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Dane Gagai gets a little bemused at the suggestion that he is Clark Kent for his NRL side South Sydney and Superman for the Maroons in State of Origin.
“Everyone’s going to be entitled to their opinion,” he said. “I thought a few of my performances this year at Souths were pretty up there but, unfortunately, we didn’t get to where we wanted to go, which was the grand final.
“That’s all behind us now. Like I’ve always said, when I’m playing at Souths, all my focus is on them and, now I’m in Origin camp, all my focus is going to be here. I don’t listen to any outside noise. I’ll just do everything I can to prepare and not let the team down.”
Despite jokes to the contrary, Gagai had a strong season for the Rabbitohs but, once again, he’s risen to the occasion when he suits up for his state. Having won a player of the series on the wing for Queensland in 2017, Gagai was again brilliant against a high-profile but out-of-position NSW centre pairing in game one on Wednesday night.
”My family are here, my friends are here, I’ve lived here and I’ve grown up here. I’ve been here since I was eight.
“I trained and had a camp up there when I was 19. That photo was taken when I was 19. I’m now 28.”
Even a leading NSW Rugby League official chuckled at Hatcher’s rant and quickly referenced Greg Inglis who was born on the NSW mid north coast and went on to feature in arguably the greatest-ever Maroons side.
“When Queensland have someone from Bowraville who played such a key role for them in recent history, it’s a bit rich to complain about Luke Keary when the rules state he qualifies for NSW and not Queensland.”
Keary was born in Ipswich and moved to the Hills District in Sydney when he was eight. He went to Oakhill College, the same Castle Hill school new NSW teammate Ryan Papenhuyzen attended.
Papenhuyzen missed out on the Origin I squad because of a calf injury he suffered when he leapt high to knock a Nathan Cleary penalty kick back infield in the 67th minute of the Storm’s grand final victory.
Keary was meant to debut for NSW last year only to suffer a concussion 48 hours before coach Brad Fittler picked his side for Origin I. Under the current eligibility rules, including where you spent most of your playing years and school years, Keary qualifies as a fully-fledged Blue.
Not only did Keary make it known his debut had been worth the wait, he was also excited to partner 22-year-old halfback Cleary.
Cleary, who joined the Blues on Wednesday night, said the hurt of the Panthers’ 26-20 loss – including a cutout pass that led to a Storm try – was still there and would always be there.
“But every time you don’t play that game you want, you want to get back out there again,” Cleary said. “Usually after a grand final you’ve got a whole pre-season to think about it. I’ve only got a week.”
Fittler on Tursday named his 21-man squad, with Keary, Junior Paulo and Clint Gutherson to wear the sky blue for the first time. James Tedesco was listed in the No.1 jersey with Gutherson in the centres, but the latter will revert to fullback if Tedesco’s knee is not right, with Zac Lomax to come in for the Parramatta man.
Cody Walker is the bench utility, with Jake Trbojevic named at lock but forced to finish Thursday’s session with his ankle on ice.
Meanwhile, Papenhuyzen revealed how his leaping effort to deny Penrith a fresh set also ended any hopes of his Origin debut next week. Three days of premiership celebrations also did not help with his recovery.
“I feel like it was when I jumped out to hit that ball back in,” said Papenhuyzen, in reference to Cleary’s 67th minute kick for touch that he batted back infield.
“I remember everything after that hurt and I knew it didn’t feel right. It’s disappointing now. But if I didn’t do that, do we win a Grand Final? I have to look at it like that. Everything happens for a reason.”
NSW team for Origin I
James Tedesco (Sydney Roosters)
Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters)
Clint Gutherson (Parramatta Eels)
Jack Wighton (Canberra Raiders)
Josh Addo-Carr (Melbourne Storm)
Luke Keary (Sydney Roosters)
Nathan Cleary (Penrith Panthers)
Daniel Saifiti (Newcastle Knights)
Damien Cook (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
Junior Paulo (Parramatta Eels)
Boyd Cordner (c) (Sydney Roosters)
Tyson Frizell (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Jake Trbojevic (Manly Warringah Sea Eagles)
Interchange: 14. Cody Walker (South Sydney Rabbitohs), 15. Payne Haas (Brisbane Broncos), 16. Cameron Murray (South Sydney Rabbitohs), 17. Angus Crichton (Sydney Roosters).
