The world we are living in now is incredibly volatile. Hospitals are at capacity with the clash of rising COVID-related deaths and seasonal flu cases. Our greenhouse pollution is higher than that of any other developed country—so no wonder La Nina continues after months-long rainfall. The ongoing injustices against First Nations people from Australia to Palestine are escalating. Black communities are still being killed by White supremacist terrorists. Russia is invading Ukraine—an act reminiscent of World War One. In such an unstable time, we need to start imagining an alternative. If viruses, floods, pollution and war are our current reality, we need a new one. We need another Australia.
Two years back, in the throes of pandemic-inspired lockdown, I was asked to develop the sequel to the critically-acclaimed anthology After Australia. Originally conceived by the executive director of Diversity Arts Australia, Lena Nahlous, After Australia published works by twelve Indigenous writers and writers of colour from every state and territory in Australia. The anthology was edited by award-winning author, Dr Michael Mohammed Ahmad, and featured some of our nation’s greatest living writers, including Claire G. Coleman, Michelle Law, Future D. Fidel and Ambelin Kwaymullina, each of whom grappled with the future of this nation. Their brilliant pieces were adorned by a bright yellow cover, highlighting the scribbled-out faces of blond-headed and blue-eyed beachgoers. Following the release of After Australia, a deeply concerned citizen took it upon himself to report the anthology to the Australian Human Rights Commission, claiming that it promoted ‘racial hatred’ against White people. The complaint was ultimately terminated for ‘lacking in substance’, but at its very core was yet another reminder that this colony is still incapable of having a direct and honest conversation about racism. For the sequel, it was evident I had big shoes to fill—would I be able to produce a collection that was as experimental, revolutionary and uncompromising as its predecessor? Would I be able to find another twelve writers who could disrupt and dismantle the fantasy of White supremacy in Australia?
As I pondered what a stand-alone follow-up to After Australia could look like, the world around me felt like a Roland Emmerich disaster movie. From bushfires to mice plagues, severe warnings of climate crisis increased. Australia bid for access to vaccines while anti-vax protesters took to the streets amidst lockdowns. Globally, White supremacists stormed the US capitol. A NASA Rover landed on one of the most inhospitable areas on Mars. Palestinians were unlawfully and forcefully displaced from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. A huge container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted for the murder of George Floyd while the war in Afghanistan officially ended, creating a surge of refugees. It seemed to me that the past, present and future were colliding into a Doctor Strange-style multiverse of madness.
As I thought about the writers I wanted to commission for Another Australia, my late-grandmother’s gravelly voice began echoing in my head as if she were speaking to me from Pulotu—The Underworld: ‘Tu’u pē lā mo e poupou. Always be prepared for any eventuality.’
Her words, an ancient Tongan proverb, made a path for me through the multiverse. First Nations people and people of colour have always been primed for all outcomes. We have been educated from birth to prepare for sickness, war, violence, crisis, displacement and immigration by our parents, who were taught by their parents, who were taught by their parents and their parents and so on. First Nations people and people of colour are constantly juggling multiple realities of colonialism, imperialism and racism. There is no one myth, one legend, one story—there are always multiple realities intersecting across multiple experiences.
In Another Australia, twelve Indigenous writers and writers of colour were invited to reckon with the present-day and ever-perpetrating myths of Australia—of ‘successful multiculturalism’, ‘fair-goes’ and ‘luck’. With all of these eventualities constantly clashing together, I asked the writers: What lies beneath, behind and beside the country we think we know?
Multi-award-winning author of Song of the Crocodile, Nardi Simpson, gave the first answer. It came as a prologue, interlude and epilogue written entirely in the Yuwaalaraay language. Mentored by Elders Tracey Cameron and Priscilla Strasek Barker, and accompanied by illustrations from her sister and niece, Simpson’s ground-breaking pieces took me through intergenerational acts of giving, kindness and strength—deeds we need to embody in order to find the true reality of this complicated continent that always was and always will be.
