On Monday night Michael Xu and I had a long exchange of views on the subject of refugees, why they exist and in such numbers, and where and why they became refugees, what might be done about the problem and so on. Obviously this is such deep water that one FB comment thread is highly unlikely to come up with answers — but can point to further thought. So I won’t rehearse all that was said. Michael was tending to deplore the “moral superiority complex” of the West, and pointed to issues related to the history of colonialism and capitalism — all obviously relevant matters. I was trying to present perhaps a less starkly black-and-white set of views.
For example, this is part of one of my comments: “I think we will agree that refugees/displaced people is a world problem far too big to settle in comments like these. Many causes — war, economic situations. political situations, natural disaster, climate change…. Australia used to be more generous. Feeling morally superior or not is not really the problem. But no country can take everybody, just not possible given the enormous numbers.” And I cited a couple of videos — first a very basic one of definition by UNHCR:
I also posted this statistical one, with the reservation that we really needed to look at those totals as a percentage of the populations of each country. But the countries, as you probably know already, that actually receive the greatest number are not those who really could and should do more — such as Australia,
Well, to cut a long comment thread short — we did not solve the world’s problems in one FB discussion! But I began to think of local stories. ” Not for a moment suggesting that this 78-year-old in Wollongong is at all special or knows very much, but I do try (for my own sake as much as anything else) to find those who are saying and/or doing something positive and listen to them.” And: “My neighbours here at the moment include a Syrian refugee, and a young Sudanese whose parents probably were, perhaps him too. I haven’t talked to him about it yet, but the Syrian lady I have had long talks with.”
Her room is just three up from mine. She has been here for about a year but we hardly spoke until recently, when she wished me a Merry Christmas:
My Muslim neighbour kindly wished me “Merry Christmas” last week, not inappropriately given my “real” Christmas was in Surry Hills last Friday. This morning the lovely folk at the Yum Yum Cafe gave me this. So Christmas, eh! And not too hot here in The Gong this year…
We spoke again at some length a few days ago. It turns out she is from Syria and spoke no English when she arrived in Australia less than two years ago…
That post also tells of other people from similar backgrounds in Wollongong.
In that post also:
Yesterday at Diggers a somewhat cantankerous friend got on one of his hobby-horses – well, more like three: people who won’t work and live on welfare, refugees who go straight onto welfare and/or steal our jobs, Muslims with heaps of wives on welfare etc… You know, standard talkback radio and Daily Telegraph-fed stuff. And some of it just lately emanating from or magnified by (not really ex-) former/in waiting Prime Minister Tony Abbott, I see in today’s news.
Yesterday I fought back a bit, just on the “and how many really do that?” line leading towards the possibility that the majority in whatever group one is hating for the moment probably don’t do whatever it is – like have lots of wives. Pointed also to one of our best-known local pharmacists whose shop is much frequented by mothers in hijabs, Said pharmacist is of Lebanese background. Happened my adversary was a customer and admirer of that pharmacy. Some half hour later my adversary shook my hand and said “I was wrong. You were right.” Nice when that happens.
It was not until 1975 after a chance meeting with a very modest gentleman named Bronius (Bob) Sredersas. Bob wanted to donate his collection to the “Children of Wollongong”. This momentous gift was the catalyst on which the Art Gallery was built (Sredersas Gallery). The Illawarra County Council donated the property formally known as the Hughes Whetton Reilly Building (now Wollongong Youth Centre), including the land upon which it stood to Council on the proviso that the property be used for an Art Gallery. Through the persistence and hard work of the society, volunteers and donors, and with the assistance of Council and Government funding bodies, a Director and Board of Trustee was appointed and on the 2 June 1978 Wollongong City Gallery was officially opened by Mr Neville Wran, Premier of NSW at 85 Burelli Street, Wollongong attended by over 500 people. The first exhibition was titled Burghers of Calais, with works borrowed for the National Gallery and Art Gallery of NSW.
I then recalled something from just last year. “Illawarra Grammar alumnus Ian Steven Muhayimana was awarded Wollongong’s Young Citizen of the Year 2020. Ian is a musican, producer, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who performs under the name Stevan.”
ABC Illawarra ran a story on him in July 2020.
From Malawi to Wollongong to the world!
19 -year old multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter Stevan has been getting played on triple j for a couple of years now, and is starting to make waves on NME and the BBC. He has finally released his long-awaited debut mixtape Just Kids, and he’s from Wollongong! Well, kind of.
Born in Malawi to parents from Burundi, Stevan arrived here when he was 3, went to school at TIGS, and is making music right here in his home studio that is getting talked about all around the world.
Here is one of his 2020 tracks, with a great video featuring some of our Illawarra bush and scenery too. I see he has resumed posting songs in the last week or so.
My mind goes back to an assignment I had for the South Sydney Herald: Launch of Refugee African Muslim Youth Project Book – 16 Jul 2010, Alexandria NSW.
