Riddled with prejudice

My topic today is upsetting because in it I follow the internal machinations of my mind and record the results of our travels. My intention is not to hurt but perhaps to show how prejudice is based on ignorance. As a kid growing up in an out of the way township in the period when Australia was firmly stuck to its White Australia policy to be any colour but white shut many doors to cultivated society.

I was practically ignorant of the policy. I got some understanding when we had to learn another language in form1 (year 7). Ignorant as I was, I happily supported the classmates from smaller one horse towns when they interjected about learning French verbs, “Why do we have to learn this rubbish, we’ll never go there?”

It was true, WW11 had barely finished. Europe was in chaos. Britain was still using food vouchers. No one was travelling, and we were on the other side of the world still working out how to deploy our returned soldiers. One of those was our French teacher. He was a lovely earnest teacher but he was troubled by the experiences of his war. Before our first thirteen weeks at school was over he killed himself. Of all the lesson we learned this was a sober reminder of the awfulness of conflict.

After our holidays we returned to our class and instead of a male we now had a female teacher. This woman happened to be the well educated wife of the headmaster. She took no time to alienate our very large class of prim young women and boys – whose only ambition was to quit school and help their dad on their farms. She had a terrible time. Especially given our group’s growing dislike of the language of the “frogs”.

At about the same time Elizabeth’s pen friend, a girl from France, planned to spend a week with us. (I have no knowledge of why she was travelling, and I haven’t checked before writing this epistle.) (My sister is five light years older than me)). In the lead up to her visit my friends, who too had little understanding, knew enough to embarrass me by telling me I would have to kiss the back of her hand when I greeted her, as they had seen actors do this on film. When she visited I barely spoke to her. I quickly discovered she was just another of my sister’s friends. And like others she was one for which I had no time.

In the intervening years I have spent extended time in France. Naturally I love Paris. I have enjoyed discovering much about its people, it’s history, it’s art collections, it’s wonderful wine regions, it’s vehicles, it’s trains, it’s films, but I am deaf to learning its language even after the months spent there.

Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice

In my last years at secondary school our learned headmaster, Mr AG Daws, took time to give us regular updates about the accommodation the University of Melbourne was providing for students from our near Asian countries, in the Colombo plan, at International House. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_House_(University_of_Melbourne)

Despite the fact that throughout my primary and secondary years we had been repeatedly exposed to wall maps showing us the extent of the British Empire (the countries shaded pink) I had no comprehension the world contained so many ethnic groups. (My ignorance knew no bounds.)

I knew the people of the Far East were a mixture of subsistence farmers and that region included the brutish soldiers of Japan who had imprisoned our men and women and forced them into slave labourers, killing many of them. Australia had no time for the Japanese even when our PM Bob Menzies agreed we sell iron to them. My parents-in-law lived next to a man and wife, who implored I not tell him our Toyota was a Japanese model, and he wasn’t rare among men.

Australia has had waves of Chinese migrate here since the gold rush of the 1850’s but nearly every Chinese person kept a very low profile because they were misunderstood. Most worked as gardeners and farmers. Some brave souls went into business and their business success ensured their escape from persecution.

The exception was in fast food. Apart from a fish and chip shops nearly every town would accommodate a Chinese restaurant. The menu in these establishments was extensive. The proprietors became used to people ordering their meals by number because few people were prepared to attempt placing an order using the correct name. They would ask for a “ number 43” when placing an order rather than saying Chow Mein for example. These Chinese were loved for their cooking but treated suspiciously for their interest in a joss house.

It is complicated to take a dozen nations or so and drop them in one basket and I apologise for that but I do have another story from my youth that cements the nationalistic view Australians had of orientals. Portland had a quirky little private museum. It’s contents were more politically incorrect than the decor of The Savage Club. That gentleman’s club in Melbourne, meant for bohemians and artists, is decorated with paraphernalia collected from primitive people from around the globe. The same was true of the Portland affair, except the owner had a collection of skulls of people from around the world especially Asia. It was my first and last view of such a ghoulish exhibition. It was memorable because it was my first exposure to a different head shape to my own.

