Australia: diversity and harmony

I have stopped the 2016 retro series at October, but do invite you to browse November and December in the archive. Cultural diversity and related issues of identity and “patriotism” feature in quite a few of last year’s posts – and earlier of course. For example With the Japanese bikers in the halal restaurant… (August), which includes this:

Note the Buddha in the background, by the way. These photos are from my photoblog under the tag “multicultural”. Despite what some say, we Australians have been rather good at creating a positive experience of cultural diversity. May we continue thus to grow,

Which brings me to the latest by the Revenant of Oz, now a Senator. I prefer to name her thus 1) because she is a revenant and 2) I avoid adding to the sum of her name being mentioned on the Internet. Her latest has caused a degree of mirth:

Australian Multicultural Foundation and SBS chairman Hass Dellal said One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s preoccupation with the Australian Tax Office (ATO) implementing some squat toilets in its Melbourne office reeked of “insecurity”.

ATO’s acting chief finance officer Justin Untersteiner told the Herald Sun this week that the office deployed the toilets because it was committed to “maintaining an inclusive workplace”.

Pauline Hanson asks in a Facebook video posted on Sunday: “If they don’t know how to use our toilets…then what the hell is going on?”

She then responded to a comment on that post: “It’s not just a matter of dollars Wade. It starts with toilets and ends with costing us our Australian way of life.”

Yesterday at Diggers the Revenant entered our conversation. There are varying viewpoints about her in our group. One gentleman offered the story that back in the day when the Revenant was knocking out excellent fish and chips she refused to serve Indigenous athlete Cathy Freeman. I said I would look into it, and can report it was a joke:

Cathy Freeman went into Pauline Hanson’s fish and chip shop and asked for $5 worth of chips. Pauline said ” we don’t serve Aboriginals here, but there is a shop 10 minutes up the road that does”. Cathy said “Don’t you know who I am??? I’m Cathy Freeman.”  Pauline said, “In that case its 5 minutes up the road….”

So the Revenant is not guilty on that one. However, do recall Australia Day 1998 – from a Revenant-friendly site:

Yesterday Pauline Hanson was slated by Prime Minister John Howard, ALP leader Kim Beazley, Governor-General Sir William Deane and others for stating the obvious – that political correctness had been the criteria for the selection of the Australian of the Year and Young Australian of the Year.

Ms Hanson said on 3AW Radio yesterday, “The government has been pushing us to become Asianised and I’m totally against become Asianised,” when speaking about the selection of Tan Le a 20 year old Vietnamese refugee as Young Australian of the Year.

“It’s rubbing my nose in it that we are appointing an Asian,” Pauline Hanson continued.

Ms Hanson said that an Aboriginal’s (Kathy Freeman) selection was designed to distract attention from the public debate over issues such as Wik and the so-called stolen generation.

John Howard responded by saying “They (her comments) were stupid, they were petty and they’re very divisive remarks being made on Australia day.”

Beazley called her comments “egocentric meltdown”. While Sir William Deane who some people call our Governor General, but I am not sure why, said, “I regard reconciliation as essential if we are to enter our second century as a diminished nation. And by that I mean healing the physical and spiritual wounds and divisions of the past and going forward together as friends and true equals.”

While looking back on great moments in Aussie pride I came upon this 2013 Sun-Herald story: I’m Not Racist But.

Alan Jones, 1995, when told that an Aboriginal woman was told there were no properties but the next white woman was told there were. Jones said if he was a landlord and someone of whatever colour  walked through the door looking and smelling like a skunk, with a sardine tin on one foot and a sandshoe on the other and a half-drunk bottle of beer under his arm, he would expect the agent to say “no”. In August 2000, Jones was found guilty by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal of breaching the racial vilification provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act.

Bryan Fletcher, 2005, the South Sydney player called Parramatta prop Dean Widders a “black c—“. The club demoted him, fined him $5000 and ordered him to do community work. “He [Widders] knows me very well and he was pretty shocked. It makes me feel ill, what I said,” Fletcher said.

Bruce Ruxton, May 2000, the former Victorian RSL president, wrote to Victorian MPs saying the granting of land rights to Aboriginals was wrong in the first place.

