Asian-Australian sitcoms — and a reflection

Here are Benjamin Law, Australian writer, and Trystan Go who plays Benjamin in the sitcom The Family Law, now in its second season on SBS.

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The casting has been brilliant. One of the funniest things I have seen on TV lately was in Episode 2 where a drama teacher uses off-the-wall casting techniques whereby young Benjamin gets the role of Medea after a melt-down in the school toilets. Looking forward to how that plotline develops. On Trystan Go:

The actor, whose theatre credits include The King And I, plays Benjamin Law in the small screen adaptation of the best-selling memoir about life on the Sunshine Coast in 1990s Queensland…

“When I read the scripts, I could really see that I’d enjoy playing Ben,” Go recalls.

“The things he does are so wacky and weird. Ben is funny, without trying to be — a real showman. He’s intense too, a bit self-centred, but also really courageous. He’s trying to get his family back together, so he’s full of heart.”

The cast:

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On a rather serious note, Benjamin Law writes in The Good Weekend today: I’d love an Asian-Australian family on TV to be unremarkable.

…I used to think Australia was overwhelmingly white, too. I didn’t have the internet as a kid, and TV told me Australia was nearly 100 per cent Anglo. It was only when I moved to the city that I saw Australia for what it is: one of the most diverse nations on earth. According to analysis by Screen Australia based on the 2011 census, Australia was 67 per cent Anglo-Celtic, 12 per cent non-Anglo European, and the remaining fifth Asian, African, South American and Indigenous. New census data released later this year will show the latter figures have jumped.

Shouldn’t we see “past” race?

Ideally, yes. But for now, no. Only when we acknowledge how ethnically diverse Australia is, can we ask whether mostly white workplaces are meritocracies. Or whether there is an excuse for overwhelmingly white TV shows. I’d love for an Asian-Australian family on TV to be unremarkable. But it’s not. So until it is, let’s keep the conversation going.

See also ‘It’s like a turducken of mums’: Benjamin Law on fact, fiction and The Family Law.

It’s hard to watch a show like The Family Law without feeling like it was crafted with a lot of love and the cast and production team are so tight-knit that, when I ask about their motivations for the show, their answers are so similar that I briefly wonder if they have been coached. Is it possible, in the age of shows as bleak and cynical as House of Cards, or Fargo, or A Handmaid’s Tale, to create television with genuine warmth and generosity? But it’s only a moment of doubt, because it’s hard to leave The Family Law without feeling like this big, sprawling family has just claimed you as a member, too.

ABC coincidentally has been screening Ronny Chieng: International Student. It has its moments, but personally I don’t find it as good as The Family Law. Too over-the-top at times, maybe?

Will my tipping be any better in Round 3?

After last week’s dismal performance — mind you, I was not alone.

It’s fair to say there were plenty of surprises in the NRL last weekend, with teams who impressed in Round 1 slumping to heavy defeats. It’s made predicting the way games will fall a bit of a nightmare, but The Roar‘s NRL expert tipping has the lowdown for Round 3.

Last week was a tough week for everyone, with Mary and Greg tying on five, the crowd picking up four, and the less said about the performance from Tim and myself, the better…

So what am I tipping?

  • Melbourne Storm vs Brisbane Broncos: Storm YES!
  • Canterbury Bulldogs vs New Zealand Warriors: Warriors NO!
  • Gold Coast Titans vs Parramatta Eels: Eels by 10 NO!
  • Newcastle Knights vs South Sydney Rabbitohs: Rabbitohs YES!!
  • Penrith Panthers vs Sydney Roosters: Panthers NO! by 2 points!
  • North Queensland Cowboys vs Manly Sea Eagles: Cowboys NO! Cowboys done like a dinner…
  • Canberra Raiders vs Wests Tigers: Raiders YES!!!
  • Cronulla Sharks vs St George Illawarra Dragons: Sharks — NO! Alas!

Given my recent form…

So, after all that just one pick better than last round!

Tipping — off!

This round of the NRL began promisingly as far as my entry in the City Diggers Tipping Competition went. But then came Saturday! Now for your information I chose:

Thursday: Roosters — yes!

Friday: Storm — yes! And then the rot set in as I chose Broncos, but how close was that!

