Hannah Gadsby’s OZ, Episode 1: Interrogating the White View of Australian Colonial Art History

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You know what we don’t talk enough about here on No Award? ART. Actual art, hanging in galleries! Here is Hayley to fix that problem, with a three part review of Hannah Gadsby’s OZ, which recently aired on Our ABC. Hayley has a degree in art history, and we occasionally play ‘who knows more about art’ at NGV (she usually wins). What with the art, and with the birds, Hayley is gonna have to have her own tag on No Award!  

Recently comedian Hannah Gadsby made a three part series on the history of Australian art for Our ABC. Hannah has a degree in art history (like me!) and has for years been taking jokes to art in the form of her guided tours of the National Gallery of Victoria during the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

I greatly enjoyed the series, to the point that I started to get fretful about the fact that it didn’t seem as if many got around to watching it. That concerned me, because Gadsby’s series was not just about art. You can take it from the title alone: this a series about the Australia she sees reflected back to us through our popular conception of art history, and the things about Australia that aren’t the dominant narratives within Australian cultural identity. It is an unapologetic exploration of the art of women, indigenous artists, and those who portray ignored Australian perspectives. It’s WELL POLITICAL, and even just in the context of art history it covers a lot of really clever, important stuff that isn’t even touched on in university art history courses (believe me, I know).

Daniel Boyd, We Call Them Pirates Out Here

ed note: THE GREATEST AUSTRALIAN PAINTING OF ALL TIME?! Also known as Daniel Boyd’s We Call Them Pirates Out Here

This episode looks to white Australia’s first artistic expressions in the form of colonial art, what these artists were saying about the new colony, what they weren’t saying, and how various contemporary artists are dealing with reinterpreting these colonial images in their own works.

Australian cultural identity is for the most part very one-note, and doesn’t allow for multiple viewpoints. As Hannah says “If you’re not a white man in a hat, you may struggle to see yourself in the Australian art story.” And if you’re not any of those things, you tend to struggle with feelings of belonging and displacement within Australian society. This is a dichotomy that has been present since colonial settlement, and the art of this period can shed light on how the first settlers viewed Australia, how they wanted the colony portrayed, and how we ended up with these stringent ideas of what constitutes Australia.

The biggest thing to address is how white settler artists viewed the indigenous people who had been living in the country for thousands of years. The “subjective baggage” of first contact art such as that produced by the Port Jackson Painter – one of the first western painters in the first years of the colony of New South Wales, now thought to be the work of several unidentified artists – shows that throughout these visual narratives only one (white) perspective is given, and in elevating these works in the narrative of Australian art, indigenous perspectives are knowingly blotted out.

Balloderree

Balloderree by the Port Jackson Painter

Hannah talks to Daniel Boyd, an indigenous artist who has been the artist in residence at the Natural History Museum in London, where many of the Port Jackson Painter’s works are kept as part of their First Fleet collection. Boyd’s work challenges Western viewpoints in terms of the first contact with indigenous Australians, and the way museums have historically been complicit in the theft of indigenous culture and the dehumanisation of indigenous peoples. His art is also a means of challenging the accuracy of these first colonial works – whose story are they telling?

The work that Boyd has put together at the Natural History Museum, called Tracing the Past, incorporates old boxes that the museum used to store human remains – it’s interesting that it seems that Boyd got a hold of these boxes as the museum was upgrading its curatorial practices, not that the remains were being repatriated back to their communities and descendants. Indeed the Museum still holds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains in their collection, so there’s a disturbing thing for you to ruminate on. This work is a refusal to allow the Museum and similar institutions forget their complicity in harming indigenous peoples, and opens the conversation in terms of reassessing how museums view their collections, ensuring that there is a dialogue rather than the imposition of a one-sided interpretation.

Boyd also remixes paintings from the white tradition of Australian art. Emmanuel Phillip Fox’s 1902 painting The Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770 becomes We Call Them Pirates Out Here (2006) (at the top of this post), with Cook reimagined as a pirate complete with eyepatch and a skull and crossbones Union flag. I would hope, dear reader, that the subtext is obvious to you. The piece is also a reminder that much of the art produced during the colonial period was a deliberate ploy towards “flogging Australia as a prime piece of real estate.”

Joseph Lycette, The Sugarloaf Mountain, near Newcastle, New South Wales. (boring)

Joseph Lycette, The Sugarloaf Mountain, near Newcastle, New South Wales. (boring)

Take the work of Joseph Lycett, a convict painter who created deliberately false images of Australian landscapes in order to increase its appeal as a thriving colony to British settlers. His pictures include white settlers and indigenous people co-existing, although the indigenous people are invariably shown leaving the picture, while the white folk gesture expansively over the vistas, indicating ownership and expansion. The images could then act as evidence to potential settlers that, not to worry! We have this native population in hand, and isn’t it a nice coincidence how European Australia looks?

Gadsby then shifts focus to Tasmania, where she grew up and, as the most concentrated arena for the eradication of indigenous Australians in colonial times, a place that holds particular significance in terms of white settler and indigenous dialogues.

Bea Maddock’s panoramic work that depicts a topographical circumnavigation of Tasmania’s coast, Terra Spiritus… with a darker shade of pale (1993-1998), is an exploration of both English and indigenous geographical names. Particularly haunting is the presence of Aboriginal place names that directly confront the wholesale genocide of Tasmania’s original inhabitants and the theft of their land. “For a Tasmanian, that is a fact that is too easily forgotten.”

