This is a novel about the intersection of class and race in Australia, a country that prides itself on the notion of ‘the fair go’. It begins compliantly enough: the protagonist, Lucy Lam, is successful in her application for the inaugural access and equity scholarship at Laurinda, an exclusive private girls’ school.
Narrated in the epistolary style, Lucy shares her triumphs and doubts, as she, the child of Vietnamese refugees who work in a carpet factory and sew for pittance from home, enters into the elite Catholic society of Laurinda.
Lucy quickly learns that her schooling to date does not meet the Laurinda curriculum standard as she is required to take remedial English via a series of individual tutoring sessions. While she easily understands the explicit educational expectations of her new school, she struggles considerably with the implicit curriculum: the social and cultural values and prejudices that underpin every interaction she has with her peers, teachers, and the school’s administration.
Pung interrogates the rhetoric of access and equity that pervades educational discourse and, indeed, Australian society, revealing it to be less about affecting social change than maintaining the status quo. Laurinda is a tale of noblesse oblige , Australian style.