Becoming colour blind

“No dogs and Chinamen” said the sign outside the prestigious Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of British Malaya. Today, a multicultural and integrated Malaysian people (including the powerful Malay Muslims ruling the nation) utilise the Club.

For me, a visiting ex-Malayan Australian, it was the sight of a few dark-brown men wearing sandals and Malaysian shirts which impressed. They were (as I was told) local lawyers, indicating the extent to which the caste and class distinctions of the past had become irrelevant. In this context, I recall, with disgust, a Christian Ceylonese doctor who had his teenage Hindu servant sit on the floor in the back of his car.

Rubber-tapper Indian families used to send a teenager to work as a servant for families like us. I assumed that this practice was to enable these youngsters to look forward to a better life. I remember Francis (with fondness) who slept in the servant room. Whenever he minded my sister and I in our early childhood, he would spin a long tale, which entranced us, while often frightening us. He was a born story-teller. He should have progressed to a better life than that of his parents, who were indentured labourers (like the labourers sent by the British to Fiji to work on the sugarcane plantations).

“No dogs and Indians allowed” said the sign outside the Simla Club in India during the days of British rule. Yet, officials of the East India Company have been described as not as sensitive to skin colour as were the British Government officials who replaced them. The former were presumably responsible for the large Anglo-Indian population, but also for their privileged position above that of the Indians.

I got to know quite a few Anglo-Indians in Australia. They were not any different from my Eurasian friends in Malaya. In Australia we were all equal; because of our skin colour, we were (guess what?) ‘black.’ I did wonder whether Christian Indians and Euro-Asians in Australia had expected to be accepted as socially equal to the Anglo-Australian peoples.

While I remain averse to eating beetroot because of its colour, I do prefer Australians to become colour-blind. This does not mean officialdom claiming that we are more diverse ethnically than any other nation (not credible); that about 150 non-Aboriginal languages are spoken in the nation (only 15% of the people speak a foreign language at home); and selecting black or brown Christian refugees as humanitarian entrants – not while our rulers are ‘white bread’ in colour and texture (and stick together)!

Just as the oldest generation of the Australian people had to die before the virulent prejudice and discrimination faced by Asians in the immediate post-war years began to fade (the ignorant yobbo excepted), perhaps another generation or two of the Anglo-Celts here have to wander off into the Afterlife before their descendants become as colour-blind as are the peer groups of my children and grandchildren.

Mixed skin colours are the norm in most part of the world. Is it not time for nations like Australia to join the Family of Man? Refer my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ (ebook available at amazon kindle at $US 2.99 and $A3.99).

 

Settlement, by massacre

When British invaders (how else could they be described?) settled onto hitherto Aboriginal land, the ‘squatters’ killed or drove away the indigene. Purely as an aside, I recall reading that many squatters became so powerful socially that their descendants tended to speak ‘as if they had begotten themselves.’ I have also read that there had been a move to establish an Australian House of Lords. Also mooted was a proposal to import cheap labour from China and Japan.

The following extracts are from an article in a recent issue of ‘The Australian Weekend Magazine’ by Cal Flyn.

“The massacre at Warrigal Creek was one of the bloodiest episodes on the very bloody Australian frontier. In all, somewhere between 80 and 200 Gunai people were slaughtered that day in July 1843, wiping out in a single assault a substantial proportion of the southern Bratowooloong clan. The leader of the Highland Brigade, Angus McMillan … was the ‘Butcher of Gippsland.’… …

The author quotes a news report dated 2005 thus:  “McMillan … and his band of Scottish settlers … are accused of carrying out a genocidal campaign against the  Aborigines for a decade. … … “

Flyn goes on to quote Ricky Mullett, a cultural officer from the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation in Bairnsdale … ‘You know the stories. You know that the official death toll is only a fraction of the total? It was inhuman, what they did to my people. Killed them. Massacred them. Tortured them. Raped them. Murdered them. Your relative … he decimated my people. And he got away with it.’

More from Ricky Mullett: ‘McMillan’s men chased them all the way from Bushby Park, trapped them on that bluff, and shot them down into the water. Crowds of them. … ‘  Flyn continues: “Here, the fleeing Gunai were herded together like cattle and forced from the hilltop, he said. Men, women and children. Think of the hysteria, the crush, the desperation, as feet scrabbled for purchase and hands grasped for handholds. Men stood on the opposite bank of the river below, shooting any survivors. The bodies all washed to sea.”

