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Essay

They must not talk...

Multicultural Australia as a field of power

MY PARENTS ARRIVED in Australia on a fine September Sunday in 1946, a light to moderate westerly blowing across Sydney Harbour. Their ship, the MS Yochow out of Hong Kong, had entered the heads on slight to moderate seas; it berthed at number 10 Walsh Bay at midday. It was as though nature had decreed a balmy day for the fifty or so refugees on board, the first to arrive from Shanghai under a new scheme negotiated between Jewish Welfare, Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell and the new head of his still new department, Tas Heyes.

The few Polish passengers among the refugees were surviving members of their families, the rest slaughtered in the Holocaust, drifting out of the camps or emerging from hiding places underneath the landscape of a battered Poland. The family group included my father and mother, and her mother and brother. Behind them were the incinerated bodies of those murdered, or buried where they had fallen as death took them en route. They landed through serendipity and persistence in Sydney, after seven years of wanderings and captivity, through the now war-ruined landscapes of Europe and Asia. Waiting on the dock, my mother’s sister welcomed them to Australia, a place none had ever planned to visit but in which they would all live for the rest of their lives. A report by the newly established Commonwealth Investigation Service documents the arrival, details carefully taken by a sergeant in his notebook.

My parents’ story was typical of the time, replete with self-congratulatory messages in the media about Australia’s hospitality, warnings to the arrivals of their need to conform, and coded alerts to the Australian population of the potential threats these outsiders posed to ‘our way of life’. Over the next seventy years or more, this well-rehearsed narrative would survive the shift in policy preferences from assimilation to integration and on to multiculturalism.

A clipping from the Argus newspaper that day captures many of the parameters that would grow and spread as Australia’s non-British population increased: ‘Well-dressed Jewish migrants told they must not talk,’ reads the headline. ‘The warning was given by Mr Walter Brand, secretary of the Jewish Welfare Society,’ continues the story. ‘The immigrants were also asked to avoid having their photo taken. Mr Brand refused to explain why he had given this warning, but he said he had “a good reason”.’

My Polish family comprised four of the thirty refugees who were to stay in Sydney, most of whom were stateless former German and Austrian citizens of ‘Mosaic faith’, ejected from their last waiting room in Shanghai by the return of Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalist Party. None of them had any desire to return to Poland where anti-Semitism was alive, even if there were scarcely any Jews left to target.

My parents took the warning to heart, and steered clear of the media whenever they were approached. I was not yet born and missed the warning; indeed, some would say I have remained a scratchy voice in the debates on multicultural Australia since I was a university student.

My refugee family settled in Bondi after I was born, among the far too few other survivors who had made it to Australia. My parents never were able to have their Polish qualifications recognised, and thus rejoin the careers they had followed before the war. Their lives were dedicated to ensuring their unexpected postwar child had every opportunity their hard and unattractive work and this strange country could provide, with most of their spare time spent with other survivor families. My take on multicultural Australia was shaped by this community of refugees, with the barely whispered tales of trauma that saturated our weekly gatherings with grim shadows. My later schooldays, spent in the same classrooms that prime-minister-to-be Malcolm Turnbull would tread five years or so after me, exposed me to the culture, prejudices, proclivities and aspirations of the Anglo-Australian Sydney elites.

At university in 1966, I opted to study arts law but abandoned the law for political sociology. The Labor Club assigned a group of us neophytes to work with (newly defeated) NSW ALP frontbenchers in developing analyses of the new Liberal Country Party state budget. I was teamed with the colourful member for Murrumbidgee, Al Grassby. He demanded that I use my parental surname rather than the truncated vernacular assimilated version of ‘Jay’, under which I passed much of my adolescence.

Grassby described for me the intricate racism that inhibited the access of Italian immigrants to the irrigated lands of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area; Italians who had become a key part of his political machine, and whose Mafia-linked stories would haunt him beyond the grave. He also introduced me to the wider world of ethnic politics, the patronising containment offered by the government-front organisation The Good Neighbour Council, and the networks of association that populated Sydney and NSW, the ALP, the Liberals and the Communists, the unions and the striated pockets of sectarianism in government.

By 1973, I was well into a doctorate on Marxist cultural politics and urban conflict in inner Sydney, and Grassby had moved to federal politics and become Immigration Minister in the new Whitlam government. At that stage I had been (informally) declared persona non grata by the Immigration Department, its pre-Labor government staff banned from hearing me talk about ethnic inequality, ghettoes and the political suppression of identity and aspirations amongst immigrants.

