I am home today with flue. This makes me tired, somewhat achey, but leaves me with a working brain, albeit somewhat fogged. So I am mixing some blogging with sleep.
Those who read this blog will know that I have problems with the word "multicultural". This has led to some thoughtful and useful exchanges with Neil (ninglun).
I have decided to stop using the word entirely unless its use actually fits the narrow definition of multiple cultures living together. However, this creates a need to find an alternative word that better fits my conception of the evolving Australian scene.
As always, my thinking here has been influenced by my writing across blogs.
On the Regional Living Australia blog I have been exploring different aspects of life outside Australia's metro centres. Then on the New England Australia blog, I look in more detail at one Australian area. This writing flows across into this blog with my on-going emphasis on the need to understand the variety in Australian life.
One of the challenges in all this is to find a way to encompass and link the variety in Australian life.
Let me try to illustrate by example.
On the Regional Living Australia blog I have so far written seven posts on the Kimberley Region of WA. Now compare this with the story I wrote on the Winifred West schools. One country, but two very different history, cultures and experience.
Now look at the story on Quong Tart and the Chinese in Australia on this blog, one of a number of stories I have written on the Chinese experience. Again, a very different slice of the Australian experience.
One of the interesting things in all this is not just the variety of Australian life, but also the continuity.
Take Quong Tart as an example. Here the story sweeps from the gold fields of 19th century Australia through to Ashfield in 2007. Quong Tart was one of Ashfield's leading citizens. There was a significant Chinese community in Ashfield. Today, that Chinese presence remains in Ashfield to the point that the main strip is an Asian (especially Chinese) Australian amalgam.
We can see the same continuity in the stories on the Kimberley's and Mittagong and the Winifred West schools. So how do we encompass all this continuity and change, making it accessible to people from Australia and overseas?
In a post on the Regional Living blog, I have suggested that we should use the word polycultural instead of multicultural as a descriptor. The word is not quite right, but it does better capture what I see as the dynamics of Australian life.
The area that would become Australia was already multicultural at the time the Europeans arrived in the sense that our indigenous peoples displayed considerable cultural variation.
The arrival of the Europeans introduced a new dominant force. The interactions between our indigenous peoples and the broader Australian community remains one of the continuing themes in Australian history. Today we can speak of multiple indigenous cultures changing and interacting with other cultural traditions.
Australia's new migrants quickly developed a culture that was seen by outsiders as distinct, different, from those holding in the original home countries. That culture has evolved into a strong and continuing core culture. We may debate the detail, but I do not think that anybody would argue that it does not exist.
Australia was and remains a migrant country. Each wave of migrants has added to the texture of Australian life not just through the visible differences, but also through their impact on Australia's core culture. So we have both continuity and change within that core culture.
There have always been variations in the core culture across the country, variations that I think have increased with time. There are also variations in the visible and changing migrant presence across the country, adding to and affecting variations in the core culture.
I like the word polyculturalism because, to me at least, it better captures the complexity and dynamics of the Australian experience than the word multicultural.