What academe was all about

I went to university. … I obtained a special dispensation from the university each year to undertake a full-time course on a part-time basis. I went to work, then went to lectures, ate a light dinner (I was usually too tired by eight or nine o’clock in the evening to eat), then sat up half the night to complete my studies.

Because I worked at a major clothing store on Saturday mornings, my sleep pattern was about two hours on Friday night, no more than four hours on five other nights, and a make-up nine to ten hours once a week. Yet we went out twice a week, as life would have been totally boring otherwise for my wife. We had intellectually stimulating talk on one of the two social nights, with lots of food, drinks, and good friends. I used to collect new friends at the university.

At the end of four years, I had completed a degree and a postgraduate year, with honours in some subjects.

Selling men’s clothes in the major departmental store was a pleasant change of work, and a challenge. I would have been the first Asian salesman in a major store in Melbourne. At the end of my first morning, I found every senior salesman looking at me. Why? Because I had been equal top-salesman for the morning (what a surprise for me). The other guy, apparently, always topped each Saturday morning’s sales. So, for the fun of it, I decided that I would give him a run for his money. But he was a difficult man to beat. He was very good. He also sold the more expensive lines, whereas the casuals were required to ensure that those wanting lower-cost purchases were assisted. This also took more time. But it was fun challenging ‘el supremo’ – and he enjoyed it too, I suspect.

My studies were exciting. I read, I thought, I researched much more widely and deeply than was necessary, had great discussions with some members of staff. My reading (seeking to understand) continued unabated. I thought that I had found my niche in life. … … and there was a (refugee) Jewish German anthropologist who was outside the mainstream of university work because (as he said) he was not qualified in Aboriginal anthropology. What a terrible waste! I spent an hour each week for a year with him.

He was a most insightful scholar, and was obviously being wasted. He guided me in my interest in the origins and development of religious beliefs, myths, and the like. One intriguing statement he made was that I would fit in on any side of the Mediterranean, purely on the basis of my appearance.

… …When I answered a question in a tutorial on economics with a statement challenging the behavioural assumptions underlying the theory being studied (not examined), I was told by the senior lecturer that there was no place for psychology in economics. Now we knew why economists are so irrelevant. … So, what was scholarship all about?

But there were educated academics as well. One, a senior lecturer in economic history, used to ask me to comment on some issue or other that we were discussing. … I used to apply what I understood about human psychology or sociology and offer explanations of my own. Apparently he liked that – and used me as a sort of intellectual punching bag. In the process, I too benefited – I learnt about matters that I had no time to read about. Another lecturer in that subject, of European accent, was also responsive to fresh thinking – thank heavens for that, because all my reading on that subject was done on the trams!

Sometime later, I asked to write a thesis on the sociological variables (value systems, etc.) underlying theories of economic development. Three Australian universities said that they had no one to supervise such a thesis. … On one occasion, when I raised the matter with a professor of sociology, he expressed interest, saying, “Yes, there would be great benefit in studying the economic variables underlying theories of social change.” When I said that I was interested in the obverse issue, he lost interest in me.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out,’ my first memoir, show that I had found myself swimming smoothly in academic waters. This excited me to want to know more and more, even as I was undertaking two full-time tasks. What interested was that I was challenging my tutors on many occasions; and able to hold a dialogue with knowledgeable academics.

Now, that is confidence for a fellow who had recently been sluggishly wriggling at the bottom of a deep well so dark that there was little hope of any light penetrating the gloom. My personal river of destiny was obviously on the move: the Cosmos does operate in mysterious ways. The lesson? Paddle, with equanimity, as best you can!)

The bastardry of some officials

I was a neighbour to the O’Keefe family just after the authorities failed to remove them from Australian soil. The widow of an Ambonese (Indonesian) serviceman (he had died fighting the Japanese), with eight children, subsequently married an Aussie and produced a ninth. They were charming, attractive and nice people.

Mrs. O’Keefe used to do the Charleston (a dance the oldies will remember) with style. The family all spoke excellent English too (except the baby, he was too little). While the authorities wanted this family out of the country, there were swarthy Sicilians and Anglo-Indians, as dark as the O’Keefe children, coming into the country, whose standard of English was either negligible or not as good as that of the O’Keefes’.

