An Asian-Australian reviews post-war Australia

In this whitish outpost of the West, set in coloured waters, and surrounded by worrisome foreign faiths, myth meets reality in challenging ways. Myth – Australia is a Middle Power. Reality – Australia is a satrapy of the USA. It rushes behind its hoped-for protector into wars which have no bearing on its existence.

An octogenarian Asian-Australian author (Raja Arasa Ratnam) would like to see his adopted nation (of which he is strangely proud) become the next state of the USA. Why? Australia would become less welfare-oriented and more enterprise-driven; it would enjoy the military protection it seeks (while not having to pay for its armoury); it can strut the world stage without being uncertain about the way it might be viewed by its major export customers; and less subservient to foreign investors (the nation will not survive without an on-going inflow of foreign capital); and it will become a republic which elects its presidents directly (a majority preference).

Myth – Australia is multicultural, with more languages and ethnicities within its borders than any other nation; and it upholds human rights. Reality – the ‘ethnics’ being broadly spread throughout its electorates, the nation is well-controlled by Anglo-Celts. Its social policies are dominated by the values of the Vatican. Voluntary euthanasia is anathema; a legislated charter of human rights is opposed by those ‘of the faith’; and race discrimination legislation offers (sort of) protection against being offended, even by spoken words!

‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’ (published 2012) presents a rear-vision mirror assessment of Australia after the author’s highly interactive and contributory life of more than 6 decades in his adopted nation. It was only after a professor of history and politics had written (in summary) “There is wisdom here” that the author decided to publish this book. It was then recommended by the US Review of Books.

The book covers a range of issues: religion; the Cosmos; professional ethnics and multiculturalism; migrants, refugees and unlawful arrivals, viz. asylum seekers; racism and tribalism; national identity; governance; family and society; empires – gone and going; subservience (of the political class vs. the stand-tall workers); and biculturalism. It is hard-hitting but fair. The analysis is deep, the commentary incisive.

The author is a communitarian small-l liberal (thereby a political orphan). He has an extensive record of contribution to civil society: national president of Australian Rostrum (akin to Toastmasters); foundation chairman of a school board (when he wrote an accepted outline of a program for teaching primary school children about religion – no indoctrination); founder of a public speaking competition for primary school children in the national capital and surrounding townships; chairman of a union committee which established merit protection procedures in the federal public service (receiving a Meritorious Service Award); co-founder of a national public speaking competition for secondary school students; and an appointed member of the health advisory committee in his shire. There were sundry other contributions. His activities led to him being a luncheon guest of the Governor-General; and as co-guest of honour with a State Governor in two cities.

The author’s 2 memoirs ‘Destiny Will Out’ and ‘The Dance of Destiny’ show that the spirit world ‘hijacked’ him to Australia, and kept him there. His experiences include the wheels of his life-chances cart falling off from time to time; and him falling into holes which were not there! The US Review of Books recommended ‘The Dance of Destiny.’

It was after a significant psychic experience – when the spirit of his favourite uncle materialised to offer him spiritual guidance – that the author began to write. This was in response to his uncle’s advice that he could “contribute to building a bridge from where you came to where you are.” ‘Destiny Will Out’ reflected both his own settlement experiences and his work – over 9 years – (at the level of Director) on policies relating to migrant integration.

‘Destiny Will Out’ was so well received by senior academics and a wide range of readers that he wrote ‘The Karma of Culture’ (2003) and ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ (2004). Both were recommended by the US Review of Books. The supportive pre-publication endorsements by senior academics and other appropriate notable persons have since been confirmed. Both books cover issues relating to successful migrant integration.

‘The Dance of Destiny’ describes (in Part 1) life under British colonialism, the Japanese military occupation of Malaya, and an interesting but short stay in Singapore by the author and his Anglo-Australian wife. Part 2 of this book covers the author’s travails during the White Australia era. The book ends with a strong spiritual overlay.

‘Pithy Perspectives: a smorgasbord of short, short stories’ (2011) reflects the author’s whimsical approach to life. It was reviewed favourably by the US Review of Books and, most strongly, by the New South Wales state president of the Federation of Australian Writers.

Raja Arasa Ratnam’s books are available as ebooks from amazon.com and its international outlets at about $US 2.99 each. They are now receiving customer reviews to complement the earlier endorsements and reviews.

For what it is worth, the author has been described as “an intellectual who cannot be categorised” and his writings noted as representing “a sliver of Australia’s post-war history.” (Refer Prof. Greg Melleuish of Wollongong University, Australia). Although the author arrived in Australia in 1948, when the White Australia policy had sharp teeth, he has no recriminations. Australia is on its way to joining the Family of Man, he says.

Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emus Black Seeds’

Here are the reviews contained in the book. White Australian supremacists, who seem to be thick on the ground, will not like what they say. What explains the derogatory views expressed publicly by white Aussies? A sense of collective guilt? No! One cannot feel guilty on behalf of one’s forebears. ‘Why can’t they be like us?’ is a better explanation.

Since the Irish Catholics were allowed to be a separate people, with their own systems of education and charity, should not the Australian Aborigines (who was here first) be a separate people within an integrated ethno-culturally diverse population?

