Griffith Review 18: In the neighbourhood
ABC Books, Sl9.95 pb, 273 pp
JASAL 2007 Special Edition: Spectres, screens, shadows, mirrors
Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, $20 pb, 175 pp
‘I had fully expected to find Karoline and her family living in difficult circumstances but in their home I am confronted and embarrassed by the extent of their poverty.’ In his stand-out piece of reportage, Peter Mares relates how Karoline and Jone came to Australia from Fiji to pick fruit, pluck chickens and make their families’ lives back home more bearable. They stay illegally, ‘enmeshed in a complex web of opportunity and obligation’. This refugee story details the global reasons for, and effects of, such journeys, as well as the daily hardship of poverty. The shock of reality, the yearning to make a positive difference, the allure of an ‘authentic’ experience, the realisation of its impossibility, and the weary cynicism of disappointment: these themes persist as Australians write about their Asian neighbourhood.
Canberra’s changing attitude to Asia and the challenge of bringing HECSstyle arrangements to Asian education provide frameworks for interesting memoirs by Michael Wesley and Jane Nicholls. Phil Brown portrays a European enclave in 1960s Hong Kong, and Bei Ling tells of establishing a magazine for Chinese expatriates. Raebel Buchanan’s essay on the lesser-known World War II hero Lofty Cannon is excellent, as is Hoa Pham’s poem about a Vietnamese veteran and grandmother. Therese van Maanen’s poem shuffles around words as if they are numbers in an equation before her startling final couplet.