Being Australian 18: inclusive multiculturalism Aussie style 11 – in the ghetto?

At last I get back to Elvis!

Look at this. I have made some corrections.

Community or Ethnic group
Sydney Suburb they live in
Chinese especially Shanghainese
Turkish, Hazaras from Afghanistan, Muslims Auburn
Lebanese, Vietnamese, Muslims Bankstown
Jewish, Kiwi 
Bondi, Vaucluse 
Vietnamese, but also Lao and Han Chinese
Korean and Cantonese
Assyrian, Yugoslavs, Vietnamese, Italian and
Hispanic backgrounds
Sri Lankan/ South Indian
Danes, Norwegians and Swedes
Mount Kuring-gai
South African/Jewish
St Ives
Willoughby ()

Now that, from what I know, is quite an accurate account of who is where in Sydney.

Are these ghettos?


Today in Wollongong

Here we need to be clear about terms. I doubt anyone would see Manly as a Scandinavian ghetto, or Northbridge as a Japanese one. For starters these ethnic/cultural groups are not the only ones in those suburbs.

On the other hand, when some years back M (who is Shanghainese) and I were looking for a flat he ruled out Ashfield: “I may as well have stayed in China!”

Then the South African/Jewish connection in St Ives had some controversy around it not long ago. I once worked in this community and heard so much Suth Efrican spoken there! Now my link is to a forum where we see an only too familiar mindset at work:

Jewish holy enclave
A group of Orthodox Jews in St Ives is planning to erect a 20km physical boundary in their local area to allow them to engage in activities traditionally forbidden on the Sabbath — the day of rest. But the proposal has been met with outrage in the wider community.
>>>>> >>>>>
A ‘wall’ in reality.
Did I hear ‘racist/racism’?
That means I should be able to create a white Christian enclave.

Oh dear! There’s already such an enclave in Bondi and no-one even notices it. Its boundaries are marked by wires on poles. Such was the plan in St Ives. Now I can understand people outside Jewish culture finding this weird, but why all the outrage?

Of course some Orthodox Jews do wear funny clothes, and the women might be wearing wigs outdoors too for much the same reason some Muslim women wear the hijab. The funny thing about Judaism and Islam is how similar they are and how similar Israeli and Arab cultures are! My Israeli colleagues used to visit Abdul’s in Surry Hills when they pined for home cooking! As Waleed Aly said to his Israeli guest on Episode 3 of his new SBS show, Jews and Muslims in Australia can empathise because they are equally weird in many ways. His Israeli guest agreed. Then they played the blues together,

They also agreed seeing this similarity was easier in Australia than it would be if they were living in the Middle East.

The word “ghetto” as used now has very strong negative connotations. Just look at The Urban Dictionary:


1. (n.) an impoverished, neglected, or otherwise disadvantaged residential area of a city, usually troubled by a disproportionately large amount of crime
2. (adj.) urban; of or relating to (inner) city life
3. (adj.) poor; of or relating to the poor life
4. (adj.) jury-rigged, improvised, or home-made (usually with extremely cheap or sub-standard components), yet still deserving of an odd sense of respect from ghetto dwellers and non-ghetto dwellers alike

1. John’s paranoia about triple-checking whether or not he’s locked his car doors comes from his growing up in the ghetto
2. "Why you always be talkin’ ghetto? Get yo’self a propa’ e-ju-ma-kay-shun, kid!"
3. Jane hid her head in embarrasment as her mom shamelessly committed the ghetto act of stuffing the restaurant’s bread rolls, sugar packets, and silverware in her purse
4. "A TV Guide duct-taped to a 4 foot stick?! That’s one hella ghetto ‘mote control!"

I do like this:


word which rich white girls use to describe almost everything that’s not clad with lilly polos and pearls.

"Look how ghetto I look!" Muffy said as she put on her gucci sunglasses

A more orthodox definition:



–noun, plural -tos, -toes.

1. a section of a city, esp. a thickly populated slum area,inhabited predominantly by members of an ethnic or other minority group, often as a result of social or economic restrictions, pressures, or hardships.

2. (formerly, in most European countries) a section of a city in which all Jews were required to live.

3. a section predominantly inhabited by Jews.

