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.)