On Wednesday this week Indigenous presenter Tony Armstrong did an excellent piece on Peter Bol on ABC News Breakfast’s coverage of the Olympic Games — it is very relevant to issues raised in this post and also in the FB discussion which triggered this post! That video does not appear to be useable, so I am substituting this July interview:
Bol’s story is compelling – even beyond his journey from Sudan to Australia. As a teenager, he attended St Norbert College, a prestigious private school in Perth, on a basketball scholarship. Each year he was required to participate in school athletics. He kept winning races but, despite the urgings of his teachers, had no interest in swapping sports.
Eventually, when Bol was in year 11, a teacher promised to help find him a coach, a club and a mentor if he gave athletics a shot. He agreed. “That single decision to say yes has meant I’ve travelled the whole world,” he said. Within five years, Bol was competing on the grandest stage. In Rio and now Tokyo, Bol has represented his adopted homeland.
“I love my identity and my background,” Bol said last year. “My mum is Sudanese, my dad is South Sudanese. I take a lot of pride in both of those. But I’m also as equally thankful to be here.” Bol has spoken about the positives of increased awareness about race and racism, and of his support for the conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement.
At the time of writing this (and revising it!) the outcome of the 800m Final was unknown. By the time you read it chances are you will have heard all about him!
So 10.15 and I saw the race. Great effort. Just missed a medal.
NOTE: I think this post will do you for two days at least, so there will be a short hiatus here.
Memory Lane has been in overdrive!
Back Row L-R: Terry Naughton, “Pip” Dryden, Clive Kessler.
Front Row L-R: Grahame Delaney, R W “Rockjaw” Smith (coach and English teacher), Alfie van der Poorten.
Extraordinarily ancient relic! And that is just me!
That is a more or less deliberately antiqued photo of the First Grade Debating Team at Sydney Boys High in 1959. I was not in the team, but some very impressive classmates were. One featured in my blog post of 16 May and another features in today’s.
Pip Dryden arrived from Shanghai — yes, Shanghai — and joined us late in the piece. Sadly he passed away at 19 from cancer. Terry Naughton became a QC and a Judge. Clive Kessler was the subject of Sunday’s blog post and is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UNSW. Grahame Delaney sadly died young, I believe.
Alfie van der Poorten passed away in 2010. He was a famous mathematician. It is worth looking at his Wikipedia biography.
His childhood before Sydney High was very different from mine in quiet old Auburn and Vermont Streets in Sutherland!
Van der Poorten was born into a Jewish family in Amsterdam in 1942, after the German occupation began. His parents, David and Marianne van der Poorten, gave him into foster care with the Teerink family in Amersfoort, under the name ‘Fritsje’; the senior van der Poortens went into hiding, were caught by the Nazis, survived the concentration camps, and were reunited with van der Poorten and his two sisters after the war. The family moved to Sydney in 1951, travelling there aboard the SS Himalaya.
Van der Poorten studied at Sydney Boys High School from 1955–59, and earned a high score in the Leaving Certificate Examination there. He spent a year in Israel and then studied mathematics at the University of New South Wales, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1965, a doctorate in 1968 under the joint supervision of George Szekeres and Kurt Mahler, and a Master of Business Administration. While a student at UNSW, he led the student union council and was president of the University Union, as well as helping to lead several Jewish and Zionist student organisations. He also helped to manage the university’s cooperative bookstore, where he met and in 1972 married another bookstore manager, Joy FitzRoy….
Another of my childhood companions because of whom I have been historically sympathetic towards Israel, much as I despise Israel’s current government — if indeed they still have one? — but also have no time at all for Holocaust denial or any conspiracy theory that invokes Jews.
I think of two others: Herbert Huppert, Professor of Theoretical Geophysics and Foundation Director, Institute of Theoretical Geophysics, at the University of Cambridge, since 1989 and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, since 1970. And Peter Deli.
Back in the late 50s the Head of Science was in fact an elderly chap much stained by tobacco whom we dubbed “Dodo” – as in the extinct bird.
Tracking Lenny Basser (a legendary Science teacher and Athletics coach who taught Lord May of Oxford among others) led me to a former classmate, in Science at one point but more memorably in the weird Mr Levy’s French class. I had wondered what became of this lad who had come to us from Cranbrook – a decided disadvantage – little realising that he was a leading geophysicist these days!
I have found a fascinating interview with him telling me much that I had little insight into at the time. Since this is already out there, I hope Professor Huppert won’t mind my sharing.