Ricky Mullett of the Gunai people concludes his story to Cal Flyn (a great-great-great niece of Angus McMillan): ‘We won’t forget, but we don’t bear a grudge.’ And ‘You won’t understand. You’ll never understand.’

Refer ‘Thicker than Water’ by Cal Flynn.

Socialising in the ‘Afterlife’ (the Recycling Depot)Depot)

Socialising in the ‘Afterlife’ (the Recycling Depot)

The clairvoyant who enabled the spirit of my uncle to offer me advice told me, nearly a quarter of a century ago, not to be in a hurry (I was!) ‘to get to the Other Side’; it would not be different from here, he said. I did not like that.

I was, however, promised that I would continue my learning there. As to those I might meet there, all my close relatives who had died a while back would probably have been reincarnated by now. Would I be fortunate in meeting some of the ‘higher beings’ referred to by my uncle? He had explained that they had sent him to me.

It would also be wonderful to be able to talk to some of the learned men and women of recent times. Throughout my life, I have tended to seek out people who are interesting, especially immigrants and (genuine) refugees in Australia offering their diverse experiences. Great insight into the human condition is thus available.

I would also like to meet in the Afterlife some of those religious leaders who had practised control over their ‘flocks,’ including separating them from being contaminated by ‘foreign’ ideologies. In this context, I am reminded of that priest who convinced all 5 of our new neighbours not to have coffee with my wife. They ignored us after that; we were not of ‘the faith.’ What ignorance; what subservience. How un-Australian!

I would ask such priests what they thought they had done for humanity as a whole. I do not, however, expect bigotry and evil thoughts to survive Earthly death. One’s soul should be above Earthly contaminants.

The Afterlife promises to be interesting in another way. Currently I am saddened by those Christians, all regular church-goers, who have indicated to me that they do not know what will happen to them after death (in spite of what the Bible promises), or who are genuinely afraid to die. They are not convinced by my belief that we will all go to a better place. What have their priests done to them? I know them to be good people, surely not conceived or born in ‘sin.’    

I look forward to be able to say to them (and their priests) ‘Isn’t this a good place to be’? I really cannot see why the Afterlife (the Recycling Depot) cannot also be an R&R (rest and recuperation) Way Station!

There we could again re-connect as fellow-travelers, until we move on to our respective personal-destiny pathways once more. It is the journey, the objective of repeated rebirths, which offers valuable learning in the meaning of existence and non-existence!

What each of my books is about

Having told my followers the good news about my books, I realised, after some thought, that I should set out briefly what each book is about; the writers among you may be interested.

Destiny Will Out: the experiences of a multicultural Malayan in White Australia

I was a lightly-coloured Ceylonese Malayan boy, brought up in a British territory, where the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-coloured people co-existed with mutual tolerance. I entered Australia in 1948 as a fee-paying student at the University of Melbourne. I had never experienced any discrimination.

In Australia, I observed a roaring sectarian religious divide, a colonial mentality, and racism. I faced discrimination in service in shops, in finding accommodation, and with seating on public transport. I was commonly described as a blackfellow (there being no other term in the local lexicon for coloured people). In a fashionable arcade, in spite of being expensively dressed, I was once loudly asked “Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?” in a very aggressive tone. I did wonder at such ignorance, thinking that a similar question should have been addressed to Captain Cook & Co, the white invaders, when they had arrived to dump the products of Britain’s cultural cleansing.

This was White Australia in the 1950s. Yet, I eventually reached the rank of Director in the federal public service, becoming responsible progressively for each of the immigrant settlement policies offered through the then Department of Immigration & Ethnic Affairs. However, I suffered discrimination even within that department – both racial and tribal (the word mass had a weighty influence with those ‘tribals’).

 This book weaves fluidly my settlement experiences with my work experiences, in a readable manner, with no bitterness. What was encouraging were the reviews from senior academics, a number of private agencies, and a variety of immigrants and others. Although out of print, copies of the book can be found in the National and State Libraries, and in the top 20 Australian universities. Refer my website www.dragonraj.com for relevant background.  This book will be re-issued soon as an ebook through Amazon Kindle Direct.

