What’s it like being different from all the other kids? Director Tony Ayres, artist William Yang, cultural critic Juliana Qian and writer Benjamin Law are going to talk about that very topic at Growing Up Chinese in Australia (24 February), part of ACMI’s China Up Close series of exhibitions, films and performances. Here, Benjamin – journalist, screenwriter and author of two books The Family Law and Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East – gives us a preview.
What was it like growing up Chinese–Australian in Queensland? Did you see yourself and your family as different? Well, considering the Sunshine Coast in the ’80s and ’90s was blindingly white – both in sand and skin tone – I’m pretty sure we stood out. But luckily, being ethnic had a bit of cred when I was in primary school. Expo ’88 meant everyone was interested in anything foreign, so I was the kid giving all my mates chopstick lessons over lunchtime. But then the ’90s hit, Pauline Hanson became huge, and suddenly there was a flotilla of cars bearing One Nation stickers picking kids up from school. Fun times!
Who were your role models when you were a teenager? Interestingly, nearly all of them were female. I was obsessed with Björk, PJ Harvey and Tori Amos as a teenager. And because I read about musicians so much, I guess other role models were the magazine writers who profiled musicians, like ex-Rolling Stone writer Chris Heath, whose writing is still spectacular.
How did your mum feel about you deciding to be a writer? Oh, she loves it. She follows me around writing festivals, armed with a video camera, like my number one fan.
How does your family celebrate Chinese New Year? We eat until we lose consciousness. I think this is probably true for most Chinese people. We do most of this in silence, as conversation expends precious energy you could otherwise devote to eating.
Whose story are you most interested in hearing at Growing Up Chinese in Australia? Hard pick. I’ve seen William Yang talk about his life in public before, and I could listen to him for hours. Tony Ayres is a mate and the executive producer of the TV show I’m working on, so same applies to him. But Juliana Qian is someone I haven’t yet met, and I’m dying to. She’s the Pokémon I’ll pick.
For more information and ticketing, go to the ACMI website.