Born in Sydney, Australia, 1943; my maternal grandfather was a shamus in a Viennese synagogue; both he and his wife were very religious; I got to know them when they came out to Australia in about 1947-8; the remarkable thing about my paternal grandparents is that I knew nothing about them; my sister and I both assumed that they perished in the Holocaust although we had not been told; my father died when I was thirteen; about seven or eight years ago my sister did some extensive research in the Viennese archives and found that both had died natural deaths in hospital in 1935 and 1937; my father rarely talked about his time in Vienna and neither did my mother; she would talk about St Stephen’s dome in Vienna and the giant wheel nearby; when I was eight I bought her a book on Vienna for her birthday with both illustrated on the cover; she was clearly upset by it and I never saw the book again; many years after when both were dead (my mother died when I was twenty-two) I heard that a few months before they left Vienna my father was told to queue up to get a visa to leave; the night before he was warned that the queue was to be bombed by Nazis; he decided not to join the queue and it was bombed; two weeks later he did get an exit visa; they left in 1938 and arrived in Australia on 26th January 1939…
…I first went to a Jewish kindergarten which I remember with both pleasure and terror; on one occasion the headmaster threatened to put me into a duplicating machine as I had been so naughty and that terrified me; generally I enjoyed the school and had lots of friends; I then went to an “institution” which my mother chose, which cost about £300 a term; it would have been better if my father had paid the money to charity and sent me to a state school; I hated this institution, Cranbrook, with a passion; I have recently come across two people who went there some ten years after me who thought it was wonderful; one is Richard Hunter who is Professor of Classics here and the other is the new Director of the Fitzwilliam…
Cranbrook was everything that I hated; I went there when I was just six; clear that I could add and on that basis put me up a class without ascertaining whether I knew anything else; I found myself a year and a half younger than everyone else and I was nowhere near mature enough; that had a bad influence on me; later it became better because when I went to a proper school I could run well, but Cranbrook was a terrible institution; I left when I had just reached twelve; I passed the exam to Sydney High and my mother gave me the choice of going there or staying at Cranbrook; if I had stayed in Cranbrook five more years I would not be here today; they taught badly; they hired a chemistry teacher who was a Nazi who told us how wonderful it had been flying over England and bombing it, and also about the problem of German Jews; it was just unbelievable; there was bullying, but don’t know whether it was anti-Semitic or just of younger people; we were forced to have a shower after P.T. after which we had to dress outside; there was a female music teacher who was constantly looking out at us; there were many things like that
21:33:13 Sydney High was much better and I can’t remember a day of unhappiness there; it was a fabulous school and has produced some brilliant people, including Bob May, President of the Royal Society, and John Cornforth, Nobel Laureate in chemistry; we had an inspiring chemistry teacher, Leonard Basser; he was also the athletics coach and I ran for the school, something what was inconceivable at Cranbrook…
Peter Francis Nicholas Deli was born on 26 March 1942 in Wellington, New Zealand. His parents, Lewis and Lily, were both Hungarian refugees who had fled Europe just before the beginning of the War. His father, an architect by training, had been a violinist in the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. His mother, who was Jewish, had tried to emigrate to Britain and Australia before settling for New Zealand. They met in New Zealand and married in 1941. After the War the Deli family moved to Sydney, Australia and settled in the Eastern Suburbs at Bondi. Sydney had a much larger population of East European migrs than the whole of New Zealand and the Delis were soon absorbed into the Hungarian community’s protective embrace. Peter’s early school years at Double Bay Primary School were far from typical of the elementary educational experience of most Australian children at the time. The extraordinary mix of nationalities and class backgrounds in the school must have had a profound effect on his early development. In 1955 he won a place to the prestigious Sydney Boys’ High School, one of the best secondary schools in New South Wales. Peter excelled in his studies during these years and matriculated with honours to the University of Sydney in 1960. During his undergraduate years he read History and Philosophy, graduating Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in History in 1964….
After a very interesting career, including being in Paris in 1968, Peter succumbed to leukemia and died at home in Hong Kong on 12 February 2001.
The point made there about the cosmopolitan mix at Double Bay and SBHS at the time certainly struck me when I “migrated” from Sutherland (with Ross Mackay, Arno Eglitis, Robert Burnie and Laurence Napier) to SBHS in 1955. On the other hand, much to the surprise of one of my coachees who is now at SBHS, of 206 of us starting out in 1955 only one was Chinese (ABC) and one was Indian – Ashok Hegde, who became a close friend until he went to London in 1958. Ashok’s father was in 1958 the Assistant Indian Trade Commissioner in Sydney, if I recall correctly – but thus not a permanent resident in Australia.
Such are few of the experiences of my schoolboy self that took this Shire lad into worlds previously unknown to him, and which shape his reaction to such things as politics and the events in the Middle East to this day!
More relevant to yesterday’s post, it was the consideration of such friends as those named in this post and what the theology that prevailed in the mid 1960s at Sutherland Presbyterian Church about “election” — God’s inscrutable thing of saving some and not others for reasons we poor mortals could not hope to understand — logically had in store for them gave me the uncomfortable feeling that God was some sort of petulant idiot!
Robbie Burns in “Holy Willie’s Prayer” offers a parody of that doctrine of election which, however, is not all that wide of the mark:
O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell, As it pleases best Thysel’, Sends ane to Heaven an’ ten to Hell, For Thy glory, And no for onie guid or ill They’ve done afore Thee!