The bloody-minded politicians (to whose tune were they dancing?) also tried to remove other worthy people (including ex-servicemen) in the country, because of their colour. They also happened to be Asian; some were Christian. Were coloured people that frightening?

It was at this time that the poor Aussie was vainly attempting to bring his Japanese wife into the country. It was also the time that my wife’s family successfully lobbied for ministerial authority for my entry as a permanent resident. Obviously, the Aussie ex-serviceman had not sought help at the highest level, where justice and a lot of common sense could be found.

The journey south passed quickly due to our dialogue about politics, sex, and war. The boat called into a number of small ports, and an indication of life in the coastal townships was the way in which passengers rushed into the hotel, often the only one, and placed a bet on the horses. It seemed to be a matter of some urgency at each port.

On one occasion, a smartly dressed lady walked the mile between the boat and the township (it was a high tidal area with the ship berthing way out). She rushed into the pub and shouted out her bet to the barman. A large man standing at the bar near the barman, turned away delicately to read the wallpaper patterns until she had left with her drink and the ticket for her bet. We found, to our amusement, that this sensitive chap was a part-owner of the bookie business, which was illegal. He was also the local policeman.

At another township, at ten o’clock in the evening the pub closed and we were standing on the veranda with bottles of beer to take back to our cabins. The young local cop, displaying his Irish accent, told us most rudely to get off the premises immediately or he would lock us all up.

We could barely fit into the jeep belonging to a resident, while the cop frantically rushed around, frothing at the mouth, waving his truncheon, again threatening to lock us up because some of us had our bums sticking out the back and sides of the vehicle. The poor local Aboriginals must have had a hard time with this professional thug, who seemed to be itching to get stuck into us.

In fact, it was noteworthy that there were no Aborigines (of any shade of black or brown) in the pubs in these coastal ports. The only ones visible were clearly either stockmen or prostitutes, judging by their clothes and stances. There were a few European migrants, judging by their accents. These seemed to be prospectors, en route somewhere. They seemed to be acceptable to the locals – due, I suspect, to their confident demeanour.

… … Arriving at Fremantle, less than a year after I had departed, I took the train to Melbourne, traveling for days across the desert from west to east. There was a strange beauty about the desert. And it was ever so peaceful.
When the train stopped at Port Augusta, another passenger and I saw a crate marked WHY-ALLA (the name of a township) with a space for the upright of the crate splitting the name. We wondered how the authorities reacted when, next day, they would have read below that in white chalk (I do not know where we found the chalk), TRY-BUDDA (we did not have space for the ‘H’ in Buddha).

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ confirm the accuracy of the advice given by a yogi to my mother that I would go south from Malaya to study, and that I would be overseas a lot. It was only after my retirement that the spirit world showed its role in my tribulations.

My exposure to life in Australia in all its aspects, including being a tram conductor and a factory hand, and drinking lots of good quality beer with fellow workers, as well as the personal tragedy arising from academic failure, prepared me for a life of hardship in white Australia but which allowed me to find myself through personal freedom. It was my father, who had planted the thought of freedom as paramount in one’s life, who guided me in my search for intellectual and spiritual freedom.

The Immigration Minister who attempted to deport the O’Keefe family had claimed that he was only upholding the law. Yet, he is on the record to have said the following: ‘Two Wongs do not make a white’; and ‘Australians would not want to see a chocolate Australia in the Eighties’ – or words to that effect.)

Ex-servicemen from 3 countries share experiences

The Englishman, with official approval, had had a Malay mistress – his nightly skips over the camp fence were not noted officially as he was in a stable relationship without risk of the usual infections. Naturally, he left the girl behind when he migrated to Australia.

He swore that white girls had nothing when compared with Malay women – at least until we reached Fremantle after two weeks. Then he was prepared to concede that Aussie girls might have something to offer; he did not elaborate on their possible favourable points. The Frenchmen had had a terrible time in Algeria, unlike the Englishman. The latter must have been very fortunate because the Malayan Emergency was at its height at that stage.

