Protecting national borders and ethos

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 for God’s Will may explain this approach.

However, refugees and asylum seekers either cannot afford to wait, or chose 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, would not pass our normal selection process. – which has worked well.

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 every 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?

To begin with, national borders remain relevant, notwithstanding that national sovereignty has been substantially fractured by the role of the UN, its conventions, and coalitions of saviours (whether or not operating with UN approval) engaged in the War on Terror.

Migrant entry, normally through some form of screening, is intended to benefit the receiving nation.  The post-second world war policy of seeking immigrants commenced with entrants from Britain.  It was extended sequentially to Europe, the Levant, East Asia, then other Asia, and finally became truly global.  Australia’s immigration program is now somewhat substantial.  This sequence of geographical sources reflected the gradation of acceptance from white skin colour to all other colours, and thereby to all cultures, as enabled gradually  by a growing public tolerance.

Family reunion, introduced only a few decades ago when sought by settlers from the Mediterranean, was intended to keep the sponsoring immigrant happy.  Because of continental Europe’s rapid economic development, few family members in the Mediterranean region could be persuaded by family in Australia to use the new program.  Instead, the early beneficiaries were the British;  later the East Asians.  Even if entry is restricted to nuclear family members, there may be little increase in the productive capacity of the nation.  All immigration has cost-offsets;  family reunion can represent a substantial cost.

Refugee entry is also selectiveAs with immigrants, refugees had to be seen to be able to fit into the national ethos.  For instance, rural people were not wanted.  Both categories represent front door entry.

The initial post-war batch of refugees (these were, in the main, real refugees) were Europeans displaced by the war.  I studied and, later, worked with some.  The first girl to befriend me in Australia had come out of a Nazi concentration camp.  A year later, I went out for a while with a lass who had a number etched on her arm, and got to know her family.  A country which had decided to collect immigrants had to take some of the displaced persons.  Australia did very well by taking its share.

The ones I met were middle-class, educated, skilled.  For a few years, in the 1960s, my wife and I entertained one of these, an elderly man.  He had, he said, 2 doctorates, but worked as a clerk in my agency.  I believe that he too was Jewish.  My Holocaust-survivor friends and I never discussed their experiences;  I felt very sorry for them.  My life under the Japanese could not have compared with their plight.  Yet, there was one exception.  In 1948, a Polish ex-serviceman and I talked deep into the night on a few occasions about his experiences as a resistance fighter.  I saw some of the false documents he had used.  Later, I also got to meet a few Czech and Hungarian refugees who had fled the Soviet invasion of their countries in 1956 and 1968 respectively.

(Comment: My work with the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs for nearly a decade was on all aspects of migrant integration. But I had considerable personal contact with refugees and immigrants before that. We foreigners were attracted to one another. The Europeans had respect for Asian cultures, and were colour-blind (including the women).

Careful selection by officials ensured that all entrants were interested in, and capable of, successful settlement. The record shows the success of this policy; the second generation had     reportedly done better in life than the offspring of the host people. I could believe that.

What I refer to as side door and back door entry policy subsequently changed that.)      



EARLY MEMORIES: Culture shocks in Oz (2)

At university, the most friendly of the students I met were youths of Jewish descent. I read later that their families, who had entered Australia in the 1930s, had not been well-received. The 2 genders of this community of students represented a cohesive group, separate from the Anglo-Australians.

A sub-group of the Aussies were youths identified by their corduroy slacks and suede shoes, who spoke with an accent described as private school. Some had natty sports cars.

With the exception of a couple of politically-oriented Indians, the rest of the Asians tended to relate mainly with one another, irrespective of country of origin; and with a few of European descent. My ‘beering’ companions were a large Indian, and an equally large Austrian. We each represented a different life-interest: sport (me), political philosophy, and mountaineering.

