by Duncan Murray
SYDNEY, July 26 (Xinhua) — Growing up on the Sunshine Coast in Australia’s northeast State of Queensland, there were not many kids on the block that looked like Benjamin Law.
Being born to Chinese parents meant that the now renowned writer and broadcaster was raised in two worlds straddling two vastly different, and sometimes contradictory cultures.
“Both of my parents are Cantonese Chinese and moved to Australia in the mid 1970s,” Law told Xinhua on Thursday.
“We had a big school and you could probably count the non-white people on the palm of your hand, so we were very much the minority growing up. We stood out very easily.”
As time went by, Law’s story resembles that of many Australian born Chinese (ABCs) which has formed a growing part of Australia’s social landscape today.
Now, in a new two-part documentary series titled “Waltzing the Dragon,” Law delves back into his own family history to explore Australia’s surprisingly deep and unexamined ties with China.
The documentary will be aired on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation beginning on Tuesday night, and is set to be an eye-opening experience for many viewers.
“When we talk about Chinese Australian history in this country, often we talk about it as a side note to Australian history, where it’s actually been at the core of Australian history,” Law said.
“In a way our communities are kind of discovering that history for ourselves now and it’s not a history that’s easy to pin down. It’s a complex, complicated story.”
The first episode of the documentary takes Law, along with his mother, to south China’s Guangdong Province to explore her complicated past and uncover the long lost family ties.
“Going to Guangdong was a huge kind of awakening for both of us,” he said.
“There are huge holes in her knowledge about who she is, who her family is and where she comes from. And we wanted to pursue that while also pursuing the story of Australia’s Chinese heritage.”
The fact that Law is himself a Chinese-Australian is the key which opens up the documentary’s telling of history to make it a personal and human story.
“I feel that this documentary in some ways could have only been told with Chinese-Australian perspectives,” Law said.
“I think because we have these dual identities that we live and breathe every day, we are kind of equipped and fluent at being able to translate the story between China and Australia.”
Somebody that Law says inhabits a centuries-old Chinese tradition in Australia is his entrepreneurially spirited father, who accompanies Law for episode two in exploring one of the most enduring parts of the Australia-China relationship — economy and trade.
Going right back to the beginning, they uncover an emerging branch of historical inquiry which shows that the Chinese were driving trade in Australia long before the Europeans set foot here.
“When you look right back through Australian history, you’ve got a huge Chinese appetite for something called Trepang, or sea cucumber,” Law explained.
“Archaeological records shows that Makassans from Indonesia were harvesting the sea cucumber for the Chinese market, so that’s the first the very first instance of global trade in this continent, driven by the Chinese.”
In the years that followed European settlement, many more would travel from China to Australia — whether it be seeking a fortune in the goldfields, or as labor escaping trouble back home, Australia presented a land of opportunity and continues to this day to grow mutually prosperous with its ancient neighbor to the north.
“These stories are not more broadly told. Historians have been researching them and writing about them for a very, very long time but I’m not sure that mainstream Australia is aware of that history,” Law said.
So are ABCs like Law, Australian or Chinese or both or neither?
“I think, what you discover very quickly is you can be all these things at once,” he said.
“We do have these cultural connections to China that are very, very innate and core to who we are, and at the same time we’re very, very Australian,” Law said.
Waltzing the Dragon will be screened on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation across two nights starting Tuesday.