The Alysium Dilemma

The following 800 word story is what I wrote for the Benalla Festival Writers Competition, the Open Division, which I won! A week later and I’m still ridiculously excited about it, doing little victory dances around the house and having my ‘mature’ almost 13 year old rolling his eyes. Still finding it hard to believe, but I have the ipad proof in my hot little hands 🙂

The topic was ‘We Are One’, celebrating and acknowledging Benalla’s multicultural diversity, a topic I had a lot of trouble coming to terms with. With only four days to the deadline the idea of how I could write it came to me. I honestly didn’t think I’d win because what I’d written was probably nothing like what they’d be hoping for. I thought about that, came to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t win, but I WAS extremely happy with what I’d written, and that was enough. An hour later they phoned to tell me I’d won and that it was a remarkable piece of writing! I was very, very, very excited 🙂 Anyway, here it is…


The Alyssium Dilemma

My name is Serrai Akbai Carnevali. My ancestors came from Old Earth. I am twenty New Earth years old, which makes me twenty-four in Old Earth years. I’m an Old Earth Historian, and right at this moment I’m deep in the bowels of the archival system, searching for any documentation I can find on how the people of Old Earth dealt with the problem of integrating different cultures.

I’d been sent down here to look for something called ‘multiculturalism’. Our World Leaders thought this multiculturalism could provide a way of integrating the massive influx of alien refugees, flooding in from the Alysium sector, with us New Earthers. Unfortunately, this section of the archival system was a mess. Historical documents, government policies, ancient texts, music scores, shopping lists, screen plays and telephone directories were all jumbled in together. It was as if they’d been thrown in just before the space ships had left for New Earth.

I picked up some of the papers scattered on the floor and a piece of sheet music fell out. I almost ignored it, but the title “I Am Australian” caught my eye. ‘Australia,’ I said. ‘That’s the nation on Old Earth my ancestors came from! Sarah Carnevali, who I was named for, and her brothers, were skilled Bovine Agriculturalists and had been on the first ships that came to New Earth.’ I searched for the rest of the song, but it wasn’t amongst the papers I’d picked up. Clearing some more papers off an old filing cabinet, I started a ‘keep’ pile.

‘Ha!’ I said, pulling a sheet of quotes from Old Earthers about multiculturalism out of the stack with a flourish. “Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures,” I read. ‘I wonder who Cesar Chavez was?’ I added it to the ‘keep’ pile.

Another page had four principles of Australian multiculturalism. Most of it was unreadable. It looked as if it had suffered some major coffee spillage. All I could read was “Respect for each person…all Australians…right to…own culture… reciprocal… respect…others…” Perhaps Utzo’s department could restore it. It was worth a try. But what really blew me away was a short piece by a twelve year old girl with the same name of my ancestor! It began

“We haven’t been in Benalla long,…”

‘Benalla! That was my ancestor’s home town!’

“…so I’m finding it difficult writing a piece celebrating the multicultural diversity of this town. There are lots of different cultures here. I know this because since arriving here we’ve eaten at Indian, Chinese and Vietnamese Restaurants. All very yummy.

The topic is ‘We Are One.’ So what does it mean to me? It reminds me of a song on one of mum’s old records called ‘I Am Australian’…”

‘No way!’ I said in amazement, ‘That’s the song I just found.’.

“…It’s a celebration of our history and all the different cultures that make up this great land.
My family is very multicultural, although Grandma says it wasn’t always that way. She grew up in a very Aussie family, descended from convicts and early white settlers. In her day Italians were ‘wogs’, the Chinese were ‘nips’ and the Aborigines were ‘abos’ and were seen as second class citizens, or a waste of space.

As a child the closest Grandma got to multiculturalism was spaghetti cooked way beyond al dente. Fortunately she broke the mould, marrying a Greek. All her kids married into other cultures too. My dad’s Italian and my cousins are half Japanese, half Indian and half Turkish. I love our family get-togethers, we always have such a wonderful range of food.

But multiculturalism isn’t just about race, religion or food. It’s about people – black, white, male, female, able bodied or not. Multiculturalism is respecting each others’ differences and making sure everyone has access to the opportunities and freedoms meant for all people.

Nobody bats an eyelid about me being half Italian, but my twin brothers both have High Functioning Autism.

‘We call it Sagacious Perceptiveness now and it’s highly valued on New Earth.’

They view the world from a different place, so they don’t respond to the world like ‘normal’ people. I’ve seen first-hand the ‘racism’ of others towards my brothers and it makes me sad. My brothers might seem a bit strange, but they’re people too.

Multiculturalism is about accepting and respecting all people, so I’m hoping Benalla’s embrace of cultural diversity will extend to my brothers’ and others like them, whose differences are not so much in how they look or where they come from, but how they think and view the world. I hope their differences can be accepted, appreciated and even celebrated.”

‘Woohoo! I’m sure this will help with the Alysium dilemma, and it’s written by my ancestor! What a find!’

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