The policy priorities of the new government contained significant initiatives on immigration and settlement. Soon I was involved with more systematic research on ethnic inequality and discrimination, preparing (with Berenice Buckley) a report on ‘Migrants and the Legal System’ for Ron Sackville’s Law and Poverty wing of the Henderson Poverty Inquiry. Grassby called on me to join the government’s Migrant Task Force, community-based consultative groups charged with identifying issues for the new government to address. It was here we mapped out many of the strategies that five years later Frank Galbally, Prime Minister Malcom Fraser’s chair of the inquiry into migrant services, would parlay into a string of innovations that remain today: migrant resource centres, ethnic and multicultural radio and television, the right to interpreters, culturally appropriate child care and aged services, and recognition of the particular needs and contributions of migrant women.

 

OVER THE NEXT forty-five years I followed the twists and turns of this multicultural adventure with an appreciative if somewhat critical eye. Multiculturalism has clear intellectual and political roots, but once formulated attracted many different critical commentators. As social science took shape during the nineteenth century, the problem of social order was much in mind. Industrial and democratic revolutions generated displaced populations seeking economic and political opportunity. The mass migration of European populations to the cities of North America produced conflict and competition among arriving communities. In chaos, the first elements of social life to get organised were religion and crime.

By the 1960s US sociologists, criminologists and demographers were able to work with generations of data, pointing to a melting pot, yet challenged by hyphenated identities that resisted a singular pathway to becoming American. The US was also confronting the civil rights movement and huge cultural transformations, sometimes exploding as urban violence and large-scale conflict, throwing questions of pluralism and social cohesion into sharp relief.

When Jamaican social anthropologist MG Smith observed in 1960 that societies were both culturally and structurally pluralist, he noted the inevitable conflict between language and mores on one hand, and economics and power on the other. If these two spheres were permitted to reinforce one another, creating a dangerous space where ethnic dominance is locked onto economic and political power, then either fragmentation or inter-group violence would result. The need to separate the structural from the cultural by breaking the cultural barriers that limited economic participation drove the intellectual promotion of the idea of multicultural societies. At core the idea was that many cultures could exist contemporaneously in liberal democratic societies, as long as they accepted the economic and political structures (the patterns of class), and as long as these structures did not differentiate between citizens in regard to their cultural differences. There would be inequality in a multicultural society; but your place in the economic and political hierarchy would not be a function of where you or your parents were born, what you looked like or whether or not you chose to believe in a particular god.

Writing in 1975, Irving Levine of the New York-based Institute on Pluralism and Group Identity developed the idea of ‘multi-ethnicity’ as applied to the social and urban crises of America. Essentially, multi-ethnicity forced the reconceptualisation of a singular national culture that was presumed superior to all others into a series of questions about how much pluralism could or should be allowed to take root. A model of ‘assimilation’ developed by American sociologist Milton Gordon was very influential in the Australian context, especially through the ideas of scholar and government advisor Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki. This also helps to explain the major differences between the similar pathways that Australia and Canada would take as migration-based nation-building societies and the apparently ‘failed’ multiculturalisms of the former imperial metropoles of Europe.

In Canada, cultural and structural pluralism had melded in the dangerous manner MG Smith foresaw: English speakers were politically and economically dominant, while those raised speaking French lacked power and were socially disadvantaged. The unresolved inequalities between Anglophone and Francophone populations created serious pressures as Quebec debated independence. Only three outcomes seemed possible: the use of state violence in an effort to permanently suppress Francophone desires for cultural autonomy and structural independence; the disintegration of the nation into two states; or the unpicking of cultural and structural pluralism so that communities could diversify without the differences (or prejudices) between them shaping access to economic and political power. Canada moved through these stages in uncomfortable sequence, until the invention of a bi-cultural nation-state with a multicultural social milieu, wrapped around a limited structural pluralism aimed at reducing discrimination based on culture.

 

WHILE AUSTRALIA WAS invaded and settled later, similar dynamics were at play. A generation into postwar immigration, with the warning signs of potential disharmony and discrimination emerging, the White Australia policy became increasingly untenable and one path to assimilation unacceptable. In this context two key figures emerged: Al Grassby and Frank Galbally – both men with a vivid sense of the dangers of disharmony and the creative value of conflict. Sensitive to the poisonous impact that prejudice could play on the psyches of minorities, they also understood that social cohesion would be threatened if pathways to structural participation were blocked.

