By Bob Gould
Australian national identity
John Howard and I grew up in the same part of Sydney, and he
couple of years younger than me. I grew up at Beverly Hills on the East
Hills railway line and for most of my school life, between 1946 and
1953, I used to get the train to Kingsgrove and then the bus across to
Strathfield, to St Patricks, the Christian Brothers College there.
Howard grew up four stations down the line at Earlwood, on the
In those days, before and during mass migration, Beverly Hills,
Kingsgrove, Lakemba and Belmore were working-class areas. Earlwood, on
the other hand, was the ultra-Protestant preserve of the middle-class
in the region, and the comfortable suburban villas of Earlwood, in
which Howard grew up, overlook proletarian Marrickville.
For many years Eric Willis, that rather hypocritical paragon
respectability, held the seat of Earlwood for the Liberals, frequently
the only Liberal seat in the area.
Well, where I grew up, and where Howard grew up have both been
changed irrevocably by mass migration. Beverly Hills is now extremely
multi-ethnic, like the whole region. Where my parents had their
three-quarters of an acre market garden at the top end of Melvin Street
next to the railway line, there is now a small multicultural cul de sac
with about eight houses. The suburbs I used to go through on the bus to
Strathfield, Belmore, Belfield, Enfield and Wiley Park, are now
St Patricks, the school I went to, is now very mixed. Santa
the associated Catholic college for girls up the road is also now quite
multicultural, and I noticed Santa Sabina listed as one of the schools
from which the several thousand protesters came on the day of the
recent high school strike against racism.
Strathfield and Homebush, the suburbs closest to St. Patricks,
used to be rather middle class, Anglo places, now have an enormous
population of Chinese, particularly Homebush, where a bloke from
Wrapaway Transport, one of the distributors of small newspapers, tells
me the newsagent takes by far the largest number of Chinese newspapers
of any suburban outlet in NSW.
In my bookshop recently I sold another copy of that wonderful
little play about the Christian Brothers by Ron Blair (The Christian
to two very Mediterranean-looking young blokes. I asked them where they
went to school, and they said Lewisham Christian Brothers. I said,
what's your ethnic background, Maronite Lebanese?
We all laughed and they asked me how I picked it. I said
the students at Lewisham Maronites now, and they agreed. The
quintessentially Irish Catholic experience of Ron Blair's play is also
significant to the next generation in Christian Brothers schools, a
significant part of whom at Lewisham are Maronites. (The next
generation after that includes a lot of Asians. Quite soon I expect to
sell copies of The Christian Brother to young Chinese.
John Howard went to Canterbury Boys High. So did his brother,
Howard. Bob Howard is now an academic, a moderately left-wing member of
the Labor Party, and lives in the inner-city.
Happily, conservative politics aren't genetic. The Howards'
school, Canterbury Boys High, is now as wonderfully multi-ethnic as the
area in general, and was well represented at the recent high schools
The schools in the inner south-west of Sydney are amazing in
relation to culture and ethnic mixture. I was talking in my shop
recently, to a teacher at Tempe High, which is quite famous and is used
as the setting for the very popular soap, Heartbreak High,
which highlights questions of culture and ethnicity.
The teacher said that there were about 50 recognisable
in the school, which, in his view mostly had some considerable
identification with their overseas cultural background, but at the same
time identified themselves firmly as Australian, both identifications
existing at the same time.
The "wog palaces" of Bayview Avenue, Earlwood
John Howard's patch, Earlwood, once the territory of the
Liberal-voting middle class, has changed the most. Earlwood nowadays
has a very pronounced Greek and Asian complexion, with a strong
admixture of people from Arab countries.
I have a close friend who lives in Undercliffe, who I visit
frequently. Above her head, so to speak, is Bayview Avenue, running up
the hill towards Earlwood. This street is the most exotic expression of
the dramatic changes in Earlwood. Many of the pleasant federation
houses fronting Bayview Avenue are situated on long blocks, which go to
the edge of the cliff that overlooks Marrickville and the city.
In the 1970s, shrewd workers in the building trade, mainly
Italian and Arab migrants, saw their opportunity, bought these nice
houses for a lowish price, and largely with their own labour and their
building trades expertise, exploited the potential of these blocks for
dual occupancy. Almost every one of these federation houses now has a
magnificent, "wog palace" at the back of the block.
These spectacular structures, which take maximum advantage of
terrain and the views, are a wonderful and ingenious mix of
Mediterranean and Australian architecture and are mostly of at least
three stories. Being on the cliff, they dominate the landscape and are
highly visible from the whole Cooks River valley. A typical Australian
Twenty or so working class families in the building trade,
migrants, saw their opportunity and took it, and transformed their
initial investment of much less than $100,000 into much more than half
a million dollars, and obviously had fun doing it.
I love the architectural and cultural diversity of Bayview
It tickles my fancy that mainly working-class people should have nutted
out an opportunity like that and exploited it. I doubt if John Howard
or Paul Sheehan share my enthusiasm for the cultural diversity on the
During the same time span in which these wonderful structures
built, Earlwood has swung from a Liberal seat to being a safe Labor
seat. I suspect even the majority of the successful migrant battlers of
Bayview Avenue vote Labor.
Across the ridge from Earlwood are Turella and Arncliffe, the
Creek area. When I was a kid at Beverly Hills, the mud flats between
Tempe and Turella were all occupied by Chinese market gardens. The
Australia Post Mail Centre now occupies some of the same mud flats.
That Mail Centre, as I know from delivering our booklist mailings to
it, is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse workplaces on
A bit down the road in Arncliffe, you can't park a car
within three blocks of the shopping centre on Sunday mornings. The
reason for this is the Egyptian Coptic Cathedral, the congregation of
which come from all over Sydney to go to Mass on Sundays.
All these changes to the territory of my childhood and youth,
the landscape of my memory, fascinate me. I have a certain amount of
nostalgia for the things that have gone, but nevertheless, the
extraordinarily vibrant and diverse nature of the cultural mix that has
replaced them stimulates me greatly.
Taken as a whole, I think the area has improved, one
which is the electoral shift to Labor in Earlwood. The whole region has
an infectious life of its own, as anyone who has gone into the shopping
centres of Earlwood or Arncliffe or Marrickville on a Saturday morning
The whole Cooks River-Wolli Creek area is one of the parts of
where my long-standing romance with my home-town reaches its peak. I
grew up going through it on the train to the city, and several of my
close friends live there now. My feeling of a spirit of place about
Sydney reaches its high point in this area. It has all the most exotic
features of the Sydney landscape, a river, sandstone hills and lush
valleys, and even a harbour, Botany Bay.
In fact, it has all the pleasant physical features of, say,
North Shore of the Harbour, with, however, a strikingly different, more
mixed and plebian demographic, a cultural mix of the old and the new
that I really love, and that the inhabitants of the area revel in.
Right now, there is a bit of an urban struggle going on, quite
typical one, with the residents in the Wolli Creek area fighting quite
hard to ensure that the inevitable freeway linking up the current end
of the freeway at Kingsgrove, with the City, is tunnelled under the
ridge and doesn't destroy the creek, and further that the tunnel is
designed in such a way not to destroy the urban amenity of the
residents above, even if that costs more.
In addition to this, for the last four years, the whole region
been the site of a vigorous and colourful and broadly based campaign
against aircraft noise, which is by no means concluded yet.
I doubt, however, that John Howard shares my enthusiasm for
changes in his old patch and mine. Everything about him suggests that
his ideal Australia is fixed in the verities of lower middle class
Protestant Anglo life in Earlwood in the 1950s, and he certainly acts
as if he rather resents the changes and the transformations that have
taken place in ethnicity, culture and style in most of urban Australia.
Despite his occasional tipping of his hat to the Methodist
learnt in Earlwood in the 1950s, he got the hell out of the area quite
a while ago, and he has settled fairly permanently on the lower North
Shore, at Wollstonecraft in his Benelong electorate.
