It’s the show that made many of us bite our tongues in all manner of social situations, and brought truly fascinating stories of Australian immigration to our screens. Now there’s a whole new season of Where Are You Really From? to remind us that we truly are a multicultural nation… and sometimes that Asian bloke is actually just from Bendigo, okay, so stop asking. Read the room, dude.
Where Are You Really going with season two?
[Last time] we knew we wanted to make a show about multiculturalism in regional Australia, and there were interesting communities we wanted to talk to. So we had the subject matter down, but in terms of the tone of the show and who we thought would watch it, we were pretty unsure.
We kind of second-guessed ourselves a little bit. As an example, in the Woolgoolga episode – that was the pilot, though it aired second – we really leant on the comedy element of me, including literal stand-up, because we were worried that that’s what people would care about. In retrospect, it was probably unnecessary because the stories are interesting enough.
You’re telling these wholesome stories about multiculturalism, and you’re worried that people are going to be like, “Oh, who cares about that?” because that’s sometimes the message that is received from society. In the second season it’s like... we were kind of surprised with how well the first season went.
[This time] we don’t have to second-guess ourselves. We know these stories are interesting. We know that people will watch this thing. We know that we can do a good job. Me being more in the background is the biggest change.
What about the kinds of stories you’re telling this time around?
Season one made sense, right? We wanted to do a Chinese community because that’s a personal connection. We wanted to do this Sikh community because that was the first idea of one that we wanted. And something kind of current – last year the integration of South Sudanese migrants into Australia was a very big media thing, so those three all made sense.
For the second series, we wanted to do a mix of lots of different types. This is such a boring producer-y thing, but you need to show a variety of stories so it’s not all the same, and you need to have different modes of operation. You need to showcase different places. One thing we definitely wanted to do was to travel wider in Australia. We wanted to go to Queensland and WA because we hadn’t been there before. We wanted to do some European migrant stories, because we hadn’t done a lot of that previously. And so we kind of had the Barossa because of the German heritage as an idea.
And then I found out about the secret Nazis and stuff that were in the Barossa and the Adelaide region. I was like, “Well, that is interesting, a thing I didn’t know about.” Then we found that there was this German language, this semi-extinct Australian–German language called Barossa Deutsche that was its own dialect for a hundred years. And I was like, “Well, that’s fascinating as well.”
You’re also covering Assyrians in Fairfield, NSW, which is quite topical.
A lot of people in the Fairfield community are Assyrian asylum seekers from Iraq and the Middle East. And I wanted to do something that would deal with the reality of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, because I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the refugee issue. Obviously from the right, there’s all that racism and xenophobia, and stuff that is just deeply upsetting and hateful in some ways, and fearful in others, or both.
And then on the left there’s this other thing of, “Oh, it’ll totally be fine. We’ll just let everyone in and it’ll totally be fine.” And the reality is, that’s kind of naive sometimes. And so I really wanted to go to Fairfield because it’s a local government area that’s taking in more refugees and asylum seekers than I think anywhere else in Australia.
And from there you jet to Queensland and WA.
In Ingham, in Queensland, we’ve talked to Italian cane cutters. I think episode two is Katanning, which is in Western Australia. It’s this sheep and wheat town about four hours outside of Perth. And it is a fascinating place. There were Malay islanders from the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, who came there in the late ’60s, early ’70s to work in the abattoir there.
And they are of Muslim faith, which meant in the ’70s and ’80s, a large portion of that community in regional WA was a Muslim community – and that obviously predates the current xenophobia associated with Islam in Australia and September 11 and global terrorism, and all that kind of stuff that gets wrapped up with Islamism now.
So they were able to build a mosque in regional WA. Which is a very cool thing, but also is a thing they just did. If you tried to do that today, I’m sure there’d be racists who would go there and complain and the rest of it. But these people have just been getting on with doing a cool thing in the community for 40 years now. So now Katanning is a roadmap for how other communities can best integrate migrants and refugees in a regional setting.
They now have something like over 40 different nationalities in this town of 6,000 people, and there are over 30 languages spoken there. It’s this real melting pot of people. And it’s in a tiny town four hours outside of Perth, which is just, I guess not somewhere you would expect to find such a cosmopolitan place.
Have you had any surprising reactions to season one?
I guess the big reaction – that I wasn’t expecting – was how many people got in touch with me to say, “I can’t wait to make my friend or my boss, to make someone in my life watch this show.” I did not expect this show to be a thing people would use to educate their friends on how they felt.
So when they watched it, people were like, “Ah, this is the thing that I deal with. This kind of stuff is the stuff I deal with every day. And it’s not a thing anyone ever talks about. And I’ve tried to explain it to my friends and it’s never really gotten through to them. But this series and the stories that are being told in this are such great examples of the thing that we all go through, and I can’t wait to share that with people.” That was the thing that really, really made me want to keep doing the show.
On a personal note, it’s interesting to learn that your family’s been here longer than mine, but nobody would ever ask me where I’m really from.
No, totally. No, but that, it’s so true though, right? Someone who looks like me is often going to be interrogated more, or asked to prove themselves in a way that a white-looking Australian guy is not necessarily going to be asked. Even if your parents migrated from England, or might’ve been born in England, I’ll still be asked to justify myself. And… it’s fine in the scheme of things, but it’s just something to be mindful of, you know?
Especially in cabs or Ubers.
Yeah, totally. This show has taught me a lot about having conversations about ethnic and cultural heritage because I don’t want the takeaway to be that I don’t think we should talk about those things, or that you shouldn’t ask. Because I think we should talk about these things. They’re really interesting and people have great stories, and I think a lot of people would really like talking about their family’s cultural background or their ethnic heritage or whatever. Because these are stories that are really interesting. And there’s so much fascinating human material and warmth, and failure. And there’s so much good stuff to be talked about from that, and so many lessons to be learnt from that.
But I guess the thing that I really learnt from this is to focus on the answers that people give when you ask them questions. So when you ask someone, “Hey, where are you from?” And they go, “I’m from Ballarat.” And then you go, “Oh, but you look Chinese.” It’s like, yeah, but they identify as being from Ballarat. And the thing they want to talk about with you right now is the fact that they’re from Ballarat. I don’t know that there are necessarily wrong questions, but listen to the answer that they give you because that tells you about the thing that is most important to them.
Comedian Michael Hing returns with season 2 of Where Are You Really From? The 4-part series premieres on Wednesday, 19 June at 8:00pm on SBS.