Albert Jaime Grassby found his milieu in the irrigation farms of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area in southern New South Wales in the 1950s and ’60s. Originally a CSIRO agricultural extension officer charged with getting information to the ‘other half’ of the population, his weekly radio programs paid increasing attention to the Italian farmers who had come into the area after the Second Word War. Grassby became a bridge between the various and often competitive communities around Griffith. Among the immigrants from Calabria who made up much of the settlement were a number with roots in the ’Ndràngheta, often described as ‘the Mafia’ (though the latter are Sicilian).

In 1981, Grassby recorded an interview with me about his perception of the situation for the Italian farmers. He reminisced about his arrival in the 1950s:

You had government departments, both federal and state, that took no cognisance of the fact that the Italians were there… If you look at the members of the Department of Labour, of Social Security, of the Co-operative, of the hospital…they acknowledged that no one existed except English-speaking, locally born people, none…if you had an Italian name you were discriminated against. So when I went to Griffith first we had complete and absolute three-way apartheid…the English-speaking population, the Italian-speaking population and the Aboriginal population. The Aboriginal population had poverty worst than any other country, in Asia, in Africa…the local area was run by the English-speaking population in their own interests. They had all the seats on every organisation… Among the Italians there was a ferment of discontent… So we set out on a project of empowerment; power sharing by the English speakers wasn’t considered. Yet once you had one token wog, you had more…the State Department of Agriculture was the first department in the state or Australia to deliberately have a bilingual liaison officer… The issue of the Italians had never been raised in the local Labor Party, until I raised it.

Here Grassby laid out the parameters of cultural pluralism mapping onto structural pluralism. Social and economic power rested with the ‘British’ farmers, while economic change was being driven by the Italian tenant farmers (often prohibited from owning the land). For Grassby, at least in his public narratives, the Italians were presented as an oppressed minority, struggling for their rights as Australians against an ignorant and prejudiced social order. It is now evident that the reality was more complex. Grassby was close to the growing local criminal networks, centred on Pietro (Peter) Calipari, ‘the godfather’ figure from the Calabrian town of Plati, who had settled in Griffith in the early 1950s. When Calipari was arrested for possession of a gun in 1965 as part of a police raid to pull down the networks tying together Sydney, Griffith and Melbourne, Grassby, recently elected as the ALP member for Murrumbidgee and strongly supported by Calipari, spoke in his defence. In 1992 Grassby reflected on the image of Calipari in the public mind, contrasting attacks on him as ‘the Mafia godfather’ with his own description of him as a man of ‘high and gentle integrity’.

Grassby’s dual personae have had me confused for decades. Jim Houston, the adviser who helped him write the 1973 groundbreaking document on ‘Australia as a multi-cultural society’, told me of going to Grassby’s Canberra home in the dead of night with drafts of the pamphlet so that it would not be nobbled by immigration department officers anxious to prevent the ‘invasion’ of coloured folks. Together, Houston and Grassby successfully introduced the concept of multiculturalism as an ethical philosophy of cultural pluralism, while also popularising it as a descriptive reference to the demographic reality of modern Australia. They identified its key principles and thought about how they might be given shape in institutions. The Immigration Control Association successfully targeted Grassby at the 1974 election for his work on ending White Australia. But following his departure from parliament, Whitlam appointed Grassby Community Relations Commissioner and charged him with introducing the Racial Discrimination Act.

My view now is that Grassby knew about the dark side, and realised what exclusion could do: corroding ethics, deepening the use of extra-legal means to make a place in the sun. His lifelong advocacy for human rights causes was legitimate, driven in part by his knowledge of how corruption and crime could destroy the fabric of society. He was, however, compromised by his dependence on illicit funding from criminal networks, and perhaps seduced by their camaraderie and hospitality.

The more detailed map for a multicultural society, complete with institutions to realise its potential, was crafted by Melbourne lawyer Frank Galbally. As Grassby had his éminence grise on multiculturalism in Jim Houston, a bilingual teacher and renegade bureaucrat (later an Anglican minister), so Galbally’s strategist was Melbourne political-science graduate Petro Georgiou, Fraser’s adviser and later the last small ‘l’ liberal MP in John Howard’s government.