It is interesting to note how quickly we have accepted multiculturalism . Today nearly four percent of the people of Australia claim Chinese heritage. (https://quickstats.censusdata.abs.gov.au/census_services/getproduct/census/2016/quickstat/036)

Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice

In the early sixties. One of my aunts married a man from Germany. This was unheard of. In my childhood Australia was fighting with the Allies against Germany. After the war we accepted many people from war torn Europe. Australia selectively chose people of light skin. We had thousands come and work in factories, and on the Snowy hydro scheme. The country changed quickly as we needed people to build our nation.

With the influx of so many migrants the people tended to stick to their own ethnic groups. In the mid Victorian town of Creswick many Dutch settled on the large housing blocks. Blocks that were large enough for a family to milk a cow, grow a garden, and settle their families. At that time the work was in Ballarat or in decentralised factories nearby. In Camperdown we sponsored people from Britain. Carlton was settled by Italian restaurant owners. Greeks did the same in many different towns across the land.

It was only when I reached the city of Geelong was I face to face with so many different ethnic groups for the first time. I remember being horrified by the sight of a European delicatessen’s shop in Ryrie Steet. It had unusual sausages and cheeses hanging from the ceiling. It had a rich aroma of foods foreign to me. Secondly most of the customers would place their orders in an unrecognised language. (Oh how I would love to see that shop return.)

In literature we made fun of our migrants with books like, “They’re a weird mob”, by Nino Culotto and “ Strine” , by Afferbeck Lauder. Both authors used pseudonyms to protect their reputations but the books were a success.

Earlier this year we travelled to Greece, while there, we spent a weekend with our German friends Moritz and Bridgette who had flown from Berlin to meet us. If we have learned anything from travel it is a love of people from around the globe. Hello Harri. Good day Nazir. Speak later, Ellen.

Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice

My intention is not to confuse you as I jump about it is just to illustrate the depth of my adolescent prejudice. My next story is about my experience with our indigenous people. I was born in Warrnambool. This country city is but a stone’s throw from what has only recently been recognised as a UNESCO site of significance, Budji Bim landscape. For thousands of years people farmed there. They lived in permanent housing. The heritage of these people was not recognised by white settlers at all until very recently. Our school books made no reference to the significance of their culture. For as long as I can recall we happily called this place Mt Condor. It is now time to accept its old name and use it with pride.

Also just out of Warrnambool there was/is the aboriginal settlement of Framlingham. I had my first encounter with these black skinned people when I was about six. They were in the city for groceries, or something else. They were at best tolerated in the city. Perhaps it could be said they were shunned for no one spoke to them but those whose help they needed, and then they quietly left.

It was many years later before I next laid eyes on indigenous people regularly. As a small shop keeper we got to know some as customers to our shop in Ballarat. We were among the few places they shopped. Because the number of koories is small in most corners of our state the few residents have little contact with any people outside visit to government offices.

In our most recent travels across this brown land we have seen many like people from different aboriginal nations across this country. The most sobering thing to record is the racist manner our indigenous people are treated in the heart of their own country. Instead of walking proudly about their towns the lives of most of these people are so disadvantaged they slink about in an almost apologetical way. This is our shame.

Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice Riddled with prejudice

The country of my birth is nothing like the country it was as now it is possible to meet Australians who come from of the most diverse ethnic groups of all nationalities. We are the most multicultural of any in the world. Would the young fellow I was act as stupidly to others today. I hope not. Our country remains a constant challenge to me but I have learned all people want the same things. We may be timid when we meet someone for the first time but with us each showing tolerance we can be friends, if not friends understanding of each other.

Perhaps my childlike thinking is a yoke the country carries. Here is one researchers view.

Attack of the clones: Australia’s reign by older white men is an offence on us all

Here are three stories on the same topic from other tellers. Is a fair coloured person being true when colour is denied? https://www.cbc.ca/radio/outintheopen

My stories are personal but if my writing strikes a chord with you please subscribe and share it about. Thanks for reading to the end.