I recall travelling north by train from Singapore that year. There was a lead vehicle which would test if the track was damaged or been blown up. There were British soldiers on board to shoot back into the darkness if the terrorists mounted an attack. I was warned that, shortly before my trip, a train had been attacked and blown up. Such were the joys of train travel in those days. The trouble was that by about ten o’clock in the evening some of the troops were drunk and staggering around, others obviously under the influence. One soldier nearly fell out of the train, as I watched. Some protection they would have been to us.

I do not suppose that these young Englishmen enjoyed putting their lives at risk for people who were their colonial subjects. It would have been fine for the subjects to die for their masters, but surely not the reverse.
Behind it all, presumably, was Britain’s plan to take another half a century or more to prepare us for “a civilised life” and to be able to govern ourselves (meaning that the exploitation of our resources was not going to be curtailed in a hurry).

The Frenchmen were in a comparable situation except that they felt that the Algerians hated the French, but who wouldn’t? The French had a terrible reputation for brutality and for behaving in an uncivilised manner. The French ex-national servicemen on my ship had had a very traumatic time, and were glad to get away from France’s ineptitude.

The three ex-national servicemen exchanged experiences without realising that the large Aussie fellow passenger was also an ex-serviceman. The Aussie then talked of his life as a military policeman among the post-war occupation troops in Japan. He had found the Japanese friendly, the way the Englishmen found the Malayans friendly. Indeed, the latter were then grateful for the English presence. The Frenchmen, however, were not surrounded by people who wanted to be nice to them.

I had read that some of the Australian occupation troops in Japan had not seen any active service. But many had lost close relatives. So, reportedly, they took their revenge on unsuspecting and innocent Japanese civilians. That was a terrible story. But the ex-military policeman could not confirm the accuracy of that report. It if was true, what does one say about Australian soldiers in relation to the brutality of the Japanese? Some said that the Koreans in the Japanese army were even more brutal than the Japanese.

When the Aussie was still in uniform, he was allowed to cohabit with the Japanese girl of his choice, but he was not allowed to marry her. When he was demobbed, he married the girl, but she was not allowed to enter Australia. So he returned to Japan and worked with the girl’s family on their farm. In warm weather he used to be shirtless, and passing Japanese friends would ask if they could touch the curly hair on his chest. It was such a novelty for them.

So there he was – still trying to bring out his wife. It was a nasty policy, keeping the country pure white while some of the Aussie men were busy within the country producing coloured offspring illegitimately. Recently, in a country town, when asked why the white women in the town hated the Aborigines so much, a wife (as reported in the press) said that half of the part-Aboriginals in the town had been sired by their husbands.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ present scenarios not usually discussed in public. Disgustingly, even in 1952, an Australian ex-serviceman was denied the right to bring his white Japanese wife to Australia. Yet, the few allowed into the country showed that Australian women accepted them fully. Officialdom can be ridiculously recalcitrant when confronted with the new.)

East-West marriages and other matrimonial matters

Another interesting experience for us was when we joined the East-West Society. There were many nice and educated people amongst them. Especially interesting was an Englishman in the education system, with a Chinese wife. We were told that he was a social outcast with his people, and that his promotion prospects had been curtailed. As he wasn’t old, I feared for him; they were well matched.

Another interesting and very friendly couple was an Indian philologist who was married to a Chinese woman. He could not obtain work with the government or with the local tertiary colleges, because (so I was told by others) of his marriage. That did not make sense. The English should not have cared if an Asian married outside his own ethnic community.

Perhaps his MA degree in philology was not recognised by the authorities. He was certainly wasted as a private tutor, when he could have been teaching and challenging students. I found him a most erudite man, equally well matched with his wife. The Society seemed to be a meeting place for the unwanted. We felt quite at home and were grateful for their friendship and support.

… … I was introduced to a young Aussie lass. She had been the short-term mistress of a senior, ageing English official (her description) while his wife had gone home for an extended visit. Her description of the life of a colonial made both of us disgusted. The lass claimed that the people she had mixed with were very ordinary people, “jumped up” into positions of power, and quite egomaniac in their professed superiority over the natives. She looked forward to returning home to an unpretentious life.

