Social intercourse with ethnics

At the ethnic level of social intercourse, the ambassador of a European nation sought assiduously but unsuccessfully to have my wife, while his was busy with another diplomat. I noted that when we fed the Ambassador, I paid; when he fed us, his government paid – it was not equitable. Then there was the Australian army major who visited us with his family. The registration plate on his car was ABO (followed by three numbers). He was a Ceylonese Malayan-Aussie with a dangerous sense of humour; because he had been addressed as an Aboriginal so often (and in the usual manner) that he had decided to challenge the prejudiced.

As time went by, we hosted some of the increasing number of the foreigners studying in Canberra. Initially, we fed the undergraduates (mainly private students). Later, we chose to entertain mature-age postgraduate (usually scholarship) Fellows or those nominated by their governments for short courses in Australia. We thus became aware of developments in such countries as Tanzania, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and so on. There were some particularly nice women from India and Sri Lanka, who, naturally enough, took to our children with great warmth. There were some young men from India who assuaged their homesickness by cooking meals of their choice in our kitchen.

Almost without exception, these people were excellent cross-cultural bridges between Australia and the nations surrounding us.

As more time went by, we acquired Asian settlers in the national capital and elsewhere. Initially, they were medical doctors. And they tended to stick together. When medical fraud began to be identified throughout Australia, regretfully there seemed to be a disproportionately high ratio of Asian-sounding names amongst them. As the Asian population increased, and teachers, academics, public servants, and accountants, settled in our city, there was more social intercourse among the Asians.

Those with Anglo-Saxon (i.e. white) wives tended, however, to be left on the margin, as were (so I was told) couples of divergent language backgrounds. For example, a Bengali married to a Malayali told me that they were on the outer edge of both communities; yet, by faith and other cultural traditions, they shared the same background. The wider the mix of people, by origin, the more fluid the movement available to mixed couples like this.

Yet the bigger the particular ethnic or language group, the less contact they seemed to have with other groups, including the mainstream communities, i.e. they tended to turn more to intra-ethnic or tribal contacts. These people were very fluent in the English language and traditions and were therefore best equipped to integrate with the wider community.

When it became known that I worked in Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, my peace (and occasionally sleep) was destroyed by Asians ringing me, even from the other states, claiming to be good friends of my only relative in the country. Strangers would visit, accompanied by mutual friends living in my city. All sought my intervention with the immigration of a relative. When I pointed out that I specialised in ethnic affairs, that I was not allowed to intrude into immigration issues, and that I would not seek any assistance from anyone in the department, it was not well received. The wife of a prominent academic, having woken me up in the early hours of one Sunday morning, said, “You refuse to help me.” I said, “No. I will not even help my own sister in this way.”

I then explained to them all about due process and suggested that they follow these processes, which were clearly defined. If they had a case, the applicant would get in. There was no scope for corruption. … … To my knowledge, my advice was always followed (they really had no alternative), and successfully. I have yet to receive thanks from anyone for showing them the clear path of due process, especially the professor’s wife, whose relative is now in Australia.

(As shown by these extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out,’ immigrants who had come from nations in which contacts, ‘connections’, relationships (family or tribal), or corruption are often necessary to get things going (to coin a phrase), an Asian in Immigration must have looked like a godsend. Those who asked me to act illegally (therefore at the risk of my job) did not like being told about due process. I suspect that some of them did not have a legitimate case.

However, migrant selection officials used to ask their Asian colleagues (who were not involved in entry policies) about cultural traditions in their respective communities, to be able to do the right thing by applicants; for example, an adopted child would have been absorbed into the family without any paperwork.

With Asian immigrants, there is a tendency to live somewhat exclusively within their respective communities. When I was the guest speaker at a dinner hosted by an association of Indians, the President asked me to advise those attending not to cohere socially mainly on the basis of language or other cultural affinities, but to see themselves as having a shared national origin; that is how other Australians would see them.)