Recently, I was watching, of all things, Australia’s Got Talent and found myself floored by the experience. The first unsettling moment came courtesy of a young man of African ethnicity who sang “Wrecking Ball”, the Miley Cyrus hit. He could not have chosen a song more aptly titled to describe what he did to it. Improbably, three of the judges claimed to love his act and voted him into the competition’s next round. To his credit, at least on this one, resident curmudgeon Dicko held out for artistic standards, rather than ethnic sympathies, and an even playing field. You can see the contestant’s butchery of his chosen number at the 42-minute mark of the clip available via this link.
The second was a young Australian girl of Sikh origin, Sajit, who appears 34 minutes into the clip. Born in Australia, she was clearly as Aussie as anyone could be, right down to the flat vowels of her ‘spoken word performance’, a slam-style poem excoriating the racism allegedly experienced by her family. The facts of the matter are, needless to say, unverifiable. Needless to say her performance was greeted with rapturous adulation by the judging panel, one of whom was heard to remark that “the voices of bigotry and hatred in this country are so loud and noisy.” The same judge then wiped a tear from his eye and exclaimed “Finally!”, as if the presentation of ethnic grievance and victimhood was something never before heard in this land of rampaging injustice.
Reaching for the remote control, I wondered what country have I been living in? A country, apparently, where slandering the national reputation and our proud history of accepting and assimilating migrants counts for nothing against what are evidently the more congenial cries of “Racism!” and “Injustice!” Here I take my further cues from the contemptible Kevin Rudd, laying the groundwork for his UN job application with these words:
I think the claim that this was to do with Adam Goodes as a sportsman and not to do with his Aboriginal identity, I think that claim, is 100 per cent bullshit.
The gist of former and unlamented PM’s address to a breakfast gathering of Indigenous, political and business leaders was that it would be wrong to conclude Australia does not have a racism problem. Predictably, the work-experience kiddies who now self-identify as journalists in Fairfax newsrooms and at the ABC lapped it up. Maybe Rudd hopes that denigrating his own country will somehow offset his declaration, as newly re-installed PM in July, 2013, that “as of today, asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia” — a sentiment hardly likely to endear him to the hand-wringing set at the UN as he jockeys for the international body’s top job..
No doubt there is a considerable body of Australians who could be described as ‘racist’, particularly given the generally expanded definition which these days sees it thrown about at the slightest provocation, real or imagined. The truth is that we have no more racists than any other nation and many less than many. Racism is a feature of human nature and not of any one particular citizenrym and here one need only think of the horrific cruelties routinely visited on, say, Africans by other Africans of different tribal backgrounds. To demand, or expect, racism’s abolition is akin to calling for an end to robbery or murder. By the way and just in passing, the device of “calling for” this or that is one of the left’s most often invoked tools when presenting its agenda as a matter of national and moral necessity.
By Rudd’s logic in regard to Goodes, Australia could be described as a a ‘rapacious country’, a ‘corrupt country’, maybe even “a murderous country”. Yet we scrapped the White Australia policy in the Sixties and, since then, have welcomed millions from Asia, Africa and elsewhere. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as June 30, 2014, there were 6.6 million residents born outside Australia, some 28% of the total population. Of these, almost 4 million came from Asia, the Pacific or Africa, and that does not include their children born in Australia. So, in a nation of 23 million, a conservative estimate would be that some 20%-plus of the population looks to Africa, Asia or Pacific islands for its heritage. Demographically we certainly no longer appear to be a racist country.
And yet, apparently, not only has racism increased during my lifetime, we also need to be reminded of it, even to the extent that those rebukes are now part and parcel of a hokey TV talent quests. Admittedly, I am a whitey and have not been subjected to all this racism that makes us, according to the Hanson-Youngs of our body politic, ‘a pariah on the world stage’. I can only comment from my own perspective and, in pondering this quandary, my own father came to mind. Dad, who will celebrate his 90th birthday on February 21, is a product of the pre-war generation and might thus be considered a “carrier” of the racism that purportedly prompts those “voices of bigotry and hatred” to resonate throughout the land. This article is, in part, a birthday tribute to my father. I hope it puts the lie to the fabled insistence on Australia’s endemic racism by telling a little something of the story of one man and his maligned generation.
Dad was born in 1926 and of mostly Anglo/Irish ancestry, although his mother was of German extraction. Her maiden name was Vohr, but by the time World War One erupted she was going by her married name, so no problem for her. But one branch of her family was called, if you can you believe it, Kaiser. Taking their cue from the Mountbattens, nee Battenbergs, they very quickly anglicised it to Kay. At least one of the family formerly known as Kaiser served with distinction in the war. But that’s by the way.
By the time Dad came along the war was over and, very quickly, the Depression dominated life. Dad’s uncle, Mick, went off prospecting in Western Australia and was speared to death by Aborigines. I merely include this item as a colourful chapter in my family’s past, not as an example of racism. Dad served in the RAAF during World War Two and, by the early 1950s, was a meteorologist in Darwin, where I started school. Darwin was a very primitive place in those days. Our first house was hardly more than a corrugated-iron shed. You can image what my Mum thought of the living arrangements.
Anyway, my racism story starts here. Dad had a mate that time called Wally. He was a meteorological observer. I don’t remember him from those days, but I knew him later. He was a likeable, knockabout bloke who would give you the shirt off his back. While he was in Darwin, Wally met, courted and eventually married the daughter of a prominent Chinese family, a family who had been in the Territory since the 1880s. Well, you can imagine the consternation this misalliance caused within the family. No, not with Wally’ family, with his new wife’s clan. She was cut off.
This was my first personal experience of ‘racism’ in Australia.
In the early Sixties, Dad was posted to Malaysia as met officer in charge at the RAAF’s Butterworth base. We had a great time in Penang and, living there for three years, were able to immerse ourselves to some degree in the local culture, albeit only to a limited extent because we attended a special RAAF school. In Penang at that time one of the main social centres for the RAAF families was the European Swimming Club. Yes, that’s right, it was a club only Europeans could join. This, in a Malaysia that had already been independent for some years. Dad wouldn’t have bar of it, much to my chagrin because the European club was where all my mates hung out. Instead, we joined the Chinese Swimming Club which was open to everyone.
At Butterworth, Dad was in charge of a number of local weather observers, mainly Indian and Chinese, with whom we socialised regularly. Some 50 years later, one of Dad’s former colleagues, an Indian known as Sami, got in touch with him for old time’s sake. They chatted on the phone and, a few months later Dad, now totally blind from glaucoma, flew with my brother to Malaysia, where he caught up with Sami and a couple of his other old colleagues.
This may come as a shock to the judges on Australia’s Got Talent, but the vast and overwhelming majority of Australians are cast in the mould of my father. As practiced in Australia, racism is an individual crime (for want of a better term), not a group behaviour. We can and should deplore individual episodes of genuine racism, and we should do all we can to subdue it. But let’s not tar and feather the whole country, no matter how appealing and it easy for some to parrot the catchphrases and attitudes of those who find it so much more satisfying to signal their own virtue by denouncing imagined crimes while ignoring all that is real and very much to this country’s immense credit.