Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Harris Park, Indian Students and the latest Sydney troubles

Last night there was apparently another outbreak of trouble involving Indian students in Sydney. According to newspaper reports, some Lebanese young men in Harris Park are alleged to have attacked a young Indian student leading to a retaliatory attack by some 200 hundred Indian men on a Lebanese restaurant.

So far as Sydney is concerned, I cannot comment on troubles at Melbourne or Newcastle, recent reports seem to suggest that there is a very particular problem concentrated in the Harris Park area that has little to do with Australian racism as conventionally presented.

Just at the moment I travel through Harris Park every working day on my way to the adjoining suburb of Parramatta. I thought, therefore, that I might make a few comments to set a context for my international readers including those from India.

This is one of the most ethnically diverse areas of Sydney, part of the great ethnic melting post that is modern Sydney.

At the last census, Harris Park itself had a population of 6,854.

Of this, just 29.2%  spoke only English at home. The most common languages other than English spoken at home were Arabic 10.4%, Gujarati 6.8%, Hindi 5.8%, Mandarin 4.6% and Cantonese 3.7%. Indian born make up 19.5% of the population of Harris Park. Those between 15 and 25, the main student groups, total 68.7% of the population.

The main suburbs next to Harris Park along the train line include Parramatta itself, Granville and Auburn.

Of Parramatta's population of 18,848, 32.5% were born in Australia, 14.1% in India, 12.8% in China.

In Granville (population 22,819), 47.4% were born in Australia, 11.7% in Lebanon, 4.5% in China. A more striking statistic is that 31.2% speak Arabic at home, 29.5% English.

In Auburn (population 29,968), the most common language spoken at home is Arabic 18.4%, followed by English 15.6%, Turkish 12.2%, Cantonese 8.6%, Mandarin 7.5% and Dari 3.9%. 

To avoid trouble here, I have made it clear before that I support Australia's current immigration policy. However, my point is that when we strike troubles in an area like Harris Park we have to be very careful about coming to simplistic conclusions.

When I spoke in Australia's Indian Students - a wake-up call for Australia about the creation of an underclass, I was talking in part in the code that seems to be forced on us today.

My remark was true at a general, universal, level. Regardless of anything else, once we develop localities with generational unemployment we are building a future problem. The problem becomes worse once you can attach a label of colour or ethnicity to a particular group because this creates group responses on both sides.

Despite the problems, it is (I think) true that that the Parramatta local government area displays remarkable inter-ethnic mixing.

On the train I take school kids in large numbers and in great ethnic and cultural variety join at each stop. When I shut my eyes and listen to them, the words and cadences, I cannot distinguish. The visual differences stand out only once my eyes are open.

Concluding, the Harris Park troubles have little to do with Australian racism in the way it is normally presented, much to do with the operations and mix of that particular local society. This is the problem we need to address.


Neil said...

Very well put, Jim

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, Neil. Sometimes I get tired running round trying to put context to stories. Still, I guess that's what makes our efforts worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

A very good article. It's pleasing to see some good analysis based on hard facts introduced into the commentary on this issue. Another good article by Paul Sheehan appears in today's SMH (viewable online).

Kanani said...

I hope they can find the core reasons and take measure to address them.

Over here, the Los Angeles Police Department has suggested the wars between the Mexicans (note, rather a misnomer because they might be from any country south of the US border) and the blacks to have reached epic proportions. Bratton called it, "a attempt at genocide."

Jim Belshaw said...

That's awful, Kanani. One of the posts I have written but haven't brought on line yet because I cannot get the wording right looks at what Australia has to do to avoid this sort of problem.

Anonymous said...

I am an Indian and I can undernstand how this stereotyping works.. I am on the verge of movinrg my family to sydney in another month or so and was scouring at articles on appropriate behaviour in an australian setting.The way we live in India cannot be the way we live everywhere. Parammatta is one of the places I was thinking of finding an apartment. I have a 1 year old with me.

What I wonder however is does the police crack down on these gangs of lebenese ? Is there action. Do they speak hindi and arabic ?


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Vasu. Sorry for the delay in responding. A one year old!

Can you give me a little more detail about you and your family, your reason for coming, and your existing contacts in Australia? Not really personal stuff, just broad details.

Then I will respond with a full post trying to be as helpful as I can.

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