Would that mean recognising them as First Nation People? Yes, but over the dead bodies of many a whitey. What about giving them a right to have a say in how they are now to be uplifted societally and integrated? Since terra nullius was proven false, could white-man superiority not be up to a requisite standard to ‘bridging the gap’ (a favourite mantra of politicians who prefer words to effective action)?

The reviews:
• “in 156 pages, Pascoe has inverted almost everything I thought I knew about pre-colonial Australia. Importantly, he’s not relying on oral history, which runs the risk of being too easily bunked; his sources are the journals of notable explorers and surveyors, of pastoralists and protectors. He quotes them verbatim, describing all the signs of a complex civilisation but viewed through the blinkered lens of appropriation and White superiority. As a teacher – I recommended it as essential reading for any educator.” Lisa Hill, blogger and educator.
• “This very readable, strongly argued study turns the accepted nation of the Aborigines as a hunter-gatherer people completely on its head” Steven Carroll, Sydney Morning Herald.
• “He has done a great service by bringing this material to students and general readers, and in such a lively and engaging fashion.” Richard Broome, Agora Magazine.
• “This is an important book that advances a powerful argument for re-evaluating the sophistication of Aboriginal peoples’ economic and socio-political livelihoods, and calls for Australia to embrace the complexity, sophistication and innovative skills of Indigenous people into its concept of itself as a nation … an important and well-argued book.” Dr. Michael Davis, Honorary Research Fellow at Sydney University.
• “A remarkable book.” Max Allen, The Australian.

The literary quality of Pascoe’s book about the settled lives of his ancestral people is demonstrated by being short-listed for the Queensland Literary Award and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, both in 2014; the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Award as ‘Book of the Year’, and the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Award as winner.

(Comment: The Bradshaw cave paintings show that the Chinese had visited the Kimberleys.

Regrettably, prejudice against the Aborigines by many of the movers and shakers of Australia is quite strong.) 

Authority and religion are incompatible

I grew up in a non-authoritarian religious environment. As ritualistic Hindus, my family attended our Pilleyar (Ganesh) temple frequently; and we prayed each evening before dinner. Our priests were facilitative, not authoritative. As a Seeker, but a loner, I did not seek a guru to whom I would be expected to give total loyalty, when I sought to proceed from the ritualistic path to the metaphysical path. I sought guidance without control.

When I arrived in Australia, I found substantial priestly control in one Christian sect. This control seemed to be based upon bestowed authority. I wondered why authority and control were considered necessary in any religion. Was not the responsibility of any priesthood to assist their believers to reach out to God without any duress? I noticed that authority was also used to keep separate parishioners away from fellow-Christians in other sects. Other religions were clearly taboo. Fortunately for society and mankind, this control is waning – through withdrawal.

As older religion, an Asian one, based on feudalism and authority, is being destroyed for political purposes. Yet its humanistic philosophy has enriched and guided many people in the West. The behaviour of some traditional followers, and the reported utterances of a couple of their regional leaders, however, contradict the core beliefs of that religion. Of course, feudalistic authoritarianism and religious ideology have been shown throughout the history of mankind to be incompatible.

Unacceptable recent behaviour of priests in the West is now well-documented. Institutionally-asserted authority and its delegation to priests will, I fear, diminish the role of religions. Mankind does need religious faith.

Yet, it may be better for each one of us, no matter how great our need for spiritual succour, to seek communion with our Creator at a personal level. I certainly do not need an intermediary, even a non-authoritarian one.

Inter-cultural transfers of values and practices

Revelation from On-High (Heaven, that is) has apparently been known to occur. However, it surely is a rare event; and may be unreliable (while unverifiable).

The transfer of learning and of new ideas, or new cultural practices and their underlying belief-rationale, occurs through enduring exposure. For example, the diverse peoples of Southeast Asia became acclimatised to Hindu religious practices and their associated belief systems through ongoing contact with Indian traders; later, the latter’s priests (who, unlike Christian priests, do not seek to proselytise and convert) would also have had an impact through the observed display of their rituals.

Emperors and other militarists are, by their very roles and actions, not known to be effective transmitters of durable new cultural practices and associated values. Their ambassadors have a political role, including reporting to head office their observations on their new temporary environment.

Traders move on their own trajectories, unless paid to be spies. Together with settlers from other cultures, they have a pervasive effect on the people they encounter, but without intending to change anything. In this context, I am reminded of Megasthenes, the ambassador to (Indian) Chandrangupta’s Empire from Seleucus, the successor in the Middle East to Alexander the Great. He made some very interesting observations.

Ironically, Alexander reportedly sought to adopt, without success, certain court practices of Persian royalty. Perhaps the priestess in Siwa (Egypt) had confirmed his alleged belief that he had been sired by a god. The adoption by officials of the British East India Company of the traditions of their predecessors, the Mughals, was however so successful that they were criticised by England’s class-riven rulers as ‘going native.’

