My experience of family and society in Australia

When I arrived in Australia during the White Australia era, I noticed little difference in the structure and operation of the families I met. Being an adaptable stranger helped me (in spite of episodes of overt racism) to cut across class lines. By working in factories and as a tram conductor (what a shock that must have been to many, especially with my ‘British’ accent), I came to respect the display of personal dignity by my worker-colleagues. As I was a fee-paying university student, it was assumed that I was wealthy – which gave me entry to very substantial homes. Wearing good quality clothes also helped.

There was, however, a significant difference between the Asian families with whom I grew up and the Australian families. The latter seemed to have no relatives nearby. There was also very little contact with their distantly-located relatives – because of the cost involved. This was the price the original (British) immigrants and their descendants had to pay.

There had not been, apparently, any chain migration, except (after World War 2) by the Greeks; but that was when a massive Europe-wide search for able-bodied men was commenced. Until this post-war flood of workers arrived, Australia remained a British nation, with a sprinkling of Lebanese, Chinese and others (who were to be found mainly as shopkeepers). Indeed, it was about the time I arrived that the status of the population was changed from British Subjects to Australian citizens. Ironically, it was my team of citizenship experts who carried out the first review of the Australian Citizenship Act in 1981/2!

However, there must have been something in the water post-war. All of us gave our children greater freedom than we had ourselves experienced. Women acquired mental (and social?) freedom from their menfolk presumably because of the availability of the contraceptive pill. Roman Catholic women ignored the requirement to produce at least 4 children; this gave their families greater parity with the families of the Protestants in terms of the timing of home purchases. Church attendances fell, as clubs became popular on Sundays. Children had to be taken to organised sport, as cheaper cars became available. ‘Rust buckets’ driven by yobbos began to threaten the health of those who might walk through public parks, and the lifestyles of those who might want to enjoy the beach on a warm evening. Today, reportedly, it is very risky to be walking alone on some city streets late at night.

Soon, allegedly, families stopped eating together. Individual rights within families are asserted, even as homes became bigger, and isolating electronic gizmos became the means of home entertainment.

Strangely, such changes have not affected my relatives in Asia. Personal respect yet prevails over there whereas, in Australia, we are all on a first-name relationship (my surname thereby becoming redundant). Such is ‘progress’ in my adopted nation. Where now?