Much to the surprise of the Asians, there sprouted a survey in the university which asked “Would you like your sister to marry an Asian?” There was no way we could tell these sensitive superior souls how our parents had warned us severely not to be involved with white girls (most of us being male). While young Asian men studying in Western countries normally (temporarily?) adapt to the cultural mores of the host nation, the (few) Western wives brought home did (historically) experience great difficulty in adjusting to the cultural practices of the Asian communities affected.

Then we discovered that British security agents had been enquiring about our political views or connections. One self-declared communist paid a heavy price when he returned home. The security reporter was believed to be a professor who had little contact with Asian students; his spy was, incredibly, an isolated Asian who rarely mixed with the rest of us!

In terms of female companionship, I found that Australian girls did not want to be seen in public with me; but were prepared to be friendly within a group, but in private surroundings. Yet, European (including English) girls were prepared to keep company with us in public places. Having grown up with sisters, I tended to treat young women with comparable respect (unlike some Aussies from private boarding schools).

The first girl to offer me friendship had been in a concentration camp under the Nazis. Later, I went out for a year with a wonderful girl who had a number on an arm. An English girl and I felt a strange bond, visible to others, right from the beginning; soon she became my ‘blood-sister’ (in the Amerindian manner), and we supported each other psychologically for decades through our respective tribulations. I have reason to believe that we had been twin brothers in a past life.

During a drought, the lightest sprinkle of rain will bring joy to the parched Earth and its occupants.


Real refugees

“Refugee entry is also selective. As with immigrants, refugees had to be seen to be able to fit into the national ethos. For instance, rural people were not wanted. Both categories represent front door entry.

The initial post-war batch of refugees (these were, in the main, real refugees) were Europeans displaced by the war. I studied and, later, worked with some. The first girl to befriend me in Australia had come out of a Nazi concentration camp. A year later, I went out for a while with a lass who had a number etched on her arm, and got to know her family (also numbered). A country which had decided to collect immigrants had to take some of the displaced persons. Australia did very well by taking its share.

The ones I met were middle-class, educated, skilled. For a few years, in the 1960s, my wife and I entertained one of these, an elderly man. He had, he said, 2 doctorates, but worked as a clerk in my agency. I believe that he too was Jewish. My Holocaust-survivor friends and I never discussed their experiences; I felt very sorry for them. My life under the Japanese could not have compared with their plight.

Yet, there was one exception. In 1948, a Polish ex-serviceman and I talked deep into the night on a few occasions about his experiences as a resistance fighter. I saw some of the false documents he had used. Later, I also got to meet a few Czech and Hungarian refugees who had fled the Soviet invasion of their countries in 1956 and 1968 respectively.

Side door acceptance, being essentially political, permitted so-called humanitarian entrants (HEs). Where refugees had to be outside their country of nationality and in fear of official persecution (some necessary flexibility here being permissible), with nowhere else to go, the HEs had to fear official discrimination (depending on the eye of the beholder) while also outside their country of nationality, with nowhere else to go. The ‘nowhere else to go’ qualifier seems to have been ignored by our policy wallahs for quite some time. As politics determines policy in this arena; the policy can be quite flexible, ie. shonky.”

(These extracts are from ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’ It has to be recognised that large numbers of people are displaced almost every year by terrible events in their terrain. They are not going to be picked up to be re-settled elsewhere. There seem to be large numbers living in refugee camps, who will not be going anywhere (for example, the Palestinians). And UNHCR officials will grant refugee status, presumably without evidence (as Australia does), but based on the UN definitions.

One cannot blame those who seek refugee status. Yet, how many were actually persecuted officially, say, like the Baha’is in Iran? How many had cause to fear discrimination? What kind of discrimination? Could not those who genuinely fear discrimination or persecution just move into another district within their own nation?

Perhaps the UN definition should be reversed from held fear to something more real. Well, that will be the day when we see squadrons of pigtails surfing through the air!)

Ethnicity – another Dreamtime?

The situation for coloured ethnics is not as black as for Aborigines. White ethnics, however, have no problems of integration now. They, in spite of the earlier denigration of their dignity and status, moved to a degree of acceptance when the term ‘New Australian’ was officially coined. (The old Aussie soon modified it to ‘Bloody New Aussie’.) Later, they were not required to assimilate. You do not have to behave exactly the way we do, said the old Aussie – at least officially. The attacks in the streets for not speaking English fell away, as did the snide remarks about the accents and speech sounds of the new arrivals.

