Asianising Australia

Prime Minister Holt, the one who seemed to have given himself to Neptune (the Lord of the Sea), was the first Prime Minister to realise that his now independent Asian neighbours had no time for the superior white man. Mindful of an electoral backlash, he allowed only a few tanned Asians to enter Australia as permanent residents in the 1960s. Was it not strange that they were all medicos?

Later, when medical specialists had also arrived, as a couple of them told me, Anglo-Aussie GPs would tell them to call upon their own people to provide referrals. A medical degree touched not the racism of these Aussie GPs; or, was it only ethnocentricity? Or, a fear of competition?

Then, there arose the issue of tribalism dividing immigrants. When, in my role as Chief Ethnic Affairs Officer for Victoria in the early 1980s, I addressed members of the Indian Association at a dinner, I relied on advice from their president. I said that, were I to be seen urinating on the wall of a building, all Indians would be tarnished by public disapproval; and I am not an Indian.

The president’s concern was to avoid splitting the Indian community in Australia by tribalism, although strong tribal links may be the norm in India. In contrast, the Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) community in Australia was already split by ethnicity into 3 representative organisations; tribalism prevailed. But that was also the norm with a number of European ethno-cultural communities in Australia.

As for an allegedly open immigration door operating from the early 1970s, there was a strong hand limiting the entry of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. Until the end of the 20th century, preference was given to the lighter-coloured East Asians, preferably those who claimed to be Christian.

By then, many wealthy people from Hong Kong had obtained residence rights in Australia through a quaint policy which allowed immigrant entry were the entrant to possess half a million dollars. The official theory was that these entrants would commence businesses in Australia. I am not aware of any official follow-up (Australia does not seem to do that.)

Since these Hong Kong businessmen were only seeking a bolt-hole were China to change operational practices after its recovery of Hong Kong, many of these new Australian residents went back to their usual high life-style as soon as possible; but leaving their offspring behind in large homes. Auckland in New Zealand had a similar experience. As I was told by a local, the suburb of Howick became known as Chowick.

After my retirement, I was told by a Chinese from Southeast Asia that he had sent his half-million to his brother, who had then also migrated. Later, it was reported that certain bankers in China had enabled a number of Chinese to become Aussie residents by recycling the same half-million. Who would be surprised by such enterprise exploiting incompetent policies?

Today, non-residents are apparently able to buy residential property in Australia in order to obtain capital gains. This practice prices homes beyond the financial capacity of first-home buyers.

Today, Asians and other coloured people help to fill the land at a rapid rate (in case the globe runs out of requisite applicants for entry), with very rich Chinese also reportedly buying productive enterprises, farms, and infrastructure. The ’yellow hordes from the North,’ the ‘Chinks’ and ‘Chows’ are no more. I have not been a ‘black bastard’ for ages.

Clever, hard-working Asian-Australians can be expected soon to enter the political arena, to nudge white Vaticanites off their pedestals of power. Multiculturalism also means the sharing of political power.

Yet, Australia, not being in Asia, cannot be of Asia. We will continue to belong to the political West, led by the USA.

Cross-cultural issues (2)

For a few centuries, many of the nations of Europe had enjoyed controlling vast areas of the globe occupied by coloured peoples. Their newly-acquired superiority in armaments had enabled this result. A sad consequence was that there evolved a view, supported allegedly by certain academics in the eighteenth century, that white people are genetically superior to all others. The lessons of history were thus ignored.

In Australia, an admirable ambition was to create a nation of white people where no man would deny any kind of work – such was the egalitarian principle which underlay this hope (the indigene excepted, as elsewhere). At the beginning of the twentieth century, the White Australia policy was legislated. Although Australia had little to do with colonialism (except briefly in New Guinea), the people had come to hold views which were patently racist.

However, by mid-century, the independence of adjacent nations had led to a gradual lessening of the colour bar, initially by permitting the arrival of (mainly) British-educated Asian students. Although we spoke good English (my matriculation was from London University) and behaved properly, our very presence and our comportment discomfited many of the locals.

The explanation was quite simple. We were intruding into ‘white space’ (as enunciated by academics). We were also violating the prevailing ethos of the superior white man, through our clothing, assumed wealth, educated speech, visible indifference to public rudeness, and our non-combative response to discrimination. For instance, my father had taught me thus: If someone spits at you, do not retaliate. Move on, but do not turn the other cheek.