4. any mode of living, working, etc., that results from stereotyping or biased treatment: job ghettos for women;ghettos for the elderly.

Surry Hills at the time Ruth Park wrote The Harp in the South could well have been described as a ghetto – Irish and working class. My mother was still horrified when I first suggested living there, though by then Surry Hills had quite other ghettos, including a pink one. Winking smile

So let’s say the distinctive marks of a ghetto are social disadvantage, relatively high crime rates or reputation for crime, alienation from the mainstream, and a tendency to confine its inhabitants limiting their choices. There are parts of Sydney around Campbelltown and Minto that would qualify, and this is nothing to do with immigration. There are some areas where the ethnic or cultural group that is least flavour of the month at the moment congregates and where those other descriptors also apply.

But I would still say we don’t have anything of the order of the famous ghettos we hear about in the USA.

Some would have named Cabramatta as a ghetto of the US kind. But see Australian multiculturalism – From stir-fries to ham sandwiches by Tim Southphommasane.

…I went to primary school in Canley Vale, one of Sydney’s outer southwest suburbs. The vast majority of families who sent their children to my school came from the old French Indochina. Many of my schoolmates were from Vietnam, though a good proportion of these Vietnamese were ethnic Chinese. There were also lots of Cambodians and Laotians. Of course, there were also Yugoslavs (as they were known then), Italians, Turks, Chileans and Argentineans. And even a handful of blue-eyed Anglos. But for the most part, my fellow students belonged to families from Southeast Asia. Their names were far more likely to be Phuong, Vong or Sothea—or for that matter, Dragan, Fatima or Enrique—than David or Corey or Sarah. And they didn’t have ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches for lunch.

This was the Sydney I grew up in during the 1980s. The critics of multiculturalism at the time would probably have called it something of a ghetto. Indeed, when neighbouring Cabramatta — Sydney’s ‘little Saigon’ – became the hub of heroin trade in the early 1990s, it triggered a brief crime panic across Sydney. There were echoes of old fears of the yellow peril. People feared ‘triads’ and ‘Asian gangs’ taking over the city’s streets. Fuzzy closed circuit camera footage of rampaging, long-fringed gangsters would be replayed on tabloid evening news programs. Working-class Anglo-Australians took flight from the suburbs around Cabramatta, though this would be accompanied by a steady and pronounced rise in local house prices.

Of course, southwest Sydney was never an Asian ghetto; at least, not in any meaningful sense of the word. Violent crime, though it was a problem during some of the 1990s, didn’t persist for long. Whether it has been because of entrepreneurial drive, a prioritisation of education within families, strong community support networks, or a combination of all these things, social mobility rather than social disadvantage has been the norm for Indochinese migrants. Today, Cabramatta is a thriving commercial precinct. Visitors come from within and outside Sydney on weekends. There’s no better place to slurp on a pho, to sample Southeast Asian authenticity; one form of authenticity, anyway. One day a supposed ghetto, a tourist drawcard the next.

And to catch a train from Cabramatta these days into the city on a given weekday morning is to be surrounded by young professionals working in finance, accounting and IT. That, and university students buried in their textbooks, no doubt destined to join the same professional ranks in a few years’ time…

Our “ghettos” then are not permanent or always baleful. Multiculturalism, rather than fixing them in place for ever, comes with choices the inhabitants can and do make over just one or two generations.

That migrants tend at first to cluster is perfectly understandable. It’s a lot easier to buy stinking bean curd or dried white fungus in Ashfield, and to do so in Shanghainese (or English) in Ashfield than it is, say, in Cronulla.

Crown Street, Surry Hills, 2008

7 thoughts on “Being Australian 18: inclusive multiculturalism Aussie style 11 – in the ghetto?

  1. So let’s say the distinctive marks of a ghetto are social disadvantage…

    If we said that, we’d be lying. So let’s not. The distinctive mark of a ghetto is a place where a monoculture segregates itself in an alien land. Let’s say that instead, so we won’t be called liars.

    Sure, a side-effect of this self-imposed segregation MAY be increased crime rate, but not necessarily. Just look at Chinatowns across America or Williamsburg Brooklyn in NYC (that’s where the Hasedic Jews live en mass). Of course, when muslims segregate themselves the crime rate goes up rather dramatically, but I leave you to determine why that is.

