| Standing in the driving rain of a cold and foggy winter’s morning, I eagerly watched as our soccer team battled its way through the conditions and the opposition towards a thrilling 2-2 draw. As my father and I peered through the mist of my our breath, rugged up in jacket, beanie and gloves, we considered in amazement just how far our country had progressed since he first arrived in Australia in 1964, aged 11.
Dad’s English you see, and came out as a £10 migrant as part of the Australian government’s “White Australia” immigration policy of the first seventy-five years of the twentieth century. Coming from a widowed, working class family in England, he, his mum and older brother were prime candidates for the scheme, which according to Australian immigration minister Caldwell, would see “ten Europeans for every other immigrant to Australia.” This would help preserve Australia’s white majority, which stood at an amazing 96% at the end of the Second World War, one of the most homogenous nations in the world.
On that cool morning, Dad relayed to me the amazement he experienced when he first saw a black person, aged 10, on the streets of London. And how, when he came to Australia, there seemed to be no black people either, but for the occasional Aboriginal settlement you passed on trips in the country. And how, when he spent much of 1965 in Saudi Arabia, he was warned never to venture into the Riyadh markets alone, because he was white.
For me, this seemed worlds away from the England that I had visited, the Australia I grew up in, and the people I knew. Yet it was only one generation between his childhood in exclusively white Harrow, and my three month stay in multicultural Ealing, two suburbs to the south, where people of Asian, African, Caribbean and Anglo-Celtic descent mixed freely on the streets and in the malls. Only one generation from National Front marches to millions jamming the streets for the annual Notting Hill Carnival.And even more fascinating to me, on a personal level, was the reshaping of Australian society. There I was on this freezing morning, watching as our soccer club, made up of friends from school, played another Old Boys team in our league. The two clubs, Old Trinity and St Kevin's Old Boys, were formed out of school soccer teams, teams from private boys schools, the preserve of the wealthier families in Melbourne. And yet, within one generation, we had gone from soccer as a fringe sport, played by a few Greek and Italian working class immigrants, to soccer being played by the children of all cultures. For as I looked around the field, and onto the benches, faces of all colours and heritages appeared.
Within our own club of just twenty or so people, we had first or second generation Australians from eight different countries, within my year level at school, I recalled the further dozen or so other heritages from which the 125 students came.
In the 30 years since Gough Whitlam abolished the White Australia policy, our country has become a collage of colours and cultures, much richer for the experience. Cultural diversity for my Australia has not meant merely peering in on other countries’ experiences and ideas, it has involved having a small part of those cultures come to Australia. And from these cultures we are building a different sort of national identity, one not based on race or heritage, but on a celebration of our diversity.
Leaving the game that morning, dripping rain, I smiled to myself. The world game, soccer, had brought us all together, not just on that particular sunday, and not just our club. The entire world had been gathered together in Korea, and two nights before Senegal had beaten the world champions, France, in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup. Better remind Eduoard on the way out the car.
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migration & culture Wilson
| Jan 25th, 2007
good article, you should submit it to the next issue on Migration within Panorama
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