Material equality vs. social inequality

In our attempted adaptation to things Australian, we found something strange. Some Aussies seemed to suffer from an inferiority complex. … … For example, so many men with black fingernails claimed to be engineers. Was this akin to those (pre-WW2) Indians who claimed to be BA (Failed) as evidence of having been to university? It took me a while to realise that they worked with engines and were not always accredited as tradesmen. And Australia was supposed to be a classless society.

It should have been. The trade unions successfully obtained from the arbitral authorities loadings to a generous primary wage for overtime, holidays or dirty work, or anything else they could think of. The primary wage was to cover the cost of living for a couple with two children. Years later, they even got a “dim sum” allowance, to apparently compensate for the agony of being surrounded by the aroma of Chinese food while building in Chinatown. (Surely, there is room for outsiders to wonder about the decision makers in such exercises).

Australian workers have done exceedingly well through the efforts of their unions, strange arbitral authorities working in a vacuum, and major employers whose activities were cocooned by the coastline and very generous tariffs. There was an archaic and inefficient apprenticeship scheme for industry. There was no scope for multi-skilling, thereby requiring a small army of men with a wide range of skill classifications for every simple job. Margins for skill were kept low. And everybody lived comfortably, without anyone having too much cream on their cake.

In this environment of enforced equality, migrant workers had little attention paid to them by the unions, until the government thought up some ethnic policies.

Inequality of a social kind was influenced by the control exercised by the churches. No pubs were open on a Sunday (the godly were not to be tempted). But, if you travelled twenty miles from home, you could get a drink. And as Sunday was the day for family outings, the family went out for the day anyway, and had a few beers out there somewhere. Pubs closed at six o’clock in the evening (family men should be home by dinner time). So, until closing time, the men filled up as fast as they could, and usually reached home affected by alcohol.

Prostitution was banned, but the wares were openly displayed by independents on street corners and often delivered in public parks and elsewhere. Retribution by venereal disease for immorality? Abortions were banned, partly because babies were needed for adoption, which might swell the faithful. Mixed marriages were frowned upon, as “them” and “us” must always remain apart. Tight censorship applied in reading and viewing (the terrible things people might get up to if allowed to read and view freely).

Yet, the wealthy were free to drink, read, see, feel, or fornicate as they saw fit – as we all knew. For example, when I visited a fellow student’s home, his father, a wealthy man, and as high as a kite, was boasting, in front of his wife, about “feeling up” a local charity queen earlier in the evening. (One of the advantages of being a foreigner is the scope for cutting across the class boundaries.)

(These extracts are from my memoir of the 1990s ‘Destiny Will Out: the experiences of a multicultural Malayan in White Australia.’ The societal restrictions depicted applied more to the 1960s and 1970s than to the 1990s. Yet, the country has still got a long way to go to be free of politicians bound more by their religious affiliations than warranted by their responsibilities to their electorates.

For example, compassion is denied even when the best of palliative care has been shown to be inadequate to ease uncontrollable pain in an elderly patient; God’s Will, a misreading of the Hippocratic Oath, an evil view of mankind’s alleged tendency to go down the so-called ‘slippery slope’ to kill off one’s elders, the alleged primacy of the private consciences of ethicists, theologians and priests, are all brought out to deny compassionate death. Voluntary euthanasia is then referred to as killing.

Why should the theology of a minority of the population be binding upon all of the population? What happened to democracy? To freedom expressed responsibly?)