We were also of foreign faiths; the effort by so many to convert us to Christianity was testament. Our foods were frequently described as ‘foreign muck,’ with some querying our preference for spices. We used to add chili sauce to guest-house food and to take-away fish and chips, and pies.

My university’s student council even conducted a survey asking how the respondent would react were his sister to marry an Asian (or words to that effect). Even some of our Australian friends might say something like ‘I don’t want many more like you in my country, although you are OK.’ They had clearly forgotten how Australia had been acquired.

The underlying ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ viewpoint was also manifest against the sudden arrival of large numbers of war-displaced refugees and immigrant Europeans. Yet, the main differences brought into the country by the Europeans were their accents and their preference for more tasty foods, with better bread. Australian cuisine then was very British (thereby dreadful from an Asian perspective.)

It was obviously difficult for so many of the locals to have their life changed so much, so abruptly. Yet, their governments had to go down that path. Initially, it was to obtain able-bodied workers to develop the necessary infrastructure. Later it was to avoid unwanted tensions with the emerging nations of Asia.

The reverse culture shock to the young Asians was confusion and a lack of understanding of the antagonistic attitudes and behaviour directed at them. ‘What’s it all about?’ was my thought when I was targeted in a fashionable public arcade on a Saturday morning. It took us a while to understand the reasons for this unacceptable behaviour.

Strangely, few Malayans studying in Britain experienced comparable behaviour. (Snooty chaps are, however, unavoidable everywhere.) The British people are far more tolerant of coloured people and the cultures they represented.

The isolation of Australia was clearly a cause. The principal cause was undoubtedly the enduring relationship between white invader and indigene. Curiously, governments will promise, from to time, to ‘bridge the gap’ between their indigenes and the mainstream. But the them/us divide seems to have a certain durability.

 

Some interesting aspects of multiculturalism

Multiculturalism is just another term for ethno-cultural diversity. The world over is largely multicultural. When that term was temporarily linked with the term policy in Australia, a vision of a separate sand-pit for ‘ethnics’ did arise, for some. Here are some interesting facets of experience.

“When ethnicity was in vogue, I asked publicly whether I, Australian by citizenship, Malaysian by birth, Ceylon Tamil by distant ancestry, and Indian by culture (Hinduism) could identify myself as an ethnic; and, if so, by what criteria. Even the academics were silent! What of those who are the products of marriage across nationalities or ethnicities? More and more of our young are marrying across parental cultures.” … …

“Cynically, I did ask some of the ethnic community leaders who were second or third generation Aussies if they spoke their mother tongue fluently; and with whom (other than their mums) did they speak. Did they read books, see films and attend plays in that language; dress the way their ancestors had back ‘home’ (except for multicultural festivals in Australia); and celebrate their tribal cultures in any meaningful manner? I also asked if their communities reached out to other ethnic communities as equals.

Then there is the issue of some Australia-born descendants of immigrants going back to their tribal lands to fight a traditional, or even a new, enemy. Further, if integration is rejected by them, would that affect their right to call on the equal opportunity that is available? And since social superiority is given little air in Australia, how would ethnic superiority be viewed? I believe these questions to be relevant.”… …

“In the early 1980s, I once observed 3 teenagers on a tram. Their heads suggested 3 different European regions of ancestral origin. They were dressed almost identically, and their speech accents were identically Australian. This was evidence of integration. Travelling through the city, observing, I saw few turbans, skull caps, head scarfs or face covering. Careful immigration selection was the explanation. Why is the situation different now?” … …

“By and large, were tribal leaders, that is, the priests and politicians, to keep away from the fields of cultural interaction, we the people will eventually reach out to one another? How so?

Excluding the exploiters, there is an innate human tendency – displayed so satisfyingly by children – to do so. In Australia, thanks to the public education systems, by the third generation, youngsters will feel, and behave as, part of a whole far wider and deeper than the family or an ethnic community. The gestalt effect will take over.