One of the rather nice idiosyncrasies of changing Sydney urban
demographics is that the dramatic population changes that he doesn't
particularly like are pursuing him. His electorate of Benelong and the
lower North Shore in general, and even the upper North Shore, are now
being rapidly invaded by newer migrants of all sorts, Armenians,
Russians, and particularly many thousands of affluent middle-class
people from all over South-East Asia. His electorate is now 10 per cent
Asian. Perhaps he sometimes ruefully thinks he might as well have
stayed in Earlwood.
Multiculturalism and nationality, shop signs and other matters
If you go through the major shopping centres in inner
Sydney, you will see quite a few shop signs in the occasional foreign
language: Arabic, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. When ambushed on television
on this matter, Howard blurted out that he didn't regard shop signs in
other languages as desirable. What a dope.
The Pauline Hanson bunch have launched a great assault on such
relatively trivial, but in a way important, things, as shop signs in
other languages. The obvious reply to them and to John Howard on this
matter is that shop signs in other languages are obviously useful
because they help people whose English skills haven't as yet got to the
point where they can easily understand signs in English.
Also, they assist tourists from other countries who may not
understand English, and make them feel at home. This is going to be
particularly important in the run up to the Olympic Games. There can be
no serious doubt that a variety of shop signs in significant languages
contribute in quite a material way to making Sydney a comfortable place
to visit for the increasing and lucrative tourist traffic from overseas.
The Howards and Hansons who are opposed to these signs are
zombies and and display a kind of small-town xenophobia that is quite
out of step with the new reality in Australia, particularly in our
expanding cosmopolitan cities.
The Sheehan-Hanson-Birrell attack on "ghettoes"
Journalist Paul Sheehan, demagogic politician Pauline Hanson
migration academic "expert" Robert Birrell all make much of the
concentration of migrants in certain areas, but the notion of ghettoes
in Sydney has always been a wild overstatement.
Certain suburbs have, in fact, had a fairly high proportion of
particular immigrant groups for 10 or 15 or 20 year periods. Irish
Catholics concentrated in Marrickville from about 1890 to about 1930.
Greeks concentrated particularly in Marrickville from about 1950 to
1980. Right now, Vietnamese concentrate in Marrickville, but on a
smaller scale than the Greeks did.
In recent years there has been a rapid growth in publishing of
rather elegant, well-researched, illustrated books on Sydney suburbs.
Shirley Fitzgerald, the Sydney City Historian, has been responsible for
a number of very thorough books on suburbs such as Chippendale,
Pyrmont, Ultimo, Surry Hills and the city itself.
Marrickville Council has sponsored two extraordinarily useful
about Marrickville. The research in all these books is useful and
relevant in respect to the history of the demographics of the area and
they underline their constantly changing character over the last 150
Greeks concentrate at this moment in Earlwood and places like
Blakehurst and Kingsford, but a bit less than they once did in
Marrickville. Macedonians concentrate a bit in Rockdale and Kogarah,
and Copts from Egypt a bit in Arncliffe because of the Coptic Cathedral
there. People of Turkish and Kurdish origin concentrate at the moment
in Auburn and Granville, but there are a lot of other minorities in
those suburbs, particularly Arabic people and Chinese.
Other Arabic people concentrate currently in Lakemba, Campsie
Belmore, etc. But the striking thing about all these tendencies to
concentrate is that, at the same time, there is a tendency to move out
and spread into other areas.
Even the Lakemba-Campsie-Belmore area, which has a fairly high
component, has no more than 15 per cent of people of Arabic origin, and
has many other ethnic groups as well, such as Fijians, other
Polynesians, Koreans and Vietnamese, and still a considerable
concentration of Anglo-Australians.
In reality, while ethnic groups maintain a certain amount of
solidarity by congregating in certain suburbs for a while, over time
they usually scatter to other suburbs as their financial situation
improves. In terms of location, human behaviour, including migrant
behaviour, is quite complex.
An amusing feature of this is the gentrification of some parts
the inner city. In the postwar years, for instance, many people of
Irish Catholic background moved out of places such as Surry Hills,
Newtown, Redfern and Balmain to the outer suburbs, as their economic
situation improved during the boom.
It's a truism that many of the young professionals moving back
the inner-city and doing up old terraces are the children and
grandchildren of these working-class people who moved out of these
suburbs in the 1940s and the 1950s, and who have moved up the
professional ladder. There are several young professionals I know in
Darlington and Newtown, near my bookshop, who have actually bought and
renovated the terraces that their grandparents rented many years ago.
An interesting feature of out migration of young,
Italian and Greek people from Leichhardt and Marrickville is that many
of the second generation of Italian background who have moved to such
places as Concord and Haberfield still go back to Leichhardt to
patronise the shops and maintain cultural connections.
Similarly, second-generation Greek Australians, who have moved
of Newtown and Marrickville to Earlwood, Hurstville, Kingsford, still
frequently patronise Marrickville and King Street, Newtown, for
shopping, and King Street for nights out.
The so called Vietnamese ghetto in Cabramatta
The longest standing current urban myth relates to Cabramatta,
produces constant shock-horror stories from people such as Robert
Birrell and Paul Sheehan. For a start, it's grossly overstated. Only
about 15 per cent of the people in the Fairfield Shire, which takes in
Cabramatta, are ethnically Indochinese.
There is a simple reason why there have been ethnic
over three generations in Cabramatta, starting with Italians and
Maltese in the 1950s: Cabramatta is close to the Villawood and
Cabramatta Migrant hostels, which were the point of entry for nearly
100,000 migrants to Australia, up to and including the cohort from
Vietnam in the 1970s and 1980s. It was obviously convenient for many
new migrants moving out of the hostel to settle in nearby suburbs.
In due course, many of the Italians and Maltese moved to other
areas, to be replaced by the newer wave from Indochina. In their turn,
quite a few of the Indochinese are moving to other suburbs. In the
intervening period, however, the Vietnamese and Chinese have tended to
turn downtown Cabramatta into a kind of Vietnamtown-Chinatown with a
tourist emphasis on that basis. What's so shocking about that?
It seems a very sensible commercial emphasis to me, as a small
businessman. Chinatown in the Haymarket, in central Sydney, has worked
perfectly for 100 years as a prosperous, interesting and useful
commercial centre, both for Chinese people and for other Australians
with a cultural, usually gastronomic, interest in things Chinese.
What's wrong with a new version of the same sort of thing in Cabramatta?
Such a cultural development benefits many people and harms no
except maybe people whose Anglophile provincialism is visually
offended, and after all there is no law that compels such people to
visit Cabramatta or even look at it!
Curiously, the post-modernist Ghassan Hage is also rather
Cabramatta, as he regards it as crude commercialism catering to a
global tourism that he deplores.
Robert Birrell's new twist
Over the last 20 years, many of the attacks on so-called
have come from that implacable anti-immigration demographer Robert
Birrell, and his Monash Institute. As the attack on specific "ghettoes"
has demonstrably become less effective, because the "ghettoes" change,
he and his associates have recently come up with a new twist.
The problem, they now say, isn't so much the specific ghettoes
they have whinged about in the past, but that there is now a general
"ghetto" of poorer recent non-English-speaking migrants in certain
designated working-class suburbs. Gee whiz, what a discovery! Poorer
migrants settle in poorer working-class suburbs.
They never give up, the Robert Birrell bunch of sour
The current assault on multiculturalism
Paul Sheehan's book Amongst the Barbarians contains a
sweeping and vehement attack on multiculturalism. Pauline Hanson
devotes about every third television appearance to similar tense-faced
attacks. Even in more intellectually developed conservative circles,
there are constant such attacks and on the left there is a rather
sophisticated attack on the notion of multiculturalism by Iggy Kim of Green
who argues that multiculturalism is a safety valve device of the
capitalist class, and is associated with providing a reserve army of
labour for capitalist exploitation.
This is a very old argument in Marxist circles. It has a
nasty history in that it has often been used as a "Marxist"
justification for opposition to migration, although I don't suggest
that Kim uses it in this way.
