. The protests and public outcry which followed this week’s announcement of cuts to the ABC demonstrate its crucial role in fostering a sense of community for Australians. Read more »

Marry Me - Season Pilot

Stephanie Van Schilt

Happy Hangovers and False Starts: Happy Endings and Marry Me

Binging rarely ends well. Binge eating is how unwanted food babies happen. Binge drinking is how inhibitions and memories are erased. Binge-watching a TV show can take over your life. Which is exactly what happened a few years ago when I fell in love with Happy Endings. Read more »

thecode_main-620x349

Stephanie Van Schilt

An obligation to be kind? Australian TV critics and The Code

When Margaret Pomeranz recently spoke out about the obligation of local film critics to support the Australian film industry, she generated an interesting conversation in the critical community. Are critics who discuss the small screen in the public sphere obligated to be critically kind in their local coverage? Read more »