How does this work? Good immigrants will tend to retain their values almost intact, while modifying their behaviour as appropriate. Those of their children exposed to Australian values through the public education system will move a step or two away from parental values and practices; reciprocally, parental perspectives may also change, become less parochial. There is good evidence that this happens. The third generation is not likely to be influenced by the values of their grandparents, as peer group values begin to back up values inculcated through public education, socialising, sport, and habituation – unless the priesthood intervenes. Do religious leaders, their schools, and other institutions hinder integration?” … …

“Ingrained prejudice cannot be changed by propaganda. For instance, again in the 1980s, a senior public servant, an icon of his political party, denied accommodation in migrant hostels to British immigrants, thereby denying the most important on-arrival assistance the nation could provide to needed immigrants from other countries as well. The Minister did not note this denial. Are Ministers adequately awake when reading briefs?

This senior public servant also cancelled the planned posting of a Moslem employee to an overseas migrant selection office, and the promised promotion of a Hindu employee to a senior position. But he was not a racist; only a tribal. Tribals tend to look after their own, by discriminating against those who did not belong! And some burbling about the Eucharist!

Racism and tribalism (I have suffered from both in Australia), cultural and religious prejudice, and the ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ attitude, like the ubiquitous bacterium or even crime, cannot be totally eradicated. The young priest who, in the mid-1960s, kept 5 Roman Catholic women away from their Protestant neighbour, is unlikely to have changed.

However, education, habituation, and media scrutiny will moderate extreme behaviour. Strengthening citizenship as a commitment to the nation and its values, as a measure of successful integration, will yet continue to make us one people out of many.”

The above extracts are from the chapter ‘On multiculturalism’ in my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’.

Who were we – Jaffna Tamils?

Who were we? We are Tamils from Jaffna in the north of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Currently, we are a world-wide diaspora. Both my father and maternal grandfather had migrated to British Malaya because of job opportunities there. An adequate knowledge of the English language led to administrative jobs in a country which was being filled rapidly by workers, traders and business men from all over India, Ceylon, south China, and the surrounding Malay lands. The bulk of the people whose mother tongue is Tamil are now found mainly in the south of India.

The Tamils of Ceylon are claimed by a Malayan historian to have originated in the Deccan in central India and, having spent some time in what is now Bangladesh, finally settled in north and east Ceylon. The south of Ceylon was settled by the Singhalese, also from India, about two and a half thousand years ago. The Tamils seem to have been in Ceylon for a minimum of a thousand years. Some Tamils claim two thousand years. After all, in ancient times, only a river might have separated Ceylon from India. The sea has clearly risen in recent millennia. It would also have risen much earlier through the demise of the last ice age.

Whereas Singhala (the language of the southerners) is one of the Sanscrit-linked so-called Indo-European languages of India, Tamil is one of the four Dravidian languages. These are now found mainly in the south of the subcontinent. The pockets of Dravidian speakers in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and North-West India, together with the strongly-asserted belief by many that the purest forms of Hinduism are now to be found in south India, raise the probability that the Dravidians had moved south from the north-west of India when the Muslim Mughals, other Central Asians, and peoples further west moved progressively and en masse into the northern parts of what is now India. It has also been suggested that the peoples of the Indus Valley high-culture civilisation were part of this exodus when the river system which sustained them dried out.

The wonderful reality about the pundits of pre-history (that is, the times about which we know so little) is that nobody can be shown to be wrong, and everybody is potentially correct, about their theories as to what happened, and why. Now, not only the Indians but also other colonised or otherwise culturally oppressed peoples everywhere (eg the Africans), prefer to research their own histories as best they can.

For, European colonisers are alleged to have reinterpreted world history in order to reinforce the claimed innate superiority of white peoples over coloured peoples; the inferiority of all faiths other than Christianity (with its great variety of brands); and the asserted longevity of their technological skills, in spite of massive borrowing from diverse Asian peoples, especially the Chinese.

Returning to the story of my family, we Ceylon Tamils, through chain migration, soon dominated Malaya’s administration, especially in medicine, pharmacy, education, railways and the postal service. The Chinese immigrants went into trade or tin mining, in the main. The Indians went into trade, or indentured labour in the rubber estates. The other ethnic communities (then referred to as nationalities, in much the same way that all Asians were Asiatics to the British rulers) sought to fill any niche available, or to create one. The Malays, a charming and tolerant people, remained mainly on the land, ruled by their sultans. The latter were ‘advised’ by the British; that is, they did what they were told, or became replaced. On the west coast, the sultans’ titles, clothing styles, and ornaments of authority reflected the historical influence of Indian cultures.