The right-wing critics, such as Sheehan and Hanson, argue that
multiculturalism is a racket to give privileges to migrants and an
elite among them, and Kim similarly argues that it was used by the last
Labor government to buy off the leaders of migrant groups.
The conservative critics argue, in a mindless Anglophile way,
multiculturalism is in opposition to true Australian nationalism, which
they praise, but interpret in an essentially British-Australia way.
Iggy Kim, on the other hand, argues that multiculturalism is
incorporated into an Australian nationalism that he condemns as being
opposed to the interests of the working class.
Multiculturalism can't win!
One useful definition of multiculturalism
I'm aware that I'm in some danger of being accused of a
conversion back to the Catholic Church, in that I keep finding sources
appropriate to my concerns and arguments in Catholic academic journals.
In fact, I have found in the course of this investigation that the
better scholars with a Marxist background, driven by the ethicism at
the core of Marxism, end up drawing pretty much the same kind of
practical conclusions as the better scholars with a Catholic
background, who draw their underlying ethical views from their Catholic
The better people from both traditions stand out in stark
to the worst from both traditions, who justify racism and prejudice
with rather strained "religious" or "Marxist" arguments. The best piece
I have found so far on multiculturalism is a 28-page article by Allan
Patience, then a senior lecturer in Sociology at Flinders University in
South Australia, in the October 1988 Australian Catholic Record./P>
This very useful article describes multiculturalism and
it intelligently in a Catholic theological framework, particularly
against conservative opponents around the Catholic conservative orbit,
such as Lachlan Chipman and Frank Knopfelmacher, and also against the
usual suspects such as Robert Birrell and Geoffrey Blainey./P>
I can't better Patience's description of multiculturalism and
I quote from this article:
"But the whole picture was dramatically transformed early in
1973. The advent of the Whitlam government heralded an entirely new
policy towards immigrants. It became known as multiculturalism and it
has three central elements. The first of these elements is its advocacy
of cultural maintenance. This is the recognition that all Australians
have the right to maintain their native cultural identities and
practices (including languages), within the context of Australian laws
and social conventions. People are encouraged to maintain their own
cultural traditions, and to respect those of others, in an atmosphere
of tolerance and understanding. Cultural maintenance means valuing the
integrity and significance of cultural pluralism and acknowledging its
civilising effects on social development in Australia. The second
element is social justice. It has been recognised for many years that
people who do not speak and understand English reasonably well, and
identify primarily with a non-Anglo-Australian ethnic tradition, are
likely to be socially disadvantaged. This is particularly so where
educational, employment, legal, medical, welfare and other cultural
institutions are not geared to the ethnic pluralism that is now the
central feature of Australian society. The social justice element of
multiculturalism emphasises the need for giving everyone a 'fair go'
regardless of colour, religion, and cultural background. It aims to
ensure that programs and structures are developed that guarantee access
to the appropriate awards and services that are part of everyday life
for native English speakers ... The third element of the policy of
multiculturalism is economic necessity. It is based on the recognition
that economic inequalities are too frequently linked to particular
ethnic groups in the Australian social structure. Freeing people from
these inequalities will enable them to contribute more productively to
the Australian economy, resulting in benefits to themselves and to the
economy as a whole."
In addition to the above description of multiculturalism I
make the following points: the term multiculturalism is just a word,
but the general idea also now includes the right of migrants to
Australia to preserve ethnic, religious and cultural identities at the
level at which they choose to do so, at the same time -- as is often
the case -- that they thoroughly integrate themselves into Australian
life and Australian identity as well.
There is something in Iggy Kim's point about multiculturalism
absorbed into Australian nationalism, although in my view, it's a good
thing, not a bad thing as he would have it.
Lenin on the national question
At the risk of enraging the Iggy Kim school of mechanical
I must assert, after a lifelong study of these matters, that there is a
version of Australian nationalism that's generally defensible and quite
historically progressive. If you take as your point of departure, which
I do, the general thinking on the matter of Lenin, the greatest
theoretical and practical Marxist of the 20th century, it is useful to
apply his general ideas on nationalism and nationality to Australia.
For a start, he made a sharp distinction between the
the major imperialist powers and the oppressed colonial countries that
they conquered. He regarded the nationalism of the major imperialists
as a reactionary force to be combatted and defeated, and he defended
the struggles for national self-determination, and in that sense the
nationalism of oppressed nationalities, like the Poles, the Irish, the
Finns, the Indians, etc.
He made a very sharp point of defending the Irish Rebellion in
against conservative alleged Marxists who opposed it. After the Russian
Revolution, he was the first Bolshevik leader to assert firmly that the
utmost consideration should be given to the national interests of the
smaller oppressed nationalities, such as the Georgians, and he
described, even after the Bolsheviks had taken power in Russian, the
great Russian chauvinism that still prevailed, as the old reactionary
rubbish that had to be destroyed.
Nevertheless, in other places, he made the strong point that,
the pretensions of the imperial nationality had to be destroyed,
nevertheless, the Russians had the right to their ethnic and cultural
self-determination too, and that a fine line should be drawn in all
When he had his final stroke in 1922, he was involved in an
battle with Stalin over the rights of the Georgians against Stalin's
Great Russian centralism, and the later degeneration of Soviet
nationalities policy into Stalin's Great Russian centralism took place
in total opposition to Lenin's political line on the national question.
If you look at the history of the national question in
from the point of view of Lenin's method and ideas on these matters,
the following approach is appropriate.
Australia started as a penal colony of British imperialism.
close to the beginning there was an incipient Australian nationalism in
opposition to the imperial power, "currency" (native-born) versus
British, which owed a lot to the alienation of the Irish from the
British imperial power. The whole of Australian history in the 19th
century records a rapidly growing Australian national consciousness in
opposition to British imperialism.
The conservative side in Australian politics always celebrated
British connection, the attachment to the British "home", and the Irish
Australian and labour movement side usually placed a heavy emphasis on
Australian national identity in opposition to Britain, although some in
the labour movement occasionally paid homage to the British allegiance
In the 19th century, the worst racism was practiced against
Aboriginal population, the Chinese and the Kanaks, but the vicious
racism of British Australia was focussed for the longest period against
the Irish, because they were by far the largest group in conflict with
the British Empire, and they were the closest discordant force to the
English in appearance and culture.
While the Irish side in politics, up to a point, also accepted
anti-Asian and anti-Aboriginal stance dominant in British "white"
Australia, their racism was generally less brutal and pronounced,
because the Irish themselves hated and resented the racial superiority
notions of the dominant British imperial power.
How Australian nationalism developed in Australia in the 19th
There was a fair bit of turmoil in the 19th century from the
class, Labor and democratic side against British imperialism at the
time of the Sudan expedition, the Boer War and particularly the split
over conscription during the First World War.
When I was a kid at a Catholic school in the 1950s, we used to
defiantly sing Advance Australia Fair when the kids at the
public schools sang God Save the Queen.
(I was absolutely fascinated and a bit amused to see on television the
reactionary British-Australia racists of Pauline Hanson's One Nation
Party, self-consciously singing Advance Australia Fair at a
couple of their rallies. Even 20 years ago, that bunch and their
parents would have wrapped themselves in the Union Jack, singing God
Save the Queen. How times have changed!)
Every major move to separate Australia from British
develop an independent national identity has come from the Labor
movement side of politics, and been thoroughly resisted by the
In recent years, with the notable exception of Malcolm
government, all the major practical moves to humanise migration, get
rid of the White Australia Policy, recognise multiculturalism, etc,
have come from the labour movement side of politics. The fault line on
all the matters of race, multiculturalism etc now lies between the
Labor and Tory side in politics, so much so that reactionaries like
Sheehan concentrate their fire on these matters on the Laborites -- for
Some socialists advance another argument. They assert that any
accommodation with Australian nationalism is wrong because Australia is
now a significant imperialist power.
