This has been an interesting week, made more so by some of the conversations around me.
On Ninglun's Specials, Neil Whitfield has been carrying his camera around taking photographs of his immediate area within Sydney, including Sydney's China Town. The modern China Town was not the first Chinese area in Sydney, nor is it the only one. However, it is the best known.
Up in New England, Gordon Smith from lookANDsee has taken his camera to the streets of Bingara on New England's Western Slopes. I thought that I would use photos from both to illustrate this morning's musings.
This photo by Neil shows the high rise residential development on the northern edge of China Town. This is part of the development that has seen a dramatic rise in the residential population within central Sydney, attracted by the metro lifestyle.
Wikipedia has quite a useful article on the Chinese in Australia.
At the last census, 669,890 Australian residents identified themselves as of Chinese ethnic origin, or 3.4 per cent of the Australian resident population. These numbers are not spread evenly across Australia, but are especially concentrated in Sydney, where the 292,338 Chinese make up approximately 7 per cent of the population.
Again, the Chinese in Sydney are not spread evenly, with special concentrations not just in China Town, but also places like Hurstville and Ashfield. Sydney's popularity as an entry point for migrants combined with out-migration from the city of locally born means that the Chinese proportion of the population, more broadly the migrant proportion of the population, will continue to grow. Here Sydney is heading towards the position already holding in Auckland, if with a different ethnic mix.
Perhaps best known now because of the nearby Myall Creek massacre, Bingara has been fighting to retain population, including the promotion of its own tourist attractions.
Bingara's population is older than Sydney, the locally born proportion of the population is very high, the small overseas born group all comes from Europe.
New England has its own Chinese tradition dating back to the gold rushes. However, if the census data is correct, there was not one person of Chinese ancestry, not one of Asian ancestry, living in Bingara on census night.
The life styles in Bingara and Sydney are very different, not just the ethnic mix.
Neil's photo shows Sydney coffee addicts in China Town. This is a mixed, cosmopolitan world.
People densities on the street may not be as high as say Shanghai, but this is still a crowded world.
China Town is not in fact typical of Chinese Sydney, just as metro Sydney is not typical of Sydney. There are huge differences between metro Sydney and the further out suburbs where the majority of Sydney's population lives.
Now compare this to Gordon's photo of Bingara's Regent Cafe. I have had coffee here. The contrast could hardly be greater. Bingara is a quieter, village world with its own concerns. Sydney seems very remote.
I have used China Town Sydney and Bingara simply as examples, the tip of the iceberg, of diversity in population mix, lifestyle and attitudes across the country. Darwin, as an example, is as far removed from both Bingara and Sydney's China Town as they are from each other.
One of the points I have tried to make in my writing is that Australia has always had greater diversity than is commonly allowed. That said, Australia is presently dealing with waves of change across the country, waves going in different directions, moving at different speeds. I find this fascinating.
Still using Australia's Chinese as an example, the previous dominance of those from Southern China as well as other parts of Asia has been challenged in recent years by a rise in Mandarin speakers. Both may see themselves as Chinese, but the two groups are not the same.
Then there are the differences between the ABCs, the Australian born Chinese, and more recent arrivals, sometimes summarised by the derogatory term banana, yellow on the outside, white within.
Yesterday I was talking to a mother, European, who has enrolled her son in a coaching college to improve his maths. The Chinese concern about education has led to a proliferation of coaching colleges across Sydney preparing people for key examinations, especially those for entry to the selective high schools. While standards may vary, some of the colleges are very rigorous indeed.
In the case in question, to gain entry to this college mother and son were first interviewed, then the son had to sit a test to demonstrate suitability. He was admitted, the only non-Chinese at the college. He is known by other pupils simply as white boy.
I am not suggesting prejudice in this case, although that may be there, simply that the term is used as descriptor.
In all this, at least some Chinese parents worry about cultural acculturation, the way their children are adopting Australian attitudes.
I used to worry about the risk that Australia might fragment into different ethnic groups. This was part of my concern about official policies that seemed to deny the validity of the central Australian culture as a national unifying device. I am less worried about this than I was, say, five years ago.
Part of the reason for this is the diversity in our migrant intake. However, part too is the sheer power of the central culture itself, as well as the ability of Australians to distinguish between attitudes to specific groups (group x is
What I find more interesting now are the growing divisions within Australia based on geography. Australia is segmenting.
I am not suggesting that this is of itself a problem, although it does pose some long term risks. So long as these risks can be contained, then I think that the trend will ultimately add to the texture of Australian life. However, that's another story.