British entrepreneurs developed the land and the economy to suit Britain’s export markets and import needs. Because Malaya was under-developed, they did not cause the kind of damage they perpetrated upon the established economies of India and Egypt. Fortunately for mankind, the British did not produce opium in Malaya. Their output in India was adequate to subvert the Chinese people.

Each ethnic community had its priests to provide guidance to their version of God or Heaven, although many Chinese seemed to restrict themselves to ancestor worship. They  had little red boxes outside their homes at which they prayed, lit candles and burnt imitation money. These, surely, must have assisted many to eventual success. Perhaps, some of our ancestors develop into spirit guides. We all prayed with great devotion, as insecurity was the mainspring of our existence.

Education for the children was, as ever, the primary driver for all. The children who could get into English-language schools (as I did) were naturally advantaged in being able to acquire academic or professional qualifications. Families lived frugally in order to achieve the savings necessary to fund this education. Thus, everyone was skinny, like the survivors of the Great Depression in Australia. Most of us could have done with more nourishing food.

At the end of World War Two, overseas study became the pathway to enhanced security and lifestyles for the whole family. All betterment was for the family, not just for the individual. The so-called Asian values, much derided by those who had lost their tribal leaders and an operational sense of tribe, clan, and extended family – mainly in the immigrant-created new nations of the Western world – are upheld throughout Asia. They stress the primacy of community, not of the individual. This recognises that one is born into a collective, is sustained by the collective, then contributes to the collective in reciprocity, finally moving on to another collective in another domain. One is never apart from that ultimate collective, the Cosmos.
(This is an extract from my book ‘The Dance of Destiny’)

Extracts from ‘It all went terribly wrong’

“That’s a great prospect,” he thought to himself with silent glee. He was peering through the convenient slit in the curtains across the bay window. There she was – a sight to behold. Solidly built, languishing on the sofa with her eyes closed. What was uplifting was that she was nude. In the soft pinkish light, she looked delicious. On a warm night, her nudity was unexceptionable.”

“He sneaked up on the woman silently. Her long blonde hair further cushioned her head. Bending over her from behind, he clamped a hand over her mouth. Her soft lips were parted. With the other hand, he grabbed her by the throat. Then it all went terribly wrong. He heard a terrible scream. It had burst from his brain. It had then worked its way to his lungs and then to his throat. Blindly, he rushed out of the room.”

“He found himself in the master bedroom. In the soft green light, he saw yet another unclad body. But this one was different. It did not attract him as had the other dead one. A huge knife handle was sticking out of the back of the male body. This time he heard no scream.”

“Still running wildly, with the testosterone now replaced by bile rising into his throat, he found an exit. It was the side door. He rushed out, only to trip over the dead body of a very large dog. “It all went terribly wrong” was his thought as he crashed to the ground. As he fell, his head hit a concrete pillar. As he lost consciousness, he felt a strange sense of gratitude; the dog could not bite him.”

“In the meanwhile, a neighbor had rung the police. She was an elderly woman, made slight by wear and tear. She was in poor health, with weak eyes, but with excellent hearing. She had told the police that she had heard screams from next door. … … The latter were screams of joy, she had said to the police. Even in her present physical condition, she was able to remember her own experiences. For memory is not a function of age but of significance.”

“The police finally arrived. They usually do. … … Unsurprisingly, he tripped over the dead dog in the dark. As he fell, his revolver was discharged accidentally. The bullet hit the man in black just as he was trying to get up.”

” The ghosts, seeing all and hearing all, including private human thoughts, giggled to themselves with silent glee as they glided away gracefully to that gargantuan garden for ghosts.”

(This is one of the short, short stories in my book of fiction ‘Pithy Perspectives.’)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Of mice and morality – a parable for adults” (Part 5)

The path to peace

Taking House aside, Whicky explained that he was a member (even as a cat) of a Western family that had adopted Buddhism, the fastest growing faith in Australia. Together with Virginia, whose intuitive understanding of all things material and spiritual and whose grasp of the language of mice and cats implicitly indicated that she is the reincarnation of an old soul, he knew that Buddhist beliefs, like those of yoga, did not conflict with the teachings and rituals of the other major religions.

