Thursday, March 06, 2008

Australian history and the migrant experience

This rather wonderful photo , European migrants arriving in Sydney, was taken by the photojournalist David Moore as the ship, the Galileo Galilei, berthed at the overseas terminal at Circular Quay, Sydney in 1966.

The photo shows several generations of the one family arriving in their new country.

In 1966 we were coming to the end of the mass migration program that had started after the Second World War.

Modern Australia is a country of migrants. On my father's side, I am first generation Australian, third on the other.

Each new wave of migrants has had to learn to adjust to their new country. This was true when the first Aboriginal peoples arrived and is equally true today.

Adjustment is partially physical - the light, the sounds, the smell. Adjustment is also cultural, finding a place in a new society.

Earlier this week I ran a training course for housing managers. I began by getting everyone to introduce themselves, to say something personal.

There were a number of nationalities present. The colleague assisting me was born in Sarajevo and escaped with her parents to Australia via Malaysia. One of the those attending was Sudanese who had escaped to Australia also via Malaysia. Both Muslim, they had pursued their education after arrival. Both had masters degrees, one in social policy, the other in business administration.

The development of a uniquely Australian culture forms one of the central themes in Australian history. In this, there has always been dispute about what it means to be Australian. Often, we only see ourselves when we are away or through the prism of an outsider's perspective.

Our individual views reflect our own experiences.

A Chinese colleague came to Australia from Hong Kong when she was ten. She did not want to come, she loved Hong Kong.

At her first high school she was bullied by the Greek kids. She thought that this was normal, this was Australia. As she said, she had nothing else to measure the experience against.

Then she changed schools and everything changed. Now she realised that the previous bullying had little to do with Australia, everything to do with the particular culture of the previous school. Had she not changed schools, her views of Australia would have remained coloured by the school experience.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,

My name is Amini Khanna and I'm doing a paper on Migrant Experiences in Contemporary Australia for my Australian Experience Class at the University of Western Australia. I was wondering if I could site your blogpost in my paper- I would like to use your post as a source explain the trials experienced by migrants in the past and today. Let mek now if this is okay? thanks!!

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Amini. Use away. I like the thought that the post is of sufficient value that you would like to quote it!

jlekman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Jens. Will email you.

jlekman said...

thanks for emailing. i re-emailed a .doc ending one to you.

jlekman said...

have you seen the email yet Jim?