… … Then the Aussie lass took me to meet a couple of young Aussie men who were drinking at the bar on a boat in the harbour. They said that they were in business. They had an Aussie drinking companion, a major (with the appropriate accent), who said he was traveling to Europe. My friend suspected that he was Intelligence, as he avoided saying what he did when I asked. The next day, one of the Aussie men rang me and asked if I could take a small parcel on board and drop it off at a designated point just outside a harbour to be specified. I declined. Was that a test or a business deal?

From the YMCA on a Sunday morning, I could see worshipers leaving a church. I did not know or care about its denomination. Europeans left first and together, Asians next. They all walked on one side of the road, while beggars stayed on the other side – there was no communication between them.

The trip to Fremantle was fascinating. On board in second class were: an English ex-national serviceman from Malaya, two French ex-national servicemen from Algeria, and a former Australian military policeman returning to Australia without his Japanese wife. The military policeman, after leaving the service, lived on his wife’s farm in Japan. These four had some stories to tell.

(These extracts from my 1997 memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ present depressing pictures of East-West relations in the early 1950s in British Malaya.

Further, in the 1960s, a close friend of mine returned from Malaya after a 3-year posting as a junior Australian diplomat, but with a most peculiar accent. When challenged by me as to why his normal educated voice had so changed, he recognised that he had adopted the speech sounds of the British colonials. He too was critical of the snooty behaviour of the British.

As for the invitation for me to take a small packet with me and then to drop it off, I realised much later that these guys would have been Australian Intelligence agents; they were very smooth and plausible operatives. I did not know it then, but my Australian in-laws had sought Ministerial approval for my admission to Australia as an immigrant. They wanted their daughter home.)

An admixture of humanity

One day, we were invited to spend the day with a visiting maharajah from India. This we did. He was a charming unassuming man, with whom I talked at length, without having to utter “Your Highness” every five seconds. He was a very busy man, on his way to Sydney. A few weeks later, he flew to his country estate in England. Following that, the Singapore Indians received, entertained, and rerouted to the Maharajah an attractive lady (described as a socialite) from Sydney. Three months later, the same lady was repackaged on her way home, all with great style and décor. How the wealthy lived.

One Indian we came to know was not so nice. She told my wife, when she learned that we had been married in a civil ceremony, that we were not married in the eyes of God; and that we had to be married in a church … Now, here was something; a descendant of someone escaping the discrimination of caste by taking up Christianity was now propagating prejudice of her own. But then, we could excuse her by accepting that she had been typically brainwashed.

We were also befriended by a most attractive and charming member of a leading Arab family, partly because (he said) he and I looked somewhat alike. There the resemblance stopped – I was a poor mouse treading water and he was a wealthy dynamo. We were introduced to his family, but he also saw us alone.

One night, he took me to the flying club, and it was interesting to see how the wealthy Asians were mobbed ingratiatingly by the expatriates, all of whom seemed to be living in wealth. Yet few put their hands in their pockets in reciprocity. At two o’clock in the morning we were about to move off when our friend saw a car behind us (a fair distance from the clubhouse) with two men sitting in it. Believing it to belong to a friend, he went to investigate and out came a young Englishman and a Chinese.

The latter wore the clothes favoured by police detectives (it seems silly for detectives to be so readily identified). There were raised voices; the Englishman shouted that he was a superintendent of police. I said, “No, you are not,” and pushed him through the hedge. The Chinese pulled out a gun, my friend intervened, apologised, handed over his card, and peace returned. Both the Englishman and the policeman had obviously recognised the family name, and there was no reference to the hedge.

… … the Englishman was far too young to be other than an assistant superintendent, and a brand new one at that. An Englishman could not be lower than that rank, being recruited straight out of school at that level. I could start at no higher level than inspector, even with the same qualifications. Anyway, what was he doing at that hour of the morning in that car, with the detective? We did not follow up that question – we thought we knew.

My family and other relatives apparently knew where I was, although I had made no effort to contact them. A pariah (outcast) was a pariah and that was that. Hence, I was very surprised one afternoon when an uncle turned up at the door with my step-grandmother from Ceylon. I had seen her once when I was five. How nice for us all to meet …

… … It was at this time that I was invited to the office of a senior Ceylon Tamil diplomat. After exchanging pleasantries, we talked about my past and my present plight. I hoped he might offer me a job, perhaps his daughter’s hand in marriage. The custom in our community was for a father with a spare daughter to offer a bright young man an overseas education, in exchange for marriage. Usually, the marriage ceremony took place, the bride returned to Mama (hence no consummation or coupling), and the bridegroom was packed off to his studies.

