Monday, January 17, 2011

Musing on Immigration Nation part two

In Issues with Immigration Nation I dealt with my reactions to the first part in this SBS series. This post records my reaction to the second part. You will find the the web site for the series here.

Ad it happened, the previous program on SBS was Faces Of America Episode 2 - Becoming American. This program is a useful balance to Immigration Nation because it provides a comparison to the US immigrant experience over the similar periods. Australia didn't seem to bad after all!

Before proceeding, looking at the US documentary convinced me of the value of a comparative study looking at changing attitudes to race and immigration in major English speaking countries. Here I have only looked so far at the emergence of the concepts of multicultural and multiculturalism.

The following graph from Google Ngram shows the number of mentions of the world multicultural in global publications captured by Google. You can see the rise in popularity of the term and then its sharp decline.  Frequency of mulitcultural

The second episode of Immigration Nation covers the emergence of the Australian mass migration program at the end of the Second World War. I found the first part very interesting indeed because it showed the way that PM Chifley and Immigration Minister Caldwell steered the program through in the face of uncertain public support. No matter the value of the program, I doubt that they would have got it through in today's environment with its emphasis on transparency. Indeed, it probably wouldn't have got started at all given that focus group outcomes would have been quite negative.

From this point the program started to lose me. Surprise was expressed at the fact that PM Menzies elected in 1949 kept the broader European migration tap open despite his support of Empire and his pro-Britishness. Then there was the obligatory reference to the first visit of the Queen to demonstrate the Britishness of Australia. I accept that this is a caricature, but so was the program at this point. Then there were the obligatory references to the multicultural future that lay in front of us all.

I accept that this is message TV. I also happen to agree with some of the messages. Yet after the very interesting historical material in the first part, the program fell away. In looking towards the next episode, I have set two tests:

  • the extent to which the program explains how Australians came to accept the changes given the program's premises about Australian attitudes at the start
  • how the program explains the progressive unwinding of the White Australia Policy over the 1950s and 1960s. 

I really don't want to pour on the series too much because it is getting at least some Australians interested in their own history. We will see!  


Neil said...

Thanks, Jim. Very useful to read this before I posted my own reflections.

Jim Belshaw said...

Look forward to reading it Neil!

Anonymous said...

Not to distract from your well earned rest, Jim, but I was intrugued by that small "bump" in the graph at 1900 or thereabouts. So I cut the search back to thereabouts and found the following useage:

From Vol 51 of The Society of the Arts - "George Bunyard, Chairman of the Fruit and Vegetable Committee of the Royal Multicultural Society."

Seems, like most words, this one has undergone some transformation.


Neil said...


Jim Belshaw said...

You do find some amazing things, KVD! Words do indeed change their meaning.

Thanks, Neil. I will write a companion post later.