Interesting human relations

Walking the streets and in public transport, I saw large numbers of new arrivals from Europe. Many came in as refugees of one kind or other. Others represented the new focus on an expanded white Australia, to counter the threat of the “yellow hordes” (did policy advisers envisage Genghis Khan’s descendants riding in to ravage this barren land?). There was, of course, a need for skilled and unskilled labour to build the nation’s infrastructure and to man the factories.

It was interesting to hear the migrants from different countries talking to one another. With little English, they spoke (so I was told) in any combination of languages that made sense. And they had a great time doing it, as most of the early arrivals had experienced terrible things during the war. The only risk the migrants took in speaking in a medley of languages was to have some ignorant old Aussie stop and say, “Why don’t you speak English, you bastards?” This raises the question – what business of his was it? What right did this type of Aussie have to address a stranger in the street like this?

… … When I rented a room for a while with a private family, I was somewhat horrified to find that they had weekly baths. Since they had only a chip heater burning kindling, I learnt to chop wood for my daily showers. Later, in another home, although there was an electric hot-water system, the elderly owner continued with his Saturday night bath. This reflected his early years, when the kettle was boiled on a Saturday night and the family cleansed themselves in the kitchen in a little tin tub.

… … Some of the Malayans and other Asians accepted board in private homes. One very good-looking Indian, with a pukka accent, received (we believe) a full service from a not-so-young attractive landlady. Another Indian tried to bed his elderly landlady, but without success (he did not realise that the option to bed rested with the landlady). A Malayan, unsuccessful with girls, did better with his middle-aged landlady, to the point that he rang me late one night. He said that his sheath had become torn because of a corkscrew thrust – I am still trying to work out the logistics of that exercise!

Obviously, some Aussies had no problems about accent, colour, or whatever, apart from that corkscrewed guy. Perhaps it was the darkness. Indeed, one Indian complained that he had never seen the female body nude, although he had bedded a few; they preferred to perform in full darkness.

… … One day, I telephoned and found that a room was available in a private home. I was invited to call immediately. Within ten minutes I was there knocking at the door. When the door opened, the landlady looked at me with some surprise, then commenced to shuffle her feet, looking everywhere but at me, and started to mumble about how her sister had just let the room. This experience was often repeated during other efforts to find private accommodation.

… … The first guest house I was in was owned and run by a couple who said they came from Sweden, but were in fact Austrian Jews. The landlady was friendly but tough. … … My Malayan friends and I, being hungry late at night, use to break into the kitchen for some necessary sustenance. ‘Break’ is too strong a word; we knew how to ‘work’ the lock. The landlady never caught us; I am sure, however, that she was certain of the culprits.

Living in guest houses enabled us to meet a variety of Aussies in a near-homely environment. The residents of guest houses were mostly ordinary workers who, presumably, did not like cooking their own food. Perhaps the need for instant but casual company was strong. These people were friendly and chatty; they included some unattached women. Mutual understanding and respect grew, especially over a beer and card-playing, provided that one did not make the mistake of chatting up someone’s ‘bird’. One therefore learned to look first before leaping … … But our juices were flowing and some of the birds looked most appetising.

(These are extracts from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out.’ In my view, warm migrant-to-migrant relations set the standard for white Australian/Asian relations. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that European migrants had very positive views about Asian cultures, unlike Anglo-Australians, who seemed to have been tainted by colonial attitudes!)