There was more to it of course, but such a thought eventually became too much even tacitly to assent to. From there over time it became clear that some of the fundamentals were really off — this took a long time.
First, the idea that there is a systematic theology recoverable from the many and varied texts of the Bible became less and less viable.
Second, the idea that the Bible, wonderful as much in it is, was in any literal sense the word of God rather than the product of centuries of human beings thinking about God also seemed less and less likely — and hence the pointlessness of the first exercise. Which is not to say that the Bible is not worth reading; it certainly is, but not as I had conceived it.
Finally — well not quite! — the idea that God ever has had or is likely to have had a Chosen People is actually ridiculous, and possibly even blasphemous as it smacks of the Supreme Being picking favourites — hardly a moral position worthy of the All Knowing.
Back in 2012 I posted Searchings — 1, one of quite a few such posts in my blogs over the past 10-15 years:-
There really have been so many things I have seen or read in the past few days that deserve to be shared, that have provoked more reflection than I can possibly capture in one blog post or even two. But to begin.
That’s how I ask the question, but professional theologians use the term theodicy. It comes from two Greek words: theo, which means “God,” and dike, which means “justice.” Theodicy asks, “If God is good and just, then why is there so much evil in the world?” There are many answers to this question. Some claim that God causes evil. In which case, my question becomes relevant – Is God a Cosmic Jerk?
Let’s first examine the word “evil.” Theologian Joe Jones succinctly defines evil in his book A Grammar of Christian Faith “as the harm to some creature’s good” (280). Jones distinguishes between two categories of evil that harms a creatures good. First, there is moral evil – the harm humans inflict upon one another through violence, injustice, and oppression. The second category is natural evil – the harm caused by cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural events…
The older I get the more unsatisfactory the theologians seem to me, and the more “fundamentalist” they are, even less satisfactory are they then likely to be – unless you are better at believing a thousand impossible things before breakfast, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, than I am these days.
“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Unfortunately the impression one is left with after much fundamentalist apologetics/theology is that God indeed could very well be a Cosmic Jerk!
This especially plagues the bibliolatrists who constitute the more conservative wings of Judaism and Christianity and, alas, far too much of Islam. The unfortunate tradition of Divine Mouthpieces and Pens is as much a curse as a blessing, indeed I suspect more a curse than a blessing. Infallibility and certainty are among the most dangerous and foolish of human constructs.
For insulting the Quran, “’Thousands of people dragged a Pakistani man … from a police station … (and) beat him to death,’ police said Wednesday.”
Is it even possible to insult a book?
Has it a soul within its leaves a heart that beats an eye that winks a cord running through its spine descending from a thing that thinks?
Is a book of inky lines (of characters not themselves sublime) capable of being hurt or ridiculed or cheapened by critiques either of the wise, or fools?
Has it veins between its covers salty with the blood of lovers?
Is there something in its pages (even if put there by sages) that warrants death to critics?
Is it a thing so lame that priestly brothers (arrogant, imperious, parasitic) who worship sheaves of ink on paper must, for its sake, snuff the holy breath of others?
by Jim Culleny
Go and read the comments that follow it. An excellent series, those daily poems from Three Quarks Daily. Jim is the editor of this feature and most wide-ranging in his selection and very knowledgeable. Even Aussie poets score there at times.
Such a fascinating character, this Mei Quong Tart. There is even a public statue of him in the Sydney suburb of Ashfield.
And a rather special Uniting Church home for the elderly, located in what was his mansion in Ashfield:
And when Quong Tart died in 1903:
That is from a memorabilia page from the Ashfield and District Historical Society. Given that in 1903 the Yellow Peril fever was at its height, this is remarkable. The following short history is fair enough for a 5-minute go, even if it is rather silly to use the Peoples Republic flag to represent the China of 1901! The speaker sounds Indian to me… Not that this necessarily matters….
You can research that one for yourself easily enough. Now to Quong Tart. There are some good video resources on him specifically, including this one showing his encouragement of the suffragettes through his tea rooms in Sydney.”2016 Diploma student Catherine Turner interviews City of Sydney Historian, Dr Lisa Murray, about the Loong Shan Tea Rooms at 137 King St, Sydney.”
And an overall look at his life:
On the subject of Chinese in Australia today, do watch this:
On recent difficulties Chinese Australians are experiencing:
Many factors are at play, but among them must be the toxic rhetoric in recent years of one Donald J Trump. As plays out too in the USA:
Amazing how nominalisation can convert a word into a scary monster. I suspect the -ism makes multicultural much scarier than it was before, just as adding an -ism to a rather positive word, cosmopolitan, would cause anxiety too. Try on cosmopolitanism for size!
