Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Morning Musings - a changing Australia

As I write, ABC News 24 is providing rolling coverage on the results of the Northern Territory elections. In the words of Adam Giles, the Northern Territory's outgoing Chief Minister and the first Aboriginal to head an Australian Government, the Country Liberal Party received a real thumping.

With a population of just 245,000, the Northern Territory has the  smallest population of any Australian state or mainland territory. With 25 members in the NT Parliament, this means that it has the smallest population electorates in the country. Mind you, the Territory is not small in geographic terms - over 1,349,129 square kilometres or 520,902 sq miles.

I have never been to the Northern Territory apart from a brief transit stop at the old Darwin airport many years ago. No doubt I will get there at some point.

The Northern Territory is a reminder of just how large and diverse Australia is. It's not just varied geography, but variations in history and culture.

The NT has the only electorates in the country with majority Aboriginal populations, but also (I think) the only electorate named after a Chinese citizen, Fong Lin, carrying the name of a popular former mayor of Darwin.

One thing I learned a long time ago was the danger of making generalisations based on one's own experience. I feel this particularly strongly at the moment.

I live and work in melting post Sydney. The area I live in was once heavily Greek. Now the Greek population is aging and the children have moved. At Eastlakes, the older Greek men still gather for their coffees (photo), the Greek Church is just up the road, the traditional Greek barbershop is still there in Kingsford, but now the Greek population has been replaced by later migrants.

At Kingsford, the street scene is dominated by UNSW international students, especially those from China. The pop-up shops that I wrote about in Infant formula, pop-up shops and the future of Australian food are still there with students buying food and other goods to send home to China.

Just two and a half k away in Eastlakes, the Asian influence is there, as is a Middle Eastern flavour. However, the money isn't there, for many of those on the street live in surrounding social housing.

Each working morning, I catch the bus on the start of my journey to Parramatta. The bus takes me past Eastlakes, through the old Greek suburb of Rosebery and then though the sprawling apartment complexes of Victoria Park and Green Square where youngest lives. This is quite heavily younger (and better off) Chinese territory. Visiting youngest on a new street that carries an Aboriginal name, Gadigal, you will see no Aboriginal people. The street terrain is Chinese dominated.

A little further on as the bus passes through Waterloo you will see many more Aboriginal people in part because of the social housing estates nearby. The George Hotel with its barred windows is a route stop on the return trip.

At Central railway station the ethnic scene is more mixed, full of computers of all types. Here you will also find the homeless, as well as the buskers and the lady selling the Australian edition of the Epoch Times. We know each other by sight because I always take a copy of the paper.

She is not pushy. She stands there holding out the paper, ignored by most. As I walk towards her clearly coming, she smiles and holds the paper out.

From Central, the train runs first through the Inner West. This is Green, "progressive" country. Then the train rushes through the mixing suburbs where so many recent immigrants now live.  I have long meant to get off, to wander the streets flaneuring to my hearts content. But work or home beckons.

Parramatta bills itself as Sydney's second city. As indeed it is in historical terms. Yet it is only in the last few years that Parramatta has begun to acquire a metropolitan feel.

This shot of Parramatta is a  a few years old now before the new tall buildings started to go in. The place is in the process of transformation, of fundamental change. In ten years, it will be a genuinely metropolitan centre.

In thinking of divisions in Australia, it is important to remember that they are as much geographic as cultural. Darwin is very different from Sydney, but what is Sydney?

The difference between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD and inner suburbs is quite profound. As one simple measure, almost no-one who works in Parramatta lives in those areas that we tend to think of as Sydney. Indeed, they rarely visit. They all live and play in the outer suburbs linked to Parramatta by rail. There are practical reasons for this. It takes me over three hours each day just to get from home to work and back.

Parramatta is melting pot Sydney.

Each day, I walk past Arthur Phillip High School and the adjoining public primary school. Arthur Phillip is due to go high rise. For the moment, the school operates from a mix of old and temporary building.  

