2013 NSW Premier's Literary Awards: Community Relations Commission for a multicultural NSW Award

winner

Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From

Tim Soutphommasane (New South Publishing)

Don't Go Back to Where You Came From

European governments are declaring multiculturalism a failure, with many conservatives in Australia hastening to agree. But is a multicultural approach to integration and diversity really as destructive as critics say? Have we been too quick to declare its demise? Offering an unflinching and informed defence of cultural diversity, Soutphommasane shows that multiculturalism is more than laksa, kebabs or souvlaki and that it doesn’t automatically spell cultural relativism, ethnic ghettos or reverse racism. In fact, multicultural Australia has been a national success story.

Judges' comments

Tim Soutphommasane’s Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From is a timely and vital intervention in the discussion around multiculturalism in Australia. It makes no apology for its agenda; it is, as the introduction announces, ‘a defence of multiculturalism grounded in liberal political philosophy’. An Asian Australian academic who has become an erudite social and political commentator, Soutphommasane is amply qualified for the task. He shuns the scholarly treatise and, though impassioned about the vitality of Australian multiculturalismHis voice is lively but composed and lucid as he gives a comprehensive tour through his subject and mounts a compelling case for cultural diversity. He doesn’t gloss over difficult issues like migrants’ civil responsibilities, their right to retain their culture, or the conflict between liberalism and patriotism, but navigates them with panache and wisdom.

In positioning Australian multiculturalism in the regional and global contexts, Soutphommasane not only showcases Australia as ‘an international exemplar’ but also reveals how transnational flows of people and ideas are rapidly changing what multiculturalism means. Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From is much more than a handbook to Australian multiculturalism. It is an honest, balanced enquiry, an engaged and enlightened survey of multiculturalism in practice.

In a time when multiculturalism is being put on trial in Europe, Soutphommasane creates a compelling case in its defence, a cogent argument for civic involvement in its continuing narrative. It is a book that will make those who embrace cultural plurality passively think deeply about the complexities and challenges of inter-ethnic and cross-cultural exchange, and persuade the sceptics and critics to take a second look. It is a must-read for all and merits a place in the school curriculum.


 

shortlist

All Windows Open and Other Stories

Hariklia Heristanidis (Clouds of Magellan)

All Windows Open

Chrissie Triantafillou is your average Greek girl growing up in Melbourne in the 1980s. Dark hair, art student, bit of a princess. Other distinguishing features: she has no sense of smell, has been cursed by her mother, and is passionately in love with her cousin George.

Judges' comments

This is a collection of eight short stories with the longest being the title story. It tells the story of Chrissie Triantafillou, an average Greek girl growing up in Melbourne in the 1980s. Chrissie has a number of distinguishing features, including the lack of a sense of smell; she has the comfortable life many second generation migrants desire, with a stable home life, a place at university and a handsome ‘Australian’ boyfriend. This all changes dramatically when she falls in love with her cousin who has just returned from extended European travels.
The well-written title story, 'All Windows Open', provides wonderful insights into experiences shared by many children of migrants — the uncertainties, expectations, disappointments and desires. Beyond this, it captures the clash of cultures between migrants and established residents, who share in everyday ‘multiculturalisms’ and everyday ‘racisms’. The following stories expand on the central themes, inviting the reader to understand new worlds. The result is an enjoyable, humorous and insightful book.  

Beneath the Darkening Sky

Majok Tulba (Penguin Group (Australia))

Beneath the Darkening Sky

When the rebels come to Obinna's village, they do more than wreak terror for one night. Lining the children up in the middle of the village, they measure them against the height of an AK-47. Those who are shorter than the gun are left behind. Those who are taller are taken. Obinna and his older brother Akot find themselves the rebel army's newest recruits.

But while Akot almost willingly surrenders to the training, Obinna resists, determined not to be warped by the revolution's slogans and violence. In the face of his vicious captain's determination to break him, Obinna finds help in a soldier called Priest, and in the power of his own dreams.

judges' comments

Beneath the Darkening Sky by Majok Tulba explores the violence, human degradation, failings and resilience of young people confronted by wars among neighbours where the motives of the conflict are lost in irrationality and dogmatism. The novel explores the ways two young boys deal with being forced into a war they do not believe in, illuminating their different responses to their predicament. It seeks to understand why some manage to find the capacity to resist while others’ spirits are broken. Through a personal journey with these young men, Tulba explores the notion that humanity is fraught with a tendency towards indiscriminate violence and disregard for human life.

This novel tells a significant contemporary (if, unfortunately, age-old) story. It is written with sensitivity and engages the reader in a narrative which explores humanity at its best and worst. The author invites the reader to enter into the experience of war — to encounter the trauma and, therefore, to understand.

 

 Anguli Ma: A Gothic Tale

 Chi Vu (Giramondo)

Anguli Ma - A Gothic Tale

A reinterpretation of a traditional Buddist folktale, Chi Vu gives a compelling insight into the relations formed between refugees who have been displaced from their families or their communities, and lead isolated lives haunted by suspicion and fear. At the same time its macabre humour and surreal effects point to redemptive possibilities, in demonstrating how these old fears are played out and resolved in their new settings.

Judges' comments

This wonderful novella takes a central figure in Buddhist folklore, Anguli Ma, and recasts him in a suburban Gothic tale set in 1980s Melbourne. This was when the flight of Vietnamese refugees reached its peak and age-old fears of ‘invasion’ from Australia’s north bubbled below the surface. In this re-telling, Anguli Ma is an abattoir worker who carries chunks of meat home in plastic bags.

Anguli Ma: A Gothic Tale
is written almost as a dream. The characters are slightly blurred, like an abstract painting, allowing images to develop in the reader’s mind, and providing glimpses of different communities in Australia. The characters’ journey through a deep soup of uncertainty is captured in the author’s style of storytelling. This is an enjoyable fantasy that could be read and re-read, with the reader seeing and feeling something different each time.

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