So I watched Immigration Nation on SBS at 8.30 last night.
There was something of a broad brush applied in dealing with the period around 1901, especially compared with the immaculate account to be found in Destination Australia : migration to Australia since 1901- by Professor Eric Richards, but the point emerged clearly enough that there was a mix of socialist utopianism and racialist theory behind it, both of them part of the world-view of the time. Arguing which mattered most is a bit like arguing over which end of a boiled egg should be cracked open first.
It is certainly hard in 2011 to give credence to Japanese and Chinese as “servile races”!
Later in the program one of many paradoxes pointed to was that on a local level people were often very protective of their Chinese, the ones who grew good vegetables, despite support of a White Australia.
I had read in Richards about doomed versions of imperial agricultural utopias such as the very badly conceived closer British settlement farm schemes espoused by people like Rider Haggard. It is also true that we began to run out of Brits wanting to come to Australia, a theme taken up more next week.
I was fascinated by the suggestions about the effect of Billy Hughes at the 1919 Peace Conference at Versailles on relations with Japan, the failure of the League of Nations, and ultimately World War II in the Pacific. A fruitful line of argument.
Back to Australia today — you may have noticed a vigorous exchange between myself and Kevin from Louisiana recently over multi/monoculturalism. The latest fro me reads:
Some of the issues you raise I will take up in a later post, but I will foreshadow the argument which runs from individual identity rather than from any –ism or from the policy end. How many aspects are there to an individual’s identity? How many of them does he or she have to give up when moving to another country? I would argue for a core minimum, freedom consisting in being able to find and express your identity as fully as possible. That could include being a Muslim. It could include wearing religious clothing.
Assimilation is a bit of a dirty word in Australia, and strongly suggests giving up quite a lot, much of which, such as preserving a foreign language, could be of benefit to the nation as well as to the individual and his or her family. Of course learning English is necessary too for full participation, and by the second generation most people have accomplished that. (I have been long a teacher of English to people of migrant background.)
Our experience here is that “ghettos” usually lose their young people to the community at large. The main exception are areas caught in poverty, but they are here as often as not “Australian” communities rather than migrant ones.
This post is getting long enough so I will leave my idea (not just my idea) of additive or inclusive multiculturalism until the next post, leaving you with an image of successful Australian muticulturalism at Westfield Figtree. In a coffee shop owned by the Hillsong Church, a woman in a hijab sits comfortably by a dinkum Aussie in his Chesty Bonds. This is the stuff of everyday life, but not the stuff of headlines.
— See Graeme Blundell’s review in The Australian.
Immigration Nation really is the hardly all that well known story behind the policies that have shaped contemporary, multicultural Australia, and it couldn’t be timelier, given the terrible recent events on Christmas Island. As my old friend Arnold Zable recently wrote in response to that tragedy: “The desperate men, women and children floundering in wild seas could have been our own ancestors, our own families, or ourselves undertaking perilous journeys in search of new lives.”
The three-part series, an ambitious multi-platform broadcast event, tells our complex immigration story pithily and inventively, especially the century-long struggle to overcome the White Australia Policy — and its idea of barring non-European immigrants — and the impact it had on the migrant communities it dismantled…
The storytelling is emphatically fact-based, but the film-makers adapt many of fiction’s features and conventions: scene-setting, foreshadowing events and emotions, tension, climaxes and cliff-hangers, construction of a central narrative and the creation of character: as in, for example, the runty, domineering, posturing, tricky wartime prime minister Billy Hughes, and the rather strange Henry Rider Haggard, writer of adventure thrillers who inspired the disastrous British Settlers Scheme…
In the first episode we meet the stoic and forgiving Dennis O’Hoy and learn the chronicle of how his father struggled to keep his family together as the government sought to deport his Chinese-born wife.
And Matthew Nagas, whose grandfather was brought to Australia as a result of “blackbirding”, the 19th and early 20th-century practice of enslaving South Pacific islanders (usually by force and deception) on the cotton and sugar plantations of Queensland. (The expression possibly originated as a contraction of “blackbird catching”, blackbird being a slang term for the local indigenous people.)…
To the lay person, like First Watch, this series provides a clear, lucid guide to understanding a complex and ambiguous political and social narrative, even if it’s bound to start another chapter in the so-called history wars. The series should inflame some commentators who still cringe before the notion that race and blood was central to the early days of Australian nationalism.
But the tone of the piece is grave, the underlying music elegiac, and there’s a superb score by Rob Upward. There’s no sign of bearded, rabid left-wing ideologues spouting their view that the sense of the Australian character that emerged in this period was uncomfortably close to Nazi ideas about the Aryan master race…
Let’s face it; it’s pretty hard to get away from the fact that Australian nationalism has long had a rather ugly racist side to it. “Free, great and white” was the catchcry of fervent nationalists for most of last century, the White Australia Policy the policy of choice until the early 70s.
One of the significant sequences in the first episode is the wonderful counterpointing of photographic scenes of a Chinese ceremonial dragon from gold-rush Bendigo, scampering and slithering through Melbourne’s streets as a central part of the 1901 Federation celebrations. The greatest irony in the story is the way that the first act of the fledgling nation was to destroy the diversity with which it was born…