Reserves: 18. Cameron McInnes (St George Illawarra Dragons), 19. Reagan Campbell-Gillard (Parramatta Eels), 20. Nathan Brown (Parramatta Eels), 21. Zac Lomax (St George Illawarra Dragons)
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.
“It has to be about ownership and intention, and that’s the question anyone needs to ask themselves: why are you using the accent,” says Diana Nguyen, who uses a heavy accent when she performs as her Vietnamese mother in the stage show turned web series Phi and Me.
“I would never do my mother’s accent to have her laughed at. It’s a question of representation. Asian cultures have been mocked a lot, for other people’s gain. When white people used Asian accents in the past it was punching down. You don’t have the permission to do that.”
In Australia, Mark Mitchell’s Con the Fruiterer is the stand-out example of performing outside your cultural comfort zone, a late-’80s portrayal of Greekness so broad it has come to be seen as the benchmark against which all transgressions are measured. And yet, Mitchell claimed to the Herald Sun in July, Con was also a character to whom Greeks gave “an enormous high approval rating”, according to poll in the Greek newspaper Neos Kosmos.
The Wogs Out of Work school of comedy was no less broad, but it was different because of who was speaking.
“Anglo-Saxons pretend[ed] to be ethnic in a very stereotypical way, trying to pretend to know what our experience was like, but they had no idea,” Nick Giannopoulos told the same paper in 2018. “Yet people have the gumption to ask me why I’m calling myself a wog. Mate, I am calling myself a wog because you called me a wog. I can guarantee you, no-one ever called Mark Mitchell a wog.”
That was then, you might say. But more recently the work of Chris Lilley has traded in accents (Asian, South African, Tongan) as well as the more egregiously problematic black- (and yellow- and brown-) face. For a time, that made him the most popular comedian in Australia; lately, not so much.
The mood of the nation has turned, as issues around diversity and authenticity come to the fore. A recent YouGov survey of perceptions of racism found the mood has inexorably shifted on the question of whether doing an accent outside your own cultural zone is racist. Of the 1314 people surveyed — a sample that included a “significant” number of people from non-white backgrounds — 50 per cent reported that “imitating an accent associated with another racial group” was either always or usually racist. Only 40 per cent said it was never or usually not.
Simon Hall, part of the musical comedy troupe Tripod, understands why accents are so appealing to comedic performers, but acknowledges they can aslo be highly problematic.
“I think they still can be funny, it’s just about the context really. Intent is important too but it can be easy to misinterpret.”
Who’s performing the accent matters, as does the power dynamic between the performer and the performed; punching up is very different to punching down.
A white Australian guy doing an Indian accent in Australia, for instance, “feels mean in the context of the world as it is,” says Hall. “If the world was equal then everyone could do everyone’s accent and it would all be funny.”
It’s not just race or ethnicity though. Hall has performed as a hillbilly American, and it’s a characterisation that draws on shared understandings around poverty, lack of education, and a proclivity for Deliverance-style violence. On reflection, he says, “it feels a bit off, and maybe it is”.
I was reared on a diet of English comedy in which accents — usually performed by white men — were key: The Two Ronnies, Benny Hill, The Dick Emery Show, Mind Your Language, even Fawlty Towers (Andrew Sachs, who played Manuel “from Barcelona”, was in fact English).
I prided myself on my ability to do passable impressions of everything from one of Monty Python’s four Yorkshiremen to Dave Allen’s Irish raconteur to, yes, Rowan Atkinson’s Indian waiter. I’ve never shied from an “I’ll be back” either.
I got laughs, and I always thought of myself as an equal-opportunity mimic. But when a colleague called me out one day for doing an accent well outside my ethnic and cultural origin it pulled me up. I meant only to imitate, not to denigrate, but I stopped doing it anyway. Ultimately, no matter what the intentions might be, it’s the impact that matters.
“When white people use accents, and particularly Asian, the question has to be why,” says Diana Nguyen. “It’s a universal human right to have respect, and I think that’s a language we’re still learning.”