 

Unity from diversity

During my near-decade of responsibility for policies on migrant settlement matters for the federal government in Australia, I was like Earth, our home. I rotated busily on my daily responsibilities, and revolved around those who were seriously linked to me, as I was influenced and guided by forces substantial or ethereal. Unlike a rolling stone which allegedly gathers no moss, I observed, gathered impressions and information, and sought patterns. I had no choice in this. I was born thus and (perhaps) significantly, in a Year of the Dragon.  Fortunately, I am able to balance being with doing, thus keeping me sane. Age does bring wisdom – to some of us.

Some of the most satisfying experiences in my life occurred when I was responsible for childcare in migrant hostels. The federal government in Australia had established these hostels to ease immigrants into the community; for, what an immigrant needs most on arrival in a new (and possibly strange) country is a bed for myself (and any family who had travelled with him). In time, refugees and humanitarian entrants also benefited from the availability of fully-catered hostel accommodation, while they searched for jobs.

Humanitarian entry, unlike refugee entry, was essentially political in intent. The result, in my day, was a contrasting collection in the hostels of East Asian (Vietnamese), East European (mainly Polish) and Latin American (mainly Chilean). In childcare, the children’s age groups were: up to about 2 or 3 in one cluster, and about 3 to 5 in the other. The motherly child minders could have been of any ethnicity; they were wonderful.

What I noted in all 3 hostels about the younger children was not surprising. They were usually seated in a circle. Often they eyed off a neighbour’s toys. Any attempt to reach out to the other’s toy soon led to loud complaints, often progressing to mayhem. Indignation vs. ambition ruled – and associated with (I felt) some uncertainty. This may have been their first experience of institutional childcare.

It was the older group I enjoyed more. Children whose mother tongue was only Vietnamese or Polish or Spanish would ‘talk’ to one another, smile, and even exchange toys! They tended to be gregarious. It was fantastic to observe. What did that say to us? Here was humanity at its best. Here was the future of a truly, multicultural nation-in-the-making displayed.

A unity of urban community from diverse cultural origins, and a national unity from immigrant and host communities integrated with one another is, I believe, an achievable aim. We need to learn from little children who have not been taught prejudice!

The confusion about race

How is race to be defined? By skin colour? That is, white vs. coloured? How much whiter is the European in contrast to the people in adjacent Asia, all the way to the Himalayas? Or, is the white race limited to the people of Europe who, over no more than 5 centuries (a mere blink in the face of human history), dominated the seas to invade the lands of long-settled people, and to establish white-ruled nations?

What then of Admiral Cheng Ho’s 7 Treasure Fleets which collected tribute and changed rulers here and there, before European men were enabled by the loot from Central and South America to develop their own economies, and thence to expand overseas militarily? Chauvinistic Chinese could claim themselves to be a separate (and superior) race. What then of the Indians, Persians, Arabs, Egyptians and Mongols, each of whom dominated (in one way or the other) some significant part of the globe in historical times? Are they separate races?

Worse still, how is the term used, both officially and in private transactions? Racial vilification legislation applies in Australia, which is a white nation, in spite of recent improvements in its colour-balance. This legislation is to protect a coloured person from acts or utterances by a white person. How then does one treat abuse by a coloured person directed at a white person? What of abuse by a coloured person directed to another coloured person, especially if the latter is of a different ethnicity, country of origin or language?

The bottom line is that an alleged offender displays either prejudice or discrimination. This can be triggered by all kinds of differences, especially cultural (including religious). Then, of course, it is far too easy for some to feel offended, especially if there is someone official to complain to (hopefully, with some cash available in ‘compensation’).

As the immigrant-created Western nations are becoming progressively tinted, and many of the ‘coloured’ are becoming lighter in shade, how are they going to hold the line that racism refers to a ‘white’ abusing a ‘coloured’? How white has the abuser to be? See my article ‘Racism – decidedly a meaningless term’ in http://www.ezinearticles.com

Ethno-cultural superiority

When white Anglo-Celt Australians, divided by sect but not by class, and upheld by a belief in the superiority of the ‘white’ race, its desert-derived religion, and the power of the armaments which enabled this race to rule over coloured peoples world-wide, came face to face with young educated Asians, many found to their horror a generally unexpressed superiority, based on history. Being stomped on by European buccaneers and the administrators who followed them left no great imprint on their sense of who they are.