Some years later, he would return to fulfill his obligation to his financier and to his own wife, work and save, and start on the circuit as financier or dowry-giver himself.

Well, I hoped in vain. Anyway, what would I have done with my present wife? A pragmatist crosses only one bridge at a time. My host then counseled me about familial and community standards and obligations and we parted. I did not know what it was all about. It was like advising a man about adequate house insurance, after the uninsured house was in flames. Sometime later, I learned that he was married to an Englishwoman who was now in England, and that this guru was living with an Indian lady. I guess he meant well, but on whose instigation had he put himself into such a silly situation? On the other hand, “there is no better surgeon than one with many scars,” as the Spanish saying goes.

(These extracts from my memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ bring out aspects of some people in power and authority, and their lifestyles.)

Income and social parities

We found acceptable accommodation in the home of a charming Chinese lady. An English sergeant in the RAF with his nursing sister wife, had an upstairs room, my wife and I had the other upstairs room, and we shared the upstairs bathroom. We all shared the kitchen and lounge downstairs with my landlady, her little daughter, and her casual suitor who played cards and drank tea with her, always with the door open.

The Englishman came from Jamaica and was delightful company. His wife, from a fishing village in the UK, was inclined to be a trifle snooty with the natives, including me and the landlady, although she was charming. Her husband explained that his wife and most of his peer group would not socialise with the lower ranks, and certainly not with the Singaporeans she worked with. Ranks above him would not socialise with those below, either, and not with the locals. The very top service ranks, however, socialised with Asians, presumably at pukka level. The lower ranks apparently disliked their chiefs being on equal terms with their colonial subjects.

The airman thought it all very funny, as he had grown up in a sugar plantation under an egalitarian father. He was worth knowing. He told us that his wife was head of a clinic, where some of the junior staff (all Singaporeans) had equal to or higher qualifications, obtained in the UK. Being English, she had to head the roost. His wife was paid as much as a locally born UK-trained doctor and he himself was paid twice that. I knew that school principals were paid half the salary of a young local doctor and I was to earn half of that again. Night after night we used to talk, but his wife would be busy upstairs most of the time, while the landlady played cards with her platonic suitor.

Looking for work was frightening. There was nothing. As the Russians say, “When we sigh, nobody hears us.” I finally found a very low-paid job teaching English at a commercial school, and was ripped off; only part of my salary was paid. This happened at another school, where the owner and I traded blows – again I did not get my money.

Hunger is the teacher of many (I read), and my wife and I looked like increasing our learning. I rang the USIS (the US Information Service) office and received courtesy and relevant information. On the other hand, ringing the appropriate head (an Englishman) in the Education Authority, I was told rudely that there were no vacancies. “If I peddled salt, it rains; if I peddled flour, the wind blows,” as some long-suffering Japanese said. That was my story too.

I then rang a Singaporean teacher friend who pointed me in the right direction and I was asked to start teaching the following day. There was a shortage of teachers. I wondered what the Englishman was doing in his job.

My income was enough for the rent and transport, but we needed food too. My wife, having some training in singing, found work in a major Chinese hotel frequented by wealthy Asians, and our lifestyle shot to great heights. … But our financial basis was inadequate and the future unpromising.

While the Ceylon Tamils ignored us, except for one supportive couple (the teachers), the other Asians, as well as a few continental male Europeans, expressed great interest in us. We could not blame the latter. Here was a young, attractive, white girl, obviously poor enough to need the job, and her Asian husband was a nobody.

Fresh meat – that was clearly how some saw her. For example, a Dutchman invited us to his place after her work one night (I always picked her up) and plied us with lots and lots of drink. My training in Melbourne came in useful, and I remained sober while he became inebriated and made his intentions clear. So we left, chuckling. …. And she, to her credit, would not accept an invitation without my inclusion. And she did not have to – “Twice on Sunday” and the rest of it was the name of the song.

