Initial ethnic contacts in Australia

My first contact with a European ethnic person in Australia was as a student. … She had a foreign accent but spoke English fluently. Having survived a concentration camp, it was not surprising that she tended to refer to that terrible life in her conversations. Yet it was a subject most people avoided. Was it to save us embarrassment, because we had not suffered to the same extent, or to avoid involving ourselves in matters of sensitivity to others? By and large, those who had suffered rarely spoke about their pain.

… … My next ethnic friend was the Polish Jew who had been in the Underground fighting the Nazis. His story was much worse. Through him I realised how the Jewish people had been persecuted. Subsequent reading confirmed the Christian Church’s responsibility for the ill-treatment of the Jews historically; the Nazis were merely the most recent of the major players. Strangely enough, Jewish people seem to have done better under Moslem rulers historically.

My friend was a joker. Soon after we met, I ran into him on the street. I put out my hand to shake his, and found myself somehow tucked under his arm, with one leg of his holding me down. I do not know how it happened. Obviously, he was another one of those people trained to discommode his enemies. It was he who introduced me to Italian food and showed me how to fork spaghetti.

… … One night, at a student gathering, I met a very attractive lass. We hit it off immediately. She wore a number on her arm. I met her relatives and found them very hospitable. The girl and I used to talk together a lot and go to the films, but she would not accompany me in the daytime to public places because, as she said, “They wouldn’t like it.” (They being her community.) I do not blame her. Obviously, if she was correct in her judgement of her own people, they were, at minimum, excessively ethno-centric. After all, we were not planning to dilute Jewish blood.

In later years, I read that coloured Jews in Israel were not treated equally with the white Jews who ran the country. So, what’s new? Would their brown-skinned patriarchs turn over in their graves at this development? Why shouldn’t the Israelis be racist? – everyone else seems to be.

… … Sometime later I met a Soviet Jew lady with her gentile Soviet husband. They had gone to Israel and, as she told me, they had received less favourable treatment than those couples who were both Jews. So they left and subsequently migrated to Australia. They were hard-working and competent. She worked for me and I was able to assist her in obtaining a career in the public service. It is not true, therefore, to say that trees transplanted often seldom prosper.

In my ethnic affairs work I had the privilege of working with a Jewish girl, who was new to the public service. … Through her, I met the Jewish community leaders in her city, and learned how they had adapted so successfully that they wielded political power far beyond that to be expected from a small population. I was told that, in their early years, decades ago, they experienced discrimination, especially in eligibility to join elite clubs and such like.

… I suspect that their experience was akin to that of first generation Asians. Entry is open, but the attitude reflected in the statement, “You will not aspire to a partnership” (as was said to a Malayan accountant) would represent the metal ceiling to which I often refer.

What is impressive about their community is the way they supported new arrivals. The community, through its welfare structure, supports new arrivals, not only in settlement terms, but also to commence in business.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ lead to my work, at the level of Director, in the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs, on all aspects of migrant settlement, over about 9 years. I had been invited to join that agency by its head, with a promise of promotion into the Senior Executive Service.

The metal ceiling had come down on my head after almost a year of work, at a comparable level, screening foreign takeovers; my contribution in establishing that office was disregarded. Colour of skin, religious affiliation, or tribal heritage – how would I know? After all, there had been no criticism of my work officially, while the private sector had indicated satisfaction with me. Ah, the mystery of human behaviour!)