‘What does it mean to be a real Aussie today? What should it mean?’
Tim Watts is a seventh generation Australian who grew up on the Darling Downs in Queensland. He is also a Labor MP — the federal member for Gellibrand, an ethnically diverse electorate in Victoria. His children are the descendants of Hong-Kong Chinese migrants and of pre-Federation politicians who wanted to exclude people who were not white. In this book, Mr Watts explores how we have made the transition from ‘White Australia’ and what that means in terms of national identity.
‘Australia has made enormous progress in transcending the history of racial exclusion at the heart of Federation.’
I agree that we have made progress, but I think we still have some way to go. While 1966 marks the official end of the White Australia Policy, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the Whitlam Government established a policy of multiculturalism. And increased immigration from Asia came even later. But what does this mean?
In 1996, in Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech to the Australian Parliament, she said: ‘I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians.’ ‘They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.’
I’d like to say that no-one agreed with her, but that would not be accurate. However, Australia is changing. There is much more diversity in our backgrounds now than there was fifty years ago. Those of us with essentially monocultural heritages have benefitted from this, but we’ve not embraced every aspect. Nor have our institutions reflect this diversity.
‘Today Australia is a nation of diverse classrooms but a resolutely monocultural parliament.’
There’s a gap between how we see ourselves as a community and how our institutions and symbols represent that diversity. We’ve not come to terms with the past, and until we do, we can’t move confidently into the future. Our institutions represent our British colonial past (with a few nods to the USA). Sigh.
But despite the sigh, I am mostly optimistic about the future, hopeful that we can move beyond ‘us’ and ‘them’ to an inclusive ‘we’.
I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in what it means (or might mean) to be Australian.