Bea Maddock's Terra Spiritus (detail)

John Glover was one of the first free settler artists, and settled in Tasmania. The intriguing thing about his work is that he insisted on painting pastoral scenes of “Aboriginal arcadias of a people untouched by Western civilisation,” some 20 years after the genocide of Tasmania’s indigenous population began. Yet despite his apparent fascination with indigenous people, like Lycett’s work his paintings edit out some very sobering truths that problematises his art. He could not have witnessed the scenes he depicted, and what is shown is idealised imaginings of what indigenous life was like prior to white settlement.

Julie Gough, a Tasmanian Aboriginal artist, offers indigenous insight into how Glover’s paintings can be viewed – they are important for the fact that a white artist depicted Aboriginal life at all, but troubling as he was nostalgic for a period that he did not bear witness to, and also concurrently produced works that depicted farming and the land forging enacted by white settlers. Glover was interested in an indigenous past, but the present depicted in his works is resolutely white.

It’s interesting that when talking of Gough’s own artwork, which directly tackles the uneasy colonial relationship between indigenous peoples and white settlement, Gadsby makes note of the fact that while Glover’s work at the National Gallery of Australia is housed in the mainstream Australian art section, Gough’s work is displayed on a separate level with the specifically designated indigenous art. Is this is a deliberate curatorial decision to avoid these sort of dialogues from occurring among gallery patrons?

Ben Quilty – as Hannah says possibly Australia’s best known contemporary artist – is obsessed by identity, and how the past shapes an individual’s self-expression. Fairy Bower Rorschach (2012) depicts a beauty spot near Quilty’s home that was also the site of a massacre of indigenous people during colonial times. The wholesale murder of indigenous people is a shameful secret among non-indigenous Australians – we acknowledge on a basic level that killings occurred, but the full extent remains shrouded and unacknowledged. Gadsby makes the pertinent point that when the Port Arthur massacre occurred in 1996, it gained immediate recognition and memorialisation, whereas the hundreds of sites across the nation of indigenous genocide for the most part remain unmarked.

When asked how he reconciles living a privileged life adjacent to a place that was a scene of horror for indigenous people, Quilty baldly replies that he cannot. The spectre of white guilt, the fact that in mainstream Australian education we are still taught that ‘real’ Australian history began when Cook stepped off the Endeavour, is highly troubling to him. Quilty’s piece becomes about being born Australian, loving Australia, yet constantly questioning one’s belonging and the white-washed construction of our history in “a haunted landscape.”

The colonial view of Australia as painted by the likes of Lycett, Glover and their ilk are “devoid of scar tissue.” When we look at colonial art, we need to be consciously thinking of the voices they omit, what values they are espousing, and how we ourselves may have benefitted from a nationhood construction that leaves so many without representation. The past is not only behind us; it is constantly impacting on our present, something that contemporary Australian artists, both indigenous and white, are keenly aware of. Like Gadsby, I’m pleasantly gratified that so many contemporary Australian artists are willing to grapple with these issues and actively interrogate our colonial past.

Ben Quilty's Fairy Bower Rorschach

Ben Quilty’s Fairy Bower Rorschach

Next time! Hannah looks at the history of women artists in Australia, and how they offer an alternate vision of the extremely masculine Australia that our art history narrative has popularly pushed forward. Watch out, blokes in hats, we’re coming for you.

Secrets & Lies & WHAT I CANNOT EVEN

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A few weeks ago I blogged about Secrets & Lies, an Australian crime drama set in Brisbane.  I summed up the first episode thusly:

Manpain. No sympathetic adult women.  One person of colour, unsympathetic.  The hero has never read a detective novel ever, and is following the How To Look Totally Suss playbook. Nevertheless, the mystery is interesting and I like the setting, so I’m probably going to keep watching.

I thought this series ran for 10 episodes, but it turns out that, no, that’s just the US remake.  The Australian series only goes for six episodes — which means it’s done, it’s finished, and I’m about to spoil it for you.

Are you ready?

Because chances are, this is the ending for the US version as well.

Sure?

Okay.  The hero’s young daughter did it.

It’s not made clear how old Eva is meant to be, but “between eight and 12″ is the range.  She wears her hair in two pigtails, is devoted to her dad, and is the only female character who is both sympathetic to him and not sleeping with him.  (Thank God.)  She’s an adorable moppet, so of course she killed a five-year-old boy to drive his mum from their street.  Of course.

Now, the thing about crime fiction in any medium is that if you’re going to go dark — and child-murderers is very dark — you need to make the story worthwhile.  You can’t just chuck it in as a shocking twist that also conveniently punishes the kid’s mother for not loving the hero enough.  The actress was incredibly good at portraying both Adorable Moppet and Child Sociopath, but the writing didn’t justify it.

Of course, I really wanted the hero, Ben Gundelach, to be guilty.  I wanted this whole thing to be his unreliable narrative of denial mixed with guilt mixed with actualfax murderous intent, because that was the only way his characterisation would make any sense.  Because in the wake of finding the body of the child, Thom, he goes on a rampage of lying to police, hiding evidence, accusing neighbours, assaulting grown men, assaulting teenage boys, and more.  In the final episode, he breaks into the home of the bereaved mother armed with a shovel.

His behaviour was actually scary!  And sending out all sorts of red flags in terms of potential for violence and irrational rage.  Yet the narrative was all, “Well, you know how hard it is for men when they’re accused of murder…”

Now, I don’t need characters to be squeaky clean.  One of the most tragic and compelling moments in Forbrydelsen, aka The Killing is when Theis Birk Larsen, the father of the murdered girl at the centre of the plot, has his cronies abduct a teacher from her school and torture him into confessing.  It’s absolutely clear how Thies’s behaviour is driven by guilt and fear — but we’re not meant to cheer him on.  And at the end of the series, he goes to jail.