That proposition is incorrect. Australia is a modern
economy, with multinational elements having a very major role in the
domestic Australian economy, and with some Australian firms having
overseas interests. The proposition that Australia is primarily an
imperialist power is methodological gibberish from a Marxist point of
view. A new Australian labour movement nationalism is emerging,
incorporating multiculturalism, fairness in immigration and the full
recognition of Aboriginal rights and prior occupancy.
I advance this proposition, which I believe is completely in
with Lenin's general ideas on nationality. Australia is a normal modern
capitalist state with some secondary sub-imperialist elements. It has
evolved from being a colony of British imperialism, with Australian
nationalism historically always having been posed against British
imperialism, and with Australian nationalism having been the rubric of
Irish Catholic and working-class Australia, under which it advanced its
independent interests which, while limited and reformist in character,
were righteous and defensible.
The worst feature of Australian nationalism was its secondary
aspects, which were taken over wholesale from the ideology of British
imperialism. That has now been pushed aside and the general labour
movement notion of Australian nationalism now incorporates full and
complete recognition of the rights of Aboriginal Australians, a
completely non-racial immigration policy, and the general defence of
A new Australian labour movement nationalism has emerged,
incorporating all of the above elements, and it is completely defensible
Socialists and left-wingers should take their initial stand on
general framework in relation to nationality and race, and conduct
their campaigns for their other programmatic aims on this basis, rather
than conducting a sterile and, in fact, implicitly racist polemic
against Australian nationalism and multiculturalism.
This polemic, in fact, puts them pretty much into the same
Paul Sheehan and Hanson on multiculturalism. The Iggy Kims, Humphrey
McQueens and Ghassan Hages imply that there is some kind of original
sin in proclaiming a cultural pride in any national identity. That sort
of approach is stupid rubbish, and has no real basis in the method and
politics of the great teachers of Marxism such as Lenin and Trotsky.
That variety of "principled" opposition to national cultural
identity is, in fact, a completely contrived invention, with disastrous
Arguing with Hanson and Sheehan on multiculturalism and
nationality. The example of Israel
From all that I have written above, my ideas on the question
Australian nationalism become obvious. My Australian nationalism
incorporates multiculturalism and recognition of Aboriginal prior
ownership and national identity as well, and emphases the decisive
character of the working-class and oppressed in the development of
Australian national consciousness.
The hysterical conservative opponents of multiculturalism
counterpose quite a distinct alternative. Paul Sheehan, for instance,
pontificates that we were "united by Gallipoli" (which proposition has
to be one of the greater historical nonsenses of all time, considering
the volcanic split in Australian society over conscription), and they
want to preserve a homogenous Anglophone Australia, and have everyone
assimilate into it fast or go away.
They say that if this doesn't happen, Australia will be lost!
these prejudices they display a considerable incapacity to study and
learn about what is going on around them, as well as a profound lack of
any creative imagination.
If I viewed the world the way they view it, I think I would
go away and cut my throat! In relation to their main fear (that
migration, the "Aboriginal industry" and multiculturalism are
undermining a genuine Australian national identity) it's quite useful
to have a bit of a look at the state of Israel.
Israel shares with Australia one very striking feature. Israel
Australia are the two countries that have had by far the largest
components of mass migration in the postwar period. Israel in this
respect is way ahead of Australia, having gone up from 600,000 Jewish
people in 1948, to nearly five million now, with more than one million
Australia is considerably behind this proportion of mass
but is still way ahead of any other country in the world in the
proportion of the population made up of migrants from other countries
over the last 50 years. Both Australia's and Israel's population
explosions started in 1947 and 1948.
I am no great fan of the Israeli state. I am very conscious of
fact that the Palestinians have suffered a great national wrong, in
having the Israeli state dropped on top of them, squashing them,
although I'm well aware that the overwhelming majority of the Jewish
people who immigrated to Palestine had nowhere else to go at that time,
in the 1940s and the 1950s, because, particularly the United States and
Western European countries would not allow them to settle there
I'm strongly of the view that eventually the national rights
Palestinians will have to be properly recognised and properly
accommodated in a real geographical entity, and that is not happening
yet. There will never be peace in Israel-Palestine until the national
rights of the Palestinian people are fully and properly embodied in a
national territory and a national state.
Nevertheless, Israel is a real and existing state and the
nationality is a real nationality in Lenin's sense of the word, and a
study of this nationality and state can still tell us a great deal
about nationality, ethnicity and multiculturalism.
There have been three or four waves of immigration to Israel.
the 1920s to 1948, when the state of Israel was proclaimed, there were
some Zionist ideological immigrants but most migrants were refugees
from Hitler. In 1948 there were 600,000 Jewish people in Palestine,
immediately before the state of Israel was proclaimed.
After the proclamation, the Holocaust survivors, many of whom
still in camps, and most of the remaining Jewish population in
Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania, about a million people in all, went to
Between 1949 and 1952, due to the military conflict with the
states over the territory of Palestine, life became impossible for the
Jewish communities in most Arab states and by 1955, when the last
communities in North Africa emigrated, about 1.5 million
Arabic-speaking Jewish people from the Middle East and North Africa
moved to Israel.
In more recent times, 70,000 black Falasha Jews from Ethiopia
to Israel. Finally, nearly a million people of Jewish identification,
often quite remote, emigrated from Russia to Israel between 1985 and
There are also more than a million Arabs within the Israeli
boundaries who are Israeli citizens, whose parents didn't move
elsewhere in 1948. The population of the Israeli state is now nearly
six million Jews and Arabs in a relatively small geographical area -- a
little bit bigger, say, than the Sydney statistical district.
In addition to this, the population of the even smaller area
West Bank and Gaza is another million and a half, mostly Arabs. The
overwhelming majority of migrants to Israel have been Jews who did not
have the opportunity of migrating anywhere else, although a minority
from countries like the United States and Western Europe have settled
in Israel out of Zionist beliefs.
Throughout the whole period there has been a constant
of Jews out of Israel to other places as opportunities have arisen for
Inside Israel there are a number of major fault lines. First
obviously, the fault line between Jews and Arabs. Then the next major
fault line is, within the Jewish community, between the mainly European
Ashkenazi group, who speak many European languages and Yiddish, and the
Sephardi Jewish group from Arab countries, whose first language is
The million people from Russia speak mainly Russian. Within
these groups there is a multitude of secondary divisions into quite
distinct ethnic and cultural groups with their own traditions. There
are Jews from Kurdistan, and Cochin in India, etc, and many of these
groups maintain very specific and strongly held cultural and religious
There is an Arab group, the Druze, 90,000 of them, adherents
Islamic heresy, who identify quite strongly with the state of Israel
and serve in the Israeli army.
The other Arab citizens of Israel, Muslim and Christian, are
thoroughly alienated from the Israeli state for obvious historical
reasons. Nevertheless, they hang on to their Israeli citizenship for
very practical considerations of employment, etc, and they vote solidly
in elections and have their own Arab nationalist and communist
opponents of Zionism vigorously representing their interests in the
Knesset, the parliament of Israel.
Israeli culture, religion and language
Israel is a linguist's paradise. Hebrew, the official language
by all, is, in the modern spoken form, an artificial language because
before it was revived for political reasons by Zionism, no one had used
it generally for over 2000 years, except in religious ceremonies, as
Catholics once used Latin in the Mass.
This is the only example in the world of a revived language
a successful national language. The Irish haven't succeeded in reviving
Gaelic as the major national language, and the other major
semi-artificial language of recent times, Bahasa Indonesia, the
national language of Indonesia, is a syncretic amalgamation of existing
Malay dialects that were still in current use.
Despite its exotic origins, Hebrew is unquestionably the
language of the state, and even the Arab citizens can speak it for
practical reasons. A million Israelis speak Russian, many hundreds of
thousands of people speak English, and hundreds of thousands of people
speak other European languages.
There are also a number of surviving older people who speak
the old language of the Eastern European ghetto, which was so
tragically almost exterminated by the brutality of the Holocaust. By
far the second major language in Israel, however, is Arabic, the common
language of the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, and the
Arabs in Israel.
