The full title of this book is “Musings at Death’s Door – an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.” It is a rear-vision-mirror view of Australia after more than 60 years of a highly interactive and contributory life as an adult. The book was first published in 2012.
Chapter 2 – On subservience
“I am intrigued by the discrepancy between the independent stance of the Anglo-Australian worker (originally the bulk of the people) and the obsequiousness/arrogance of Australian governments. Having been a tram conductor, worked in factories and offices, and socialised with all levels of Australian society, I say categorically that this Aussie worker is someone I respect. He is the one who will stop to help you were your car to break down on the street. He stands tall at all times, and encourages immigrants to emulate him.
Contradictorily, Australian governments are subservient, but selectively; originally it was to Mother Britain, later to stepfather USA. Yet, they will throw their weight about in the Pacific (their US-allocated bailiwick), or look askance at the newly independent nations of Asia with foreign faiths. These nations will never bend their necks again, and will not pay the respect claimed by Australia.”
Chapter 3 – On family and society
“The family is the basic unit of society. Some extraordinary, some terrible, changes have seriously affected Australian society since my arrival two generations ago. These changes parallel those elsewhere in the Western world. The individualism underpinning those Western nations I describe as Ultra-West has been honed, through associated personal rights, to the point that many children and society at large may be seen as at risk.
Is society, as the coherent collective that we have known it to be historically, on a downward trajectory in Australia? Will any sense of community and the reciprocal responsibilities within it survive? Will my Australian descendants, who have grown up without significant support from an extended family, continue to be deprived, relative to my own extended family overseas, of the moral and cultural support available in a community which is linked genetically?”
Chapter 4 – On governance
“Australia plays a prominent part in the push for developing nations of interest to the Western world to adopt our form of politics. A vote for each adult should lead to governments based on representative democracy. This will replace traditional tribal governance with rule by political parties (the new form of tribalism), aided and abetted by religious groupings (the other form of tribalism).
Whereas traditional tribal leaders, with a durable leadership, focus on the long-term needs of their tribes, the leaders of political parties, whose leadership is relatively transient, will focus on their short-term survival needs. The consequential contrast may be between a stable society with a relatively stagnant regional economy, and a relatively unstable society engaged in some economic growth, where on-going growth is a condition of survival.
The core issue is whether the acquisition of a voting right results in voters having any effective say in the politics of elected governments; and whether this is an improvement over traditional tribal rule.”
Chapter 5 – On racism and tribalism
“When a white nation, officially openly racist, changes itself within half a century into a modern cosmopolitan multi-ethnic and culturally tolerant one, any coloured observer would be pleased. Since many, if not most, nations contain an admixture of peoples offering a diversity of beliefs, values, traditions, and ethnic origins and histories, there is little danger in Australia now joining the Family of Man.
However, the rate of change in the composition of the nation must enable even an evolving host people to adapt and, hopefully, to reach an accord of tolerance promising acceptance – both within themselves and between host and migrant. In their felt need to expand the population, as well as to further diversify the immigrant intake, have recent Australian governments introduced the seeds of tribal contention and conflict?”
Chapter 6 – On multiculturalism
“Multiculturalism has become a divisive term. Instead of being a mere descriptive term for an admixture of ethnic cultures, it has now come to reflect an official policy. This policy enables permanent residence for ethno-cultural communities with religion-based traditions which are widely divergent from those of the mainstream populace; with the new communities wishing to retain their traditions unmodified by time.
An unsought, and an even undesirable, consequence of this policy is that, instead of converging in time with the socio-political structures of the host population, there develop, by choice, parallel cultural structures. These either delay or deny a desirable eventual integration of these new arrivals into the mainstream populace. The enlarged population is now not a unified people bonded by a shared citizenship and shared civic values.
Ironically, while these introduced communities seek to retain their version of ancestral cultures intact, back in the countries of origin of these new communities, their cultural practices keep evolving.”
Chapter 7 – On migrants, refugees and asylum seekers
“Modern Australia was founded by immigrants, and developed by immigrants. Under the sway of capitalism – that the economy must grow for ever – governments tend to favour a rising rate of immigration. This policy is the preferred substitute for a long-term development plan, or even a population policy. Awaiting God’s Will may explain this approach.
However, refugees and asylum seekers either cannot afford to wait, or choose not to wait, for God’s Will. Of course, there are genuine refugees and ‘wannabe’ refugees. The majority of the latter are most likely to be economic migrants who, in all probability, will not pass our normal selection process.
Today, asylum seeking is probably the biggest entry racket, aided by some Aussies who seem to believe that the Australian taxpayer is required to benefit a claimant for refugee status. This is in contrast to tradition where the migrant is expected to benefit Australia. Even border control now awaits God’s Will, since neither side of politics has any policy worthy of note. In the meantime, what are the issues involved?”