Secrets & Lies wanted us to be on Ben’s side.  And I just can’t do that.  And in real life, even white, middle-class male homeowners are charged with assault when they punch a teenage boy, even if the outcome is usually just a good behaviour bond and a fine.

So at the centre of this story, we have a deeply unpleasant hero, who isn’t even especially competent.  And he’s surrounded by women who should be really interesting female characters … except we’re meant to hate them.  A quick round up:

Christy, his wife.  As the series opens, she has just told him she’s leaving him.  But it’s not his fault he had an affair with Jess, the woman across the road and fathered her son!  (Yeah, I was totally right with that prediction, by the way.)  He only did it because Christy had had an abortion, and even though he said he was totally okay with it, he wasn’t!  And she is career-driven and terse, not vulnerable and sexually available like Jess!

Tasha, his teenage daughter.  She’s on the cusp of adulthood and independence, and is almost certainly sexually active, and she doesn’t buy her father’s bullshit for a second!  HOW DARE SHE?

Eva, the adorable moppet who loves her dad and blames women (Christy and Jess) for breaking up the family.  And she’s really sorry she killed Thom, because it caused her father manpain.

Jess, the Gundelachs’ neighbour, mother of Thom, occasional lover of Ben.  She’s perfect in every way — I mean, pretty much a doormat — until the second-last episode, when Ben discovers that she has bipolar disorder (!) and is occasionally paranoid (!!) and violent (!!!).  And she had an earlier daughter, who died of SIDS, and everyone knows that’s just code for “my mum’s a crazy bitch who killed me to death”.

After this SHOCKING REVELATION, Jess spends the rest of the series Being Crazy, rolling her eyes and laughing inappropriately and making false rape accusations against Ben.  I’d have ragequit on the spot, but with 19 minutes left of the entire series, I was in too deep.

They’re the main female characters.  There’s also Jess’s Sister, Who Doesn’t Take Ben Seriously For Some Reason, and the Bitchy, Slutshaming Older Neighbour, and the Neighbour Who Totally Hides That Her Husband Is A Paedophile.

All of these people are white, because this is set in a magical alternate Brisbane with no people of colour.  In six hours of TV, we had exactly two non-white characters:  a guy who appeared in one scene, was pissy to Ben for little things like NOT DOING HIS JOB and vanished; and an extra, who didn’t actually speak.  Both were in the first episode.  After that, it’s just a sea of white.  Even the taxi drivers are white, which is … demographically unlikely.

(Other ways this is set in a magical alternate universe version of Brisbane:  a week or so before Christmas, a character wears a puffy jacket because it’s raining.  Someone lives in Brisbane and OWNS a puffy jacket.  In the week between Christmas and NYE, people are wearing long pants.  It’s weird, is what I’m saying.)

In short, the series was a strange and off-putting exercise in accidentally demonstrating male privilege.  It wasn’t particularly well-written.  The mystery didn’t hang together cohesively.  The hero was repulsive.

The biggest mystery about the whole thing is that ABC (the American network, not Our ABC) were already producing a remake before this had even aired.  Have they thrown out the scripts and started again from scratch? Certainly they’ve made the characters’ names more Anglo-Saxon and less Western-European-Ethnic — “Gundelach” has become “Garner” and Corniell, the police detective, has become “Cornell”.  But said detective has ALSO been genderflipped, and is now played by Juliette Lewis, which intrigues me, and also goes a long way towards fixing the Women Problem.  (There’s also an African-American character, who I think is Cornell’s offsider or similar, but it doesn’t look like a big part.)

I wanted this to be successful, but also actually good.  It was neither, and I’m disappointed.

On the other hand, this is actually a good time for Australian TV.  This weekend sees the premiere of The Gods of Wheat Street, a magic-realist (!) series about an Aboriginal family (!!).  My hopes are high, people.  Showrunner Jon Bell has worked on Redfern Now, which is a hell of a better pedigree than Secrets & Lies had.

birds of australia with hayley and michael: the galah

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Dear No Award; here we are back again with our continuing series on Australia’s birds. Why do I think this is the greatest thing ever? Uh, because I’m a Penguin. This month sees a devastating lack of fights between Michael and Hayley as they agree over the Galah.

Galahs flying with a motion blur

Michael

For some reason bird names are pretty common as insults – think about it: cuckoo, turkey (as Homer explains), coot, chicken, dodo, even tit (although the insult may have a different etymology than the bird name). Australia has added a couple of classics to the list: drongo and today’s bird of the month: galah.

The galah is one of Australia’s most distinctive birds – a small cockatoo with a bright pink chest and face, grey back and white crest – commonly seen in large flocks throughout most of mainland Australia. The precise reason that they’ve come to be synonymous with foolishness in Australian idiom is unclear – there’s some suggestion that it’s due to the galah’s propensity to migrate south (towards colder weather) during winter, although actual research shows that they’re pretty sedentary birds. More likely it’s down to their noisy, squawky calls and slightly ludicrous colours. Either way, it’s gone global as an ocker insult thanks to Home and Away.

As with our first bird of the month, galahs are one of the rare birds that seems to have benefited from European settlement, with land clearing creating vast swathes of their ideal open habitats and the provision of water for stock dramatically expanding their range (although they remain absent from the very northern tips of the country).  They’ll eat basically everything – fruit, seeds, bugs, grass, grains – whatever’s going. Their sexual politics are a bit confusing – they pair up for life, suggesting a pretty conservative outlook, but there are records of inter-species love, with galahs breeding with sulphur-crested cockatoos, little corellas and Major Mitchell’s cockatoos. Freaky.