About 80 per cent of Israelis can at least understand Arabic.
cultural nostalgia, many of the Arab-speaking Jews from the Middle East
and North Africa, listen to singers and other musicians on the radio,
from Arab countries, despite their intense territorial conflict with
the Arabs in Israel.
The second major conflict inside Israel is over religion.
half the population, while technically Jewish in religion, are in
reality totally secular, and many of them have a non-religious, liberal
and socialist cultural tradition carried over from Europe. On the other
hand, there are many extremely fundamentalist Jewish religious sects.
Some of these sects don't even recognise the state of Israel, because
in their theology the state can't be proclaimed because the Messiah has
not come yet.
Between the fundamentalists and the secular, there is a fairly
group of more or less orthodox Jewish religion, particularly among the
people from the Middle East. These religious and cultural differences
give rise to constant conflicts and are often quite sharp, and they
inevitably spill over into the political sphere, where the conflict in
Israeli politics between the left and the right often assumes a
cultural and religious aspect.
Despite all these extraordinary multicultural features,
cross-currents, conflicts and divisions, the Israeli national identity
and national consciousness is one of the most potent and powerful on
earth. This extreme national consciousness has the very obvious bad
aspect that many Israelis vigorously resist the just settlement of the
historic wrong done to the Palestinians, but nevertheless anyone
studying politics who hasn't noticed the extraordinary vigour of
Israeli national identity and national consciousness, is blind, deaf
The Hansons, Sheehans and other Australian conservatives who
that multiculturalism necessarily prevents the preservation of a broad
Australian national identity, are really pretty stupid. They obviously
haven't examined the case of Israel, and, for that matter, they haven't
looked at Australia very closely, either.
The Nick Greiner effect and the Joe Gutnick switch in
Australian electoral politics
In 1988, the conservatives in NSW came back from nowhere, so
speak, to win an election under a new leader, Nick Greiner. Greiner was
a slightly Charlie Chaplinesque kind of man, caricatured unmercifully
by the cartoonists and the media, who termed him "Kermit the Frog" but,
nevertheless he led the Liberals in NSW into the greatest resurrection
since Lazarus, and he turned out to be a consumnate politician.
It is worth examining the subtext in Greiner's election
was the first migrant of non-British origin to lead the Liberal Party
in NSW. He was also the first Catholic and, paradoxically, also the
first Jew (in the sense that he was brought up a Catholic, but his
father was Jewish by origin. Such a religious and cultural mixture was
very common in Budapest, Hungary, where the family came from.)
Greiner made quite a thing of his migrant battler origins and
made no secret of his mixed ethnic and religious background, and there
was a lot of media discussion of his battler father starting a small
timber yard. I have not the slightest doubt that the publicity about
Greiner's background and mixed ethnicity and religion was on balance a
substantial political asset to him and one of the major factors in the
success of the Liberals under his leadership.
A big slice of Australians of different backgrounds could
identify with Greiner and he gave the Liberals quite a different
appearance to, for instance, the more traditional Tory, Anglophile,
Protestant appearance that they now have once again, under Howard and
It is my belief that many ethnic and cultural minorities,
the ones that he belonged to, were willing to vote for Greiner because
they vaguely felt that there was a chance for them too, if Greiner
could lead the Liberal Party. Thankfully, from the point of view of the
Labor interest, which I support, the Greiner experiment eventually
proved too much for the Tories to live with and they dumped him after
he received a bit of an electoral setback later on, and reverted to
their traditional Anglophone ethnic and cultural style.
Just before the recent federal election, the prominent
billionaire, Jewish goldmine entrepreneur Joe Gutnick, made quite a
calculated public declaration that he had swung over to the Labor side
in politics, and had had a lengthy discussion with Labor leader Kim
Beazley and that this was a long term change of allegiance, as he did
not expect Labor to win the recent election, and that he was going to
donate a lot of money to the Labor Party.
It's difficult to imagine that Gutnick didn't raise with
among other things, the interests of the gold industry, of which he is
a part, but nevertheless, Gutnick's change in political allegiance is
of considerable interest.
He is a fairly unusual kind of man: an adherent of a rather
ultra-orthodox Jewish religious group, the Lubavichers, and he is a
strong Zionist in Israeli politics and a rather fierce right-winger in
Israeli terms. He made the quite public point that he and Beazley
disagree about the Israel Palestine question, but that this
disagreement won't stop him supporting the Labor Party.
He also lives in Melbourne, and in the course of his
activities, a protracted battle between his interests and the old
Melbourne establishment stockbroking firm, J.B. Were, produced very
interesting evidence of the underlying attitudes of the Melbourne
Gutnick's legal representatives had reason to subpoena
records of J.B. Were in relation to a commercial dispute, and out
popped the nastiest and crudest anti-Semitism about the Jews and
Gutnick, in internal phone conversations of the J.B. Were traders.
J.B. Were aren't any old share traders. They are the creme de
creme of the Melbourne establishment. In 1932 some of the then
principals of J.B. Were were leaders of the Old Guard, the paramilitary
right-wing secret army led by General Sir Thomas Blamey, and they also
were part of the cabal of Melbourne establishment figures who organised
the defection of Joe Lyons from the Labor Party to set up a
conservative national government for the rest of the Depression.
All of this is in the record. The Melbourne establishment, as
whole, has an absolutely vicious history of both anti-Catholicism and
anti-Semitism, and it's only in relatively recent years that the bar
against Jews has been removed in the Melbourne Club and the Melbourne
Not too long ago, in 1948, that extraordinarily unpleasant
the Melbourne establishment, Joe Gullett MHR, made his famous
anti-Semitic speech in the Australian parliament against Jewish
immigration. When you put Gutnick's fairly calculated public defection
to the Labor side in politics in this context, it's easy to understand
some part of his motives.
Anecdotal evidence from the Jewish community is that there has
a very sharp swing away from the Liberals, even among the most wealthy
people in the Jewish community, because of the historically developed
sensitivity of Jewish people to race and racism. Many, many Jews can
see the shadow of Hitler behind the One Nation bunch, and they are very
very angry at the failure of Howard to jump on it right at the start.
NSW MP Helen Sham Ho has led the same kind of exodus from the
Liberal camp in the Chinese community, and there's no doubt that
similar things are happening in most organised ethnic groups in
Australia. The point of this story, in electoral terms, is this: when
the Liberals elected John Howard and Peter Costello, they, possibly
more or less unconsciously, opted in favour of the old style of
Protestant ascendency Tory Australian politics.
Then, when Pauline Hanson erupted on the scene, they made the
tactical decision which, however, I'm sure came to them pretty
naturally, that allowing the Hanson right-wing populists to play the
Anglophile-Australia racist card, would benefit them electorally.
Politically speaking, this was the gravest possible
They let their traditional prejudices be transformed into a tactical
estimate of the potential relationship of electoral forces in
Australia. They are so stupid that they haven't really noticed the
enormous demographic, cultural and other changes that have taken place.
The way that the Labor side of politics has again, like
come back from the dead in the last few months has to have a network of
objective origins in Australian life, and it's my profound belief that
a big part of this Labor revival relates to ethnicity, culture and race.
While Kim Beazley has been quite deliberately appealing to the
Australian mix, including quietly but definitely indicating his wife
and his mother-in-law's Hungarian migrant and Catholic identity, (with
his throwaway remarks about the "Hungarian mafia" organising the family
packing back home), Howard and Costello have been constantly exhibiting
their small-minded Anglophile Australian bias.
I haven't the slightest doubt that the electoral balance of
is now such that an emphasis on multicultural diverse Australia is
electorally more beneficial, in the short, medium and long terms, than
the Howard, Hanson, Paul Sheehan emphasis. I believe that the
ethno-cultural undercurrents in the recent election were a real and
significant factor in the dramatic swing back to Labor, which brought
the ALP up to approximately 51.5 per cent of the preferred vote.
Ethnic and cultural minorities in Australian history
A certain amount of multiculturalism started with the First
There were at least 30 African or West Indian black people in the First
Fleet, and a significant number of Jews, to say nothing of the largest
ethnic minority, the Irish.