    I’m curious about what you perceive as ‘a ghetto of the US kind’. What does that entail in your mind? I suspect you have watched too many Spike Lee movies.

  2. From the latest Shorter Oxford Dictionary:

    ghetto | et | n. & v. E17. [f. It.: perh. abbrev. of borghetto dim. of borgo BOROUGH, or f. getto foundry, where the first ghetto established in Venice, in 1516, was sited.] A n. Pl. -o(e)s. 1 Hist. The quarter in a city, chiefly in Italy, to which Jews were restricted. E17. 2 A densely populated slum area occupied by a minority group or groups, usu. as a result of social or economic pressures; an isolated or segregated social group or area. L19.
    2 M. L. KING In the ghettos of Chicagothe problems of poverty and despair are graphically illustrated. Nursery World Our negotiators are pushingto break up the traditional ‘women’s work’ ghettos.
    Comb.: ghetto blaster colloq. a large and powerful stereo radio-cassette player.
    B v.t. Put or keep (people) in a ghetto. M20.
    fig.: Listener The narrow financial aspects ghettoed conveniently towards the back of newspapers or on late-night programmes.
    ghettoize v.t. = GHETTO v. M20. ghettoization n. the action of ghettoing; the state of being in a ghetto: M20.

    Excerpted from The Oxford Interactive Encyclopedia
    Developed by The Learning Company, Inc. Copyright (c) 1997 TLC Properties Inc. All rights reserved.

    I stand by my interpretation of the word, Yours has been tailored to suit your views on multiculturalism. So who’s lying?

    Muslims and crime. Yes, some our current crop of colourful crime identities are Lebanese Muslims. Other groups have preceded them over the years.

    No, crime is in fact not necessarily higher in communities with large Muslim or Arabic-speaking populations. The whole ethnic crime thing gets overdone by screaming talk-show jocks and the tabloid media.

    On the other hand there’s a whole host of stuff on this and related matters at the Australian Institute of Criminology

    If you can’t be bothered wading through all that try Crime & prejudice

    …For the state’s top crime expert, Don Weatherburn, the risk of fighting yesterday’s bogys is that we may not see emerging trends in crime. “It causes everybody involved a great deal of grief when people for commercial, personal or political reasons seek to inflame the situation,” he says. “During the height of the crisis over Lebanese gang rapes, no one was paying any attention to the figures on multiple sexual assaults in Aboriginal communities which were readily available.”

    Weatherburn, the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, says it’s time the public focused on less sensational, but equally important crime issues such as alcohol-related assaults and offensive behaviour, problems that may worsen if the state’s liquor licensing laws are further liberalised as proposed.

    “These issues come up again and again when you survey the public about their concerns. They just want to go about their business free from the fear of harassment and assault.”

    Yes, our image of US ghettos may be as accurate as your image of Muslim crime in Australia..

    *Excerpted from The Oxford Interactive Encyclopedia
    Developed by The Learning Company, Inc. Copyright (c) 1997 TLC Properties Inc. All rights reserved.

  3. I stand by my interpretation of the word, Yours has been tailored to suit your views on multiculturalism. So who’s lying?

    You, of course :). Definition 1 and 2 are exactly as I stated.

    No, crime is in fact not necessarily higher in communities with large Muslim or Arabic-speaking populations.

    I’m not sure why you’ve added ‘Arabic-speaking ‘ to that statement. Arabs are not ridden with crime. Just look at the non-muslim parts of Lebanon. It’s not a racial problem. It’s a cultural problem – specifically the culture of islam.

    Lastly, I have no image of muslim crime in Australia :(. I only have an image of crimes committed by followers of islam internationally. And it’s bad. Very bad.

  4. You should add Rosebery to your Greek suburb list. I think that the word ghetto may be changing its meaning from kept in to kept out and/or in. The emergence in Australia of gated communities would be an example of the second. Despite the emotional overlay, it might be better to use the term segregated to cover the second.

    One of the big social changes in Australia has been a reduction in what we can think of as mixed communities combining different socio-economic groups. To the degree that depressed communities become identified with particular ethnic groups, then you may have an apparent ghetto effect.

