'That old man making fun of me?': humour in the writings of Aboriginal and Asian relationships

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This article explores the role of humour in three contemporary Aboriginal texts that document Aboriginal–Asian relationships. Humour in Aboriginal texts has mostly been studied with reference to the ostensible binaries between Aboriginal and European, Black and White, colonised and colonisers. Scant critical attention has been paid to the place of humour in revealing and concealing the dynamic interrelations between Aboriginal people and Asian immigrants living under a colonial regime. This article investigates humour as a textual device that transmits subversive ideas contesting stigma and stereotypes of Aboriginal and Asian peoples regarding their identities, bodies, and inter-racial intimacies. Through close readings of Alexis Wright’s novel Plains of Promise (1997), Tex and Nelly Camfoo’s autobiography Love against the Law (2000) and Anita Heiss’s historical romance Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms (2016), this article considers three specific modes of humour in Aboriginal texts: self-deprecation, puns/wit, and boasting. The article contends that these different forms of humour draw attention to a range of unsettling issues and power relations concerning oppression and resistance, stigmatisation and normalisation, institutional control and surveillance. Further in each of these texts humour works to deconstruct images of discrete and maligned racialised otherness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1–13
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • humour
  • stigmatisation
  • intimacy
  • Aboriginal and Asian relationships
  • race
  • ethnicity

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