My view is that what has evolved here, which I shamelessly and fondly think of as inclusive multiculturalism, is actually quite a conservative and pragmatic affair, hardly a monster at all. In fact purist multiculturalismists often criticise it as window dressing, as a cunning way to manage migrants. There’s some truth in that, and I say — what a good thing! In some ways inclusive multiculturalism has been quite utilitarian, aiming for the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
So too another word that favours -ion rather than -ism, though I suppose you could have assimilationism. Oh dear, I see we already have!
as·simi·la·tion·ism (-iz′əm) noun: the policy of completely absorbing minority cultural groups into the main cultural body, esp. by intermarriage
To observant Jews assimilationism has long been a very scary monster. Only by consciously resisting full assimilation were diaspora Jews able to preserve their culture.
There can be no doubt that once we in Australia embarked post-1945 on mass immigration assimilationism was the favoured method for achieving the dream of cultural homogeneity. Only there was a problem. When it did work it wasn’t entirely a good thing. Losses occurred. In many cases it just didn’t work. Some wogs just wouldn’t give up aspects of themselves and of their cultures which they saw not only as keys to their self-respect but also superior to what Australia offered them. Often they were right, and educated the rest of us accordingly, thus improving their adopted country.
On loss, consider William Yang. William I know and have even been photographed by. He’s also the same age I am, and I can’t blame his parents for their decision to make sure William Young, as he once was, growing up in rural Queensland was as assimilated as possible. The result may have been thirty years of anguish for William, but that wasn’t the intention. After all, when William and I were growing up people like William were still being deported.
Those extracts are from a talk William Yang gave in the early 1990s. M and I were in the audience. I subsequently published it in my book From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt (Longmans 1995).
Here is how William achieved personal integration, undoing the impact of assimilation.
Is he any less Australian now that he has embraced his forgotten culture? Of course not. Inclusive multiculturalism facilitated and justified his journey.
…There’s no way ultimately to resolve conflicts over values, but that doesn’t mean that anything goes. There are ways of arguing about values, and some ways and some values are more defensible than others. Some, indeed, are indefensible, as I will seek to show. Others, mine as it happens, are solid as rocks. Or so I want to believe. If I were a philosopher, I would simply rely on the power of my argument to convince you to share my values. But I’m not, so I will say something about their sources and character to try to convey why I find them attractive and why they matter so to me. Of course, I would not be disappointed if you found them attractive as well. I’m an Australian. I was born, brought up and educated here. I have spent the bulk of my life here. I watch cricket for days without being bored. I expect Christmas to be hot. These facts are central to my make-up. Were they otherwise, so would I be. And yet they’re not the only pieces that make me up. For, like so many Australians, I’m the lucky beneficiary of other people’s tragedies, most immediately those of my parents. That, too, is relevant to who I am and what I think about.
My parents arrived here during the Second World War, Polish-Jewish refugees from Nazism. Their lives, families, friendships and country were ripped apart. Both my mother’s parents and her brother were murdered by the Nazis; other relatives spent years fighting or being imprisoned by them, and what was left of the family was dispersed. My parents left Poland from necessity, arrived in Australia by accident, and stayed because, after the Communist take-over of Poland, they couldn’t go home. They came to love this country and to participate actively in its affairs, but that was later. I mention these far from exceptional facts not to claim some exotic authority for my views, nor – in accordance with a budding Australian tradition – to launch a prizewinning novel but because they inform the way I think about things, what I think about and – above all – what I think matters. Combined with my birthplace, they have made me what I am: a congenital cultural hybrid, a hybrid from birth. If you prefer, a mongrel. My parents were already hybrids in Poland, since they were culturally both Polish and Jewish. So, their lives were already complicated. They became Australian hybrids differently, however, over time. What they came to learn and expect, and grew to be, in Australia interacted with their already formed personalities and cultural identities. Their hybrid condition was acquired, as is that of most, if not all adult migrants: they become different from what they once were while remaining different from those among whom they now are. Since over 20 per cent of Australians were born overseas, and 40 per cent were either so born or their parents were, there are a lot of us about.
There is also a third sort of hybrid, and I’m one of them too. I study the societies of post-communist Europe, and their fate matters a lot to me. So I’m also a vocational hybrid: coming from one world, and preoccupied with another. That also has consequences. When I’m there I think of here; when here, of there. That makes comparisons ever-present and unavoidable. All hybrids are affected, some afflicted, by overlapping cultural residues within them. They often discover to their surprise, rather than as a matter of deliberate choice, aspects of their personality – their sense of identity, belonging, sometimes longing – which define them and have moulded them, whether they like it or not…
Hybridism rather than assimilation. This is what so often happened, often for the better as far as the whole country was concerned.
Australian poet Peter Skrzynecki writes about his experiences teaching in NSW, his migrant upbringing in suburban Sydney and his attempts to assimilate, ‘fit in’ and overcome the challenges of a new life in a new land.
Of Polish Ukrainian descent, Peter was born in Germany in 1945. Escaping a world in turmoil, his family emigrated to Australia in 1949. Peter’s earliest memories of this time is the month long sea journey to Sydney on the “General Blatchford” and his time living in a migrant camp in Bathurst before moving on to the Parkes Migrant Centre. To Peter this camp was his first Australian home.
