A new play at Sydney's Opera House is delving into the way a multicultural Australia is appropriating the country's annual national day.
By
Michelle Hanna

12 Sep 2012 - 4:01 PM  UPDATED 3 Sep 2013 - 6:02 PM

Highlighting Australia Day's traditions in light of new social and cultural developments, a new play poses some big questions, such as 'is having a sausage sizzle a mono-cultural gesture?'

The play 'Australia Day' has all the ingredients of a good Australia Day 'to do' list. It's based around a small town committee that gets caught up in the tension between old and new, where tradition is resistant to change.

Inspired by his own experiences as an Australia Day Ambassador, writer Jonathan Biggins decided to set his latest play in a fictional regional Australian town.

“The country is still where we get a lot of the image of ourselves and the Australian character. And that's under threat from all sorts of things - globalisation, demographic changes, development changes,” says Biggins.

“And the people there are worried, they're afraid. And they're the sort of people who can very easily be led to succumb to those fears. They can be dog-whistled to xenophobia; they can be dog-whistled to racism, nationalism. And I think our politicians are increasingly looking at the worst side of our natures, appealing to the worst side of our natures rather than the better sides.”

Actor Kaeng Chan plays the only committee member who is actually excited about Australia Day.

“He's a relative newcomer to the town, he likes to be called an 'A.B.V,' which is an Australian Born Vietnamese,” says Chan.

His character Chester reminds the others that he does not represent all aspects of all Asian cultural stereotypes.

“And so he has to break that down, and say 'Hey, I'm just not Asian, I'm actually Chester',” he explains. “He makes more of an effort on Australia Day, and I think a bit of that is to fit in with the community, and of course I think he is just genuinely very patriotic to the Australian cause.”

The play takes symbols from Australia's culture and throws light on their significance, or possibly their insignificance, depending on whose story you're listening to.

Biggins says he is exploring the idea of the chasm between those who jealously guard a hallow notion of nationalism and those who try to build on it, and imagine a new future.