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Posts Tagged ‘New Australians’

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Last Wednesday I heard on Australia’s Radio National that the population of Australia has reached 24 million. Strange, when I was a kid in primary school, the population was 8 million. Australia’s population has tripled in my lifetime.

A great deal of this increase came about, not through births, but through migration. I remember the influx of European migrants after WWII, made palatable to this insular nation by the fear engendered during the war by the threat of a Japanese invasion. “Populate or perish!” we were told. “All those yellow races to the north want our beautiful country, and we must fill it up ASAP!” This extensive immigration program was only possible because the displaced people coming to Australia as migrants after the war were white. NO way would Australia have accepted coloured migrants in 1947. The foremost intellectual paper of the day The Bulletin ran “Australia for the White Man” on its masthead, just under its title.

The bulletin

When the government decided to end the White Australia Policy in 1973 and take in migrants who were ugh, shriek, not white, it had a problem on its hands. The country had been racist ever since its inception in 1788, and this racist attitude became law with the British Colonial Office’s declaration of terra nullius in 1835. This meant that anyone on what was now government property without government permission (viz. The Aborigines) could be treated as trespassers; it also quashed any treaties already signed with Aboriginal tribes. (This state of affairs continued until parliament passed the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1976, which made it possible for dispossessed Aboriginal tribes to begin to claim back at least some of their land.)

Austrian Aborigines

The declaration of terra nullius cleared the way for European settlers to take over the land, in the process eradicating a great number of the original inhabitants (occasionally via hunts, massacres and poisoned flour). The results of this are clear to see in the table below.

Table 1.1 Ethnic Composition of the Australian People (per cent)

Ethnic Origin 1787 1846 1861 1891 1947 1988
[Source: Charles Price, Ethnic Groups in Australia, Policy Option Paper prepared for the office of Multicultural Affairs, 1989, p 2].
Aboriginal 100.0 41.5 13.3 3.4 0.8 1.0

 

However, Aborigines were not the exclusive recipients of race hatred from Anglo-Celtic Australians. When Chinese diggers came to Australia in the 1860s, attracted by the Gold Rushes, they were treated with the same mistrust.

Mongolian octopus, 1886[Newspaper cartoon of 1886]

 

When the government announced an end to the White Australia Policy in 1973, it had to mount a new campaign. They called this multiculturalism. Australia is a part of the wider world, they now cried, we can’t be an island any longer.

Although Donald Horne had removed “Australia for the White Man” from The Bulletin’s masthead on becoming editor-in-chief in 1961, most of the inhabitants of Australia were still racist, and the entrenched views of more than two hundred years have proven difficult to eradicate. In 2005, the Cronulla Race Riots demonstrated this to the world.

Cronulla Race riots

Still, the government perseveres, but there are setbacks. As recently as September 2015, elite Aboriginal footballer and Australian of the Year 2014, Adam Goodes, decided to retire, following consistent booing from racist spectators after he’d had a girl who called him an “ape” ejected from the stadium. This booing was not a one-off thing, but continued over months, game after game.

Adam goodes

Although Goodes in a press conference attributed his retirement to his “35-year-old knees”, and “a number of factors”, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the continued booing had had a great deal to do with it. (For a good rundown on the controversy, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Goodes#Controversy)

So now we are officially 24 million, with people of European descent comprising about 88% of the population, 74% of this being of Anglo-Celtic origin. But have we put the White Australia Policy behind us? With the Goodes incident mere months in the past and new Muslim controversies looming, I doubt it. The mistrust of more than two centuries is not so easily eradicated, despite the government’s perseverance. I am reminded of that fine last line of The Great Gatsby by E Scott Fitzgerald:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

“Advance, Australia Fair” still has more than one meaning for some.

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A former client of mine, Chris Shaw, recently sent me one of the short stories from his lately released book, My New Country, a collection of short stories about his experience as a newbie in the wild and woolly country of Australia. He also sent me a great page with photographs of the book’s cover, plus the blurb, a photograph of himself, and information on how and where to buy the book, which is available in both hard copy and e version.

Being digitally disadvantaged as I am, I find I am now unable to insert his material into this post.  I used to be able to do such things, but for some reason, totally unknown to me, when I try now, all I keep getting is a link – which is something, I suppose, and I should be grateful, but it’s not the same as having the cover right there, here and now, in front of you.

But, it’s the best I can do for the moment. I apologise to readers and also to Chris. The link for how to find and buy his book appears at the end of the story.
 

My First Drink in North Queensland

I came to Australia in 1973. Originally, I’m from Felixstowe in gentle East Anglia, but I had spent seven years in the Caribbean, prior to emigrating to this really big island.

I arrived with my Trinidadian wife and three-month-old son in Sydney International Airport, but we had already decided to settle in a northern beach suburb of Cairns, Queensland, mainly because of its similarity to the tropical environment of the West Indies. We flew there after a ten-day stopover in Brisbane.

In Cairns we secured the land, built the house and bought a successful business, thus taking on a twenty-year debt – as you do; or at least, as you did then.

The first drink I had in a pub in the area was in the Trinity Beach Hotel, a large corrugated iron shed, with floor-to-ceiling louvres to the east and the west of the building. It was sixty metres above sea level, on top of a hill overlooking the Coral Sea.

It was around noon, in February 1973. The temperature would have been 33+ degrees Celsius, with humidity hovering around 90 per cent. The sea was flat calm, as blue as an advertisement, and dotted with green islands. Bougainvillea and frangipani blossoms tumbled down the hill below me.

The bloke on the next stool to me swivelled around.

‘G’day, mate’, he said. ‘Haven’t seen you in here before.’ No question mark was needed, but it was a question.

‘Nah, mate. New chum; just arrived,’ I said, desperately hoping he didn’t pick the falseness of my accent. ‘Can I get you a beer?’

‘Yeah, thanks. What do you do?’

‘Me, mate? Pharmacist. What about you?’

‘Surveyor. Been doing some work with my team in Papua New Guinea, up in the Highlands. Of course, there’s not a hell of a lot of law and order in those villages. We came on a situation not so long ago, where a white missionary was fooling around with the young boys and girls in one particular village. The head man of this village was very worried and came to talk to us about it.’

‘What’d you do?’ I asked.

‘We killed the bastard, of course.’

‘Seriously?’ My eyebrows hovered near my hairline, along with my voice.

‘Yup. Only thing to do under the circumstances. Think about it: a long, drawn-out, expensive court case with lawyers and all that flying in from Australia, and the family travelling all the way to Port Moresby? Children giving that sort of evidence? Nah! Would’ve brought huge shame on the families, and they couldn’t have paid for it, anyway. So, we told the head man we’d take care of it.’

I just had to ask him. ‘What did you do with the body?’

‘Dropped it into a septic tank, mate. Ten days, no evidence, see. Can I get you another drink, mate?’

So this was Australia. Bloody hell, this is a rough country! I’d better keep my eyes wide open, but, by God, I loved the sensation of this cutting-edge, pioneering stuff!

A1 sheet for My New Country book

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