Australian views of South-east Asia

Seeing that I was now an Aussie, I watched the media to see how my countries of origin (Malaysia and Singapore) were depicted. As Napoleon said, “I feared three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets.”

Singapore progressed from a colonial outpost, the fulcrum of the West’s sphere of influence in the East, to a nation whose loyalty to the Western powers was initially in doubt. It was clear that there was little respect for Asians and their governments. The media seemed to me to range from ignorant to ill-informed (on the one hand) to well-informed but substantially biased (on the other).

When President Sukarno preferred to be addressed by his people as “Bung,” many Aussie journalists had a field-day. There were joyful references to “boong,” a derogatory word applied to Aborigines. A dependent people, substantially owned and therefore controlled by foreign powers, were ever so superior to the oriental hordes. There was continual reference to the yellow hordes who were always getting ready to ravish Australia.

Thus, when the PAP took office in Singapore, they were officially labelled communist or (later) communist-sympathetic. When it became clear that Singapore was viewed favourably by the USA, the new nation began to be presented as ‘one of us’.

Malaysia, on the other hand, prevented a clear classification. Under the domino theory, it had to be saved from a communist take-over. However, with the assistance of the British, the communist threat had already been eliminated. The increasing number of Malaysians of diverse ethnic origins in Australia did not prevent Malaysia being presented as having racial problems. Once, I read of a claim of journalistic and artistic licence when a lie damaging to the Malaysian people, to their race relations, and to Australia’s links with Malaysia, was perpetrated to the press, in a book, and in a film on the book.

Often, alleged racial conflict in Malaysia came up (it still does) as a counter to our allegations of Australian racism, especially the treatment of Aborigines. The counter was (and is) interracial riots in Malaysia and Singapore as a common feature of life. The Third World status of Australian Aborigines, the implicit human rights violations against these people, and the denial of their dignity might thus be defensible. “By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community,” as Oscar Wilde so wisely said.

So, while I proudly admitted to be of Malayan origin, I had to be cautious about how I spoke about my country of birth. I was, in any event, too busy in my integration programme and my contribution to the community to be fussed by on-going national prejudice.

(The brevity of these extracts from my first memoir, ‘Destiny Will Out,’ is indeed a reliable indication of the extent of interest displayed by Australia’s media in the newly independent nations in the neighbourhood. Since so much rubbish was written, not only in the early years, but especially during the era when the Domino Theory about the impending takeover of the whole of South-East Asia was propagated by both officialdom and academia, that the less interest shown by the ignorant, the better for Australia’s international reputation.

Was this significant? For a few years I had known a retired army man who had been forced to withdraw from the attempt to save Vietnam from international communism. When I challenged his right to address an immigrant by any name he chose (a traditional practice with older Aussies), he said to me ‘You people are always having wars over there.’ That would be news even to the most ignorant media person. I noticed the ‘You people’ applied to me after a highly contributory life in Australia over 60 years!

On the contrary, Malaysians and Singaporeans know a great deal about Australia. Yet, there is little mention of matters Australian in the media of both nations.

Before my posts move on to other issues covered by my books, and in view of my age, it might be timely to indicate to my readers that the royalties from my ebooks at Amazon are donated to Medecins Sans Frontieres, a.k.a Doctors Without Borders.)