The silent Turkish community in need of support

The wheel which had hardly squeaked was the Turkish one. A representation through a Turkish businessman highlighted the plight of the local Turkish community. They had congregated mainly in an inner-city area and were described by their spokesman as “the poorest people in the city” with limited fluency in English; they therefore experienced considerable difficulty in accessing community services.

We were told that departmental officers had met with the community’s representatives on a number of occasions, but nothing had happened. Had the community actually made a formal application? No, not yet. They were waiting for assistance in this regard.

Enquiries directed to our colleagues responsible for recommending grants showed that they had been investigating the needs of the Turks for a very long time indeed. What was the problem? The community did not have the organisational structure to administer a grant. Their needs for welfare access were also not established. And the committee might be communist!

Ye gods! And we thought that we had reached the end of the McCarthy period in Australia. Ah yes, there was also another problem. These people were allegedly receiving funds from the Middle East. So there they were: suspected communists, funded by Moslem fundamentalists, unorganised, as poor as church mice, with their settlement assistance needs uncertain. All on the say-so of some junior officers who kept visiting the Turks periodically, presumably to show that officialdom really cared. “There is nothing so bold as a blind mare” – is that a Turkish saying?

My team was authorised to investigate the plight of the Turks. I took my Jewish colleague with me – no one could accuse an anti-communist Hindu/Jewish team of collaborating with Moslem fundamentalist communists.

What we found was impressive. The Turks had arrived in the Sixties, apparently believing that they were guest-workers. Immigration policy continued to have, as one of its platforms, an on-going inflow of workers for the factories and for tramway, railway and road construction. The preferred blond Scandinavians and the Germans (the ‘Balts’ of yesteryear) now had more suitable prospects in their own countries; their replacement, the European people of the Mediterranean and its northern surrounds, were also finding better prospects in Europe. Hence immigration officials went east of the Mediterranean, still looking for white skins. Unskilled immigrants were acceptable, for someone had to take up the dirty, hard work that Anglo-Celts were learning to avoid.

… … The picture we obtained through our investigation was that of a hard-working, religious people who looked after one another. They worked hard, sent money home, and eventually sought to acquire their own homes. They purchased, out of their own pockets, a house which was used for prayer, as a community meeting place, and to hold classes for their children and wives, on their language and religion, and on settling into Australia. They were marginalised in the community because of language difficulties, and therefore had inadequate access to community services.

So they made do for themselves. When a member of the community became ill or died, they put their hands into their own pockets. They were not used to modern welfare systems and did not expect any government assistance.
They were not the first or the only ethnic communities to be in such a position. But they were certainly the poorest.

Arrangements were made, as with the Chinese, for separate assistance to create an administrative structure and to prepare a submission for a grant. Their case was subsequently established and approved. However, regrettably, their needs were linked (by someone very cute) to the needs of the broader Islamic community in Melbourne.

(The above extracts from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ show the plight of Turks who had been recruited to work in Australia in the 1960s. Yet, almost a decade after the grant-in aid scheme was introduced, and the Dutch, Jewish community, and other Europeans had been funded by the taxpayer, the Turks, like the Chinese, had been ignored.

Did the after-image of the brilliance of the White Australia policy remain embedded in the retinas of both politicians and bureaucrats? Further, was there some prejudice against a successor religion? The next post throws a little light on the matter.

For the record, following publication of ‘Destiny Will Out’ in Britain in 1997, the Australian Department of Immigration bought a copy. As well, I received a wonderful thank-you letter from that Department when I sent the Minister my next 2 books, ‘The Karma of Culture’ and ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity,’ published in 2003 and 2004 respectively.)