Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), a pivotal figure in the Indian independence movement and the first Prime Minister of the Republic of India, once said: “Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.”
Multiculturalism is a term generally associated with the era of the 1970s and ’80s when social policies were backed by political leaders who supported an inclusive approach for Australia’s future. This ideological shift in government thinking, of considering the aspirations of “others”, was also promoted through literary endeavours of authors eager to correct the misrepresentation of historians who had for over a century adversely influenced school curriculum.
Impressionable young Australian’s world views were shaped by conservative educators whose social studies teachings were entirely slanted towards courageous British colonisers conquering and civilising hostile natives under their newly acquired sovereignty.
It was unproblematic back then for educators to snare students in their web of historical deceit as alternative views sought from books weren’t readily available in school libraries or public libraries for that matter. Asking a parent for a diverse stance on their inquiry was a position that was fraught with danger as their view of the world had already been shaped by similar biased teachings during their formative years i.e. Aborigines were murderers, thieves, rapists, idle minds and could not be trusted.
Text books available in school classrooms were authored predominantly by Caucasian males with unfettered control over their prejudiced perspectives of the past. In this regard I also include women, black and white, as being victims of this historical “recollection” by literary dinosaurs whose views were reinforced by like-minded politicians eager to maintain the White Australia Policy aura.
Australia was founded on the White Australia Policy that created a racial characteristic preference for its desired settlers from the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. This federal policy played to the quintessential 20th century rugged Aussie who had an innately racist outlook that viewed “white as right” and applied, in later years, Arthur Calwell’s (Leader of the ALP ’60 -’67) mantra of “two Wongs don’t make a white” to the letter of the law.
For the government at the turn of the 20th century the preferred immigrant was British in origin and in their absence the alternative northern European Nordic race with their blue eyes and blond hair sufficed. After World War II when the economies of Europe dictated a need for all able hands to be made available to rebuild their countries, Australia lost control of the one characteristic most coveted in their new arrivals: a white mirror image of themselves.
By 1958 the notorious dictation test for new arrivals was officially abolished and in 1966 Hubert Opperman, Menzies Immigration Minister, opened the door for skilled migration from non-European countries. Finally in 1973 Gough Whitlam removed all racial qualifications to immigration and a multi-cultural Australia assumed prominence on a dyed landscape against the wishes of a nervous and suspicious white population.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), as of June 27, 2007, revealed that overseas-born population increased in number between 1996 and 2006 by 13 per cent, from around 3.9 million to 4.4 million. The two largest overseas-born groups have continued to be those born in England (19 per cent of all overseas-born) and New Zealand (9 per cent). China overtook Italy as the third largest birthplace group (each country accounting for around 5 per cent of all overseas-born).
The ABS also found that a number of Australia's recent arrivals had been born in countries recently affected by war and political unrest. Over 73 per cent (or around 14,000) of Australian residents born in Sudan arrived in 2001 or later. Similarly, a high proportion of the population born in Zimbabwe (48 per cent or 10,000 people), Afghanistan (45 per cent or 7,000), and Iraq (34 per cent or 11,000) had arrived in 2001 or later.
So it was great satisfaction that I worked with Jackie Huggins and others in assisting Lorella Piazzetta from the Multicultural Development Association (MDA) of Queensland to develop their Reconciliation Strategy. This strategy was launched recently by Tom Calma, HREOC Race Commissioner, who spoke of his excitement of seeing Australia by the day, becoming more diverse.
Tom said that he was excited at the prospects of this diversity and proud to be working on ensuring that members of all cultures are proudly calling Australia home. A home that is inclusive - a home in which cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds are mutually respected.
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