Saturday: Alas! Titans, Sea Eagles (shame on me, I know!), Raiders…

Today: Tigers, Dragons. Surely I must at least equal last week’s dismal three correct?

Update: Well, it did get worse!  Panthers are celebrating a 36-2 thumping of the Tigers; Dragons 16 – 34 Eels. Woe is me!

Meanwhile, there was another competition in Western Australia, and I got that one right, as did just about everyone else.

With some calling the Labor win at the polls in WA a “bloodbath”, outgoing Premier Colin Barnett conceded his “best shot wasn’t good enough”.

The WA Labor party is predicted to take home the win with up to 40 seats, a result that surpassed even the most daring poll predictions.

The really good news is the dismal performance of One Nation!

Pauline Hanson has likened Colin Barnett to spoiled milk that should have been thrown out after One Nation fared worse in the WA election than she expected, blaming the result on the party’s preference deal with the Liberals.

Early results indicate the party failed to secure a lower house seat despite intense campaigning.

But it did secure at least one upper house seat, which was the objective of the preference deal, with state leader Colin Tincknell claiming the South West.

Cascading memories

Here is a series from my archives: Reflections, mostly about a chequered teaching career: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and add mais où sont les neiges d’antan? and Life’s embarrassing moments. From the last one:

Probably my most embarrassing moment was at Dapto High when I was the age Mr R is now. I had proudly been appointed teacher-in-charge of Year 8, and hence had to sit on stage in Year 8 assemblies. Dapto had 1,400 students then, so a Year 8 assembly was quite big. It was also the way the school fulfilled its scripture quota for the week, a local clergyman saying a few words at the assembly. I somehow managed to walk up to the microphone, spotlighted, only to be greeted by considerable laughter. In best teacher mode I glared and asked what was so funny…

“Your fly’s undone, sir…”

Oh dear!

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I was wearing undies.

All this from two images that came my way via Facebook. The first I found on Dapto History in Pictures. It shows the English staff at Dapto in 1969, the year before I arrived.

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Jim Gordon was Head Teacher from 1970, Tom Dobinson having gone on to become an Inspector. He inspected me at Wollongong High in 1976. Some more memories of Dapto in 1970:

The elopement

One day a member of the English staff disappeared. This was just one of several bizarre events that year, which led to questions in parliament.

We later heard she had eloped with a reporter from the local newspaper.

Skinny dipping

One staff member was around 22 and rode a World War II Harley Davidson, dressing to match. Otherwise he taught English and History. He was on good terms with “Animal” and other noted members of the Kings Cross biker scene. He had a wonderful place on the river at Minnamurra, a short swim (almost a walk at low tide) to the sandspit and beach. Many a good staff party happened there, and one warm night swimming was definitely the go. It wasn’t low tide, though, so he rowed across with his assortment of English teachers. I recall one Brian being counselled about guarding his Catholic manhood as in the then state of undress he stumbled getting into the boat almost bringing the gunwale into firm collision with his private parts.

Fortunately no-one drowned.

It’s not a good idea, kiddies, to go surfing in the dark, especially when intoxicated and there are sharks about.

The teacher who threw things out of windows

He was in fact rather popular, but when a child especially annoyed him he would, after several warnings, grab everything off the child’s desk and throw said belongings (but not the child) out the second floor window. He would then send the child to collect them. I got quite a shock when I first witnessed this.

I am sure conservatives would see this as evidence that schools today have declined in comparison with 30-40 years ago.

Breaking records

A large batch of 78rpm records destined for the school fete was stored in the staff room. One day our biker friend crept up behind someone and smashed a record over his or her head. We discovered this was painless but dramatically noisy and left very satisfying shards of black shellac everywhere. So we spent the lunch hour working through the records, not excluding any students who were foolish enough to knock on the door.

The cleaner complained.

The suit of armour

I was given the task of taking a suit of armour, a prop for the school play, to the school hall. I decided the best way was to wear it. This did get talked about for a while…

The head

I was so naive, really.

I had a class of Year 9s who were variously, well, retarded, or should I say differently abled. One of them had also been dealt a bad hand when it came to personal appearance, but was actually rather nice though occasionally given to rages. On graduation he found a job in a sheltered workshop.