From such necessary framing came the work of award-winning writer Amani Haydar, author of The Mother Wound. Haydar’s debut work of fiction in Another Australia is written as a series of vignettes, which map our ‘iconic’ beaches, harbours and bushlands. Yet, the iconography is in stark contrast to the life of Mariam—a Muslim woman who migrates from war-torn Lebanon to the apartment-stacked streets of south-western Sydney with an ever-watchful and impatient husband. Haydar’s work is a demand for a world where domestic violence, in all its forms, can no longer exist.
Shirley Le’s short story unpacks the visions of a local Fairfield psychic: dragons, fairies and vampires have warped the lives of Vietnamese parents and their Australian-born children, introducing an entirely new realm to the diaspora. Sara M Saleh, an award-winning poet of Arab descent, reminds us how the threat of COVID19 loomed in the background in those first months of 2020 while her narrator stumbles through a grand Lebanese wedding filled with booming drums, gossiping aunties and police sirens. While Saleh’s piece, titled ‘Communities of Concern’, subverts our expectation to read another story about ‘scheming Muslims’, critically-acclaimed author, Shankari Chandran, tells a story that is firmly and unapologetically rooted in the ongoing battle against bigotry, from its regular appearance on graffiti to its reverberating voice on talk-back radio.
But in a world of multiverses, what of our relationships to and with each other’s communities? Award-winning journalist, Osman Faruqi, and WISER Institute fellow, Sisonke Msimang, unravel the complexities of colonialism in its myriad forms and the work that we must do as non-Indigenous people of colour to rectify historical wrongs against First Nations people. Together, they provide all Australians who benefit from settler colonialism with a template for solidarity as we imagine our new realities.
Meanwhile, 2020 NSW Premier’s shortlisted author, Mohammed Massoud Morsi, recounts the friends and partners who shaped his life during his travels through Egypt, Denmark, Palestine, Indonesia and eventually Perth—finally bringing humanity together in a sunlit vision. Similarly, in the work of writer and cultural critic Declan Fry, an unnamed narrator travels to the Netherlands, only to find Australia buried in the snow’s depths. Fry’s powerful short story, titled ‘Nothing Remembered and Everything That Was’, is unique in the way it pushes and challenges the boundaries of English literature—developing an innovative language to describe the experience of loss and the elusive ways in which memory operates.
And from these poignant calls to action arise the poets in Another Australia: multidisciplinary artist, Omar Musa inhabits the frog as his verses explore a continent ravaged by fire, flood and frost, and his expertly-crafted woodcut print carves our inevitable demise. 2022 Next Chapter Fellow, Anne-Marie Te Whiu, unties a literal noose that has haunted her family for generations as she examines the history behind the execution of her great uncle—one of the last men to ever to be hanged by the crown of New Zealand. Both artists rightfully note that we can only begin to transform through healing.
Perhaps the freshest writer in Another Australia, both literally and metaphorically, is rapper and producer L-FRESH The LION. Making his debut into the writing scene, L-FRESH unpacks his most iconic lyrics, which are superimposed with recollections of Sikh history and memories of cricket matches, juiced sugar cane in his south-west childhood home of Glenfield and blasting 2Pac in secret, only to rock the legendary African-American’s Makaveli-swagger on stage years later with a Punjabi twist. L-FRESH’s short memoir is a triumphant testament to the reality of Australia—culturally and linguistically eclectic by its very nature.
Disentangling the fantasies of Australia is a task of epic proportions. Another Australia asserts that the past, present and future have never been a straight path: they are an interconnected web of realities. Our timelines are constantly converging, creating unique lived experiences for First Nations people and people of colour that reveal both an ancient and a new side to our country in a collision of essays, prose, poetry, illustrations, photographs and – a – lot – of – hyphens. Another Australia is Australia. And through the words of these storytellers, Australia can prepare for any eventuality…
Another Australia, edited by Winnie Dunn, is out now and is published by Affirm Press in partnership with Sweatshop Literacy Movement in association with Diversity Arts Australia.