Chapter 8 – On national identity
“I do wonder if a nation can have its own identity. Might it be defined in the same way that a personal identity is drawn? But then, is there a single personal identity for each individual?
In British Malaya, the land of my birth, we were classified according to the territory from which we had come. I was therefore Ceylonese. In post-war White Australia, I was initially described as a black man, occasionally black bastard. Later, I was an Asian student, with Immigration authorities ensuring that we did not become over-stayers. Then I became an Indian, because everyone brown in colour, other than the indigene, was Indian; although I was occasionally asked when my Afghan ancestors had arrived in Australia.
Later, much later, like everyone else, I was defined by my work, with passing reference to my origins. Occupation and status were standard delineations of identity. However, when my wife and I mixed with middle-range diplomats, I was assumed to be a foreign diplomat; brown-skinned Asian Australians were a missing species. I guess that my wife and I scrubbed up well too, and spoke ‘proper like.’ Among the academics, I was assumed to be one of them; my tendency to speak in jargon from the social sciences may have misled them all. I was a mere public servant. In this arena, one’s social contacts were obliquely, yet inevitably, set by one’s position in the pecking order!”
Chapter 9 – On religion
“While increasing numbers of our younger generations do not see religious affiliation as relevant to their lives, the governments of a secular Australia permit the social values of an authoritarian Vatican to impose these values on non-Catholics. By favouring Christian immigrants, especially from Asia and Africa, federal governments have sought to counter the progressive erosion of church affiliation. Strengthening the Catholic vote almost led to East Timor becoming a dependency of Australia. Religion also interferes with our relations with our neighbours.
Yet, I accept that religious belief can be beneficial. The need is for mutual tolerance, with the power of divisive priests and their acolyte politicians constrained. My musings follow.
Almost all of those who profess to having, or believing in, a religion are born into it. Is it not the religion or faith of the family? Some exchange their religion for another later in life: it would be a well-thought out shift of allegiance, reflecting a search for a more satisfying faith or religious community. There will be of course some who are born into a family without adherence to any religious belief, but who may subsequently join a religious sect through a considered choice.”
Chapter 10 – On the Cosmos
“To ponder is also to wonder. Tiny drops of moisture, each on its own blade of grass, winked at me early one morning. As the sun’s rays changed direction, an invisible movement of ground-level air created a choreography – a dance of winking droplets. How aesthetically and spiritually satisfying that was! Indeed, the beauty of wondrous Nature has always transfixed my ever-roving mind. To wonder is therefore also to ponder.
A Seeker of Reality will commence with the question ‘What is it?’ In time, his search may lead to the next question ‘Why is it so?’ Is the next logical question then ‘Quo Vadis?; that is, ‘Whither goest thou?’ There surely has to be a destination for our journey through Earthly existence, through life after life. Is there also a destination for our universe, other possible universes, and the Cosmos as a whole?”
Chapter 11 – On empires, gone and going
“When I ponder about empires, I do so both as a former vote-less colonial subject, and a present-day free citizen. I now belong to a satrapy, a country subservient to a great power, but I am not in the least fussed about that. I wonder, perhaps with misguided charity, whether any long-term benefits (even if unintended) had accrued to mankind as a consequence of the great empires of history. My intuition says that there may have been some benefits at a regional, rather than a global, level.
My feelings dominate my thoughts about colonialism. These are about the loss of personal freedom and political independence; the imposition of foreign religio-cultural values and the consequent denigration and attempted destruction of the cultural beliefs and practices of the conquered and oppressed people; and the subversion of the local economy and much of the way of life of its workforce to suit the trading and other economic wants of the coloniser. After all, the interloper was not there for the benefit of the so-called natives; for instance, to teach us how to govern ourselves (as a friend of mine was taught at his school in England).”
Chapter 12 – Concluding my musings
“From early boyhood I have wanted to know about the Cosmos; about nations and why they behave as they do; about key aspects of society anywhere and everywhere; and about what makes we humans behave the way we do.
More recently, I have pondered the following issues. What determines the trajectories of our lives? Does the spirit world normally impact upon humanity? If so, why? Is there a Creator behind human affairs as well as the Cosmos as a whole? How can we really know what we think we know?
My most recent interest is in how people divided by their cultures, including religion, can reach out to one another. How can we un-learn taught prejudice, and accept that inner yearning within us to accept one another? Would a sense of belonging to the same nation (hopefully with some pride) induce a feeling of one people, in time?
Perhaps because of my increasing understanding of humanity, and possibly some maturity on my part, I find myself becoming more frivolous, while simultaneously ‘taking no shit’ from anyone. I have had enough of ‘racism,’ tribalism and religious prejudice. Thankfully, I have finally achieved mental as well as spiritual peace.”
Read my books ’The Karma of Culture’ and ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ about the issues of immigrant integration, and ‘The Dance of Destiny’ which offers contrasts between Australia and Malaysia/Singapore in the manner ethnic communities relate to one another.