The Big Galah by Adam EalesPeople regularly ask me what my favourite bird is and, as impossible as that question is, I’ve often answered the galah. It’s not as spectacular looking as the king parrot or crimson rosella, but there’s just something so unlikely about the pink and grey stylings that galahs get around in – it doesn’t really seem like it should occur in nature. There’s also their playfulness – galahs are well regarded as pets, but even in the wild you see them mucking around and seemingly just having fun. Watch a flock of galahs next time they fly over – they dodge and weave for no real reason, squawk just to hear the sounds of their own voices and seem to be having the time of their lives. Of course I’m anthropomorphising them, but life as a galah just looks like great fun. They’re common around Melbourne and spotting a flock flying over Princes Park on my walk to work gives my spirits a lift – they’re a very cheerful creature.

Their raucous mischievousness is seen by some as charmless – my partner Cindy called them “the dude-bros of the sky” when I told her I was writing this. There’s also their rather unfortunate portrayal in this ACT health campaign, which is terrifically insulting to one of our natural icons. They have been known to get hammered on fermented over-ripe fruit, but they seem like pretty lovable drunks – sure they’d laugh at their own jokes and slur their words a bit, but nobody would mind, they’d all be having too much fun.

I’m giving them 5 feathers – they’re a national treasure.

Hayley

I was hoping that Michael and I would get into our first proper dust up and I would get the chance to call him a flaming galah (because it would make Alf Stewart proud), but here we are again in agreement over a particular bird’s general excellence. And really how could we not be, who on earth doesn’t like the wonderful cheeky clown that is the galah? New test to discover whether your acquaintances are actually androids from the future: ask them if they don’t like galahs.

No matter how glum I may be at any time, spotting a few of these candy-coloured fellows chirruping among themselves on power lines, or fossicking about on a grassy verge at the side of the road is enough to put a smile immediately back onto my po-faced dial. They’re just so sweet.

JJ Harrison http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Female_Galah_Outside_Nest.jpgOnce I started thinking about my feelings about them more deeply, however, I started to feel slightly off about the sweeping designation of a ‘galah’ meaning someone who is foolish, stupid, or somehow lacking in various graces. This seems like a horrendous cop-out to the bird in question. There is the fact that parrots are among the most intelligent of all birds, probably only outstripped by the corvids (and even that is an argument likely to produce much teeth-gnashing and invective spewing from bird nerds). In captivity galahs are well known for their highly developed skills in picking up speech – look at this little guy who can whistle, sing, meow and say complete sentences that correlate with his owner’s actions and speech. I hardly think that this is the behaviour of a stupid animal.

And then there is the fact that galahs are some of the most visually striking birds in the country. No, they don’t have the eye-popping flash of rosellas or king parrots, but that kind of bright ostentation is too vulgar for them. Better to dress their wings in grey, crown their crest in dusky white, and have the soft rose flush of their breasts carry the indication of their cheery personalities. They’re like that friend we all have who is happy and always joking and laughing, and that’s what you remember most about them, to the point that when they show up to a fancy party or dinner in super fine duds, tasteful and understated yet perfectly cut and tailored with one bright accessory that completely expresses their quirky, kind personality that your mouth drops open in shock as the realisation steals over you that not only are they the most fun to be around but they’re also the most together person you know and it’s been in front of your face the entire time and aren’t you just a bit of an idiot. What I’m saying is that galahs are total secret GQ motherfuckers and we are all chumps.

Anyone who doesn’t think the galah is a 5 feather bird needs to be catapulted into the sun.

Jeeze Michael, I really hope we disagree next month, all this cordial agreement is giving me indigestion.

Bird: Galah

Michael: 5 feathers

Hayley: 5 feathers

linkspam is feeling better when you say linkspam

I have been completely overwhelmed with my blogging for MQFF (look at my name all over that blog!), so there are no new blog posts yet today, though if you check back later in the week perhaps you will be surprised! Instead, have some things I have read in between movies:

March in March marks the birth of a new kind of activism; an article by Van Badham about a new phenomenon in Australia, and how different sides of politics (and the media) have reacted to it.

Celeste Liddle on being ‘black’ and fair-skin privilege is a whole world of YES EXCELLENT, a great article.

I am an actor, by Rani up at Peril, is a meandering piece about being an Asian in the Australian acting world. (Anecdote and personal aside: The day Rani auditioned for a reoccurring role on Neighbours I flipped my shit)

Having strong feelings about There and Back Again: Or, how I quit programming and returned, an on gender and performativity and femininity by Misty De Meo, a trans woman.

American but also Malaysian and about representation in the mainstream media, The media’s shameful Malaysia Airlines coverage: Gawking at a foreign disaster was an interesting read on the damage that can be done by the media and by our own disinterest.

On the Chinese media, China sees Obama girls, but not Xi’s daughter. My favourite part of this article is pointing out the media’s silence on Xi Mingze being a student at Harvard.

mqff viewing schedule

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mqffbannerThe Melbourne Queer Film Festival starts in just TWO HOURS. This year I’m blogging for MQFF, so I’m heavily involved, and you can see my filthy penguin flipperprints over everything (check out the blog).

I love Melbourne’s festivals, as they’re often a great time to get involved in a community, learn more about a subject, or just love Melbourne a little bit more. And MQFF is definitely one of my favourite festivals all year round. And if you’re broke, there’s even $10 buck tix, which I LOVE the concept of.

Tonight is the opening night party, and there are still tickets to that: Any Day Now, starring your favourite and mine, Alan Cumming.  Also I will be wearing a tutu.

And I am super excited about so many films! If you’re still unsure, I wrote a list for Peril of Azn-interest films, and below is my personal list (note: I won’t end up seeing all of these):

G.B.F (Gay Best Friend)  (Saturday 15 March, 20:15): The summary starts “Move over Mean Girls and Heathers, it’s 2014 and there’s a new set of prom queen wannabes and they need a gay best friend;” I don’t need to know anything else.