African and American blacks came here throughout the 19th
American blacks, other Americans, Germans, Austrians, Swedes and
Italians all fought at Eureka. Germans immigrated throughout the 19th
century in large numbers, particularly to South Australia and
Queensland, and the German immigration to South Australia also included
a large number of a Slavic minority in Eastern Germany, the Sorbs.
The first Greeks who came to Australia were seven young men
Aegean Islands, sent here as convicts in the 1820s, some of whom
stayed, and some of whom eventually went back to Greece. These young
Greeks, being seafaring men like many Greeks, set themselves up as
privateers, attacking Turkish shipping during the Greek War of
Independence, but they were unlucky enough to tangle with an English
ship by mistake, were condemned to death for "piracy" in Malta, and
their sentences were commuted to transportation to NSW.
Thus, the now-large community of Greek Australians had its
origins in courageous young fighters for Greek independence.
Many Japanese came here as pearl divers in northern Australia.
Indonesians from Macassar traded with Arnhem Land. Pakistanis from
Baluchustan came here as camel drivers in the Centre, and were labelled
Afghans, in a kind of crude British imperialist shorthand. (It's a
rather exotic feature of Australian politics that Bob Katter, the
maverick National Party MP from Kennedy in North Queensland, has
"Afghan" camel drivers in his ancestry.)
The first Arabs in Australia were Maronite Catholics from
Lebanon, who became energetic and agressive traders in clothing
travelling around rural Australia in drays, as peddlers, and many of
whom eventually set up clothing stores in Australian country towns.
They were always dubbed 'Syrian' traders, because in the 19th century
Lebanon was part of Syria, but most Syrian traders were actually
The new Victorian ALP leader, Steve Bracks, is the descendant
of these 19th-century Maronite families. Southern Slavs, particularly
Croats from the Dalmatian coast, started to come to Australasia in the
19th century. In the 1870s many Dalmatians settled in the North Island
of New Zealand, and many intermarried with Maoris, giving rise to a
distinct Maori group now popularly called Dalmats.
Other Dalmatians worked on the goldfields of Western Australia
the 1890s through to now, despite some deportations after the First
World War, and unpleasant race riots in the 1930s. Many also settled
and had market gardens at Brookvale and Warriewood near Sydney from the
1930s to the 1960s.
Melanesians, popularly called Kanaks, were blackbirded here to
in the cane fields. Nearly 10,000 were brutally sent back home in the
early 1900s after the adoption of the White Australia Policy, in the
first brutal mass deportation from Australia (the second was that of
the Germans and others in 1919) but several thousand Kanaks managed to
stay, and from these origins a large minority group in Queensland is
Despite the White Australia Policy, many Chinese managed to
well. Throughout the 19th century, many Scandinavian seamen jumped ship
in Australia and settled here. The two best-known descendants of
Scandinavians are both descended from Danes, Jo Bjelke-Petersen, the
extraordinarily reactionary Queensland right-wing populist, and the
other Petersen, George Petersen, the left-wing Labor member for
Illawarra in NSW, who was responsible for abortion law reform in NSW,
the exposure of the Bathurst bashings leading to substantial prison
reform and who even had a considerable input into homosexual law reform
All through Australian history since 1788, the indigenous
people have been fighting a vigorous struggle, initially just for
survival, and in more recent times to reassert their full cultural
identity and claim a major and significant part in the new Australia.
Australia has had a very considerable multicultural aspect
since day one, and we should celebrate it and never forget it.
Ethnic identity and how the word "wog" was reclaimed by
A feature of migration has always been self-interested
stirring up hatred against recent migrants in any way possible. Richard
Broome's book about the sectarian upheavals in Australia at the end of
the 19th century describes how fundamentalist Protestants, using
rhetoric attacking Sunday trading and defending the "British Sunday",
often concentrated their attacks in a very racist way against Italian
fruiterers and icecream vendors.
Quite a number of these ostensibly religious racists were
competing fruiterers and icecream vendors who were losing out to the
Italian competition. One particularly vociferous competing small
businessman wrote hundreds of letters to the chief secretary of NSW
denouncing rival Italian small businessmen in his own area for Sunday
trading, and his letters which are in the Mitchell Library, contain a
vintage assembly of all the racist attacks on non-British migrants in
The first wave of mass European migration in the late 1940s
rise to a number of pejorative terms, "dagoes", "reffos", "Balts" and
particularly "wogs" applied to people from southern Europe and the
Middle East. Well, as human beings will, the second generation from
these places started taking over the word wog defiantly, and in a
self-celebratory way in the 1970s and 1980s. Quite a number of stand-up
comedians of that collective and general ethnic background now make an
excellent living out of a humour concerning the "wog" subculture.
The comedy stage play, Wogs Out of Work played again
again to packed audiences of people of Greek, Italian, Spanish and
Middle Eastern background, around Sydney and Melbourne in the late
1980s and the early 1990s. Recently the new movie Wog Boy has
been a spectacular success, with very large numbers attending, and it
looks like becoming one of the most financially successful Australian
movies of all time.
In the late 1970s I had a bookshop in George Street, Sydney,
opposite the picture theatres. When the movie Grease was
released, more or less by accident I cornered the market in a little
coloured paperback illustrated book of the film.
I sold 1000 copies in about a month, which was a lot for me.
striking thing about the young kids going to the movie across the road
and buying the book, was that almost all the young males seemed to be
dark-haired younger versions of John Travolta, and the girls often were
blond-haired teeny versions of Olivia Newton John.
The movie Grease captured the attention and
the children of the enormous southern European migration to Australia
in the 1950s, and was a kind of rite of passage for many of them and
for other teenagers of Anglo ethnic origin, because of the way it
dramatised the impact of migration and ethnic diversity, and even
expressed something of that atmosphere as it applied to Australia.
At the sociocultural level, the youth of all those ethnic
communities in working-class areas often blend into a general
subculture, which has absolutely core, specifically Australian,
elements, but is also a clearly proletarian general "wog" subculture.
This is quite noticeable in many Australian cities. This kind
proletarian subculture is both specifically Australian and distinctly
multicultural and ethnic in the now quite pronounced Australian way. In
Sydney, for instance, on Sunday nights there is often a large assembly
of young "petrol-heads" and their girls, celebrating their romance with
their old cars and engaging in drag racing wherever they can.
They tend to drive the authorities mad, because these
largely "wog" assemblies move about from place to place, as they are
moved on by authority. In the early 1990s they were a spectacular
feature of Parramatta Road, Leichhardt, assembling outside a particular
petrol station, which had a sandwich bar attached.
More recently, they assembled on the Princes Highway at Tempe.
Currently these petrol-heads tend to assemble at Brighton or at a
particular Seven-Eleven on the Hume Highway near Burwood, and most of
their drag racing happens around La Perouse. The defiant and
good-humoured appropriation of the word "wog" by the descendants of the
people to whom it was directed as a form of abuse is an important
commentary on the resiliance of real multiculturalism in Australia.
Aboriginality and Australian national identity
Indigenous Australians have obviously by far the strongest
of any cultural group to feel hostility to Australian national
identity. Yet, when Cathy Freeman made her wonderful statement of
Aboriginal cultural and political identity in her victory lap at the
Commonwealth Games by carrying the Aboriginal flag, she made the
political point of also carrying the Australian flag.
She obviously identifies both as an Aboriginal and an
While some indigenous Australians completely reject Australian national
identity, and that is their right, it is fairly obvious that most
indigenous Australians adopt the Cathy Freeman strategy of asserting
vigorously the right of indigenous Australians to land rights, justice,
and the recognition of prior ownership, but combining that with
asserting their right to claim a part of the whole Australian cultural
The language question: Australian English, indigenous and
The generally used language in Australia is the Australian
of English, which is pretty convenient from our point of view, because
the English language is one of the four or five dominant world
languages, and perhaps even the dominant world language, which gives us
enormous access to global culture.
