We’re a movement not a moment: Peril Magazine and Asian Australian cultural production
I founded Peril in 2006 when there were no other Asian Australian specific publishing platforms. Nowadays fourteen years later there are five publications, Peril, Mascara Literary Review, Liminal, Djed Press and Pencilled In. Which leads to the question, are publications like Peril still necessary? This article sums up Peril’s history, reflects on where we are now and whether Peril is still necessary in the Australian cultural landscape.
Peril was founded over a meal of dumplings, in a meeting with Tseen Khoo, the founder of Asian Australian Studies Research Network (AASRN), the author Tom Cho, and Alister Air, the initial IT designer for Peril. I modelled Peril after Rice Paper, an Asian Canadian online publication. At this time, there were no high profile Asian Australian authors in mainstream culture. There was no Nam Le, no Alice Pung. Brian Castro and Michelle de Kretser were arguably the highest profile Asian Australian names in the Australian literary landscape – writers who a now a part of a rich and growing clutch of incredible Asian Australian authors.
I chose the name Peril as a play on the ‘yellow peril’, and the Hokusai tsunami wave as the emblem as an aspiration to create a critical mass of Asian Australian content to flood Australian literary culture. The mission statement for Peril reads:
Peril mission is to empower the creativity, agency and representation of Asian-Australian people in arts, society and culture. We do this by being an active multimedia platform Asian-Australian voices, stories and expressions of culture.
Peril has secured Australia Council of the Arts funding for most of its fourteen years of existence. This recognition acknowledges Peril’s legitimacy as a producer and archive of cultural content. We were the first to publish columns by Benjamin Law, prose by Maxine Beneba Clarke, work by Shastra Deo, and the original introduction of Growing Up Asian In Australia by Alice Pung, which mentioned the Chinese massacre at Lambing Flat. Industry figures censored this original introduction, thinking it would hinder the sales of the books.
Peril has seen more than thirty three contributions being published elsewhere. From being a static website publishing twice a year, our quarterly issues are now staggered weekly, using Facebook and other social media platforms as a medium for interaction, and an extension of the publication. Peril has more than 100,000 hits a year, and now has as many hits internationally as it does in Australia.
The Asian Australian literary landscape has changed over the last fourteen years. There have been a series of high profile Asian Australian writers like Nam Le, Alice Pung, Benjamin Law and Michelle Law. There have been Asian Australian programs for emerging Asian Australian artists, such as the Lotus Program run by Annette Shun Wah, which has seen the work of Asian Australian playwrights programmed in mainstream theatres such as the Melbourne and Sydney Theatre Companies. Race is now discussed openly, with Maxine Beneba Clarke’s book the Hate Race being a best seller.
So, do we still need to promote Asian Australian interests?
Benjamin Law has observed that one in ten of Australians are Australians of Asian descent. This is the same ratio as that of African Americans in the United States. Despite the disparity in our overall population size, this tells you how much further we have to go in terms of Asian representation in popular culture.
The latest musical to hit the Arts Centre in Melbourne is Rolling Thunder Vietnam (March 2020). “Rolling Thunder” was the code name used by the Americans to carpet bomb North Vietnam during the Vietnam/American War. The equivalent would be naming a song and dance show Operation Desert Storm: The Musical. This would be unthinkable. This insensitivity shows how the Asian Australian community is still being considered when it comes to mainstream programming.
Although some movement has been gained over the past decade or so, there’s still clearly a lot more work to be done. On the strength of our work with Peril, myself and Eleanor Jackson, Peril’s Board Chair, have been working as facilitators with mainstream arts organisations, through Diversity Arts Australia, to develop equity plans, to improve, amongst other things, greater engagement with culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Funded by Create Victoria, this program shows promise to open more doors for Asian Australians and other Australians of migrant and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
We’ve come a long way but there still is a way to go. But as can be seen by the other papers in this special issue, there is the skill and will for Asian Australians to reach critical mass and further impact the Australian cultural landscape.
Founding Editor of Peril Magazine