Francis Eugene Galbally, an Irish lad from Collingwood, first appears in the public record in 1954 as a lawyer defending a young Italian migrant charged with the stabbing of one of a group of attackers (members of an anti-Italian self-described Ku Klux Klan group) who had bashed him in Werribee. Galbally went on to defend the ‘spaghetti riot’ activists involved in the uprising in the Bonegilla migrant camp in 1961, where Italian residents were demanding to be taken to the jobs that they had been recruited for, which had vanished in a recession.

Galbally and Grassby first crossed paths (though they may not have met at that time) when the lawyer represented defendants in the Queen Victoria Market murders of 1964. The ’Ndràngheta links tied together Sydney, Griffith, Mildura and Melbourne in a long line of extortion, marijuana sales and murders.

Galbally was closely connected with many migrant communities in Melbourne. He was decorated by the Italian government, was a leading advocate of freedom in Junta-controlled Greece, and was selected by Malcolm Fraser to head his 1977 inquiry into post-arrival services for migrants. Like Grassby, he was an ardent public advocate for the underdog, a denouncer of discrimination and prejudice and, it was said at his death, a highly successful defender of more than three hundred accused murderers. His 1978 report to Fraser was published in ten languages when tabled in parliament, a feat not repeated to this day.

 

THESE TWO BRILLIANT, imperfect, disrupters of the status quo found in the language of multicultural policy and ethics a means to describe an Australia where minorities would no longer be excluded and diversity would be welcome. Their intersection and reinforcement of each other’s world views gave shape to the broad competing pathways that continue in debates over multicultural Australia. For those who endorse the concept as the basis for societal development, some will only use the adjective ‘multicultural’ as a descriptor, eschewing any guaranteeing of rights or argument about ideology, and allowing the free market and open politics to shape what is feasible (both Australian Multicultural Foundation chair James Gobbo and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are good examples). Others argue for a policy of multiculturalism in noun form that generates institutions through which specified rights can be pursued, including bodies such as Multicultural NSW and the Victorian Multicultural Commission. I am firmly in the latter camp: indeed, a carefully articulated philosophy of inclusion, built on democratic rhetoric and incorporating the triad of recognition, rights and reciprocity, seems increasingly necessary to ensure social cohesion and social justice.

A decade after Galbally signed off on the platform that Grassby had launched, two senior Canberra figures matched wits and stratagems to determine whether the concept and its portfolio of interventions should survive. As Malcom Fraser told the Making Multicultural Australia project, in his mind the Labor Party was always less on board with multicultural thinking than the liberal Liberals. In the lead up to the development of the 1989 ALP multicultural policy, the knives were out, led by senators Peter Walsh and Robert Ray. Key protagonist for the ‘no one likes multiculturalism’ side was Stephen FitzGerald, fresh from heading the Labor government’s review into immigration policy, which on many issues would reset the agenda to one that still operates today. Bob Hawke’s adviser on multicultural issues, Peter Shergold, had to work out a way to defend the idea of multiculturalism, which he recognised if lost would end government support for access and equity, special provision, SBS, and community development, deeply eroding the relations that by now underpinned social cohesion.

The election of the Hawke government in 1983 had been followed by a sustained run of public hostility to multicultural initiatives now that the bipartisan position was abandoned. In 1984, historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey’s condemnation of the intake of Asian refugees on the grounds that the Australian working class was poorly prepared to receive them and they would compete for low-wage jobs legitimised anti-immigrant discourses. In 1986, Hawke’s budget cuts targeted multicultural services across the board: education, languages, social welfare, broadcasting, community infrastructure and even the cherished flagship of the Galbally report, the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs. Every minister had been advised to cut the multicultural fat to protect the mainstream core, with no one charged to see what that might constitute overall. A public backlash from ethnic communities reflected widespread shock at what seemed to be the rapid demolition of entire institutions. Furthermore, in the wake of FitzGerald’s report, the Liberal Party under John Howard had resolved to abandon ‘multiculturalism’ as a policy (though it did not follow FitzGerald’s endorsement of cosmopolitanism as an alternative).

The public relations debacle of the 1986 budget reoriented the government so as to ensure that some overarching office could watch the situation. The Office of Multicultural Affairs, a new body in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), was charged with supporting and implementing a new multicultural policy. The office was headed by Shergold, and his important work on the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia, launched by Hawke in 1989, contained the last evidence of any national government considering legislation to underpin the institutions and values embodied in ‘multicultural Australia’ rhetoric. Attempts to move it forward stumbled under Keating’s prime ministership and were an anathema to the incoming government of John Howard, and all its successors.