Ron Casey, 2000, 2GB radio presenter, in an exchange with The Sydney Morning Herald journalist David Marr about the disadvantaged state of Aboriginal Australians, Casey said this was “because they won’t get off their black arses and do some work”. He was dismissed by the station and retired from radio not long after.

Pauline Hanson, 2011, One Nation leader, “I’m not racist. No one can ever comment or make a comment on any racist statement I have ever said. I have … as an Australian … a right to question immigration and multiculturalism, which I don’t believe is helping our country.”

Arthur Tunstall, 1995, told a highly offensive joke involving Aboriginal athletes Cathy Freeman and Lionel Rose. It began with “I’m not racist but …”

That brought back some memories. The Revenant still maintains the position she takes in that article, by the way, as do many fellow-travellers and supporters who home in on the “islamicisation” of Australia in matters like halal certification. Latest news: Coalition MPs Cory Bernardi and George Christensen to speak at anti-Islam group dinner.

Senator Bernardi has also been talking in favour of US President-elect Donald Trump’s policies, and posted a photo of himself wearing a “Make Australia Great Again” cap while overseas on a three-moth secondment to the United Nations.

Meanwhile, Mr Christensen told Parliament he was concerned about “the rise of Islamism in this country and those who are willing to commit violence in the name of that ideology”.

“I think we should consider some tighter controls on borders such as restricting immigration from countries where there is a high prevalence of violent extremism and radicalism,” he said.

How I wish more notice had been taken by such people of things like Son of Curtis Cheng saddened to see father’s name used in defacing of immigration posters.

The son of slain police employee Curtis Cheng is still grieving his dad’s death, while having to challenge those who would use it to justify bigotry…

“RIP, Curtis Cheng was Aussie”, they read, some with a white cross spray-painted over the face and head of early migrant Monga Khan.

On others, the words “real Australians say no” and “no PC” were smeared over portraits of others who travelled from overseas to make Australia their home.

It is a confused message — an anti-immigration outburst cum tribute to a murdered immigrant.

The irony has not been lost on Alpha Cheng, the son of the man fatally shot by 15-year-old Farhad Jabar outside Sydney’s Parramatta police station in October last year.

“We came to Australia to be part of the society, my parents wanted me to get a good education,” he said of his family’s migration from Hong Kong.

“To see [my dad’s name] as sort of a symbol of trying to exclude a certain group that looks a certain way from identifying as Australian, it’s really sad.”

Alpha Cheng’s Open Letter to Pauline Hanson is a must read.

You asked why did the Lindt Cafe siege happen and why my father, Curtis Cheng, was murdered?

I do not know the answer to this question and I myself am searching for the answer, be it from the continued police investigations and from the coronial inquiry.

What I want to write about is what I do know and what I believe we need to do to create a more harmonious Australia. As you have mentioned that is your aim as well. However, I have strong concerns with your approach and stance.

My concern is the linking of this fear and anxiety to the entire Muslim population. We cannot generalise the actions of extreme individuals to encompass that of other successful and law-abiding citizens who happen to be of the same faith.

My father was murdered by a 15-year-old boy. I cannot deny the fact that the perpetrators professed to be followers of Islamic State.

However, it does not follow from these facts that Muslims should be feared…

What I do know, is that generalisations and fearful attitudes will only increase this and put more Australians at risk.

What has happened to my family does not change my relationship with Muslims in my life. One of my closest friends is a Muslim, but his friendship and his care during the toughest time in my life is the measure of him as a person and not his background faith.

As a high school teacher, I have Muslim students and I have met their parents and family. They have the same hopes and dreams of all Australians; to be successful in their lives and enjoy the freedoms we enjoy. I have not changed my hope for them to be successful member of Australian society.

This fearmongering directed at minorities is not a new phenomenon in history. Nor is it new with me personally. When I first arrived to Australia, I remember being a victim of the hateful and fearful attitudes that the One Nation Party promoted. I remember being told I will be sent back to where I came from because I was Asian and, therefore, not Australian. I remember feeling ostracised and isolated from the country and identity with which I had adopted – in harmony with my cultural heritage.

I do not want the same to happen for the new “scapegoats” in this extreme and simplistic view of society. I refuse to let dad’s tragic death and the fearful attitudes that are growing to lessen my belief that we are a successful multi-cultural and multi-faith society. We need to look how we can heal and build; not how we can divide and exclude. My dad was a gentle and peaceful man; his name should not be used to promote fear and exclusion.