The government then constructed the concept of ethnic, which separated (rather than joined) the immigrants (then still all white) relative to their hosts. The concept and the separation were entrenched by the government claiming that the ethnic groups were suddenly in need of settlement assistance. The older European migrants must have wondered at that. Newer arrivals were somehow less self-sufficient; they needed someone to take them by the hand to the immigration office, to the post office, to the doctors, and so on.

By the time refugees were the ‘in thing’, even the European ‘refugees’ (mostly highly qualified professionals and tradesmen) were found to be yet more in need. Being in need, and attempting to satisfy that need, became growth industries. Today, many migrants, whose professional or technical qualifications are not acceptable in Australia, say that they want to study to become welfare workers to help their own people.

Behind the exposition of need stood articulate Europeans and their descendants. These said that people in high places in Australia needed to take heed of the deliverance of wisdom by spokespersons of each culture in Australia. The cultures were to become represented by community groups; the question was, what determined the boundaries of these groups?

Ethnicity became definable by the groups which arose. Hence, ethnicity became a very unclear concept, argued for years within the bureaucracy at large and, in particular, the agency whose task was to ensure that the ethnic carts rolled along the fiscal highway without hitch. Once the carts started to roll, there descended upon the taxpayer a large number of structures offering services to the ethnics. A large number of these structures were non-ethnic, often church-related or church-based.

The concept of doing good at someone else’s expense caught on. At one time, there was a church leader who asked the government to bring in more refugees because his service agency’s business was falling off. At another time, certain ethnics created their own service structure and sought to replace the mainstream structure which had serviced them; the latter was reluctant to budge, on account of the ethnics not being able to look after themselves (so it was claimed).

Years after this practice was established, there was a church-based group being funded to provide mainly spiritual services to ethnics as well as to others (the latter formed the bulk of those claimed to be in need), and without assistance from interpreters. What happened to accountability, and where was the media? The voluntary ethnic community welfare groups which had been established before the government thought of access and equity, ethnicity and multiculturalism were, of course, subsumed within the new superstructure of ethnic services.

Community development and education then became part of the service strategy. What was community development? The academics had big words for it, but the worker bees at the three levels of government had difficulty in articulating it for me in operational terms – or in terms of measurable outcomes of relevance to the taxpayer.

(This extract from ‘Destiny Will Out’ depicts a strange historical period in public policy. Ethnic empowerment in exchange for votes was the motive, said the sceptics within the bureaucracy; this is not plausible. The earlier post-war European immigrants and displaced persons (the real refugees), typifying the spirit of ‘adventure’ and self-sufficiency of those who seek to settle into a new terrain and culture, did not need their hands held on arrival. They also did not need legal protection from spoken words of prejudice.

I should know. My maternal grandfather, my father, and I were such immigrants. As well, I have met, and known, many of the early post-war immigrants referred to above; I used to seek any I could talk with. We exchanged, not only recipes, but also experiences before and after we arrived in Australia.)

Initial ethnic contacts in Australia

My first contact with a European ethnic person in Australia was as a student. … She had a foreign accent but spoke English fluently. Having survived a concentration camp, it was not surprising that she tended to refer to that terrible life in her conversations. Yet it was a subject most people avoided. Was it to save us embarrassment, because we had not suffered to the same extent, or to avoid involving ourselves in matters of sensitivity to others? By and large, those who had suffered rarely spoke about their pain.

… … My next ethnic friend was the Polish Jew who had been in the Underground fighting the Nazis. His story was much worse. Through him I realised how the Jewish people had been persecuted. Subsequent reading confirmed the Christian Church’s responsibility for the ill-treatment of the Jews historically; the Nazis were merely the most recent of the major players. Strangely enough, Jewish people seem to have done better under Moslem rulers historically.

