THE IMMIGRANT MARIAM VEISZADEH
There’s no denying that there are parts of Sydney that are deeply monocultural. When we think ”enclaves”, many immediately think of western suburbs such as Fairfield, Cabramatta and Auburn, where it does feel like you have set foot in another country. Perhaps less noticeable though are the invisibly gated Anglo-Saxon (for lack of a better term) enclaves – such as the shire and the northern beaches. Given the multicultural society that we live in, why aren’t we mingling more?
People are naturally drawn to living among people similar to them, whether because of ethnicity, class or religious background. Some are even content to live among other ”ethnics” because, despite belonging to different ethnicities, they are sufficiently different to make them feel like they somehow fit in.
Is it just a class and financial issue? Or is it because of a reinforced fear of the ”other”? Perhaps it’s because they feel that they would be subject to less discrimination. Or because they fear their children would be subjected to less bullying in the playground. Perhaps they suspect life would just be much easier without feeling alienated, marginalised and different all of the time.
My husband and I deliberately made the decision to live in areas where there aren’t many people ”like us”. Having lived on the north shore for several years, I am certain we helped break some common stereotypes. I remember one remark from one of our neighbours, a sweet Caucasian man, who commented at how well I spoke English given that I came from a country ”full of turmoil”. I was very amused. He was obviously taken aback by the fact that an Afghan-born Muslim woman could speak English.
Perhaps we need to embrace diversity a tad more. It’s an unfortunate but harsh reality that some ethnic groups feel compelled to live in their own ethnic enclaves in order to feel at home, because they don’t feel welcome elsewhere. Perhaps branching out of our comfort zones will help eliminate our lack of understanding of other cultures and faith groups.
I am all for educational programs in schools that encourage a better understanding of different cultures and ethnicities, which would improve social cohesion. With almost half of Australia’s population having at least one parent born overseas, a little more understanding could go a long way.
Mariam Veiszadeh is a Sydney lawyer.
THE POLITICIAN BRONWYN BISHOP
Sir Garfield Barwick, when foreign minister, used to speak of the strong natural ties Australia had with India – a shared legal system and wide use of English, both derived from a common colonial past, continuing membership of the Commonwealth of Nations, plus the fact we were both democracies. Yet in recent times our relations have deteriorated, most significantly because of the Rudd/Gillard government’s failure to honour the Howard government’s commitment to sell uranium to India.
We have, on the other hand, been fortunate to have many migrants from India who have become loyal Australian citizens making a great contribution to our economy and nation.
Since the time of European settlement, people have come in waves of migration. Each wave of people of similar ethnic background has tended to live in a single geographic area but as succeeding generations prosper, add to and become an integral part of the Australian nation, they move around geographically, as do the rest of us.
Australia has welcomed people from all over the world to become part of our nation and asked people to bring with them their talents and culture, which go into our melting pot, and what comes out is uniquely Australian. However, there are three elements not welcome in the melting pot – first, any belief that men and women are not equal; second, any prejudice on the basis of race; and third, any prejudice on the basis of religion.
The phrase “multicultural” seems to mean many things to many people; it upsets some and comforts others. The reality is that Australia has produced a unique culture which is made up of all who have come here and contributed to the mix.
Thus the question of the need to learn a second (or third) language is a valid one. To learn the language of our neighbours and trading partners makes eminent sense and I wholeheartedly agree with the Premier that secondary school is too late. I have long advocated learning another language early. Some pre-schoolers now have the opportunity to start learning another language.
Thus any moves to teach additional languages earlier than secondary school would have my support.
Bronwyn Bishop is the federal member for Mackellar.
THE COUNCILLOR BENN BANASIK
It is a complex question. The answer is yes, but is this a problem?
I am the son of a Scottish/Polish immigrant father and a Greek-heritage mother. The small Catholic primary school I attended formed much of who I am today. Having the surname Banasik and the look of a Greek, I was quickly labelled as ”the” ethnic child of my school.
The school lunch scene from The Wog Boy is very familiar to me. There were moments of hardship at school but that is not to be blamed on the area in which I live. Children can be cruel. I was willing to adopt everyone else’s culture and they adopted mine.
The reason why my parents chose Wollondilly to live was its closeness to Sydney, beauty, small-town atmosphere and for the people that live here. I believe my family added to this culture, as have other first-and second-generation Australians who choose Wollondilly as their home.
Wollondilly has a low proportion of first-generation Australians due to one major factor. The house prices are not suited to first home buyers and many new immigrant families cannot afford these homes until they have established themselves, saved their funds and moved further out, fulfilling the great Australian dream of owning a quarter acre block. However, this is not a problem.
Maintaining the tradition of large blocks and mainly single-story dwellings has made Wollondilly what it is today. Sydney is not a homogenous city, so the differences of areas need to be embraced, not shut down. We must take solace that Australia is only 200 years old and Sydney is still finding its feet. I’m excited to take my son to Leichhardt, Newtown, North Sydney, Parramatta and Cabramatta to experience the cultural differences our city has to offer.
I love Wollondilly; I grew up here and have chosen to raise a family here. The area is accepting of everyone who integrates and brings something to our community. The people stick together in times of emergency. Change is inevitable. But the key to successful integration, I believe, is not forcing new monocultures into areas which have a low proportion of Australians born overseas, but rather providing incentive for new Australians to bring aspects of their own culture to our outlying communities.
Cr Benn Banasik is deputy mayor of Wollondilly Shire Council, which has the lowest proportion of foreign-born residents of any Sydney local government area.
THE SOCIOLOGIST ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ
Widespread cultural deprivation haunts Sydney; locked away in inaccessible pockets, protected by barriers of hills and rivers, impoverished communities draw on ever less relevant cultural resources to survive in a globalising world, dooming their children to constrained futures and leaving them unskilled in that increasingly-important capability of inter-cultural communication and multilingualism.
Barry O’Farrell’s adventures in India and China reflect his government’s recognition that the future of NSW is inevitably intertwined with the expanding economies and escalating aspirations of Asia. Sydney’s biggest export industries are education, financial services and tourism, all of which are crying out for skills in Asian languages and the often forgotten Arabic.
Yet during the wave of antipathy to multiculturalism that swept through Australia during the Howard era, exacerbated by fear and hostility towards Muslims and people of colour, government reports show pursuit of languages other than English declined dramatically. The great push towards Asia of the 1980s and 1990s that saw children studying Bahasa Indonesia in primary classes across NSW dribbled away after the collapse of the
”Asian tigers” and the Bali bombings.
Victoria’s former premier Steve Bracks once told me Sydney was doomed to cultural ghettoisation by its geography, its appalling public transport, its hostility to immigration, and its grudging commitment to multiculturalism. Compared with Melbourne, Sydney has a higher concentration of groups in specific locations, whether long-term Australians or more recent immigrants.
Driven in part by the historical location of migrant reception camps and later refugee internment camps, the pattern of ethnic settlement tends towards clusters around a mix of “attractors”. These include transport hubs, availability of cheaper medium- and high- density accommodation, and access to heritage and own-language cultural resources.
Sydney’s history offers great examples of creativity, as well as some seriously unfortunate times of conflict. Cultural interaction generates frictions: they can and do produce light (opportunities growing from cultural interaction) and heat (the Cronulla riots). Communities can learn from the city’s history how to build what sociologists call ”bridging social capital”, that underpinning of trust between communities that forms the basis for productive diversity. Or they can choose not to learn and suffer the consequences.
Professor Andrew Jakubowicz is co-director of the cosmopolitan civil societies research centre at the UTS.
Originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald 12 November 2011