Imperial Island: A history of empire in modern Britain
Bodley Head, $35 pb, 384 pp
The opinions of Kandiah Kamalesvaran AM, better known by his stage name Kamahl, on the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament received extensive media attention in September 2023. A household name for many Australians, the Malaysian-born crooner’s indecision frustrated both the Yes and No camps.
Kamahl’s story is very much one of empire. Arriving in Adelaide from the then British colony of Malaya in 1953 to complete his Matriculation, Kamahl then enrolled in a university degree to avoid deportation and began performing professionally in 1958 under the stage name Kamal – which Australian announcers often mispronounced as ‘Camel’.
Changes to the notorious White Australia policy in 1966 allowed Kamahl to receive permanent residency, and one year later he made his motion picture début, as an ‘Aboriginal prisoner’ in Journey out of Darkness. Kamahl recalls that, when the set broke for lunch, the white actors and crew – one of whom was in blackface – ‘had theirs in the Homestead [but] The Aboriginal actress and I were given ours to be eaten outside under a Tree’.