My friend was a joker. Soon after we met, I ran into him on the street. I put out my hand to shake his, and found myself somehow tucked under his arm, with one leg of his holding me down. I do not know how it happened. Obviously, he was another one of those people trained to discommode his enemies. It was he who introduced me to Italian food and showed me how to fork spaghetti.

… … One night, at a student gathering, I met a very attractive lass. We hit it off immediately. She wore a number on her arm. I met her relatives and found them very hospitable. The girl and I used to talk together a lot and go to the films, but she would not accompany me in the daytime to public places because, as she said, “They wouldn’t like it.” (They being her community.) I do not blame her. Obviously, if she was correct in her judgement of her own people, they were, at minimum, excessively ethno-centric. After all, we were not planning to dilute Jewish blood.

In later years, I read that coloured Jews in Israel were not treated equally with the white Jews who ran the country. So, what’s new? Would their brown-skinned patriarchs turn over in their graves at this development? Why shouldn’t the Israelis be racist? – everyone else seems to be.

… … Sometime later I met a Soviet Jew lady with her gentile Soviet husband. They had gone to Israel and, as she told me, they had received less favourable treatment than those couples who were both Jews. So they left and subsequently migrated to Australia. They were hard-working and competent. She worked for me and I was able to assist her in obtaining a career in the public service. It is not true, therefore, to say that trees transplanted often seldom prosper.

In my ethnic affairs work I had the privilege of working with a Jewish girl, who was new to the public service. … Through her, I met the Jewish community leaders in her city, and learned how they had adapted so successfully that they wielded political power far beyond that to be expected from a small population. I was told that, in their early years, decades ago, they experienced discrimination, especially in eligibility to join elite clubs and such like.

… I suspect that their experience was akin to that of first generation Asians. Entry is open, but the attitude reflected in the statement, “You will not aspire to a partnership” (as was said to a Malayan accountant) would represent the metal ceiling to which I often refer.

What is impressive about their community is the way they supported new arrivals. The community, through its welfare structure, supports new arrivals, not only in settlement terms, but also to commence in business.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ lead to my work, at the level of Director, in the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs, on all aspects of migrant settlement, over about 9 years. I had been invited to join that agency by its head, with a promise of promotion into the Senior Executive Service.

The metal ceiling had come down on my head after almost a year of work, at a comparable level, screening foreign takeovers; my contribution in establishing that office was disregarded. Colour of skin, religious affiliation, or tribal heritage – how would I know? After all, there had been no criticism of my work officially, while the private sector had indicated satisfaction with me. Ah, the mystery of human behaviour!)

Gender relations

Women expressed an unwillingness to be seen with us in public places. On the other hand, many of us had some difficulty in relating to women … We tended to treat girls with respect. Once we got to like them, they achieved the status of sisters (not necessarily satisfying to the libido on either side). Hence, many of us had friends with whom we could sit and talk and joke. We could go to the pictures, occasionally to dances.

On these occasions, some of the local lasses might be overheard saying, “Couldn’t she get one of our own boys?” To this, a few of the more cocky Asian boys might respond along the thrust of the black man’s superior swing.

I had been very friendly with another very nice Jewish girl, who retained her … number on her arm. We used to talk together often. We also went to the pictures at night, by train, and I always returned her to her home (no matter how long it took me to get home myself). But she would not attend any public concert in open places with me because, as she said, “They wouldn’t like it.” Who were they? The Jewish community.

Could that be true? At the other extreme, a young English girl and I went everywhere together. She became my blood-sister by us joining our blood at our wrists. She had been a sister to me in my loneliness, and I had given her support when she lost her only brother in the Korean War. She remains my blood-sister after more than forty years.

In between these two was another platonic friendship of depth. She was Polish and we went out together. When she took me to meet her family more than once, and then to a church ceremony of some kind, I panicked and took off. I may have done her an injustice. For it took a lot of guts for a girl to be seen in public with a foreigner, especially a “black” one, in those days.