Quick Change (Saturday 15 March, 16:00): I have seen the first five minutes of this movie and it looks adorable – sadly my screener was having issues and I failed at seeing the rest. This Filipino movie is about Dorina, a trans woman who makes a living selling homemade cosmetics to other trans women. She does a runner when a client has a bad reaction to some of her cosmetics.

Who’s Afraid of Vagina Wolf? (Sunday 16 March, 20:30): This is a comedy and I need the laughs.

OUT in the Line-Up (Sunday 16 March, 15:00): Australian documentary. Queer surfers.

52 Tuesdays (Tuesday 18 March, 18:00): Filmed every tuesday over a year, this film (not a documentary) follows a teen as one of her parents transitions, and I am super into the conceit of this film.

Bad Hair (Wednesday 19 March, 18:00): Not totally sure what this movie is about, but I do know Junior wants to straighten his hair and I’m intrigued.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (Wednesday 19 March, 21:00): Taiwanese movie about discovering one is gay after being established with a family. Allegedly a comedy of errors. This usually wouldn’t be my thing but it’s the only Mandarin-language movie this year.

Noor (Friday 21 March, 18:00): A Pakistani trans man goes on a road trip to find a place where he belongs. Hopefully adorable.

Zoe.Misplaced (Sunday 23 March, 15:00): Melbourne lezzie drama. All good.

I have reviewed Soongava, so I won’t be seeing that again, but it was very interesting.

SEE YOU THERE. Come say hi, I’ll be there most days of the festival.

In Conversation with Jung Chang at The Wheeler Centre

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Last night the Wheeler Centre cruelly made me choose between being queer and being Chinese. Not really, of course. I’m Chinese no matter what, and I’m pretty damn queer. But  I had to choose between Alison Bechdel and Jung Chang, and Jung Chang, Chinese biographer, banned on the mainland but so beloved everywhere else, and lacking the connotations of Amy Tan, was always going to win. Jung Chang has written a new  biography of Cixi, Dowager Empress, scourge of China; Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who launched modern China. This biography has been written exclusively using first-hand accounts, and I’m so excited to get my hands on it.

look at this cutie!

look at this cutie!

Jung Chang is an excellent speaker. She has a wealth of adorable stories, a way of turning the most tragic anecdotes into amusing moments, and a lovely way of speaking (and not a little bit of familiarity, with her Chinese words thrown in amongst her accent and her pauses). She tells of being sixteen in 1968, and committing to paper her very first piece of writing, a poem. At the time, being a writer was certainly enough to have one sent down, and that very evening, as she was lying on her bed composing her work, the Red Guards busted in for a random inspection. Desperate to hide her evidence, she tore up the pieces and flushed it down the toilet, and there her writing career stalled for a decade. Everybody laughed, though it’s ostensibly a story of how difficult life was under Mao. Chang just has a way of telling it.

Wild Swans (and her Mao biography) are banned on the Mainland, but Jung Chang herself is not, merely blacklisted. She fought to be able to visit her mother for fourteen days in every year, and while she’s in country (in Chengdu, mostly), she refrains from talking about her work, publicising, and even seeing her friends. Chang shrugged. It is the price of being a writer, she said, and I lack the words to express how this makes me feel, but I’ll try. One of the hardest things for me, when I write about identity (and you know how I love to write about identity), is how much of my family to bring into it; how much of what can hurt me to bring into it. And I love how matter of fact she is of it, how accepting of her situation. This is the fence upon which she sits, and that’s just how it is.

The audience was a delightful mix; I love looking into a queue to see a whole lot of Chinese people, not just older but younger, too, my age or so. Lots of middle-aged to older white people, some others. Sporadic mutters and giggles when the interviewer first pronounced ‘Jung’ as if it were a ‘Y’ sound,* and second repeatedly pronounced Cixi incorrectly (Chang just kept saying Cixi until it sounded okay, and admittedly 慈 is not the most easy of sounds). But then, a sign perhaps of the white audience? Laughter when Chang related of how difficult it was for Cixi to get Chinese people to go overseas, to get a Chinese person to be ambassador to foreign countries. The first Chinese ambassador to the USA was an American. But Chinese people were afraid: afraid of being kidnapped, afraid of being killed. And there were giggles from the audience, as if this isn’t something truly to fear? (Clearly they’ve never been a Chinese person in a Western country)

funny story: the first airbrushed photo in chinese history

funny story: the first airbrushed photo in chinese history

When asked if Cixi’s history had been influenced by any thing in particular, Chang demurred, explaining the misrepresentations. What she meant to say was, surely, misogyny. Just like Wu Zetian.

When Cixi was young, she had a eunuch lover. Eunuchs were always despised, though Chang suggests they should be figures of sympathy. Cixi instigated a canal cruise for her lover’s birthday: there were dancers, and singing, and revels. This caused an outcry, because EUNUCHS and LADIES MAKING CHOICES, and her lover was put to death, the dancers were sent off to be prostitutes, and Cixi had a breakdown.

I loved the way Chang told of Cixi’s reforms, from the sweeping societal, through to the court etiquette, and how Cixi, who loved curiosities, never rode in a car – because the driver couldn’t bow AND drive at the same time. I also loved that she waved at foreign photographers, because she had heard that foreign monarchs did that (very different from the tradition of being hidden from view all one’s life, as Chinese royals were).

