‘That Old Man Making Fun of Me’: Humour in the Writings of Aboriginal and Asian Relationships

Daozhi Xu


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.


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

Full Text:



Adams, Phillip, and Patrice Newell. The Penguin Book of Australian Jokes. Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin, 1994.

Author. 2018.

Banks, Ron. ‘Comic Culture Clash’. The West Australian. 17 May 2001: 7.

Black & Tran. Perf. Hung Le and Ningali Lawford. Deckchair Theatre, Play it Safe and Water Corporation, Perth. May 2001. Performance.

Butler, Judith. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Camfoo, Tex. Love against the Law: The Autobiographies of Tex and Nelly Camfoo. Ed. Gillian Cowlishaw. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2000.

Carter, J. ‘Am I too black to go with you?’ Being Black: Aboriginal Cultures in 'Settled' Australia. Ed. Ian Keen. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1988. 65-76.

Cowlishaw, Gillian. Blackfellas, Whitefellas and the Hidden Injuries of Race. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004.

______. Ed. Love against the Law: The Autobiographies of Tex and Nelly Camfoo. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2000.

Curthoys, Ann. ‘An Uneasy Conversation: The Multicultural and the Indigenous’. Race, Colour and Identity in Australia and New Zealand. Ed. John Docker and Gerhard Fischer. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2000. 21-36.

Davis, Jessica Milner. ‘“Aussie” Humour and Laughter: Joking as an Acculturating Ritual’. Serious Frolic: Essays on Australian Humour. St Lucia, Qld.: Queensland UP, 2009. 31-47.

Duncan, Pearl. ‘The Role of Aboriginal Humour in Cultural Survival and Resistance’. Unpublished dissertation. 2014.

Eckermann, Anne K. ‘Group Organization and Identity within an Urban Aboriginal Community’. Aborigines and Change: Australia in the 70's. Ed. R.M. Berndt. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1977. 288-319.

Edwards, Penny, and Shen Yuanfang. ‘Something More: Towards Reconfiguring Australian History’. Lost in the Whitewash: Aboriginal-Asian Encounters in Australia, 1901-2001. Ed. Penny Edwards and Shen Yuanfang. Canberra, Humanities Research Centre, 2003. 1-22.

Ganter, Regina. Mixed Relations: Asian-Aboriginal Contact in North Australia. Crawley, W.A.: Western Australia UP, 2006.

Gay, Peter. ‘The Bite of Wit’. The Cultivation of Hatred: The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud. New York: Norton, 1993. 368-423.

Gilman, Sander L. ‘Black Bodies, White Bodies: Towards an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine and Literature’. Critical Inquiry. 12.1 (1985): 204-42.

Goldstein, Donna M. Laughter out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown. Berkeley: California UP, 2003.

Grehan, Helena. ‘Black & Tran: A Comedy That Laughs in the Face of Racism?’ Australasian Drama Studies 42 (2003): 112-22.

Hardy, Karen. ‘For Anita Heiss, There's Similarities in Diversity’. The Sydney Morning Herald. 1 April 2014.

Heiss, Anita. Avoiding Mr Right. North Sydney, N.S.W.: Bantam, 2008.

______. Manhattan Dreaming. North Sydney, N.S.W.: Bantam, 2010.

______. Not meeting Mr. Right. North Sydney, N.S.W.: Bantam, 2007.

______. Paris Dreaming. North Sydney, N.S.W.: Random House Australia, 2011.

______. Tiddas. Cammeray, N.S.W.: Simon & Schuster Australia, 2014.

______. Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms. Cammeray, N.S.W.: Simon & Schuster Australia, 2016.

Holt, Lillian. ‘Aboriginal Humour: A Conversational Corroborree’. Serious Frolic: Essays on Australian Humour. St Lucia, Qld.:

Queensland UP, 2009. 81-96.

Jenkins, Keira. ‘A Story of Two Camps’. Koori Mail. 10 August 2016: 13.

Jones, Dorothy, and Barry Andrews. ‘Australian Humour’. Penguin New Literary History of Australia (Australian Literary Studies). Ed. Laurie Hergenhan. Melbourne: Penguin, 1988. 60-76.

Kuipers, Giselinde. ‘The Sociology of Humor’. The Primer of Humor Research. Ed. Victor Raskin. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2008. 361-98.

Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. Talkin’ up to the White Woman: Indigenous Women and Feminism. Brisbane: Queensland UP, 2000.

Morris, David B. The Culture of Pain. Berkeley: California UP, 1991.

Robert, Hannah. ‘Disciplining the Female Aboriginal Body: Inter-racial Sex and the Pretence of Separation’. Australian Feminist Studies 16.34 (2001): 69-81.

Scott, James C. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale UP. 1992.

Shoemaker, Adam. Black Words, White Page: Aboriginal Literature, 1929-1988. St Lucia, Qld.: Queensland UP, 1989.

Stanner, W.E.H. ‘Aboriginal Humour’. The Dreaming & Other Essays. Collingwood VIC.: Black Inc. 2010. 266-78.

Stephenson, Peta. ‘New Cultural Scripts: Exploring the Dialogue Between Indigenous and “Asian” Australians’. Journal of Australian Studies 27.77 (2003): 57-68.

Sullivan, Corrinne Tayce. ‘Indigenous Australian Women’s Colonial Sexual Intimacies: Positioning Indigenous Women’s Agency’. Culture, Health & Sexuality 20.4 (2018): 397-410.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-way Place. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton UP, 1993.

Wright, Alexis. Plains of Promise. St. Lucia, Qld.: Queensland UP, 1997.

Yu, Sarah. ‘Broome Creole: Aboriginal and Asian partnerships along the Kimberley coast’. Queensland Review 6.2 (1999): 59-73.


  • There are currently no refbacks.