When a tribe changes religion by fiat, by the ruler’s decision (for example, the Khazars of the Caucasus and the Singhalese of (modern-day) Sri Lanka), would the cultural changes have involved more than a change of religious belief? The conversion by British evangelists of some Indians and Ceylonese did not appear to have altered their behavioural values and practices in the Asian communities I observed; only religious observance was amended.

Naturally, in time, for a variety of reasons, cultural practices will change. My extended family is an excellent exemplar. I recall a visiting academic from Greece in Melbourne in the early 1980s who was criticised for saying that. He had pointed out that Athenian cultural practices had changed over time; and that island culture, which was not the same as Athenian culture, had also changed. Somewhat unwisely, he had wondered (as I understood him) whether one could really talk of Greek culture.

In truth, is any culture uniform across a people? There are classes, castes, and sub-cultures in countries which are familiar to us, eg. Australia, Britain, Japan, Malaysia, India.

Culture is indeed a moveable feast. In modern times, a degree of fusion between hitherto separate cultures can also be expected. What value is there in cultural competition or aggrandisement?

My Greek Connections

Soon after I settled in Melbourne, a young immigration official of Yugoslav descent introduced me to the Omonia Cafe in Lonsdale St. I ate there frequently with fellow students – Aussie and Asian. I was addressed in Greek at times, because (presumably) of my light skin colour and long wavy hair. I just love Greek food and the cakes smothered in honey.

There has to be some physical link between the Greeks and my ancestors. I do not know how and when this link might have been established. But I cannot credit Macedonian Alexander (the Great) for any such link, as my ancestors are Ceylon Tamils – who seem to have occupied their lands for a long period in history, until the British arrived.

That there are strong physical similarities in appearance between the Greeks and some South Indians was evident when I was about to hail a chap across the road. I thought that this man was a former classmate, a fellow-Ceylonese Malayan. I suddenly realised that he was (probably) a Mediterranean. In time, I became aware that the Greeks I met (mainly shopkeepers) invariably opened a conversation with me!

Then, when Col. Nasser took control of Egypt in 1952, it led to a number of middle-class Mediterranean people emigrating to Australia. I developed a strong friendship with a number of them; they were mainly Maltese, Greek, and Italian. Young G and I bonded early, and our friendship lasted about 40 years (until his premature death). He was my closest friend in spite of my move to Canberra.

Before my move to Canberra seeking a career, I was virtually an adopted member of G’s family. His Greek father was very much like my deceased father. And his Italian mother treated me as another son. I have happy memories of this special friendship.

My Mediterranean connections continued when I married the daughter of an educated Italian lady. But then, my extended family is very multi-ethnic.

 

The wonder of past-life memories (3)

I suspect that I have once belonged to the Jewish faith, Judaism; and also have been a Christian in Europe. No, I am remarkably sane. Indeed, I am normally a sceptic. Yet, the intimations my mind receives – presumably from my soul – cannot be (should not be) ignored. My Spirit Guide, who has made me increasingly intuitive, may also be involved. I also do not enjoy an ego. I am merely a Seeker. There are quite a few of us.

A Swiss friend of Jewish descent once told me that I had shown an affinity for the Jewish people in my first book ‘Destiny Will Out.’ Yes, I had strong Jewish friends; indeed, in my youth, I had been smitten by a lovely girl (a fellow student) who had a number on her arm. We went out together for about a year.

Then, when I sought to peer into my past lives through auto-hypnosis, twice I found myself in terrain which included a below-ground room cut into the rock. Where was this room?

In recent decades, I became a card-carrying Christian as well, because I was married to an Anglican, had my children baptised, and had earlier attended church services with my wife. Hinduism allows me to support other religions.

The push of my past lives being intuitively, subconsciously, persuasive; that is, to make moral progress in my future lives, I prefer to be a recluse in contemplation of my Creator, and to seek to understand the Cosmos and our place in it.

Should humanity destroy itself, or is demolished by a cosmic cataclysm, we will re-group, and move towards the Divine yet once more. The road is always uphill! Our past lives will do the pushing – if we allow that.

 

The wonder of past-life memories (2)

I do believe that where (geographically) one is born, and the family and culture into which one is born, have significance. Chance, in my view, is not a determinant. For instance, I already ‘know’ that I will be re-born as a constituent member of another culture. There have been many strange intimations in my life which lead me to this conclusion.

As for my birth in this life into a Hindu religio-cultural milieu, my acculturation made me initially religious; later spiritual, as I was guided by the Upanishads. My on-going reading about religion then led me to realise that all the main religions are equal in their potential, and I became a free-thinker. Growing up in a multicultural nation-in-the-making also helped to form this perspective.

Without a prescriptive Good Book, Hinduism encourages free thinkers to explore the Cosmos ideationally and spiritually. No authority structures abound. In my experience, the priests do not tell us what to do; they facilitate our reaching out to God – by praying to one or more of the manifestations of God available to us. Insightful commentators are the lamp-lighters of this religion. The many tributaries of Hinduism lead ultimately to the end we all seek.

I visualise these tributaries of spiritual insight flowing into that Ocean of Consciousness from which we are said to have arisen.

I do believe that being born into a Hindu milieu in this life, after having been a Muslim, is part of my destiny path through Earthly existence. What next? The path of Confucius?