Thirty years on, Malcolm Turnbull’s recurrent description of Australia as the ‘most successful multicultural society in the world’ epitomises the dominance of the laissez-faire perspective and sees no contradiction in the continuing systematic oppression of the Indigenous peoples. Repeated attempts to raise discussion of a Multicultural Australia Act have been marginalised by national governments of both persuasions. Only the Greens have pursued the idea, negotiating for a senate inquiry which reported in 2017, arguing for legislation. The Greens launched draft legislation for national feedback and comment that same year.

 

ETHNCITY AND CLASS are not the only parameters that have an impact on multicultural Australia – the gender dimension also plays a critical role in defining participation and equity. Two Wollongong campaigns of the 1980s involving jobs for women and the rights of outworkers are evidence of how multicultural Australia provides a framework for rethinking the place of migrant women and empowering them as active subjects in their own lives. While the struggles by the migrant women and their supporters hardly did away with patriarchy, the industrial and political power of migrant women did advance as a consequence of these and many other small-scale struggles for recognition and rights. Without the opportunities developed by the institutions of multiculturalism, it is unlikely that these cases would have eventuated or achieved positive outcomes.

In some ways, multiculturalism has been quite a conservative force in Australian society – one of the reasons the left have been suspicious of its place in neoliberal modernity in Europe and Australia. It has been driven by a concern for a holding together of the social world, and the integration of newcomers into a pre-existing social fabric. But it has also carried the argument that the script for the future of Australia continues to be written, and there should always be room at the table for new authors.

At the federal level, the multicultural portfolio, once tucked in close to the heart in PM&C, for a time lurked on the far edge, allocated to new and untried assistant ministers, until its current allocation to Minister Alan Tudge. After its expulsion from PM&C under Howard, it went off to Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the latter term then disappearing from the portfolio title. It almost disappeared altogether under Gillard. Under Abbott it was sent to the Department of Social Services, where its role in influencing whole-of-government considerations approached zero. Now under Turnbull some of it is housed deep within the dark world of Home Affairs, symbolically left for nearly six months without any members in its advisory Australian Multicultural Council. One of multiculturalism’s most cherished creations, the Special Broadcasting Service, has been targeted in a new inquiry demanded by One Nation as part payment for its alliance with the Coalition.

A decade ago, the IPA Review, the Institute for Public Affairs ‘voice for freedom’ and ground zero for the forces most opposed to multiculturalism as an ideology of social organisation, argued that it should be scrubbed from conservative policy, and diversity treated with benign neglect. Even so, Tony Abbott has argued that a multicultural policy framework that foregrounds integration would bolster conservative values, providing a bulwark against the cosmopolitan sensibilities of the middle classes. I would argue that some migrant communities have played an important role on exactly this front; in some heavily migrant electorates in 2016 the vote for Family First doubled, preferences running to the Liberals far more strongly than in the past. Indeed, driven by campaigns against Labor over same-sex marriage and safe schools, these voters delivered the election to the Coalition, despite its team being led by Turnbull, whose own values were rather different to theirs. In late 2017, these same electorates and many more similar voters cast their papers against the recognition of same-sex marriage, providing a large part of the 40 per cent or so who opposed changing the law.

 

WITH ALL ITS messy contradictions, the triad of rights, recognition and reciprocity first enunciated back in the 1970s still makes a fairly useful baseplate on which the social equity and creative synergies promised by a multicultural Australia can be constructed. The laissez-faire approach exposes multicultural advances to the momentary vagaries of short-term political alliances and populist passions. Without the changes that the policies of the 1970s and 1980s established, Australia might well be in as messy a place as many European societies, unclear of their identities and confused over directions and values.

My own view remains that at the very least there are three major lacunae left unresolved because of the failure to provide a legislative base to social institutions.

We need a legislative basis so that what has been achieved can be embedded and built on. Just before he died, former Labor immigration minister Mick Young told me, ‘Rights politics in Australia is always hard. It’s like driving a truck up hill – you need to keep your foot on the gas just to stay in the same place. Take it away and you’ll be slipping backwards down the slope so fast… And there’ll be a lot of bastards happy to help you on your way.’