And here is a snapshot of Sydney, using just one measure of diversity:

Nearly 40 per cent of Sydneysiders speak a non-English language at home. More than 250 languages are spoken in Sydney.

Arabic, which dominates the western suburbs, is the most widely spoken non-English language. Mandarin and Cantonese, found predominately in the north shore, are the next most common languages.

Screenshot - 3_01_2017 , 8_12_37 AM

Last night on ABC was another lesson for us all: Jennifer Hewitt’s visit to the Western Australian town of Katanning. The area’s official website has this to say:

Katanning is a true multicultural community, the most ethnically diverse regional centre in Western Australia and possibly Australia. Featuring some 50 language groups, we are proud to say that ours is a harmonious community, embracing the different cultural and religious backgrounds of our townsfolk.

One of the contributors to this cohesive sense of community spirit is that we as a town recognise ethnic diversity as an economic driver. Apart from providing a strong dedicated workforce to support staffing requirements of industry, new residents are setting up businesses that reflect their cultural heritage. These businesses are thriving, such as the halal butcher who services the region and beyond.

With big business including the sheep sale yards, the grain handling facility, the abattoir and the meat processing facility offering stable employment opportunities, unemployment is low in the town, and this is reflected in our very low crime rate.

Community events form the backbone of Katanning’s social calendar. One of the most important community events on our social calendar is the Harmony Day Festival, where everyone comes together to learn more about the various cultures in our town – the food, entertainment, historical stories, and shared experiences.


There are more than 20 community sponsored flags representing diversity in Katanning Lions Park, Western Australia.

The Back Roads episode particularly focussed on one Alep Mydie, seen here in front of the mosque of which he is Imam.


During the AFL season he is likely to be seen donning the navy and gold of his beloved West Coast Eagles as he leads the service at the local mosque.

“Even my grandchildren have been baptised to be Eagles or Dockers supporters,” Mr Mydie said…

Mr Mydie’s all-embracing view of the AFL mirrors his approach to life more broadly; that religion should not be everything — involvement in the wider community and other activities is important too.

It is a philosophy he lives and breathes. As well as being the local Imam, Mr Mydie is a councillor with the local shire, and runs a busy coffee shop.

In between keeping up with the latest Game of Thrones episodes, that is…

Family was part of the first wave of migrants

Mr Mydie, who is of Malay origin, has been a key part of Katanning life since he moved to the sheep and wheat farming area three-hours south-east of Perth 42 years ago.

He was just 13 when his parents packed up their life on Christmas Island to move to Western Australia, where the local abattoir needed halal slaughtermen.

“We were in the second group of families [which] packed up and in 1974 we moved here to Katanning and here we are,” Mr Mydie said.

He said he quickly learned to adapt — and thrive — in the small town where he looked and sounded different to everyone.

“When we first arrived, people wondered ‘where did these people come from’,” he said.

“We were called ‘chocca boys’, or ‘samboy’, because of our dark skin.

“Gradually we learned the lingo, we learned the language. We never shied away from anything, and we learned along the way.

“We tripped and fell and then we learned, and in the end, at the end of the day, we know who we are.”

Katanning has had huge success as a cultural melting pot with migrants from 42 different nationalities living in the town of 3,800 with one in 10 are Muslim…

Fears around anti-Islamic sentiment

One of the most significant things the growing Malay Muslim population of Katanning did was building a mosque.

The light orange brick building, adorned with silver minarets, opened in 1980 after years of collecting small donations.

“I was a young boy and my grandfather and my other elders sat down together and asked how can we go forward to build a mosque,” he said.

“Looking back to see and to hear how hard it is to build a mosque 30, 40 years [on], how grateful we are.”

Mr Mydie worries about uncertainty created by the global wave of anti-Islamic sentiment.

“Throughout life, you build something of tolerance in life and then it [gets] knocked a bit…. That’s worrying me a lot,” he said.

“Katanning is really, really special. It’s like a magical place, where people accept you. We know how lucky we are.”

The mosque has long been a part of the Katanning community, and regularly sponsors different sports teams in town, like cricket, soccer, basketball and netball…

That’s the Australia I love. May it prevail!