Early in my wife’s new career, we were befriended by some very nice Indians. They were the leading members of the Indian business community. One couple in particular almost adopted us. So, in addition to cocktail parties thrown by the Indian Chamber of Commerce, we went to private dinners and lunches. In between, our dear friend would ring and say, “Come to dinner, Raj. I will pick you up in … minutes,” and so he did. We felt so much at home with his wife and son. Years later I was to name my first son after that boy. Other members of that community also took us out regularly, in pure friendship – there was never any doubt about that. Apparently, we were seen as an interesting couple, partly because we would talk freely, irrespective of status.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ indicate that, just by being ourselves – relaxed, chatty and friendly, we were accepted socially. I doubt that they knew our background. Our ability to mix and talk freely was, I believe, what mattered. And we must have been a unique pair in the colonial era.)

Reverse cultural impacts

We eloped, married in the State Registry, and stayed with friends. It was a good feeling to be with someone who cared, and to be supported by friends. Life was good again. Then, disaster struck. As the Chinese say, “Misfortune is not that which can be avoided, but that which cannot.”

… … My reception back home was as warm as an Eskimo Pie (an ice confection sold in Malaya). There were no recriminations and no comment. That was the worst of it.

… … Is this how destiny works? To chuck us into limbo, leaving it to us to sort ourselves out from there? The agony of uncertainty was like that, I supposed, of someone treading water in dangerous seas wondering whether a saviour or a shark would surface.

A few weeks later, my wife insisted on joining me…. … No one spoke about our predicament. No relative or friend came to visit. It was quite weird, as if we were on holiday. It was actually peaceful. But my mother must have thought to herself, ‘I take some twenty years to mould my son in my own image, just to see some other woman make a fool of him in as many minutes.’ (I’m sure that some smart alec had already said that somewhere else.)

The exception to this peaceful life was a stranger who greeted me thus, “Son, I expected to see you here this month.” I couldn’t believe it! … Now, this stranger explained that my mother had consulted him because, sometimes, he could see the future. On this occasion, many, many months before … this man had seen me in that house in that month! And there I was! As for the future, he said that I would have great difficulties for a very long time! … Bad luck is fertile, as the Russians hold.

… … If free will is indeed as limited as it seems to be, let destiny roll on. I intended to live, find myself, and have fun in the meantime. I preferred to adopt another Russian saying: “In the kingdom of hope there is no winter.” So I set out to live, aided by my wife … We had no future, no idea where to go or what to do. But the universe was before us.

There are also sensitivities, related to cultural traditions and customs. For example, the wife does not ask her husband to get up and go to the kitchen and fetch her a drink in his mother’s house. He does not pull out a chair for her, seat her, and then find his own seat. She does not tell him, certainly not in front of his mother, what he or they will or should do. One also exercises discretion in opening up a topic of any sensitivity. One does not go, like a bull at a gate, into an issue to be explored before seeking, hopefully, a consensus.

All this was well documented in books about Asians returning home with English or other European wives. The men were inevitably accused of turning “native” again, because they were expected to live according to Western traditions in an Eastern home, simply because they had a Western wife. The need for the wife to adapt to her husband’s milieu is rarely conceded. There were also so many intangibles for the Western wife to be sensitive to, like the use of the right hand and not the left, for giving and receiving: the taking off of shoes at the door, and so on. My wife was not unaware of all of these, but it was easy to stumble (we trip not on mountains but on molehills).

The obverse also applied – Asians seem to pussyfoot around some issues. They seem to prevaricate – when they mean “No”, they do not say it. They appear to agree when they do not (but it is not a rejection, either). I was caught between two traditions – and neither side listened, because (I suspect) both saw me as weak or a fool; and I did not want to know which.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ reflect, in a sense, disparate perceptions by colonialism-tinted Westerners and traditional Asian cultures. Only time and greater intercourse socially would lead to compromises. The perennial issue in such cross-cultural contacts is: whose cultural values and practices shall prevail in different countries?)