The family later moved to 10 Mary Street in the working class suburb of Regents Park in Sydney It was their castle. Peter’s father, Feliks, of whom he often writes, worked long as a labourer for the Water Board, while his mother, Kornelia spent her days working as a domestic for families in Strathfield. They grew their own vegetables and had a magnificent flower garden. Within four years number 10 Mary Street had been paid off. While his parents worked, Peter attended the local Catholic primary school and later St Patrick’s College Strathfield. Thanks to an English teacher, Brian Couch, Peter’s love of literature was fostered and his writing flourished…
His first book, There, Behind the Lids was published in 1970 followed by Headwaters in 1972 and Immigrant Chronicle in 1975. In the first two Peter wrote mainly of his experiences teaching in the country, reflecting on the natural world, the people, flora and fauna. In the third Peter wrote about his European background, his experiences as a migrant in Australia, the problems associated with being an exile, with his parents’ dispossession and the difficulties, such as racism, bigotry and resettlement, encountered by them and other immigrants in trying to assimilate to a new life in a new land.
His anthology Joseph’s coat (1985) identifies the themes and issues of Australia’s multicultural society.
Often his work is about understanding and counting the cost of assimilation.
You may find here an essay I wrote on his work. It also brings together some of the thoughts we have had so far in this series.
— And another thing: lunch at Illawarra Steelers Australia Day 2011 — Meal: $6.95 White wine: $2.30.
Dear me, a dilemma! So many posts, the 2010s retro series finished on 24 June, and my home WiFi enabled more posting! So I will select two now, and two more next time. Do visit the June 2020 archive. There is lots of music!
I posted just now on Facebook, and augment that post with some relevant videos.
You may recall Wollongong Library posted me a copy of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu not long ago. It happens to be a large print edition, but even more significant is that it is the 2nd Edition (2018) which does include some new material.
I am not going to write a lengthy review, simply because I am not qualified to do so. There are so many out there already, many favourable, some sceptical, and the book has generated more than its fair share of hostility, most of it from the usual suspects from Bolt to “Quadrant”.
I am definitely not on the side of the usual suspects. I find it a refreshing, exciting addition to our knowledge of Australian history, even if perhaps at some points over-excited. I do strongly recommend it.
I should also add that debate about Bruce Pascoe’s ancestry or ethnicity is totally irrelevant.
As he says at the end of Chapter 2: “You can read other theories of Aboriginal culture, spirituality and economy in New Age texts, or the books of over-enthusiastic researchers, but often they make guesses to bridge the gaps in knowledge. Too often, they ascribe all sorts of mystical wisdom to their subjects, but their earnest romanticism is unnecessary, as the observations of the first explorers and settlers provides an enormous body of material. In this book, I am drawing on only a small sample of what is available to any Australian with a computer mouse or a library card. The reason I have provided so many examples, however, is to emphasise the depth of the available material and the desperate need for a revision of our history.”
But all this attacking and leaping and defending doesn’t do much to resolve the issues. And there are issues. Dark Emu rests on a foundational truth: that the European explorers saw things (and, from within their own worldview, wrote them down) that the first settlers (and the institutions that supported them) didn’t want known (because they were busy expanding the colonial frontier, which necessarily meant acting illegally), and that subsequent settlers couldn’t see (because those things were no longer in evidence). Had Dark Emu merely made this point by quoting explorers’ journals, the right’s attack would have no force.
But throughout Dark Emu, Pascoe regularly exaggerates and embellishes. One example: he quotes Thomas Mitchell’s description of large, circular, chimneyed huts Mitchell observed near Mount Arapiles, in western Victoria, on July 26, 1836, but leaves out the words “which were of a very different construction from those of the aborigines in general”. Pascoe adds his own commentary: Mitchell “recorded his astonishment at the size of the villages”; he “counts the houses, and estimates a population of over one thousand”; and “the evidence is everywhere that they have used the place for a very long time”. But in his own journal, Mitchell doesn’t express astonishment, he doesn’t count and he doesn’t estimate a population size. Nor does he present any evidence that would support a conclusion about longevity of residence. Granville Stapylton, Mitchell’s second-in-command, recorded seeing one hut “capable of containing at least 40 persons and of very superior construction” on July 26. Pascoe includes this, but not the rest of Stapylton’s sentence: “and appearantly the work of A White Man it is A known fact that A runaway Convict has been for years amongst these tribes.” That could be a reference to the well-known escapee William Buckley (who was found by John Batman the previous July), or it could be a racist myth. The point is that Pascoe simply left it out.
By themselves, examples like these split hairs. But they’re all the way through Dark Emu….My observations here will no doubt be seized upon with glee by Bolt, O’Brien and co as further proof of their accusations against Pascoe. It may even be seized upon by those instinctively defending Pascoe’s reputation as evidence that I’ve gone to the dark side. None of these reactions would be helpful, though they would reflect the way we conduct public debate now…. Social media generates and supports echo chambers, and so has dramatically accelerated the process of value-based identity formation attempted in earlier times by various groups and collectives on all sides of politics. Instead of persuasion and deliberation – core democratic values – the pursuit of righteous ideological rigidity favours shamings, takedowns and outright abuse….
