I was reading the comments on a post at another place, a post that has already inspired one post here (Lorenzo and the economic complexity of traditional Aboriginal life). I was getting annoyed, then I stopped to think. Why was I getting annoyed? Yes, it was partly the tone, but it was a little more than this. I suddenly found myself challenging an underlying assumption built into some of the comment. This took my thinking in new directions, challenging my own sometimes casual way of thinking.
Let's start with a basic question. What do you think are the most important contributions migrants have made to Australian life? I suspect that most people would start with food and drink. They might refer to a more open society. Those on the other side might say not much beyond food. Debate might then extend, flowing over into support for or attacks on multiculturalism. However, there is a problem, a common mental trap, for I deliberately posed this question in such an open way as to make it a trick question.
Australia has received many migrant groups since 1788. To answer such a general question, and limiting the time line to post 1788, you have to consider the relative contribution of each group since the arrival of the First Fleet. Arguably, the greatest migrant contribution to Australian life has been the rule of law and representative government. This was introduced to Australia with the first predominantly British settlers and then modified and extended through local experience.
See what I mean? If I were to rephrase the question to fit with the way most people might answer it, it would read like this: what are the most important contributions migrants have made to Australian life since the Second World War? Even with this more careful phrasing there are problems. I will look at some of these in my next post.
Evan wrote in a comment
Here's a challenge - unusual for me I know (- not): The people here pre-1788 also had the rule of their law.
From what we can gather it was detailed, sophisticated and effectively regulated their lives. (Some of the provisions were barbaric to my way of thinking - but I think this about our current laws to. Manus Island and Guantanamo Bay spring to mind.)
I ruled Evan's comment out of scope on the grounds that they while they did, it was locally developed. So I didn't think that it could be classified as a migrant contribution!
However, this led me to think. I limited my time period to post 1788. If you rephrase the question to what was the greatest contribution by any Australian migrant group ever, then the answer surely has to be those who managed to get to the continent in the first place all those millennia ago. Not only did they have to overcome huge difficulties, but they actually started the human occupation of this continent!