Canada has knitted a multicultural Act and a charter of rights together, as has Victoria in a smaller way in its Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities of 2006. I know from personal experience, and the self-defensive apologias voiced by public servants and politicians, that in inquiry after inquiry the federal government has specifically decided to exclude any discussion of submissions that mention such a proposal. For quarter of a century as racism has risen, social cohesion declined and the internet taken off as a venue for hate speech, our national governments have sat gazing speculatively at their navels and offering the free-floating market for (some) ideas as a model for the most helpful way to proceed. News Limited as a multichannel river of agitation has been the most solidly antipathetic to innovation that might recognise legislated opportunities to ensure the greater success of multiculturalism.

We need a lot more knowledge about our diversity and how it works. When the high-end media was surprised by the anti-same-sex marriage vote in Sydney’s inner west, there were many in the city who were not. The knowledge about how our diversity is fashioned has been corroded by racism, ignorance and disdain. We need a major national body to stimulate research, encourage debate and spread insight. One of Howard’s major unfortunate successes was to place a pride in ‘know nothing’ at the heart of public policy about difference, so that prejudice could always trump truth. The destruction of national research bodies in this area has fragmented networks and dissipated the energy needed for a sustained understanding of what is special and important about our diversity.

Finally, we live in an Australia where our public imagination lags far behind the reality of our complexity. In 1994, our research group noted how unreflective of our real diversity the Australian media had remained through decades of immigration and multicultural settlement. A quarter century later, the dynamic of representation remains almost unchanged. New action groups of young media workers decry the lack of opportunity and the narrowness of vision that confront their desires to contribute. Our political representatives remain the same quarter century or more behind the diversity of their electorates. The same is true of boardrooms and executives suites: a recent study led by the Human Rights Commission of almost two and a half thousand senior figures in business, politics, government and higher education found that almost 95 per cent of leaders at the chief executive or similar levels have an Anglo-Celtic or European background; nowhere is this more evident than in my own university where we miss even the 5 per cent average.

As we move about our cities, travel through our bush and interact with the extraordinary diversity of people who happily and positively want to call Australia home, we should continue to remember how the synergy of difference creates enormous innovation, opportunity and productivity. In the permanent election campaign in which public life now operates, campaigns are already ramping up to increasingly limit access to citizenship, criticise immigrants for the failure of city planning and the destruction of our environment, and eradicate the voices that exist through the many avenues offered by SBS. The freedom demanded by those who want to be able to propagate hate speech remains a dangerous opening to the fragmentation of the social networks, exactly when we need them most to generate strength through a culturally diverse frame of bridging social capital. The barriers may at times appear not that much different from when my family skittered off the boat to find a new life, yet as a society we have learnt so much about getting on through mutual respect and reciprocal recognition of each others’ presence.

 

AN AUSTRALIAN MULTICULTURAL Act would achieve a number of goals otherwise widely valued in Australia but restricted for minorities. It would advance equality of opportunity by promoting the best use of our human capital, foregrounding recognition of qualifications and access to education and training. It would recognise the importance of languages other than English as the basis for achieving national excellence in a globalising world. It would help ensure that the stories we tell ourselves about who we are actually reflect the reality, no longer the overwhelming/underwhelming self-comforting fantasies of our past. In an age of post-truth it would provide a base for policy based on empirical research rather than alt-reality.

My life has been very fortunate, as though my board hung out on the lip of the surge that has transformed Australia. When the leaders of the Jewish community in 1946 alerted my parents to the need to keep a low profile in an Australia still anti-Semitic and prejudiced, they were genuflecting at the strategy of assimilation that then dominated public life. Over the past three generations, the provocations offered by Grassby, Galbally and the thousands of others from both traditional Australian and newcomer origins have pushed back at the walls of self-imposed silences promoted by the forces of conservatism, both political and cultural, on all sides of politics. Prejudices still run amok, fear and loathing still exude their corrosive poisons and discrimination still limits life chances. However, the pathway forward has been well illuminated and requires only the common courage of Indigenous people, the immigrant and refugee, and the settler-descended communities to drive it on. In the spirit of freedom of speech, no one should pay attention to anyone, even their own, who tells them ‘they must not talk’.

1 June 2018

 

Note: The online version of this piece has been amended following its publication in the print version of Griffith Review 61 to expand a comment on the Australian Multicultural Council.


From Griffith Review Edition 61: Who We Are © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

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