Challenging experiences

Challenging experiences
My most intriguing experience at that time, and the most challenging intellectually, took place one warm summer night at the seaside. A friend and I were lying on the sand, watching the sky, and talking casually. Both of us saw the shooting star at the same time. It shot across the sky, not down. Then it stopped. We had expected it to disappear (as we discussed later), but there it remained for about a second (who was counting?). Then it changed direction, at an acute angle. Shortly, it stopped, turned again at another acute angle, shot across the sky, and disappeared.

That was no shooting star. There was nothing man-made in the skies (this was long before Sputnik). Nothing made by nature or by man then could do what we had seen. What could we say? I said nothing for forty years.

In a way, it was not that different from a similarly confusing experience that I had as a youth. I saw from the edge of a field a man lying on a sort of mattress on the grass. The showman erected a rectangular screen, using bamboo stakes and cloth. There was a lot of drumming and chanting, and, lo and behold, when the screen was removed, there was the mattress suspended in the air. The man was still lying on it. There were ropes dangling from each corner of the mattress and swaying freely in the breeze. Mass hypnotism? With me at the edge of the field?

Until a few years ago I was not prepared to admit that I actually saw what I saw. In all these years I knew that I had seen it. I also knew that I could not have – science says that it cannot happen. What happens when what cannot happen happens? And that was the question I was left with regarding myself.

(This extract from ‘Destiny Will Out’ identifies my introduction to the third component or dimension of my 3-part reality. The first two obviously are the material and the mental worlds or domains; the third is the spiritual domain.

Claiming to have seen evidence of levitation to my guardian, with whom I had no rapport, was a no-no. Talking about extra-terrestrials and spaceships over Australia in the late 1940s was also a no-no because Australians seemed to have a strange fear of invasion – from Indonesians to Martians!

Then, in my early 60s, the spirit world presented itself to me, leaving me confused for 2 years. More recently, I was shouted at in a public place by a casual clairvoyant I had just met because my spirit guide was complaining to her that I was not listening to him; and she could see him, and then described him.

I believe that I am now tuned-in correctly. Naturally, I am grateful for the 3rd component of my reality. It is far more interesting, while challenging, than the mundane material and the uplifting mental spheres.)

A medley of foreigners

A medley of foreigners
Other foreigners also added interest or colour to Australia. There was frequently a central European self-titled impresario amongst us – we were not sure what he did apart from attempting to seduce the girls with us. A Singhalese student, a bit of a philosopher, very slightly built, went fruit picking. At the end of the first day, it was clear that he would not earn much. But he played cards and drank whisky.

At the end of his contract, he came home with quite a swag, because he remained sober (while drinking steadily) during card play, whereas his fellow fruit pickers became increasingly inebriated. A Malayan held on to his girlfriend by promising marriage – he even had her wearing a sari on social occasions. On graduation, he left her. Another learnt to suck at the right teats and joined the international student jet-set.

A Singaporean lad and an Aussie lass went to buy wine for a party. Neither had any experience of wines. The proprietor of the shop, overhearing them expressing their ignorance and uncertainty, came out to offer them guidance. He took them on a private tasting, from whites to reds to fortifieds – every mouthful being swallowed. They learnt quickly (they said) and had a great time of it. In about thirty minutes, they were quite high, and were seen walking off with two bottles each. It was quite a party too.

A flamboyant Asian, studying for his pilot’s licence, had so many married women winging around him, especially in the afternoons, that his aerial time was reduced.

In a short period, I came to know well some beer-drinking Indians who never seemed to become inebriated; a Czech couple whose goulash was cooked like a curry and who made their own alcoholic liquors; and a Ceylonese student of architecture whose Yugoslav girlfriend did all his drawings for him, plus everything else. This fellow’s architectural skills were good too. Early in his final year, he received some accolade from some UK authority which put him on par with his lecturer. After that, the lecturer would not offer comment on my friend’s work. He therefore did not bother to complete his degree, and soon reached a senior position back home. Denied further promotion, he went to work at expatriate remuneration, in an African country. It was an interesting thought – a black expatriate in a black African country.

I also knew a Ukrainian who had spent two years cutting cane in tropical Australia as a condition of his entry to the country. He subsequently became a lawyer. There was a Hungarian lawyer who was delighted to have escaped Soviet control, although he was only a lowly clerk in his new country.

