When you meet someone new for the first time, courtesy usually dictates you’re supposed to break the ice by asking, “What do you do for a living?” It’s a fine, functional question, I guess, but unless someone’s been in the military or acted in hardcore porn (or some sexy combination of the two), a person’s occupation can sometimes be the least interesting thing about them.
Benjamin Law

30 Nov 2015 - 2:25 PM  UPDATED 30 Nov 2015 - 2:25 PM

And so, because I’m a nosey motherfucker an engaged and curious citizen, what I really  want to ask people are things like:

  1. Do you have interesting food allergies (like my friend who poos actual blood if she eats mushrooms)?
  2. Have you ever seen your anus in a mirror before?
  3. Describe in graphic detail your worst sexual experience?
  4. Tell me everything about your family.

The last one is probably my favourite topic and the one least likely to result in violence. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a sucker for a good family story. Give me a book, TV show, documentary, movie or play about a big messy family and I’m all over it: Six Feet Under;The Corrections; American BeautyCapturing the FriedmansAugust: Osage County; Running with Scissors. Sure, most of them are about white families, but their exotic customs fascinate me. Such a friendly people. So much we could learn from their culture.


Anyway, back in 2010, it felt like a slightly narcissistic/possibly sociopathic act to write about my own family in The Family Law. Just before the book was released, I quietly freaked out and was convinced my publishers had made a terrible mistake. Why would anyone be interested in this sprawling Chinese-Australian family on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast that fell apart at the seams in the 1990s? It didn’t exactly scream ‘Classic Australian story’ to me. If it was a TV show, Rebecca Gibney wouldn’t even have a role.

In the end though, all those things I thought were an impediment turned out to be why readers picked it up. People who came from Asian-Australian families often identified with The Family Law, but that wasn’t a prerequisite. The book also resonated if they were gay, if their parents had split up, if they grew up in Queensland, or grew up in a big family of too many kids. And the most heartening thing? At events, readings and signings, people usually ended up telling me stories about their families. When my Mum comes with me to writers’ festivals (yes I’m an adult man in his 30s, and my mother is still in the front row with a video camera), people accost her, before telling us they wished she was their mother, and all the reasons why. Sometimes those stories are funny, sometimes they’re sad, often they’re both. I hope that’s what happens to the TV show too – that people talk about their own folks. After all, it’s the most interesting conversation you can have. 


The Family Law starts Thursday 14 January on SBS.