I was most interested to learn about Cixi, but as an endnote, I also learnt about George Morrison, whom Wikipedia tells me was also known as ‘Morrison of Peking’ or ‘Chinese Morrison.’ He came up because a man in the audience asked if Morrison, from Geelong, was in Chang’s new book, noting that he features predominately in many other biographies of Cixi and of the period. “No,” said Chang, after a pause. It wasn’t a ‘trying to remember’ pause – it was an awkward pause, a ‘how do I say no?’ pause. Morrison, says Chang, didn’t speak Chinese. He got a lot of his information from Backhouse, a man who claimed to be Cixi’s lover and who claimed that on her deathbed Cixi told him “never let a woman rule.” It had better not surprise you, reader, to learn that he was a giant liar.

This was a free (but booked out) event at the Wheeler Centre. If you’re in Melbourne, The Wheeler Centre is a great way to see/hear some awesome stuff, for free or for cheap! Get to it.

*!! This tweet from the Wheeler Centre tells me that Jung Chang pronounces her name Yoong! Which is super interesting that she’s chosen a pronunciation that’s so different from the pinyin/romanisation. How non-standard! I apologise for making fun of the interviewer for that.

Secrets & Lies

Secrets & Lies is Australia’s attempt at a Broadchurch/The Killing style of mystery, self-contained but with a focus on the impact of murder on a community.  I enjoy a good (fictional or historical) murder, and I was intrigued by the Brisbane setting and the fact it was picked up for an American remake before it had even aired.  I am far too Gen Y and cool to watch live-to-air TV, plus my house doesn’t have an aerial, so I hit tenplay.  Which I mention just because I approve of legal streaming television in general, and this was a good service with a nice, crisp stream, so well done, Channel 10.

The official blurb:

Secrets & Lies is a gripping six-part series that tells the story of Ben Gundelach (played by Martin Henderson - The Ring, Little Fish, Bride & Prejudice and Devil’s Knot), an everyday family man who finds the body of a young boy and quickly becomes the prime murder suspect. 

My blurb:

Manpain. No sympathetic adult women.  One person of colour, unsympathetic.  The hero has never read a detective novel ever, and is following the How To Look Totally Suss playbook.

Nevertheless, the mystery is interesting and I like the setting, so I’m probably going to keep watching.  And blogging.

I’m also going to keep on pointing out the incredibly white cast, because WOW, that does not look like Brisbane, even the upper middle-class river-side suburbia part of Brisbane.  It’s just so typical of Australian TV that no one even stops to think about diversity.  And if anyone dares to point it out, they’re accused of racism.

And I really hope the writing of the women pick up, because so far they’re pretty two-dimensional.  Don’t go looking for an Antipodean Sarah Lund here, because all the cops with speaking roles are dudes.

But like I said, the mystery is interesting.  I’m kind of hoping that the hero turns out to be the murderer, but I think we’re too deep inside his head for that sort of twist.  I am, however, going to predict that he’s the dead child’s father.  STAY TUNED.

birds of australia with hayley and michael: the emu

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Dear No Award; I’m excited to be bringing you a new monthly column here at No Award: Birds of Australia with Hayley and Michael, surely Ornithology’s Margaret and David. I say ‘I’ despite this being a shared blog because my co-host, Liz, is on record as having some bird issues. Please avert your eyes if your issues are like hers, and go bitch about birds on her personal blog!

I’ve got some strong feelings about birds in Australia. We say birds in Australia because this column will not be limited to birds indigenous to Australia; Michael and Hayley will also end up visiting introduced and exotic birds! Yes! Excellent! Each bird will be described, analysed and discussed, rated for gender politics, post-colonialism, awesomeness and whatever else our reviewers feel like, and then given a rating out of five feathers.

Dr Michael Livingston is a professional killjoy, occasional bird-nerd and part-time food blogger. You can find him writing about vego food at Where’s the Beef. Hayley Inch works for a bunch of film festivals. She writes frequently about food at Ballroom Blintz, very sporadically about film at 240 Films, and about many Melbourney things at Broadsheet. She’d be a better birdwatcher if she didn’t get so loud when excited.

Please do not be scared by our first bird, the Emu, which is basically the greatest bird ever after the penguin.

friend troy forlornly trying to feed an emu
friend troy forlornly trying to feed an emu

Michael says:

It’s fitting that we start this column off with the Emu, probably Australia’s most famous bird (rivalled by what, the Kookaburra? The Lyrebird?).  It adorns the Australian coat of arms and the 50c piece, is the namesake of Australia’s preeminent ornithology journal and even has its own brand of beer. The emu’s appeal is pretty straightforward – it’s two metres tall, flightless, distributed across the entire country (except Tassie) and a common sight for anyone driving through country Australia.  Shockingly, the emu wasn’t even nominated in the recent Australia’s Favourite Bird poll, an oversight I can’t begin to understand.

My second vivid bird-related memory (the first is being hunted by a terrifying pack of ‘domesticated’ vicious geese as a toddler) is of a baffling emu that roamed Brampton Island in the 1980s (for a brief time our family was upwardly mobile and holidayed on tropical islands). You’d see it loitering outside the cabins or roaming the beach, kicking up spray as it sprinted through the sea foam. It’s a sad story looking back – it was probably dumped on the island for novelty value and must have been lonely and confused. But as a kid it just felt unworldly – being a few metres from this odd creature, hearing its weird drumming calls and watching it sprint at incredible speeds  was a hint at how compelling the natural world can be.  Despite seeing hundreds of emus since then, a tiny remnant of that visceral thrill still sparks every time. They’re abundant birds, but there’s nothing common about them.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emu,_Jurong_BirdPark.JPG

They’re distinctive, but not particularly attractive birds, with drab brown and black feathers and a splash of blue at the neck. Their wings are tiny and useless, while their legs are strong enough to rip down fences, fend off dingoes and propel them at speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour. They eat anything and everything – native and introduced plants and fruits, bugs, moths, caterpillars, charcoal, stones – they’ll even eat car keys apparently. The emu’s gender politics are excellent, with the male taking on most of the work of bringing up the young. He spends two months incubating around a dozen beautiful green eggs, surviving only on body fat, dew and any scraps he can reach from the nest and losing a third of his body weight before the chicks hatch. Meanwhile, the female wanders off after laying the eggs and may breed again elsewhere, with another male emu.