Whereas doctrinal differences have separated one religion from another – and such differences represent merely the egoistic pretensions of the guardians of the institutionalized faiths – Buddhism, by emphasizing the moral obligation of sentient beings, one to the other, encompassed the ethical teachings of Christ and all the other known religious and spiritual teachers. When one bypasses the gongs, drums, bells, chants, and the other rituals which had grown as encrustations to the Buddha’s original guidance – like the rituals purveyed by the priests of all the faiths – there is only one simple exhortation for one and all. And that is to offer love, protection, care, and compassion to others whose existence is also due to the universal Creator.

House was flabbergasted. Here was his old mate displaying so much wisdom, which also explained his tolerance of the tribe of mice sharing his home. Like Virginia, he too might be an old soul. Together, they would surely light the way for those not privileged to be so enlightened.

Whicky went on to explain his plan, which had been agreed to by Virginia. Both would lead House and his tribe in meditation – daily. Out in the open with the sun (another product of the Creator) bestowing its blessing upon them all, Virginia and Whicky would lead the Buddhist chant, “Om Mani Padme Hum.” This was only a variation of the “Om Nama Shivaya” chanted by the adepts of yoga or the simpler “Om.” Uttered through the back of the throat and drawn out over a few seconds, Om would reflect the primeval hum which preceded the Big Bang of the modern physicists’ cosmology.

With the support of the Committee of Wise Mice, House put Whicky’s plan to the tribe. Intrigued, a little confused, anxious, but desperate, the tribe agreed. The next day, out in the open, within sight of Max, the meditation program started. Max was intrigued. Closer and closer he came to the mice each day – merely to see what was happening. The closer he came, the more he was influenced by the aural aura of the chant. The more the chant engulfed him, the more he realized the peace which enveloped the mice. The more effective this peace on the mice, the more Max became absorbed spiritually. A warm, caressing, mist-like atmosphere bonded them all in a cocoon of mutual acceptance and tolerance.

Can mice and cats become imbued with spiritual peace or was Whicky’s plan an aberration? On the contrary, both mice and Max eventually became submerged into that ocean of consciousness from which the physical Cosmos arose. Thus was Max conditioned to change his ways; that is, not to eat mice. Thus did peace reign over the mice, the cats, and little Virginia. So says Virginia, the old soul.

…………………………………………..

Here ends the parable of mice and morality. Virginia’s sojourn into another improbable world awaits another day.

 

Relating to our Creator

Growing up in a devout Hindu immigrant family, I attended a Pilleyar (Ganesha) temple with my family frequently. We also prayed each evening before dinner, in our curtained prayer space, to the deities of relevance to us.

I was taught that the deities we prayed to were manifestations of the one and only God of mankind, who is unknowable, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; and who (hopefully) may intervene in our lives at crucial times. Hence the prayers and (as I see it) the appeasements through rituals. We lived our faith, while we reached out to our Creator. I do not remember being taught to blame God for any mishap in our lives.

As we survived in a territory away from our homeland, we were surrounded by significant numbers of diverse mainly-immigrant ethno-cultural populations. Both host people (Muslim Malays) and immigrants from a variety of Asian lands co-existed harmoniously, accepting that we were on different paths, but with the same objective, to the same end. Only white Christian missionaries, collecting souls for Christ, introduced some dissonance.

Yet, the diverse Christian sects within our tribal community were integrated with the rest of us. That is, both within and beyond our people, there was mutual respect, while the families socialised. Faith in God, expressed through a range of religious beliefs, sustained us.

The reality of Earthly existence is that, in most parts of the world (including the UA), life is hard, if not precarious, for the bulk of us. Most of us need a belief in available cosmic succour. We need to pray in hope that hardship can be minimised, if not avoided. We need to pray when things go wrong in our lives. We will pray while we are being submerged by forces beyond control or amelioration. What else can we do?

Disasters are a fact of life, and a test of faith. Can mankind survive without faith? The well-fed may feel so. Church attendances in Australia so suggest.

On this rocky orb spinning through space, accompanied by fellow space objects small and horrendously huge, and flooded and flushed by cosmic radiation, … … …