|Chapter 1:||Birds of Passage: The Gift of Authorship|
Birds of Passage: The Gift of Authorship
Castro’s first novel, Birds of Passage (1983), tells the parallel and intersecting stories of Lo Yun Shan, an educated Chinese immigrant who suffers hardship and racist persecution on the Australian goldfields in the 1850s, and Seamus O’Young, a Chinese-Australian orphan, who is translating the fragments of Shan’s journal 120 years later. The extended epigraph from historian Geoffrey Blainey, which catalogues some of the abuse leveled at the Chinese on the goldfields, including that they were ‘birds of passage who were eager to leave Australia, taking away the gold at the earliest possible moment’ and that as ‘scapegoats’ they ‘were specially vulnerable because…they were easily identified’, suggests that the novel will be concerned with the mistreatment and misunderstanding of the Chinese in nineteenth-century Australia. To an extent, the novel fulfills this expectation. The writing depicts powerfully the vilification and, in some cases, murder of Chinese prospectors. Over a century later, Seamus continues to suffer racist taunts and discrimination as a result of his appearance.