    • Yes, ghetto tends to be used of congregations of people who for some reason worry us.

      At the same time you are right about gated communities, and monasteries if it comes to that.

      I stick to the idea that more often the word suggests severe disadvantage, whether ethnicity is a factor or not.

  5. By stressing “where a monoculture segregates itself in an alien land” (like the Amish) you bend the definition to your preconceived view of multiculturalism as scary monster.

    There is no evidence that Australia’s Muslims are significantly less law-abiding than Australia’s non-Muslims. There is on the other hand much hysteria on the subject, over-represented on the internet. See Muslims furious with media portrayal as terrorists and criminals.

    AUSTRALIAN-MUSLIM families have good relations with other Australians, and feel safe and happy here. But they are furious with the media for depicting Muslims as terrorists and criminals, a report for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship reveals.

    ”The families felt strongly the media was gunning for Muslims; it was a huge concern for them,” said Ilan Katz, the director of the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW, and a co-author of the study. The research is part of a wider project commissioned by the department to understand the concerns and needs of Muslim Australians.

    Based on in-depth interviews with 72 family members, it found people traced a change in the media’s depiction of Muslims from the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

    “They felt community attitudes had hardened towards them since then because of the media,” said Dr Katz.

    An Iraqi father said: ”The media portrays us as terrorists; the media is against us.” A man from Sudan said, ”Australians listen to the media, that is what they believe.”

    Yet the Australian-Muslims were mainly positive about their daily interactions with ordinary Australians, friends, workmates, and passers-by. On the whole they felt accepted and appreciated what Australia could offer. Another father said: ”Australian government high schools even have a mosque [prayer room] … and the students perform midday and Friday prayers there.”

    However, a major concern was low income, with some blaming workplace discrimination. Some parents were troubled their children had become more religious than they were. ”The daughters were wearing the hijab but the mothers weren’t,” Dr Katz said. Others were anxious about their children’s involvement with drugs, sex or alcohol.

    Nadia Saleh, 42, of Punchbowl, calls Australia ”this remarkable country” that she came to from Lebanon 21 years ago. With her husband Karl, 52, she has raised four children.

    ”We have got some people who do the wrong thing but it is unfair to criticise the entire Islamic community,” said Mrs Saleh, a manager at the Riverwood Community Centre.

    The study highlights the diversity of Australian-Muslims, who come from countries as disparate as Albania and Nigeria.

    Dr Katz found Imams were a main source of guidance for parents with family problems and needed more help and resources from government and non-government agencies to do a better job of pastoral care.

    Nice to see the researcher there being one of the many Jews in this country who are among the staunchest defenders of multiculturalism.
    Yes, having lived in Surry Hills’s “Little Lebanon” for 20 years I think I know about who is Muslim and who isn’t among them.

    For statistical purposes “Arabic speaking” is often used here and it usually means both recently arrived and Muslim. The Christian Lebanese tended to come long ago, as far back as the 1890s in fact but especially in the 1970s. It is true though that a very large number of Australian Muslims do not speak Arabic and never have, There are more non-Arabic speaking Muslims in the world than Arabic-speaking ones anyway: think Pakistan, Indonesia and Iran just for starters, No Arabs there.

  6. I have always found paranoia about new migrant cultures fascinating. Cultural ghettos are inevitable and universal. if you travel the world, you will find that people (including Australians) will tend to cluster with people of similar backgrounds, cultures and language groups. it is easier to deal with people when you can speak the same language rather than have to pantomime what you’re trying to say and a sense of familiarity is comforting.

    As far as Muslims and crime go… I can remember exactly the same things being said of them (to the letter) as were said of the Vietnamese, pacific islanders, (Christian) Lebanese, Italians, Greeks and the Irish. Pick a wave of migration and give it a go. The irony here is that the longer people have been here, the more likely they are to use the same slurs against the next wave.

    I worked in punchbowl for around ten years. For the ‘foreigners’ among you, it is a strongly Muslim/Arabic suburb. During this time I was always treated, well and welcomed into homes as a guest and a friend. Before you say it, I knew many of the local ‘crims’ and they were no different than their anglo Aussie equivalent, except that they had more of a sense of honour.

    Labelling Muslims as violent etc just shows up your bigoted ignorance.

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