Many of these migrants met at a coffee house in the city called “Raffles.” It was a great meeting place. There were Aussie-born ethnics amongst us, who were characters in their own right. There was a Greek Aussie who did not believe in wasting time. Periodically, he went to a public dance and asked each girl he danced with if she wanted a f..k. He said that he never had to ask more than twenty. The search did not take up much time, because he left his partner as soon as she said no. Now, that was an efficient fellow.

An Austrian was more of a philosopher, with a steady girlfriend. At one of our parties, she came to me for a cuddle. Later, he objected. I remember that at two o’clock in the morning I threatened to hit him. To do it properly, I would have had to climb onto a fruit box, as he was a good deal taller and bigger than me. Since he was already a friend, and a peaceable man to boot, we got tired of threatening one another. The next morning he took some money from me to buy more grog – for that evening’s celebration. This was true friendship.

I thus gained confidence in dealing with all manner of people, at all levels. This was useful one day in a country town. A tall Chinese and three of us brown blokes were at the bar, when we realised that we were being examined and talked about by the only other group there. We Asians did not spend all our spare time in pubs. However, it is only in such places that some of the more interesting cross-cultural contacts took place.

Then a large fellow broke away from the group and approached us. Without a smile or any greeting, he said, “Where are you boys from?” I thought that was rude, and decided on a gamble. I said, in typical Aussie style, “What’s it to you, mate?”

Thank heavens, he received the message in full; he understood that we were his kind. He grinned, stuck his huge hand out, introduced himself, and bought us a beer. We got along famously with his group. It took me a while to realise that we were in “boong” (Aboriginal) territory, and that the big man was probably the local sergeant of police (hence the greeting). That experience confirmed our practice of never being subservient or overawed.

(This extract from ‘Destiny Will Out’ will indicate that within white British Australia was an admixture of young foreigners from Europe and Asia and local-born merging into a multi-ethnic and thereby multicultural society. I can safely say that, over a near half-century ending with the last millennium, I have met representatives of almost every nation either studying or now living in Australia. Collectively, we were creating the new Australia.)

Gender relations

Women expressed an unwillingness to be seen with us in public places. On the other hand, many of us had some difficulty in relating to women … We tended to treat girls with respect. Once we got to like them, they achieved the status of sisters (not necessarily satisfying to the libido on either side). Hence, many of us had friends with whom we could sit and talk and joke. We could go to the pictures, occasionally to dances.

On these occasions, some of the local lasses might be overheard saying, “Couldn’t she get one of our own boys?” To this, a few of the more cocky Asian boys might respond along the thrust of the black man’s superior swing.

I had been very friendly with another very nice Jewish girl, who retained her … number on her arm. We used to talk together often. We also went to the pictures at night, by train, and I always returned her to her home (no matter how long it took me to get home myself). But she would not attend any public concert in open places with me because, as she said, “They wouldn’t like it.” Who were they? The Jewish community.

Could that be true? At the other extreme, a young English girl and I went everywhere together. She became my blood-sister by us joining our blood at our wrists. She had been a sister to me in my loneliness, and I had given her support when she lost her only brother in the Korean War. She remains my blood-sister after more than forty years.

In between these two was another platonic friendship of depth. She was Polish and we went out together. When she took me to meet her family more than once, and then to a church ceremony of some kind, I panicked and took off. I may have done her an injustice. For it took a lot of guts for a girl to be seen in public with a foreigner, especially a “black” one, in those days.

An Aussie lass I came to know was really efficient in using the male, even a coloured one. She had me help her perm her mother’s hair and to make ice-cream. Of course, I had to learn to wash up dishes and dry them. I learnt to dry two plates or a fistful of cutlery at a time. It was all useful training for a self-sufficient life in Australia (but I did not know that then).

Among the Asians, an ethnic Chinese would go out with an ethnic Indian or Ceylonese freely (I went to the pictures with a Chinese Malayan from time to time). The arrival of a large number of whites escaping from the Nasser regime in Egypt improved our social life considerably. Here were young people of a range of ethnic origins, who spoke so many languages, and who were multicultural (like the Malayans) before they arrived in Australia.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ touch upon the sensitivities of that era relating to coloured/white gender relations. All that is now history; everybody is marrying everybody else – almost.)