Arthur Phillip is mixing pot Sydney. I watch the kids playing on the concrete basketball and soccer courts. There is barely an Anglo in sight. I watch the Indian parents, mainly mothers, bringing their children to the primary school. Insatiably curious, I watch and listen, trying to work out the the relationships. Listening is important, for it tells you about cadence, structure, attitudes.

Our own small office is very mixed. There is one Chinese Cambodian, one Australian Indian, one Torres Straight Islander, one long standing Polish migrant, two Anglos. I learn about different customs. Yet I am conscious of one difference from my past.

Listening to the kids from Arthur Phillip, I am conscious that I have absolutely no idea about their lives. I can surmise, but I don't know. At the office, while we are all friends my geographic distance makes social mixing outside work very difficult. Each person mixes with their own group in their own area.

That, in turn, made me realise that outside work, I have less exposure now to other cultures and the variety of Australian life than I did in either Armidale or Canberra. In fact, I have less exposure now than I did when I was just nineteen. I think that's a problem. Certainly its a problem when I claim to be a social analyst.

 The difficulty lies, I think, in the absence of social interaction outside of work. But that's very hard to obtain.          



Anonymous said...

Just reinforces the view of one of my old mates - we've nodded for maybe 10 years, and he occasionally speaks, but I've yet to ask his name. Anyway, wandering as usual, but what he said once, which is relevant to your post, was: "There's Sinny, and then there's Straya".

I nodded, thoughtfully, and went on my way.


Winton Bates said...

Jim, there is an interesting contrast between the social structures you write about in this post and the social structures in Armidale in the 1950s and 60's discussed in your last post. Were there many immigrants living in Armidale during the 1960s? The university was quite cosmopolitan, but I don't think there would have been a substantial Italian or Greek community. There was a Chinese restaurant that had probably been there for a century, but I don't remember any of the Greek or Italian restaurants that were so common in the big cities and many country towns. Perhaps my memory is defective.

Winton Bates said...

kvd: We must have been thinking of similar things at the same time. Sinny is certainly different to Staya, but Armidale was/is also quite peculiar.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Winton - judging only third-hand by its emigrants :)


Jim Belshaw said...

I laughed, kvd. I was thinking of the Uni Winton both staff and students. Outside Uni, Armidale did not have a big migrant community. The first Chinese caf, the Mung Hing, opened about 1960. Armidale did, however, have a biggish Greek community. There were some five Greek cafes plus some Greek owned stores.

2 tanners said...

Wandering comment. Apologies in advance.

Darwin is a wonderful city. I pass through, or stop for conferences, so I'm not an authority. It is losing some of its rough edged seediness and the fact that I regret this probably says more about me than Darwin. It is a genuine racial melting pot. People often say it about Canberra (if they've lived there) but I've yet to see a more multiracial streetscape than I've seen in Darwin.

I grew up in Adelaide, which despite its whitebread image had very large Greek, Italian and Eastern European communities. When I think about my casual racism as a child, and the poor showing which One Nation counts as a success (and their failure to attract candidates of any decent calibre), I remind myself that progress is made in baby steps, and every One Nation supporter I've ever met is older than I am. I'd say Pauline Hanson is the only accomplished one of the lot. The rest appear to be spivs with an eye for the main chance, which is where the major parties are too, but not how they got there.

(*personal advisory mode ON) Jim, you've got to get together with your colleagues. You should know this far better than I. Make a time, make a date, ignore the routine for once. It will pay in spades, and especially if you make the investment in organising it (*personal advisory mode OFF)

And kvd, I agree. "All the world is queer save thee and me [who neither come from Armidale] and even thee's got a little bit of New Soth Welshman in him..." Apologies to Robert Owen, of course.

Jim Belshaw said...

Advisory mode noted, 2t! The problem is the travel time. Spending three hours travelling there and back does tend to cramp social style, especially if as with me at the moment I don't have a working car.

Well, to say that you have to have a little bit of NSW in you is, in my case and with my background, something that I deny vehemently. Don't recognise the place as applicable to my area except as a colonial power!

Progress is a funny thing for it depends on your perspective, of course. I think that Australia has done pretty well in some respects.

Jim Belshaw said...

PS Must get to Darwin!