As Kim (a real person I knew) said to his classmates preparing to enter university way back in racist White Australia, “I am of Chinese descent. My ancestors have been civilised for more than 5,000 years, long before the white man came down from the trees.’ That went down well! Yet, that was the attitude implanted in us all by our parents while they waited patiently for the interlopers to leave: we Asians are inferior to none! See my unpublished paper ‘Early cultural shocks: Asians in Australia’ from my address to students of Australian history at the University of Wollongong; and my 4 articles titled ‘Early cultural shocks: East-West relations’ in http://ezinearticles.com/?expert Raja A Ratnam.

Perhaps that is why, even in pre-war British Malaya, intercultural relations among the Asians were at a stronger level than in Australia at the end of the last century. After all, it was the white invaders and colonisers who came up with the concept of the ‘white race’, in contrast to the tinted, subjugated ‘natives,’ the ‘coloured races.’ Even some academics once sought to prove that the white race is genetically superior; some went as far as to deny that the Europeans had to learn anything from the ‘black races’ of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and India. It is a pity that they had not met Kim.

For the record, I can confirm that we were taught not to disrespect white people as a whole, while we remained anti-colonial and anti-racist. Those of my relatives and friends who later studied in Britain confirmed that mutual respect was the norm over there.

‘Reffos’, ‘wogs’ and ‘blackfellows’

The arrival of my cohorts coincided with the arrival of 2 categories of foreigners, the ‘reffos’ and ‘wogs.’ The reffos were war-displaced European refugees whose entry was facilitated by reference by officialdom to ‘Beautiful Balts.’ Most of those I met were well-educated. Indeed, the first girl to befriend me in Australia was a fellow student who had been raped in a concentration camp. The wogs were able-bodied young Europeans (many with trade qualifications) much needed to develop Australia’s infrastructure. I have talked with many of these so-called reffos and wogs, since I tended to collect interesting foreigners.

Any foreigner (of all 3 categories) heard speaking a foreign tongue on public transport or on street corners got a tongue-lashing from self-appointed guardians of white British Australia – ‘Why don’t you speak English, you (expletive)’!

The government’s efforts to have the European entrants respected, led to the nomenclature ‘New Australian.’ It was soon translated into Bloody New Australian, mainly in the pubs. I remained a ‘black bastard’ for a while. I was then told that the indigene refers to himself as a ‘blackfella’; all others, white or coloured, were apparently described as ‘yellowfella.’ Rejecting the latter description as misleading, that is, it said nothing about being tan or brown, I tried describing myself as a ‘blackfellow’ (carefully pronounced). That did not work. I now had no label reflecting my superior colour – the shade that so many Aussies are attempting to acquire on beaches and elsewhere.

It has to be accepted that, as each new immigration or refugee intake arrives, the host people would include the earlier waves of arrivals. I believe that this helps ultimate integration. But not quite. I heard the son of a Croation immigrant refer to Vietnamese refugees as wogs. However, the old Anglo-Aussie remains sensitive to foreign accents, forever remarking on them. He is deaf to his own peculiar accent!

Bilateral cultural shocks

Soon after World War Two, young, well-educated youth (reflecting the high quality of colonial British education) from the Indian sub-continent (including Ceylon, now Sri Lanka), Malaya (including Singapore) turned for the first time, as fee-paying students, to Australian universities. I was one of these.

The sudden arrival of young, confident, coloured people was clearly a great cultural shock to many of the Aussies of that era, no matter how well-dressed, how well-spoken, how well-behaved we were. ‘Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?’ was shouted at me in the then fashionable Collins Street arcade in 1949, even while I sported a light-tan skin and an expensive outfit. I later realised that, to the Aussies of that era, there was no word in their lexicon for a tinted skin colour other than black. Oral displays of prejudice, which is only an attitude or feeling, and acts of overt discrimination (involving a denial of normal non-selective entitlements) were commonplace until the oldest generation of Australians died. Then life for us improved.

See my memoir ‘The Dance of Destiny’ for details, especially Part 2. (Note: This book was also recommended by the US Review of Books, and reviewed most favourably by Kirkus Discoveries and BookReview.com)

It goes without saying that the initial response by so many Australians was a culture shock for me, as I had not experienced any prejudice of any kind until I arrived in Australia.