A snapshot of author Raja Arasa RATNAM

A Hindu Malaysian Australian, with a residence of nearly 7 decades in the Land of Oz, and participating fully (and therefore atypically) in Australian civil society (and at leadership level), with his work and social life taking him across almost all levels of the Australian people, and a variety of industries and occupations.

He has thereby been able to observe, most carefully, communities of immigrants, Anglo-Celt and other Australians, segments of the business and public sectors, a trade union environment, the work-shy and other welfare dependants, the asset-rich age pensioners, as well as many of those unable to offer long-term commitment in human relations, even within family. A marginal member of a community is often better enabled to identify the structures and operating inter-relationships of that community and, thus, its ethos and essence.

He has lunched with a Governor-General, and shared the head table with a couple of State Governors and Federal Ministers – at different times of course. He has dealt officially with captains of industry and commerce, senior public officials and ethnic community leaders.

In spite of this highly intensive interactive community life, he has not lost himself culturally. His core values, formed in his youth in Malaysia, have remained with him. A bulwark in his early years in the slipstream of a weakening White Australia ethos, his “Asian values” perspective has enabled him to chart the waves of the sociological changes engulfing him, without being drowned by the current. Being able to be an integral part of his essentially Western environment without losing his connections with his own traditions, and always being aware of his ancestral values, he can straddle the cultures merging in the new cosmopolitan Australia. 

His first 4 books (viz. ‘Destiny Will Out,’ ‘The Karma of Culture,’ ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity,’ and ‘The Dance of Destiny’) led to a senior academic reviewer to state that they represented a sliver of Australia’s post-war history. That is because, since his arrival in Australia in 1948, he has lived through the worst demonstrations of the White Australia policy, in particular, the eventually-failed effort by the then Minister of Immigration to deport Mrs. Anne O’Keefe and her family back to Indonesia.

His own experience of an Australian ‘ignoramus’ seeking to protect ‘white British space’ stolen from the Aborigines was to be attacked in public thus in early 1949; ‘Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?’ In early 1950, a fellow student said to him, ‘I don’t mind you, but I do not many more like you in my country.’ In the mid-1950s, he was too black to be employed as a psychologist (he had qualified as a research psychologist in the University of Melbourne); a little later, when he had qualified as an economist, “the Australian worker is not ready for a foreign executive” (said to the Head of Melbourne University’s Graduate Employment Unit).

In the late 1970s and in the mid-1980s, much effort, including some unethical conduct, was spent to prevent him remaining in the Senior Executive Service in the federal public sector (if he had succeeded, he would have been the first foreigner at that level). He had been on higher duties, however, for almost a year in each of 2 government agencies, without complaint or criticism from anyone. It is difficult to counter a WASP or a religio-political ‘tribal.’

At another level, in spite of the non-discriminatory immigration entry policy of the 1970s, there remained a relatively closed entry door for applicants from the Indian sub-continent. The 2001 Census showed that the majority of Asians in Australia had arrived from East Asia, and that the majority of the Asian immigrants had claimed to be Christians.

Another reviewer said this in relation to a book which was not published.

“ … what I liked about the style of writing is its unpredictability. The author cannot be read as belonging to any particular intellectual ‘tribe’.  Overall, it is very stimulating and different to other pieces of social commentary written in this country. That is its real strength.”

“… in many ways, it is an immigrant addition to that style of social commentary practiced by Conway and Horne……..but the author’s ‘outsider’ status gives him the insights that they lack.”

Non-publication was to avoid unwarranted controversy. The key issues were, however, woven into his other books. The purpose of publication was to inform, not to antagonise.

Since the spirit realm had brought him to Australia, he saw his role in life as building bridges. Indeed, he began writing his books only in response to a suggestion from the spirit of his uncle that he “could seek to contribute to building a bridge” from where he came to where he is. His own settlement experience and his work (over 9 years) on all the policies relating to the integration of immigrants enabled him to write his books and (later) many articles for publication. (Refer ‘The Dance of Destiny,’ his 4th book, and ezinearticles.com)

His message to newly-arrived immigrants and others: Ignore oral expressions of intolerant ignorance; but challenge significant acts of discrimination such as denial of equal opportunity. He himself had been unable to counter racial discrimination (skin colour and being ‘foreign’) and tribo-religious discrimination (Mass-related ‘not one of us’).

Yet, he bears no grudges. His experiences reflected the ethos of the white Christian supremacy of his time. Time and the human spirit do, however, bring desirable change. Australia is on the road to the Family of Man!