Do read that whole essay. It too discounts the attacks on Pascoe’s ethnicity and goes on: “For all its problems, Dark Emu is not merely weathering the attacks. It charged back up the nonfiction bestsellers’ list and has occupied the number 3 spot for the past fortnight.”
I am glad of that. And here is the man himself.
I add this one because it lightens the mood, but ends on a serious point about the study of Australian history today.
“A great resource for all students and teachers…” — Frances M., English Teachers Association Bulletin Board, Mar 25, 2005. (NOTE: corrected link, but if you go there you will find the site referred to by its pre-retirement name and on its old Tripod.com address! The particular page that so impressed Frances M is now here.)
Of the first one I posted I said: “I just reread this for the first time in years, and aside from fond memories of Sydney High and Bob Li — he is second from the right in this photo from 20 years ago — it cheers me up to recall that I may after all have done some good through my teaching career!”
Here is that post:
Multiculturalism — Bob’s story
In senior years students used to come voluntarily to the ESL staff if they felt their English may be costing them marks. Let one of 2000’s Year 12 students speak for himself on this, but it should be added that all his teachers assisted him achieve his goal–to study Medicine at the University of New South Wales:
Wish you all the best for Christmas and the New Year (and later the Chinese New Year). Hope you have a great holiday!
Thank you tons for teaching me 2 years of English, which enabled me to achieve the top 10% of the state: something I thought unrealistic before.
I still have all these 12/20 and 13/20 poetry essays from early year 11 in my folder… and also the 15/20 ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘Richard III’ essays from the yr11 yearly exam. I still keep the 16/20, 17/20 ‘Empire of the Sun’, ‘Robert Gray’ essays from yr12 assessments, and also the 19/20 ‘Satire’ essay from the trial HSC. And of course, the ESL practice essays which scored 18/20 and 19/20 marked by you over the internet. And now, the record of achievement which says 91-100% percentile band in English.
It was indeed a solid progress, and I thank you again for teaching me, Sir!
The ex-student whose letter of thanks I just quoted is Bob Li (2000). In his email giving permission to quote him he said:
Of course you can quote me in the High Notes! I hope more and more students come to ESL and benefit from it just as I did. English is a headache for so many students from non-English speaking backgrounds. Continuous practice from year 7 is a great way to minimise (or even eliminate) the tremendous difficulty they are likely to experience in the HSC.
It is worth quoting the autobiographical piece Bob wrote as part of an ESL test at the beginning of Year 11 1999:
I’ve only been to Australia for six years, but my personal opinion about Australia has changed quite dramatically.
I still remember how I wanted to go back to China when I first came. I felt that everything had changed. Life here in Australia is so different. The streets are so quiet I could hardly see anybody. I’ve always liked to live in a crowded city like Shanghai, where I could see people everywhere doing all sorts of activities. Language is probably the biggest problem that I have faced. I couldn’t understand anything in English. School was disastrous, as I was always sitting in the corner waiting for the bell. I remember I always got scared when people talked to me. I felt very lonely in this totally unknown world.
My thought of going back to China started to calm as years went by. I started getting fluent in English, made a lot of friends here. I started to like Australia. Today I love Australia. I want to stay in Australia forever. I’m very used to the life here and I love it.
My first goal for the future is to get an excellent result in the HSC. Hopefully I could get into Dentistry or Medicine and have success in my future. I think I will have my future life in Australia, and I wouldn’t get used to life in China.
In another email Bob had this to say:
Just to share something with you. I’ve been practicing Wing Chun Kung Fu in Melbourne in the last month, and I founded it very very beneficial. It not only helps my self-defence and fitness, but also increases my physical and mental awareness, reflexes and confidence. Kung Fu is really a beautiful art, practicing it transcends to a higher mental and physical level.
Just in case if you haven’t heard of Wing Chun, it’s a style of Kung Fu derived from the Southern Shaolin Temple. Usually it takes 15 to 20 years to develop an efficient martial artist in Shaolin, which was a rather long time. So some 250 years ago, the 5 grandmasters discussed their techniques, by choosing the most efficient techniques from each style, they formulated the new training program which takes only 5 to 7 years to develop a Kung Fu master. It was named “Wing Chun” and represented “hope for the future”.
Here’s the Philosophy of Wing Chun that I’d like to share with you.
One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable;
One who excels in fighting is never aroused in anger;
One who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issues;
One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them.
This is the virtue of non-contention and matching the sublimity of heaven. “The practitioner should meditate on these principles and make peace through the study of Kung Fu – a way of life.”
I found it very rewarding, so I think I’ll continue to train… hope uni work doesn’t prevent me from doing it.
I have seen such a slogan from time to time. Bob is a good example of healthy pride. As the last letter shows, he is finding much to learn from his Chinese background. At the same time, he is as comfortable as can be with other aspects of Australian society. In him the problem of identity seems to have been solved.
