On becoming an Aussie

By Rhonda Dredge

There are three stand-out stories in Growing Up in Australia, an anthology of first-person accounts by 32 Aussies.

The first is Tourism by Benjamin Law, perhaps the most talented storyteller in the mix.

For the book is making the point that there is no such thing as a “proper” childhood and the Law family’s obsession with theme parks fits the bill.

The second standout story is Easter, 1969 by Katie Bryan, with the best and the most painful material.

Perhaps it is the recognition of these painful moments of difference in childhood that turn us into adults.

The third standout story is Wei-Lei and Me by Aditi Gouvernal, with its brilliant eye for cultural difference and her ability to shape the difference between the grandeur of New Dehli and the brown hills of Canberra into a dramatic tale.

There are accounts by people with overbearing fathers, deformed spines, breast cancer in teenagehood and forced riding lessons but nothing beats Gouvernal’s account of her beating a tormenter over the head with a cricket bat.

Law is a comedian and screenwriter whose series New Gold Mountain has just been shown on SBS, Bryan is of indigenous descent from Western Australia and Gouvernal is from Mumbai and working on a novel in the United States.

The challenge for the reader is to find a common thread in the narration and it appears to be that the prevailing culture in Australia is (or was) of British descent and repressed. 

Bryan’s mum kept her away from her fun-loving relatives, preferring her to visit a respectable “old stick” on a nearby station and Easter, 1969 tells of the excruciating lengths her father went to keep her mother from knowing about his indigenous roots.

The sheer truth of the pain in Easter, 1969 is quite difficult for the reader to bear.

This is the seventh in the Growing Up in Australia anthologies released by Blank Inc and in Wei-Lei and Me, the narrator sums it up.

“At night we would sit on scrappy vinyl-covered chairs in a bar called The Phoenix and after a couple of beers, rant about how we hated homogeneity and longed for difference. We had become what we thought we would never be: Australian.” •

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