The Australian dialect of English is extraordinarily robust.
the wide geographical spread of Australasia, it is interesting that
there is only really one basic dialect of Australasian English, with a
fairly modest regional variation in New Zealand English, and even that
regional New Zealand variation is comparatively small and seems to be a
product of the interface between Australasian English and the Maori
population of New Zealand.
Anyone watching the New Zealand, mainly Maori movie Utu
suddenly struck by the obvious influence of Maoridom on the New Zealand
sub-dialect of Australasian English. Australasian English is a very
lively, living language. Historically it owes a great deal more to the
"lower orders" of Australian society than to the upper classes, and
most etymologists discern its origins in the interface between
proletarian Cockney English, as spoken by the underclass around London,
and Irish English, as spoken in the rural Irish areas from which
convicts and other Irish migrants came.
In addition, it is possible to see some influences from Irish
and elements from Aboriginal languages, and the whole powerful and
distinct Australasian dialect is a product of the interaction of all
these elements, very much from the underclass of Australasian society
rather than from the ruling class.
Australasian English, while not losing its distinctive
rapidly evolving all the time. One is struck, if one looks at old
newsreels of speeches by John Curtin or Chifley, how much the language
has changed even in 40 or 50 years.
Being myself an extremely "strine speaker", who sounds a bit
John Elliott, another extremely "strine" speaker, I'm deeply attached
to the language, but I'm not unaware of the speed with which it evolves
and changes. There can be no doubt that the various waves of
non-British migration in the last 50 years have affected the Australian
English dialect quite a bit.
That is entirely natural, and is accentuated by the
the community of some millions of non-English-speakers. My strong view
is that migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds should be
effectively and positively encouraged to maintain their traditional
language, as well as becoming thoroughly and effectively bilingual in
The actual tendency is for socialisation in the schools to
practical pressure on children of migrant backgrounds to drop the old
language, and I believe that is a loss for the richness of the cultural
mix in Australia.
A subtle problem arises in relation to the language of
in schools and rather sharply lately in some parts of northern
Australia, about whether indigenous languages or Australian English
should be the language of instruction. I incline to the view that
Australian English should be the main language of instruction, even for
indigenous Australians, for practical reasons, but I am also strongly
of the view that every effort should be made to maintain the
traditional languages in the schools as well and encourage indigenous
Australians to be effectively bilingual in both the traditional
indigenous languages and in Australian English.
The practical necessity for this dual approach seems
obvious to me, but I am open to argument on this matter from indigenous
Australians who may think otherwise because, in the final analysis,
they have enormous natural rights in this area.
The question of indigenous languages is complicated even more
small number of speakers left of many such languages, and the tendency
in many areas for indigenous languages to be merged, at a practical
level, into an Aboriginal patois that is a blend of the indigenous
languages in a particular area.
In many small rural schools in northern Australia there are
indigenous kids from up to as many as half a dozen distinct language
I have a similar view to the question of migrant languages in
schools. I believe that the current practice of the primary language of
instruction in schools being Australian English is entirely sensible.
In practice, the children of every wave of migrants become extremely
proficient in Australian English very fast, and they contribute to the
rapid and colourful evolution of our lively, developing Australian
In addition to learning English, however, every effort should
made in schools to teach children of migrant background their
traditional language as well, up to a reasonable standard of
proficiency. It is wonderful to watch, observe and hear the evolution
of our extraordinary Australian English dialect.
New elements and influences are intruding into it all the time
nevertheless, it retains its own powerful popular momentum. I am
extraordinarily confident of its future. Within this framework of
confidence of its future, I believe that Australian English can only
benefit from a project of positive encouragement for the maintenance of
all migrant and indigenous languages and idioms in Australia.
They all need a great deal of practical support if they are to
maintained as ongoing sources of cultural enrichment, because the
natural tendency is for them to be subsumed and forgotten, which is a
great waste. Their maintenance as a significant element in the
Australian cultural mix will actually contribute to the further
development of the important Australian dialect of the international
English language, to which I am personally strongly attached.
Overseas political conflicts in Australia
The Geoffrey Blainey, Pauline Hanson, Paul Sheehan, Robert
bunch have another refrain in their attacks on migration. They
constantly complain about and gloomily predict the introduction of
overseas political conflicts into Australia, and resulting "social
The first thing that can be said about this is that argument
overseas political conflicts is not new in Australia. Again, it is
necessary to remember the constant struggles of the Irish Catholics
against the British establishment in the 19th century and the early
20th century, initially even to practice their religion, and then in
support of Irish independence.
These conflicts were repeated, vigorous and sometimes very
indeed. Nevertheless, no one was ever killed in such conflicts in
Australia and, in fact, the struggle of the Irish in support of Irish
independence fed into a struggle for democratic reforms in Australia
that was pretty successful and beneficial for Australia. The intrusion
of overseas political conflicts into Australia is, in fact, as
Australian as the bunyip.
The striking thing about the intrusion of overseas political
conflicts into Australia over the last 50 years has been its relatively
peaceful and democratic character. One only has to enumerate the kind
of conflicts and issues that have taken place to underline the general
point that the intrusions of overseas political issues, even where
hotly contested, have been entirely healthy.
One kind of issue has been protests in Australia by particular
migrant groups against military dictatorships, coups and other problems
back home. I can recall personally, the following:
Demonstrations in Australia in the 1950s for independence for
demonstrations in the 1960s and 1970s against the military
regime in Greece.
demonstrations in the early 1970s against the Franco
dictatorship in Spain.
demonstrations in the 1970s against the Pinochet dictatorship
ongoing campaigns by Timorese and West Papuan people for
independence or autonomy for their countries against the dictatorship
the massive 10-year campaign of Australians against the war
in Vietnam, which changed Australian society dramatically
the extraordinary mobilisations in Australia against
in South Africa that culminated in the very effective demonstrations
against the South African Springbok Rugby Tour in 1971. The world wide
protests against South African Rugby tours contributed to the ultimate
dismantling of the Apartheid regime.
The massive demonstrations in 1989 by Chinese students
against the Tiananmen Square massacre.
The demonstrations in Australia against British rule in
Northern Ireland at the time of the hunger strikes.
Demonstrations by Filipino people and Burmese against the
dictatorships of Marcos in the Philipines and the generals in Burma.
The striking thing about all these demonstrations, usually
by migrants from particular countries, but supported by other
Australians, is that they have rarely been violent, that rarely has
anyone even been injured, and they've had the capital value of
educating Australians that we live in something called the world, and
we have an interest in seeing that democracy and basic human rights
exist in other countries as well.
There is another category of collisions where overseas
between national interests or group interests arise, where there are
large migrant communities on both sides in Australia. Examples of this
sort of thing are the protracted collision between Israel and the
Palestinians and other Arabs, the conflict between Greek national
sentiment and Macedonian national sentiment, the civil war in the
former Yugoslavia between Croats, Bosnian Muslims, and Albanians on the
one side, and Serbs on the other, and also the division in Turkey
between Kurds, Turks and Armenians.
All of these conflicts have, over many years, given rise to
demonstrations and sharp political controversy in Australia between the
contending communities. The really striking thing about these issues,
however, is that despite the intense and real conflicts of interest,
and communal tensions involved, and the presence of large migrant
communities from the contending parties in Australia, there have been
very vigorous demonstrations, arguments and conflicts, but almost no
Once again, I take pride as an Australian that it has been
for these different communities with strong feelings about political
issues in their own country to demonstrate and campaign for their point
of view in Australia without any significant damage at all to civil
life here. Once again, the political expression of these issues in the
traditional Australian way of demonstration etc, serves to remind other
Australians that we live in something called the world. What's wrong
Seeing a vigorous demonstration in Sydney from different
groups about some issue in another country is possibly the best kind of
civics or history lesson for all young Australians. The shock-horror
rubbish about overseas political conflicts in Australia actually veils
a deep-rooted Anglophile racism and chauvinism.