So they’re a fascinating, distinctive and surprisingly feminist bird – I’m taking half a mark off because of their cold dead eyes and aggressive posturing and another half a mark purely because of this dreadful song that has been stuck in my head the whole time I’ve been writing this. So four feathers out of five from me.

Hayley says:

Michael has given an excellent overview of this most iconic of Australian birds, but if we’re going to talk emus (pronunciation guide: ee-mews, not ee-moos, for the love of god) we must address the most batshit amazing thing about them: the Emu War, aka that time the Australian government unleashed the might of the military against a species of native fauna, and the fauna WON.

“The Emu Battle – Volley of Questions” Canberra Times Friday, 18 November, 1932, page 3.

So it’s 1932, and bunch of returned WWI soldiers had taken to farming the Campion district in Western Australia. The only problem? EMUS. EMUS EVERYWHERE. Emus eating wheat and knocking down fences, thousands upon thousands of them. What were the diggers to do?

The farmers petitioned the Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce, with a plan. See, they had military experience and figured that there was only one thing that was going to successfully eradicate their feathered foe: MACHINE GUNS. They figured that if a brace of Lewis machine guns were so good at mowing down soldiers, they would do the same for the emus. Sir George was only too ready to agree, figuring that the birds would make ingenious target practice for the idling Australian military.

The emus weren’t having with any of this colonialist tame-the-land-and-shoot-all-the-native-species bullshit. Once the deployed soldiers actually started having a go at massacring some birds in November 1932 they quickly discovered that the emus were devious strategists, and ambushed mobs would very quickly split into smaller groups and scatter, making them much harder targets to hit than anticipated. Even hitting the emus apparently didn’t faze them; soldiers were gobsmacked at how many bullets an emu could take without bringing the bird down (so emus are clearly well-disguised Terminators).

Major G.P.W. Meredith, military head of the campaign, later claimed that just under 1000 emus died during the brief war, with estimates that a further 2500 birds would have died from injuries, but considering there were 20000 emus in the area it hardly made much difference. The war became a laughing stock in parliament, with Pearce being labelled “the Minister for the Emu War” and prompting this hilarious exchange in the House of Representatives:

Mr Thorby (NSW): “Who is responsible for the farce of hunting emus with machine guns mounted on lorries? Is the Defence Department meeting the cost?

Prime Minister Lyons: “I have been told the Defence Department will not be paying the bill.”

Mr James (NSW): “Is a medal to be struck for this war?”

The Emu War barely lasted a month, and despite repeated calls throughout the next few years from Campion residents to bring back the army to deal with all these goddamn emus, no one in authority was ever game to take them on again. The emu was just too invincible an opponent.

So as you can see, emus are freaking bad-arse and you should afford them with RESPECT. I have to take off half a feather due to them not being the most lethal ratite in the country (that award goes to the southern cassowary, alias a motherfucking dinosaur in bird form), but otherwise the emu receives a highly commendable four and a half feathers out of five.

Bird: Emu
Michael: Four out of Five Feathers
Hayley: Four and a Half Feathers

On awards and self-promotion

It seems like every year, the SF community has a kerfuffle about promoting one’s award-eligible work with the aim of getting it nominated.  There are those who think it’s unbelievably tacky, but there’s also the point that marginalised groups tend to be overlooked if they don’t put themselves out there.

Have some links!

John Scalzi made a series of tweets, which basically boiled down to “Promote away, don’t be a jerk.”

Adam Roberts writes, essentially, “Sure, marginalised groups are easily overlooked, but self-promotion is really tacky and distorts the nomination process, so don’t do it.”

Scalzi politely disagrees so we don’t have to.

For women, this issue came to the fore last year, when Seanan McGuire was accused of excessively promoting herself.  She had made, in fact, two posts about her eligibility for nominations.

Amal el-Mohtar writes further on that subject.

All of this is to say that the Chronos Awards are now accepting nominations, and No Award is eligible for Best Fan Publication.

Additionally, our individual posts are eligible for nomination under Best Fan Writing.  We are particularly proud of these:

(by Liz Barr)

For Your Bookshelf – The Deep by Tom Taylor

For Your Bookshelf – The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

The Sea and Summer

Pacific Rim, welcome to the blog!

(by Stephanie Lai)

The Exotic Place as Other (and notes on Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

Pacific Rim and the Chinese Jaeger program (and what that means in 2013)

Australia’s Jaeger Program, ps racism and history

It’s a shame, mind, that Stephanie’s series of posts on Serangoon Road don’t count as science fiction, fantasy or horror, because they surely deserve all kinds of awards.  Someone should buy her a bottle of vegan wine as compensation.

Clause 6.4 of the Chronos Awards rules states:

6.4 No Award: “No Award” shall appear last on the ballot for all categories.

So, you see, you’re practically obliged to nominate us!  Right?  RIGHT?

Look, our original purpose here was trolling, and we’re not going to let a little thing like “Liz, that’s a terrible joke” stop us.

Nomination rules:

5.1 Eligible nominators and voters: Nominations will be accepted only from natural persons active in fandom, or from full or supporting members of the event hosting the award. Where a nominator may not be known to the Awards subcommittee, the nominator should provide the name of someone known to the subcommittee who can vouch for the nominator’s eligibility.