The door of their classroom had a small window to enable passers-by to check on the inmates, but the glass had long gone. My young friend used to stick his head through this window and smile in a rather alarming way at people in the corridor. One day going past I asked him to pull his head in. I went further than that. Seeing he reminded me of nothing more than a moose head mounted on a wall I said, “Peter, pull your head in or I’ll mount you on the wall.”

Pleased with my wit, I recounted the story to my colleagues. “You’re so athletic, Neil,” a female teacher who later went on to considerable fame remarked.

My embarrassed blush lit the room beautifully. Honestly, governor, I meant no double-entendre!

The second picture appeared on an Illawarra Grammar ex-student’s Facebook page. Thanks, Ralph! It shows me being  “kidnapped”. As Ralph notes, “A long, long time ago …..”

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What was I up to in March 2012?

Five years on from the post before last.

The Cock House at Fellsgarth

Given this is Mardi Gras weekend you may well wonder, but in fact this is a school story by Talbot Baines Reed which I have just read as an eBook. More years ago than I care to admit to I read his The Fifth Form at St Dominic’s but had never encountered The Cock House before, so naturally I was curious. In brief it is tosh and rubbish, but not entirely a waste of time. Having been a teacher for so long I would have to fail Reed on mere educational grounds. The schools he describes would never cut it in NAPLAN! They really are quite awful places really, seriously…

I see there is a Facebook page for the COOK House at Felsgarth… Hmmm.

Much more worthwhile is Alec Waugh’s The Loom of Youth, which I am currently reading on Baby Toshiba.

My eBook collection of freebies now exceeds 500 titles!

Alas poor Baby Toshiba

My companion in hospital last year, and a faithful little servant in the tail end of my tuition in Chinatown, latterly to be seen in my company in clubs and pubs from Surry Hills to The Gong.

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Oh Baby Toshiba, why won’t you boot up any more? You just turn on and almost instantly turn off again…!

Only on the Internet: back to 1954

Had an email the other day from the son of my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Boys Primary in 1954. He had found 09 — My Teachers in my Ninglun’s Specials archive.

Grade 6 1954

The second principle Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game derive from their corpus of interviews is:

Good teaching recognises the unique potential of each student. This is not the same as an expectation or a prediction; it is seeing students in their wholeness, as they are now. The teacher’s responsibility is to nurture students and draw out their potential by opening them to new worlds. Thus teaching is inherently ethical, allowing students to find their place in and to contribute to the world.


I would like to name Mister O’Neil, my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Public School (or Sutherland Boys Primary as it was then, now a “special” school) in 1954, the year of the Royal Visit. I still vividly remember (among other things) going with my maternal grandfather — another inspiring teacher — through the fence and beside the track to wait for the (then) sheer magic of seeing the Royal Train go through, and Mister O’Neil rehearsed us over and over to perform appropriate songs, including a late Vera Lynn called “She’s the Queen of Everyone’s Hearts”, at the Sutherland School of Arts, where my mother won an electric jug in a raffle.

World War II was after all less than ten years before; indeed I was enrolled at Sutherland in 1949. My father had been in the RAAF.

The thing about Mister O’Neil is that he had a class of fifty or so students, all in a portable class room that baked in summer. Hardly any of the boys had shoes. Cast-off bits of military uniform were fashionable; no such thing as a school uniform, or (I may add indelicately) underpants. There were a few quite talented kids in 6A; I was a bit up myself, I’m afraid, because even though I took every August off to have bronchitis, and also that year had mumps followed by orchitis (nasty) and pancreatitis, I still managed to top the class, despite my rather alarming (and continuing) innumeracy. He let us have our heads, really. We produced school newspapers, in which I wrote and illustrated serials that were rather like Biggles, and also devised crossword puzzles. Every Friday we “broadcast” our plays over the school’s PA system.

When I was selected to go to Sydney Boys High my parents were against it, mainly because of the travelling which, combined with my absent-mindedness that led to my once almost being run over at a pedestrian crossing, they felt would not suit me. I guess they were also worried about my health. My mother at that time, I might add, was invalided with a clot in the leg, so I was also cooking dinner every night, following instructions emanating from my mother’s bedroom. She used to say what I cooked for the dogs smelt more appetising than what I made for the family — chops and three veg usually. Can’t go too wrong with that. Well, Mister O’Neil I found one afternoon when I came in from playing with the Dawson boys down the road sitting by my Mum’s bed in earnest conversation. Result: I went to Sydney Boys High. Apparently I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Primary to that point… That may not be saying too much, of course, and I certainly found myself a small fish in a big pond at SBHS the following year.

