Jade Emperess discovers Australia – Theatre I was late to review. (Theatre Review)

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Jade Empress Discovers Australia

The Sydney Fringe. No longer playing.

Find out more here.

There are many joys to be had at the Sydney Fringe, all the more if you’re willing to open up your heart and your mind to the principles of The Fringe Festival, which is largely that local creativity in the arts ought to be celebrated for its variety, flavour and ambition, if not always for its polish or its performance acumen. One of the shows I got to see, that I didn’t have time to write about back then, was the delightful Jade Empress Discovers Australia, the story of Jade and her migration experience when she and her family first moved to Australia.

This is beautiful, raw cabaret at its best, a charming singer, with a tranquil presence, relating her simple talk with delicacy and lightness of touch that often dipped into a tender irony, and a very clever raw humour. The tale begins when Jade is three and her family migrate from Malaysia to, of all places Jabiru, Kakadu. All too quickly Jade and her family learn how to deal with swamp swimming along side four-meter long crocodiles, as well as eating off the barbie, fishing from aluminium dinghy’s and catching one’s dinner. Jade includes amusing small props, a tin boat, a rubber crocodile, to enhance her story, but all the way it is the delightful gentleness of Jade herself that carry’s the rather gripping narrative. Her story is the immigrant one into this strange land, like no other in the world, and its equally strange inhabitants embracing her and wanting to learn about where she is from. To add some spice (and not a little humour) to the story, Jade sings  famous Aussie pop tunes with altered words – and let me say, you’ve seen nothing until you’ve seen a beautiful, gentle Australian-Chinese woman singing Highway to Hell in her own words.

But the message that comes across all the way through is how much Jade and her family love their new country and how deeply they care about everything they’ve found there. It is their home, their home of choice, not accident, and never a moment goes by when they are not grateful and happy to be in the country they love and contribute to. Eventually we understand where Jade is taking us, as she turns toward our current relationship with refugees and asks the politicians, left and right, who peer over our heads at her from a large screen, why they don’t want her and her kind in the country any more. Where did we go so wrong, that we stopped appreciating the love for Australia that those born overseas can experience? I’m lucky enough to have quite a few immigrant folk in my life, and the story is always the same one, that of a love for Australia, its culture and its heritage, a deep desire to fit in and share their own life story always accompanies the relating of their life here. To think of these folk as the alien is a provincial mind-set this country should be deeply ashamed of.

And yet, we’re not. As the current government displays, we are getting closer to a naive exclusivity to our detriment. When Jade talks about her Aussie life, her voice sings our songs with a passion for this country we could learn a lot from. Our immigrants don’t have the cultural cringe – they see Australia with more clarity and vision than the white folks born here do. We need their wisdom, their insight and their perspective to have influence. Our immigrant’s viewpoint, their clear voice and their unique ability to preserve and respect our culture are key to this nation being seen either as a small bit-player on the word stage, constantly head-patted for our compliance, or a confident country with the ability to influence the balance of power in Asia.  As I write this, our current Prime Minister has made a fool of us again on the world stage, moving us closer and closer to obscurity. The key to the solution to this lies in our immigrant citizens voice, their advice and their feedback. Thank goodness we have remarkable people like Jade for whom it is never a question to give back to a country she feels has given her so much.

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