5.2 Nominations: The nomination may nominate any number of works in any category. However, the nominator may nominate any given work only once in a category. All nominations must include the name of the nominator. Where a nominated mark does not meet the criteria for its nominated category, the committee may move the nomination to the appropriate category; or where a work does not meet any criteria, refuse the nomination.

5.3 Timing of Nominations: Nominations shall be open for a minimum of 30 days. Postal nominations shall be counted as valid based on postmark or receipt, whichever is earliest, if received before the final deadline set by the committee.

I have some feelings about that “must be active in fandom” bit, and “known to the organisers” and all.  But the first time I nominated someone — hey, I think it was Stephanie! — I said, “I am active in fandom, and here is my blog to prove it SO THERE,” only without the SO THERE.  Alternatively, you can become a supporting member — or even a full member!  Please feel free to come to our convention! — of Continuum.  It’s a great convention!  And I’m the membership officer, and shall think loving thoughts as you are entered into my database.)

More information about nominating, and other categories, and a link to a longer list of eligible works, can be found on Continuum’s website.

Fantasy Worlds and Real World Commentary

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Emperor Weishu Maorin Guangong Zhian, sixth of the Long Dynasty, of Yanjing, lives in a walled palace. He greets his guests in the Hall of Imperial Greeting; he has beautifully cultivated gardens of flowers and rocks. Those who see him must bow, their heads to the ground, nine times; delicately clothed in silk, fastened with silk frogs. The Master of Presentations is a eunuch. The erhu and the pipa are common instruments; Yanjingyi eat ‘water-reed shoots’ and steamed dumplings with eating sticks. Beside Yanjing lies Gyongxe, a great high plateau, where religions flourish and temples and temple dedicates are most at peace. Premier amongst the religions of Gyongxe is the Living Circle: a religion where one one feels the magic flowing through everything. It is like Qi, says one of the Emperor’s mages. Gyongxe is ruled over by the 298th God-King, implied a reincarnation, who can channel thoughts from gods and other beings.  In Gyongxe they drink butter tea and eat dumplings. Sky burial is an ancient, beloved practice, and though Briar feels disgust as an outsider, he respects their tradition.

It took me 200 pages before I put together what I was reading, because I didn’t want to believe it.

When a rose bush in the carefully sculpted gardens of Emperor Weishu, Eagle of the Heavens, the Leveller of Mountains, wilts with rot, he orders it torn up, the roses set alight, and the gardeners responsible tied up in the middle as the roses burn. His mages are dedicated to him, and his wars, and his closeness to heaven. He is the absolute ruler, and his armies are innumerable, and at their head he is ruthless. Emperor Weishu keeps prisoners; his favourite is Parahan, whose twin sister is Soudamini, who comes from Kombanpur, one of the Realms of the Sun. They speak Banpuri. Parahan is kept with magic chains across his wrists and ankles, and sits on occasion chained to the emperor’s dais.

I love representations of non-white cultures in Fantasy. I’m bored of epic European-based fantasies, reimagings of Arthurian or Greek or Roman or Christian mythos.* So this is great! A world of magic, with these cultural reference points that are familiar to me, that are home to me; or that are completely different but still belonging to someone. It’s great and rich and excellent.

Having taken the countries adjacent to his own, Emperor Weishu, Son of all the Gods, Master of Lions, is moving on to Gyongxe, the spindle of the world. He must have his empire encompass such a point. He has subjugated neighbouring Inxia, and is secretly holding the borders, preventing traders from travelling, and suppressing the Living Circle, this fantasy universe’s calm, meditative religion.

I don’t love Westerners passing judgements on issues they know nothing about; Westerners using our own political situations as the plots for their fantasy worlds; Westerners bringing horrible stereotypes into their fantasy texts, reinforcing these views.

I do not disagree with the heart of it. As an overseas Chinese living in Beijing, I kept my mouth shut on the Tibet issue, learnt the coded key words, and went about my business. I support sovereignty along religious borders, and I definitely have issues with the PRC’s methods of maintaining dominance and control, and the way it’s exterminating real world cultures. I have so many thoughts on Chinese colonialism, and its push into African countries and its railway through Tibet and its suppression of Xinjiang.

But these are complicated issues, with complicated factors and outcomes, and real world impacts. And representation affects that, too.

Borrow our cultures with respect; represent our cultures and our countries with thought and research and interest. Incorporate our fun elements and our bad elements and our mediocre elements. Have fantasy countries that look like China and Tibet and India and Indonesia, and sound and feel like it to us.

I want a less white fantasy landscape. But I don’t want this passing of judgement on a real world issue through a fantasy lens, through a White person’s fantasy lens. I don’t want to see my culture distorted so it is nothing but a stereotype; I don’t want my history disrespected and my culture manipulated so that all is left is a plot point.

I love this author (who I have not named, because she likes to have conversations with her critics and her fangirls like to pile on, but there is all the information here that you need to identify this author and series), and I have read and reread so many of her books. She works hard and works well to build an inclusive universe, that’s not a random European monoculture and is instead full and realistic (across not-ethnicity things, too). And I appreciate that. But this felt like Carthak again: I remember the Emperor Mage, who was so exorbitant and opulent he covered Daine’s bird shit covered clothes with new silk; whose slaves had their tongues removed; who felt he was heaven’s son, and closer to heaven than the gods; who wanted to invade Tortall and all that the protagonists held dear. And it makes me mad and it breaks my heart.

We are more than antagonists in your fantasy world.

(We are more than antagonists in your real world fantasy)

*though Jesus was a black man, Christianity is still primarily a thing associated with the West and with Europe. And of course historically there were black Europeans.

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