Tang Princess

The Royal Tour of Australasia, Princess Elizabeth (www.slv.gov.au)
The Royal Tour of Australasia, Princess Elizabeth (www.slv.gov.au)

Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang! You’re dead Chinese Princess!

Can I drink you? You are TANG aren’t you?!

Well, what are you? Chinese Princess from the Tang Dynasty. Wog. Abo. Smelly coon.

Coon cheese! Stinky Coon cheese. Do you own the company coz you’re a coon.

Isn’t your Dad a dirty wog? Is that why you have a dirty mole on your face. Ya big mole! And your Mum is an Abo with a Chin Chong father. What the hell are you?

You stink.

My cousin is hitting a tennis ball with a cricket bat under a sticky, fat peppercorn tree dotted with pink. He uses his right big toe to rub biting ants off his left shin whilst keeping his balance. His skin is dark, his nose broad and his hair and eyes reflect our Chinese grandfather, Bill. Bill died alone in a caravan from a heart attack up the bush.

Pointing the bat at me he laughs and yells out to his gubbah best mate, the one with the freckles and tight Lee shorts.

“That’s my cousin, she hates spaghetti…and her Dad’s a wog!” They both snort laughing and resume their summer test.

“I hate poxy tinned spaghetti!”

“It’s still spaghetti, ya little wog.”

“No, it’s really not – that is not real spaghetti. My Nonna makes real spaghetti and it doesn’t taste like the tinned stuff.”

They pause their game, and cock their eye brows in sync “what’s a Non Na, ya weirdo?” I made the number one mistake, I demonstrated knowledge in an effort to defend myself. My Nanny doesn’t make spaghetti but whips up golden syrup dumplings when I drop hints that I’m hungry for them.

My face burning from the heat and rage, I head for the verandah and sit below the droopy wisteria.

“Brother Tang!” My mother bursts out of the farm house with hot tea and a slab of damper on a chipped plate, laden with butter and syrup dripping down her flour-dusted Terence Trent D’Arby t-shirt which I had painstakingly hand-painted. Mum had stolen it from me and now her boobs had stretched it into being hers forever.

Her wide hips were smeared with floury finger prints, like a crime scene dusting.

“Brother Bill,” she mumbled with a mouth full of fluffy damper. Mum’s was the best.

Uncle was cross-legged on the verandah with a tin of Drum tobacco delicately balanced on the skinny black knee he had draped over the other. He was small and his legs entwined like Twisties at the bottom of the packet, he had the corner of a rolling paper attached to his bottom lip like a main sail and it was ever so slightly fluttering. All the while he rubbed the tobacco between thumb and index fingers in another piece, all ready for assembling and rolling.

“Damper, there Bub, gorn help yourself.” Mum gestures at me with her lips and eyes telling me where the damper is.

Mum settled into a white cane chair, plate on lap, tea in hand, “So, turns out Dad’s father, George William Tang, is buried in the Chinese part of the Echuca cemetery, but his parents are in the Christian section. And our Grandfather and Nanny are in the middle, under the only lemon scented gum in the cemetery, right in the middle with all the other black fullas in where the Salvos and the Church of Christers go.

“Well, they’ll have to cut me up and spread me out across the lot,” wheezes Brother Bill.

“Don’t be stupid! Don’t say things like that, tempting fate.”

“We’re black fullas, we know where we go.”

Shit, I thought, I’m stuffed. What if my Dad wants me buried in an Italian Catholic Church and cemetery in Melbourne? I don’t understand the Catholic services as it is. I can’t speak or understand Italian.  Do I want to be in town with Nan and great grandparents? Near the Murray on Yorta Country? Or out the Mish, at Moonacullah, on our Wemba Country?

Or what about the Boon Wurrung Country me and my kids get born into?

I’ll be living in Melbourne, not staying round here. I mean I love it and everything, but I can’t stand it either. Love you. Hate you. Want to stay with you. Can’t wait to leave you. You lift me up. You shut me down. You inspire me. You depress me.

Borderline Town. Borderline Personality. Borderline Personality Disorder.

I think Border Towns with their trauma trails create borderline personalities. Angry. Loving. Fighting. Crying. Racist ranting runts.

A ship brought my father, a ship brought my Chinese great-great-grand father. Life and lines and wind and spirits and women birthed my mothers’ people in the North East and her grandfathers’ people on the ocean down the west.

UFOs brought us messages and signs and confirmed our suspicions that white people come from space, “up there,” Nan would point her lovely bony fingers towards the sky, “and we come from Earth”. We just as easily incorporated our ship-bound relatives into our bodies as we did white flour, sugar and tea, sometimes rejecting with diabetes, and intolerance but still loving all the same.

Paola Balla

Author: Paola Balla

Paola Balla is a Wemba Wemba & Gunditjmara woman of the Day & Egan Families & is of Italian & Chinese migrant blood. She loves telling stories and listening to storytellers. A proud Westie, multi disciplinary artist, writer, curator and educator who has lectured with Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit, Victoria University, and instigated the Indigenous Arts & Cultural Program at FCAC and became its first Producer, Indigenous Programs. In 2012, Paola was a Senior Curator in First Peoples exhibition, Melbourne Museum. Paola’s art and stories put the gaze back on whiteness and colonization by asserting her identity as a sovereign woman and as the descendant of Matriarchs. She speaks of trauma, grief and loss. Paola has been published in No Dots Down Here, Etchings Indigenous Edition Illura Press, and featured in Artlink Indigenous Blackground 2014 and in 2015 was commissioned by Tony Birch for Weather Stations and by Ellen Van Neervan for The Lifted Brow. Paola has won the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards Three Dimensional Award in 2011 and 2014 and was highly commended in 2015 and has been shortlisted seven times. Paola won the Premiers Award 2007 and was artist for the Arts Hub Inaugural Peoples Choice Award in collaboration with Singing Bowl Media & FCAC for Blak Side Story. Balla speaks locally and internationally and was commissioned to curate and Incident in Swanston Street at the City of Melbourne’s City Gallery in 2012 and in 2015 was commissioned as Artist in Residence at Victoria University for Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit.

4 thoughts on “Tang Princess”

  1. How clever is my girl…her play with words…I had forgotten the chant ‘ting tang walla walla bing bang’…seeing it again made me smile…thank you for your honesty big woman…you have shown that the essentialised Indigenous identity has much more complexity and requires some deep thinking about our connections…and how you honour all those in your life…I see them through your eyes and that is the gift of your writing

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