How dare Australians, particularly migrant Australians, have
opinions about things overseas, is the view of the Pauline Hanson
types. Every time you get major public events, an excellent example of
which are the recent spectacular Kurdish demonstrations precipitated by
the unprecedentedly vicious violation of the right of ssylum involved
in the kidnapping of Krudish leader Abdullah Ocalan, the unspeakable
tabloid media and talkback radio hosts have a field day, and do their
best to whip up hysteria against whichever nationality has had the
Nevertheless, Australians have got quite used to such events,
the hysteria whipped up by the nastier sections of the media dies away
these days very quickly.
Alan Patience replies to critics of multiculturalism
I can't better Alan Patience's response to some of the major
criticisms of multiculturalism, so I read include another quote from
his article, originally published in The Australasian Catholic
The neo-assimilationist attack.
This attack is based on an assumption that the "core values"
heart of Australia's culture are being seriously compromised by
multiculturalism. For example, Lachlan Chipman has written:
"Multiculturalism ... represents not a more radical liberalism but
support for selective oppression ... Support for the values of some
communities means support for sheltered, separate, limited and
thoroughly sexist upbringing for daughters, for example.
It means for some communities, inculcating radical ethnic
mythologies theoretically irrelevant to the future of Australia, but
politically, and literally, explosive. It means the 16-year-old
daughter of ex-Calabrian peasants should not be allowed to go to the
disco with her classmates."
Frank Knopfelmacher extends this position even further by
that multiculturalism poses a threat to what he refers to as
Australia's essentially "anglomorphic" cultural identity. He writes:
"We favour the assimilation of ethnics into a hegemonial Australian
culture which is anglomorph, that is, historically English. The
objective is not to fuel a melting pot brewing a nondescript Australian
of the future, but to dissolve and transform non-anglomorph kinship
lines in such a way that their issue will be anglomorph. Thus one
assigns to the English political and social culture of the Australian
nation a privileged, hegemonial position into which the ethnic elements
must be dissolved. The object is relatively painless anglification of
The most obvious thing about this neo-assimilationist attack
it is based on a flimsy straw man version of the multicultural
position. Professor Chipman's view that the rule of law in Australia
will not prevail in the face of illegal or antisocial practices (of
ethnic derivation of otherwise) is simply naive.
All its serious advocates recognise that multiculturalism is
theory of cultural adaption and change. I doubt that even Chipman would
seriously contend that blood feuds, for example, are defended by any
proponents of multiculturalism. In addition multiculturalism has never
been prompted as an extra-legal flouting of the rule of law in this
Chipman's position, in short, is based on a lurid fantasy -
no need to be taken seriously. The early history of Australian
Catholicism robs Dr Knopfelmacher's quaint doctrine of anglomorphism of
any substance. Many Irish and other Celtic convicts and their families
experienced the quasi-racist cruelty of the English officials and
soldiers in the early part of this country's history.
It was partly a response to this that the Australian
colonies in the
latter half of the 19th century rapidly formulated some of the most
radically democratic political institutions for their times. The
democratic strains that grew so healthily then later informed and
helped shape similar developments in democratic government in England.
In short, it is ridiculous to assert that some mythical
anglomorphism radiates out from England to shine civilisation upon us
all. The English have been relatively slow, though promiscuous,
learners, borrowing from other cultural traditions, not the least being
the Celtic traditions upon which they imposed themselves over four
hundred years ago.
Knopfelmacher's position is dismissive of the integrity and
of non-anglomorphic Celtic traditions and is seemingly ignorant of the
democratic history of Australia's political development.
The 1999 election, multiculturalism and national identity
The 1999 election has confirmed, expanded, and probably
a fault line in Australian politics, which will remain for a generation
or two. The conservative side in politics and their backers in some
sections of the tabloid media chose to play the race card, to some
degree, although they awkwardly tried to diguise this by doing it
sparingly and no doubt, in their view, subtly.
Nevertheless, the division widened and became absolutely clear
the election campaign developed. Many ethnic newspapers switched over
from being supporters of the Liberals to neutrality in electoral
politics. A lot of other ethnic papers, particularly the Chinese
papers, obviously reflecting their readership, swung over in one jump
from supporting the Liberals to supporting Labor.
Many ethnic figures publicly deserted the Liberal side and
organise the Unity Party, which did quite well in the election for a
new formation, and gave its preferences to Labor. This Unity Party is
likely to be a fairly short-lived phenomenon, and there is little doubt
that almost every organised ethnic group will tend to entrench itself
and even participate in the internal life on the Labor side of politics.
Ethnic, community and electoral politics all abhor vacuums,
dramatic way that Laborism has reasserted itself as the only electoral
alternative to the conservatives in a two-party system will exert an
irresistable gravitational pull on all the ethnic groups that have been
repelled by recent political developments from the conservative side of
For instance, one can almost write the script for how the
young, recent-immigrant, well-educated professional people who have
been active in the Unity Party, will flock into the ALP. This will just
On the other side of politics, after their limited electoral
success, the future of the One Nation outfit is in doubt. There is no
history of right-wing populist electoral formations like One Nation
lasting much more than one election as separate entities. For example,
the Bjelke-Petersen for Prime Minister movement lasted one election.
The most likely variant is that the mobilised electoral
One Nation will rapidly drift back into the National Party in rural
areas and the Liberal Party in the cities, accentuating the racism
always latent in the conservative parties.
Particularly in the more far-flung states, rural Australia,
Queensland and even NSW, the scene is set for the re-emergence of
exotic right-wing forces in the mainstream conservative parties. For
instance, it's pretty predictable that as they flounder around in the
Queensland parliament, the strange collection of One Nation politicians
will disintegrate as a cohesive force and that a number of them will
drift back into the National Party, which will be glad to have them,
much as a number of Vince Gair's Queensland version of the DLP drifted
back to the National Party in the 1960s.
It is hard to visualise how the conservative parties,
the Nationals, can prevent such a development even if they want to, and
this development will tend to reinforce the already well-commenced
entry of the ethnic communities into the day-to-day life of the Labor
side of politics. The 51.5 per cent preferred vote of the ALP in the
recent election obviously includes a very large ethnic vote.
The 48.5 per cent on the Liberal side obviously does not.
future demographics will increase the 51.5 per cent and diminish the
48.5 per cent, in that sense fulfilling Paul Sheehan's worst fears
about immigration. These fault lines and divisions between the
conservative and Labor sides in politics are likely to become permanent
features of the next period in Australian life.
The times demand a new, inclusive Australian nationalism of a
popular and democratic sort incorporating multiculturalism and basic
Aboriginal rights. In the past year or two, since the 1996 elections,
the lines have been well and truly drawn, with the Howard government
attacking migration, toying with Anglophile racism, attacking
Aboriginal rights, and actively colluding with the rise of the
xenophobic One Nation movement.
Happily, the fault line that has developed on these matters
located an emerging majority of Australians on the civilised side,
against these reactionary forces, as the recent election results show.
We now need a carefully and confidently articulated new multicultural
vision for Australia, drawing on the past democratic nationalism of the
Labor movement and entrenching within it the rights of reasonable and
highish migrant entry to Australia, the defence of multiculturalism,
and the defence of Aboriginal rights, along with the recognition of
Aboriginal prior ownership.
I have in my mind the image of a new Australia in which
national consciousness and culture is constantly evolving and
developing as a distinct entity, but in which a multitude of
distinctive subcultures, all of which have their own Australian aspect
and features, are continually contributing, sometimes merging, and
sometimes developing a bit independently within the general framework,
constantly renewed by new migrants from different places stimulating
the whole development.
The constant tendency of each generation is usually to
fair bit into the general Australian culture, but the preservation of
aspects of the other cultures, their languages, etc, is all to the good
and to the benefit of all of us, and can be constantly freshened by
With imagination, good will and vigour, such a new vision can
solid majority in Australian political life, but it needs to be worked
on, elaborated, defended and extended if the civilised majority are to
win this battle.
The issue is joined and we should all stand up and be counted
this struggle for a civilised multicultural Australia, which is turning
into one of the most decisive political conflicts we face at the end of
the 20th century.
June 3, 1999