But hats off to Mr O’Neil. Not only was he just a fascinating teacher, but so dedicated. By his complexion I suspect he may have enjoyed the odd bevvie too… At a time when many schools, especially boys schools, were “houses of swinging bamboo”, I can’t recall seeing him actually cane anyone either. I remember him with gratitude. Mind you, I don’t think I ever have quite fulfilled that potential, and at going on 65 it may be a bit late…

You will see the use Michael O’Neil made of my reminiscence on his family site: Edgar Ronald O’Neill (1918-1994) & Sheila Hudson (1919-1948)

Eddie on playground

There he is: Eddie O’Neil, my Year 6 1954 teacher – in 1957

Gives you a good idea of what school in The Shire was like back then too…

Check the dunnies behind him… Yes, pans!

Only on the Internet, eh! What would the chances have been of making this sort of contact before the Net came along?

Back from Sydney

Sirdan came down from Gympie today, just for part of the day! He, P and I dined at a swank Italian place in the old GPO.

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Sirdan had to be on the 2.30 plane back to Queensland, and P to work I assume. I decided to revisit old haunts.

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Sydney Boys High this afternoon.

I have nothing against a good belly button…

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Don’t know them, but they are Aussies…

But this guy elevated the belly button to cosmic heights…

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Wikipedia: “Philip Henry Gosse (6 April 1810 – 23 August 1888) was an English naturalist and popularizer of natural science, virtually the inventor of the seawater aquarium, and a painstaking innovator in the study of marine biology. Gosse is perhaps best known today as the author of Omphalos, an attempt to reconcile the immense geological ages presupposed by Charles Lyell with the biblical account of creation.

After his death, Gosse was portrayed as a despotic and fanatically religious father in Father and Son (1907), the literary masterpiece of his son, poet and critic Edmund Gosse

The gist of the Omphalos theory is that just as Adam. though not “born”, would have had a false history stamped on him via his belly button – think about it – so the fossil record etc represents a false history preloaded, as we might say today, by God at the time of creation. Ingenious, except that there is nothing to say the false history began two seconds ago and this entry was preloaded by God….

At the moment I am reading Father and Son. Just how true it is people have disputed, but whatever the case the book is a real treasure. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and my Kobo.

Meanwhile, capable as I was of reading, I found my greatest pleasure in the pages of books. The range of these was limited, for story-books of every description were sternly excluded. No fiction of any kind, religious or secular, was admitted into the house. In this it was to my Mother, not to my Father, that the prohibition was due. She had a remarkable, I confess to me still somewhat unaccountable impression that to ‘tell a story’, that is, to compose fictitious narrative of any kind, was a sin. She carried this conviction to extreme lengths. My Father, in later years, gave me some interesting examples of her firmness. As a young man in America, he had been deeply impressed by ‘Salathiel’, a pious prose romance by that then popular writer, the Rev. George Croly. When he first met my Mother, he recommended it to her, but she would not consent to open it. Nor would she read the chivalrous tales in verse of Sir Walter Scott, obstinately alleging that they were not ‘true’. She would read none but lyrical and subjective poetry. Her secret diary reveals the history of this singular aversion to the fictitious, although it cannot be said to explain the cause of it. As a child, however, she had possessed a passion for making up stories, and so considerable a skill in it that she was constantly being begged to indulge others with its exercise. But I will, on so curious a point, leave her to speak for herself:

