'Growing up an Australian': renegotiating mateship, masculinity and 'Australianness' in Hsu-Ming Teo's Behind the Moon
Writing from the culturally hybridised spaces of Malaysia and Australia, Hsu-Ming Teo addresses the question of what it means to ‘be an Australian’ in her most recent novel Behind the Moon (2005a). Teo makes reference to Peter Weir’s now iconic film Gallipoli (1981) and to the filmic version of The Wizard of Oz (1939) in order to re-evaluate the way nation is inextricably tied to discourses of mateship and masculinity. Teo explores how the formation of a seemingly unitary national identity is embedded in a stereotype that privileges the white, heterosexual male. Inarguably, one of the most enduring and revered myths of the birth of Australian nationhood circulates around the feats of the ANZAC soldiers in Turkey during World War I, and Gallipoli, written by the awardwinning Australian playwright David Williamson, and starring Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, is a potent cultural instance of such essentialised perceptions. It is far from incidental that Teo reintroduces her readers to Gallipoli though the eyes of one of the novel’s central characters Justin Cheong, who is a gay, Chinese Australian male living out the reality of a suburban existence in the inner west suburb of Strathfield, Sydney. Pointedly engaging in contemporary Australian representational politics, Teo’s resurrection of Gallipoli and The Wizard of Oz allows for a (re)visioning of ‘other’ models of mateship; models that exist outside of the heroic, white male duo otherwise encoded in Gallipoli. In this sense, Behind the Moon is a timely intervention in the debate about national identity, prompting as it does a collision between discourses of masculinity, mateship, nationhood and race.