Australia Day (Melanie Cheng, Text)
The title story of Melanie Cheng’s debut short fiction collection Australia Day is about a Chinese medical student visiting the rural farm of an Australian friend who he hopes will become his girlfriend. ‘I hate Australia Day,’ moans her brother, cracking open a Carlton Draught, while her Ford Falcon-obsessed dad brags about the fake Rolex he once bought on a visit to Hong Kong. It becomes clear that romance isn’t going to blossom between Stan and Jess, and that passing the citizenship test is no match for her ex-boyfriend’s ‘easy Sunshine Coast smile’. Stan longs to be back home, but home is no longer a place that necessarily exists. This is a theme that Cheng’s stories revisit again and again. All of her characters—a diverse cast of different races and faiths—are searching for connection or a sense of belonging, and coming up short. Despite its title, the focus of this collection is not explicitly on that increasingly controversial public holiday. Rather, it is on the struggles, internal and external, that occur when people from different backgrounds meet by chance or are brought together. The recipient of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, Australia Day is a bittersweet, beautifully crafted collection that will be much admired by fans of Cate Kennedy and Tony Birch.
Hilary Simmons is a former assistant editor at Books+Publishing and a freelance writer and editor