Race and the Modern Exotic: Three 'Australian' women on global display
Monash University Publishing, $24.95 pb, 154 pp
Annette Kellerman, described by Angela Woollacott as ‘swimmer, diver, vaudeville performer, lecturer, writer and a silent-film star’, has been rediscovered in recent years. In 1994 Sydney’s Marrickville Council renamed its Enmore Park Swimming Pool, upgrading it from a humble pool to the Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre, in honour of the international celebrity, who briefly lived in the neighbourhood as a small child. A 2003 documentary by Michael Cordell celebrated ‘The Original Mermaid’. Now Woollacott presents her, in the company of two other performers, as creating ‘newly modern, racially ambiguous Australian femininities’. Her sisters in racial ambiguity are none other than film star Merle Oberon, whose claim to have been born in Tasmania began to be debunked not long after her death in 1979 (hence the inverted commas necessary for ‘Australian’ in the subtitle), and Rose Quong, performer and writer, whose fascinating story will be unknown to most of us, and is the real discovery of this book.