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.