Growing Up in Australia with an Introduction by Alice Pung

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

This book, with its store of memories, contains 32 short stories of an Australian childhood.

Introduced by Alice Pung, it is a fine addition to the series that Black Inc has published, illuminating the experiences of Asians, Aboriginals, Africans, Queers, and Disabled people growing up in Australia.  It is rich in anecdotes that highlight the unique quality and astonishing variety of living in this country and is an example of the importance of giving opportunities to tell our stories.

In Don’t Touch Alcohol, by Sara El Sayed, her family arrives at the turn of the 21st century from Egypt. She conveys much in a few pages. The quirkiness of Australia’s version of English is a challenge, particularly for her father, fluent in English but flummoxed by double meanings and slang expressions. Communication is difficult. He is a devout Muslim and is determined to reject even ginger beer because it contained ‘beer’. Nonetheless, he sets about happily to adapt to this strange new life.

Miranda Tapsell’s honest account tells of problems posed when your father is white and mother indigenous. She feels she does not belong with either her Kakadu community or her school friends who are fans of the Spice Girls.

Rick Morton has written at length of his tumultuous childhood, growing up in rural Boonah. In The Game Is To Hide, he describes the anguished road to admitting his being gay. His mum thinks her giving him a Ken (Barbie’s boyfriend) doll determined his sexuality!! In his poignant final sentence, he is alone in his room dancing to some bad pop music.

Moo-Inn-Chew’s story of coming out is quite the opposite. Although growing up as a Malaysian Chinese girl was not always easy when she followed her essential self, it proved joyful, surprising and reassuring. She came into her community, initially in Fitzroy, welcomed and confident at last. She Came In, not Out!

Benjamin Law, with his irrepressible humour, in Tourism, mentions SE Queensland’s theme parks, one of which is the deer sanctuary at Forest Glen. At one hilarious stage, a greedy emu pokes its head in their car and gets stuck. Many people would have memories of those theme parks he lists, but not having an emu running alongside their car with its head caught in the window!

Contributions come from some of Australia’s most well-known and successful writers.

Stan Grant emerged from the deprivation of a First Nation’s childhood to become a respected journalist and broadcaster.

Magda Szubanski, beloved comedian, is the child of Polish migrants. Her descriptions of the wonders of childhood, family holidays, awareness of the wide spaces of landscape, even an enormous full moon, are delightful.

Anna Goldsworthy is blessed by having a gifted, exceptional music teacher whose influence was paramount in shaping her technique, her career. Unflaggingly tough, honest and perceptive, Mrs Sivan inspired young Anna to work tirelessly and to become the fine musician she is today.

Tim Winton’s stature as a writer is never more evident than in this briefest of stories Land’s Edge. The first page contains one of the most startling events in a six-year old’s life. It involves a giant rat dripping blood and dangling within centimetres of his face as he lies in bed!  Despite this revolting opening, he continues on to paint a most idyllic scene of childhood holidays on the coast of Western Australia. In the very rough basic house was captured boyhood dreams.  He confesses ‘I’ve lived all my years to a six-year old’s fantasy.’

These memoirs/ small histories reveal young lives that entertain, resonate, sometimes shock. It’s impossible to imagine a reader who will not embrace these wonderful stories that increase our awareness, and inspire gratitude to the authors who have shared a fraction of their lives.

Growing Up in Australia

Introduction by Alice Pung


Black Inc

ISBN 978 17606 4318 8

$29.99; 288pp


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