There are some for whom things may not be so harmonious. For them, perhaps, Asian Pride may be in opposition to people or aspects of cultures other than their own, rather than a healthy balance. At extremes it may even become exclusive and racist. I have to say that, even so, Asian Pride is better than Asian Shame!
The rest of us must make sure that no-one is ashamed of who he is. That is the core problem of racism–we build ourselves up at the expense of others, making others feel ashamed or inferior–or angry. This is bad for the community as a whole, as we all have to get along.
That was published in the SBHS newsletter and led to a rather amazing dialogue, too long to paste here: see A debate on race.
Next on Facebook:
Multiculturalism — Student lives
Experiencing cultural change through the eyes of young Australians who have been students of Sydney Boys High. The texts are not corrected, but may be slightly edited. These stories were gathered between 1998 and 2000 as part of my testing of student writing, but parallel stories occur still, over and over again.
Boy aged 12: in Australia 7 years
What happened to me when I was little would take pages to write, so I will just tell you one of the main point when I was little. Our family immigrated to Australia except for my father because he had to work in Hong Kong so we would have money but my father would visit us every 3-4 months and would stay for about a month in Australia. Every time when he leaves Australia I would cry for a very long time.
Now I’m 12 and whenever my father is going back to Hong Kong there isn’t a tear but I feel a bit sad. Also, now I’m 12 I have made it into Sydney Boys High and it is a very good school but I have to wake up very early.
In the future I would like to have a good HSC mark so I can get in to a good university and make alot of money after university. In this piece of paper is all about my life.
Boy aged 12: In Australia 2.5 years
Five years ago, I was a dull boy in China. Everything was just fine. I went to School in the morning and Slept in the evening. When I found out that I was going to Australia I had mixed reactions. My first thought was Yes I finally had my Childhood dream come true to travel in an aeroplane. Also I got to see dad for the first time in my life. When I was only a year old he came to Australia but I thought wait a minute I’m going to have to leave my friend.The thought hit me. I was confused.
Now here I am in Australia. I just got into Sydney Boys High. Our family is now prospering along very well. My study is improving gradually. I really think my future would be fantastic.
Growing up to be an adult is a time of tense learning and important decision-making. In the portion of life that I’ve got left I wish I could receive a worthwhile job and a reasonable pay. I wish to through my work benifit both to community and the country. If I have achieved these things then when I die I will look back and think that was a job well done.
Boy aged 12: in Australia 4 years.
It wasn’t a great year, but that is common in most school years. I think it was then that my parents had the strange notion to emigrate from Israel. I do indeed remember them discussing the move, I remember not being too happy about it at first. I did not want to leave in the least bit because I didn’t want to leave my friends behind, but eventually I realised that it was a wise decision. Approximately then I started watching the news and learnt that a war was raging between Israel and Iraq. And when my father went to serve in the army, as all Israely men have to, I realised that I would nothing more than to leave.
My life now is much better than before, I can state that quite clearly. I have become quite accustomed to the english language and the Australian way of life. It did seem strange to me at first but now I do not mind it. Over the last few years I have made a lot of friends and I consider my life now very good.
In the future my life should improve and I plan on gaining more friends in this new school. I expect succeed in my academics as well as my physical education and sport.
X*** aged 12: In Australia 6 years.
Hello! My name is X*** and I will write in this paragraph about an incident that happened nine years ago. When I was still in Shanghai, something almost fatal happened. It was a hot and stuffy night and some of my grandparent’s friends came. While they were talking, I climbed onto the window sill of a bay window. It was much cooler sitting on the window sill.
What I didn’t know was that the window was opened. So when I rocked a bit too hard, my upper body was dangling out of a 12 storey high apartment! Luckily, my grandmother saw me and grabbed me just before I fell out of the window and made a mess on the road. So, as you can see, I had a very frightening past…
Boy–aged 15–in Australia 3.5 years.
5 years ago I was in Shanghai, China. I went to my local comprehensive primary school which was a alright school. In school learn mainly Math, Chinese and Biology. But we also used to do secoundary subjects like Art & crafts and music. The school was fairly small compared to the Public schools in Australia, but we had fun. In school every subject was very compatative and stressful. In school sport was not one of main componants. Every once in a while we play table tennis or soccer.
… In the next five years I want to go to America and Major in Music and Computer Engineering in “Julian University”. Julian University* I heard was a good school for musicans. might even get a Doctorate in Music. When I’m a bit older, I wish to join the Venia Philharmonic Orchestra. That is my vision of the future. I might even say I might marry a very good looking super model, but I don’t think that will happen.
#Strongwomen. "I write about the power of trying, because I want to be okay with failing. I write about generosity because I battle selfishness. I write about joy because I know sorrow. I write about faith because I almost lost mine, and I know what it is to be broken and in need of redemption. I write about gratitude because I am thankful - for all of it." Kristin Armstrong