‘When I was a very little child, I used to amuse myself and my brothers with inventing stories, such as I read. Having, as I suppose, naturally a restless mind and busy imagination, this soon became the chief pleasure of my life. Unfortunately, my brothers were always fond of encouraging this propensity, and I found in Taylor, my maid, a still greater tempter. I had not known there was any harm in it, until Miss Shore [a Calvinist governess], finding it out, lectured me severely, and told me it was wicked. From that time forth I considered that to invent a story of any kind was a sin. But the desire to do so was too deeply rooted in my affections to be resisted in my own strength [she was at that time nine years of age], and unfortunately I knew neither my corruption nor my weakness, nor did I know where to gain strength. The longing to invent stories grew with violence; everything I heard or read became food for my distemper. The simplicity of truth was not sufficient for me; I must needs embroider imagination upon it, and the folly, vanity and wickedness which disgraced my heart are more than I am able to express. Even now [at the age of twenty-nine], tho’ watched, prayed and striven against, this is still the sin that most easily besets me. It has hindered my prayers and prevented my improvement, and therefore, has humbled me very much.’

This is, surely, a very painful instance of the repression of an instinct. There seems to have been, in this case, a vocation such as is rarely heard, and still less often wilfully disregarded and silenced. Was my Mother intended by nature to be a novelist? I have often thought so, and her talents and vigour of purpose, directed along the line which was ready to form ‘the chief pleasure of her life’, could hardly have failed to conduct her to great success. She was a little younger than Bulwer Lytton, a little older than Mrs. Gaskell—but these are vain and trivial speculations!

From my week’s reading: Edmund Gosse, “Father and Son” — 1907

Still relevant after all those years.

My holidays, however, and all my personal relations with my Father were poisoned by this insistency. I was never at my ease in his company; I never knew when I might not be subjected to a series of searching questions which I should not be allowed to evade. Meanwhile, on every other stage of experience I was gaining the reliance upon self and the respect for the opinion of others which come naturally to a young man of sober habits who earns his own living and lives his own life. For this kind of independence my Father had no respect or consideration, when questions of religion were introduced, although he handsomely conceded it on other points. And now first there occurred to me the reflection, which in years to come I was to repeat over and over, with an ever sadder emphasis,—what a charming companion, what a delightful parent, what a courteous and engaging friend my Father would have been, and would pre-eminently have been to me, if it had not been for this stringent piety which ruined it all.

Let me speak plainly. After my long experience, after my patience and forbearance, I have surely the right to protest against the untruth (would that I could apply to it any other word!) that evangelical religion, or any religion in a violent form, is a wholesome or valuable or desirable adjunct to human life. It divides heart from heart. It sets up a vain, chimerical ideal, in the barren pursuit of which all the tender, indulgent affections, all the genial play of life, all the exquisite pleasures and soft resignations of the body, all that enlarges and calms the soul are exchanged for what is harsh and void and negative. It encourages a stern and ignorant spirit of condemnation; it throws altogether out of gear the healthy movement of the conscience; it invents virtues which are sterile and cruel; it invents sins which are no sins at all, but which darken the heaven of innocent joy with futile clouds of remorse. There is something horrible, if we will bring ourselves to face it, in the fanaticism that can do nothing with this pathetic and fugitive existence of ours but treat it as if it were the uncomfortable ante-chamber to a palace which no one has explored and of the plan of which we know absolutely nothing. My Father, it is true, believed that he was intimately acquainted with the form and furniture of this habitation, and he wished me to think of nothing else but of the advantages of an eternal residence in it.

Then came a moment when my self-sufficiency revolted against the police-inspection to which my ‘views’ were incessantly subjected. There was a morning, in the hot-house at home, among the gorgeous waxen orchids which reminded my Father of the tropics in his youth, when my forbearance or my timidity gave way. The enervated air, soaked with the intoxicating perfumes of all those voluptuous flowers, may have been partly responsible for my outburst. My Father had once more put to me the customary interrogatory. Was I ‘walking closely with God’? Was my sense of the efficacy of the Atonement clear and sound? Had the Holy Scriptures still their full authority with me? My replies on this occasion were violent and hysterical. I have no clear recollection what it was that I said,—I desire not to recall the whimpering sentences in which I begged to be let alone, in which I demanded the right to think for myself, in which I repudiated the idea that my Father was responsible to God for my secret thoughts and my most intimate convictions.

He made no answer; I broke from the odorous furnace of the conservatory, and buried my face in the cold grass upon the lawn. My visit to Devonshire, already near its close, was hurried to an end. …

“Gosse’s Father and Son is a superb and sometimes quite beautiful book…” — Brian A. Oard

Sunrise