An Aussie lass I came to know was really efficient in using the male, even a coloured one. She had me help her perm her mother’s hair and to make ice-cream. Of course, I had to learn to wash up dishes and dry them. I learnt to dry two plates or a fistful of cutlery at a time. It was all useful training for a self-sufficient life in Australia (but I did not know that then).

Among the Asians, an ethnic Chinese would go out with an ethnic Indian or Ceylonese freely (I went to the pictures with a Chinese Malayan from time to time). The arrival of a large number of whites escaping from the Nasser regime in Egypt improved our social life considerably. Here were young people of a range of ethnic origins, who spoke so many languages, and who were multicultural (like the Malayans) before they arrived in Australia.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ touch upon the sensitivities of that era relating to coloured/white gender relations. All that is now history; everybody is marrying everybody else – almost.)

Social cohesion matters

It became clear that most of those who tried to change our religious or political beliefs were working-class characters. Those from the middle and other classes rode around in natty little sports cars or had large family cars at their disposal. They enjoyed life, before turning to the practice of making money for themselves.

Of these, some identified themselves as Jewish. These reached out to the Asians early on our arrival. Many firm friendships were formed. A migrant Jewish girl, who had survived a concentration camp, befriended me. I heard her tell some people that she had been raped in the camp. She took me in my first month of arrival to buy casual clothes; we both finished up wearing yellow sweat-tops and mission-brown slacks. Yuk! We must have looked like a pair of colour-blind twins. I know better now. Hopefully, she does too.

To get on with the wealthy, I felt that one had to wear suede “desert boots” or “brothel brogues,” corduroy slacks and, perhaps, a scarf. A lot of money also helped.

The overseas students generally gathered together, to share experiences as well to talk about the families we all missed and the countries and cultures we had left behind. At an early stage, a number of us formed the Australia-Overseas Students Club at the university.

In the first year, we held a weekend conference, at which there were twenty-one different nationalities out of the eighty-five people present, including a Mexican and a French lass. What a fabulous experience that was – a great part of the world represented by young people, with hope and ambition driving our studies, and building international understanding in the process. When numbers of each nationality or ethnic group are small, people tend to mix more widely than when numbers are large enough to sustain a particular national or ethnic community. So it was with us.

Many years later, when I was guest speaker at a dinner hosted by the Indian Association of Victoria, the president asked me to suggest to his members that they should stay together as Indian Australians rather than break up into the language or regional groups of India. … … Over the years, it was quite hilarious to meet a fellow brown-skinned chap and have him ask me if I was from India (that was the key phrase). When I said no, whoosh, there went my new-found friend. This happened all over Australia, and to many others.

More recently, I mentioned this ritual to a group of Hindus celebrating Deepavali at Hyde Park in Sydney. It was a family gathering, with migrants from India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, and New Zealand. One of the Indians added to my story to the effect that, when he answers the usual question in the affirmative – yes, he is from India – he is asked another question. And that is, “Are you a doctor?” when he says no, whoosh, there goes his enquirer, obviously a doctor (unless he was looking for free medical advice).

Enquiries from Sri Lanka were different. Most of the students from this country were Tamils. Their first question, after identifying me as of Ceylon-Tamil origin, was about the village my people came from. There we go, I used to think – he is less interested in me than in identifying my ancestors. How would that enhance our possible friendship? Anyway, we are (in all likelihood) related by marriage, if not by blood.

The Malayans were a different pot of pickle. They would mix with anyone, and they were comfortable to be with. Very early, we formed the Malayan Students Society in Melbourne, covering all the institutions in the State. Gradually, a support network was being formed all over Australia, with increasing involvement by Malayan diplomatic officials, and Australian authorities backed off from their intrusive role as guardians and policemen.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out,’ my first memoir, highlights: the tribalists from the multiculturists among the Asians; Australian class distinctions at university; and a colour-blind refugee Jewish-Malayan friendship. Jewish-Australian students were the most friendly of the locals to us Malayans. Subsequently, I acquired close friendships with some, including a few with a number on a forearm.)