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How to reject division

By Loz Lawrey

“Loz, you have no class”, she said. Shocked and confused, I felt my eyebrows arching. Was my sister-in-law’s mother insulting me?

“No”, she said. “I mean, you have no class”. Then I realised: she was referring to social “class”.

This was a seminal moment for me. It had the effect of plunging me into an ocean of self-analysis and thought about myself and the societies which shaped me.

Do we have a class system in Australia? Many of our politicians seem to think so. How often do we hear the term “class warfare“ bandied about? In the country of the Fair Go, with our social democratic system which espouses equality for all, how can this be?

In truth we’ve always had a class system, but it has to go.

Multiculturalism cannot thrive and blossom in this country until it does. Well-off Australians often seem to harbour a contempt for our indigenous citizens, for refugees and “foreigners”, for our less-educated, our poor and disadvantaged. That contempt, constantly fanned by radio shock jocks, Murdoch and IPA opinionators and echoed by right-wing politicians, must end

The concept of “class” is not only imposed by the entitled few upon the less well-off many. “Class” difference is also accepted as reality and reinforced by those who benefit the least from such a construct.

My late wife used to tell me that she often heard the term “that’s not for the likes of us” from her parents. She made it clear how hard she had to struggle in later life to overcome and forget that dream-crushing, crippling statement.

Social and economic “class” doesn’t bring us together, it limits us and keeps us apart.

I’ve lived on Australian soil since 1975, but many of my earlier years were spent in other countries: the USA, Indonesia and France. My father worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and was often posted overseas for years at a time.

I spent my final four years of high school as a boarding student. Once a year I was flown overseas by the government during the Christmas holidays to visit my family in Cairo, Egypt, and later Madrid, Spain.

Released from the shackles of boarding school, I spent 1970 in a hall of residence at the Australian National University growing my hair, listening to music, experimenting with substances, avoiding lectures and, as might be expected, eventually dropping out. I’d been locked up in an institution for far too long.

My work resume details a chequered career: I’ve been a factory worker, a beer keg roller, a wine and spirits storeman, an invoice clerk, a Commonwealth public servant (twice), a labourer, a menswear salesman, a hardware/paint salesman, a tradesman painter and decorator, and a builder/renovator.

I’ve also been unemployed for periods of time, such as the early 90’s, during the “recession we had to have”, and forced to rely on unemployment benefits, so rudely referred to as “welfare” by the Turnbull government these days.

I hope all this palaver about myself hasn’t come across like a narcissist’s picnic. I just wanted to make the point that I’ve lived and experienced life from many angles, and that’s why the concept of ”class” means nothing to me.

Now in my mid-sixties, I realise that I’ve been a very lucky boy. I’ve been living through the most prosperous period in our country’s history and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experiences and opportunities I’ve been afforded.

I’ve lived in or visited many overseas countries, each with their particular cultures, societies, languages, cuisines and idiosyncracies.

I’ve worked alongside humans of all ages, social backgrounds, education levels and racial origins.

I’ve seen enough of the world and its people to know that we are all connected and that at our core lies something beautiful, a quality beyond ethnicity and appearance that we associate with the word “human”. Dare we call it “soul” or “life energy”?

I don’t focus on “class”. I try to see not what divides us, but what unites us. Wherever I look I see human beings, each of us grappling in our own way with the demands, expectations and responsibilities of our lives, carrying the baggage and joys of our lived experience and often, sadly, the scars of abuse.

How do we, as a nation, cut through the hypocrisies of “class”, the judgmental pushing-apart, the social condemnation inflicted by the entitled well-off upon our most disadvantaged? How do we come together? Do we truly seek inclusion and equity for all as our most noble objective?

Our attempts at multicultural inclusion have been admirable to date, but it’s clear that government ministers such as the execrable Peter Dutton just don’t get it.

Has this man ever read a book? Has he travelled overseas? Has he ever imagined anything other than acquiring and maintaining power over others? Has he ever bathed in the Ganges or wandered through the marketplace in Marrakesh? Has he strolled the Champs Elysees? Has he ever experienced the warmth and hospitality of strangers that a traveller can encounter in all corners of this globe? Has he ever had the chance to perceive the oneness of humanity? Or has he only known, in his short life, the limited, fearful, xenophobic post-colonial parochialism in which it appears he was raised?

Every public pronouncement Dutton makes seems to reek of racism and condemnation, of “othering”. So far, he’s singled out Lebanese Muslims, refugees from several countries and members of our African-Australian community. “These people”, he thunders …

He may as well say it: ” these non-white people” … they’re not subscribing to “Australian values” … we must teach these “values” in schools!

Yes, Dutton. And what might those values be? The values of inclusion, of embracing difference, of learning and growing together? No, you’re just like Tony Abbott – resentful of the fact that our multicultural nation isn’t some pale reflection of mother England.

Can’t you damn right-wingers see our amazing potential? Are you unable to move beyond your petty mindscapes and see the obvious? Our country is uniquely positioned to be a visionary world leader, to develop a model of social and economic organisation that might arrest humanity’s headlong rush towards self-destruction. Why can’t you see that?

In Australia, our multicultural experiment is working. We just need to accelerate its development.

That process will require that you step down, Dutton. Just removing your toxic voice (and several others) from the arena of our public debate will give our community clear air to breathe, live and grow, together.

I believe that overseas travel and exposure to other societies and cultures should be a mandatory part of our education system.

Why should young Australians’ first taste of world travel be landing in an overseas war zone, wearing camouflage gear and carrying a gun?

Surely they need to see the world in a time of peace, to find themselves surrounded by sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures beyond those they’ve grown up with. Just to broaden their minds and open their hearts …

And I don’t mean catch a train to Footscray. While Footscray itself is well worth a visit, it still exists within the Australian paradigm, a paradigm which locks us into a bow-to-the-queen and follow-the-USA mentality, a paradigm which tries to foist a “last-refuge-of a-scoundrel” patriotism upon us all, a form of nationalism which implies and seeks to entrench a concept of white superiority which only exists in the minds of little men.

No, young Aussies. I mean: go overseas. Immerse yourself. Place yourselves on a foreign street, in a community whose language you don’t speak. Learn that communication beyond speech is possible, when the need is there. Understand that that foreign-looking brother or sister is quite willing to advise and assist you, even make you welcome in the community he or she loves.

Please, know the joy of travel. Learn to be thankful for the warmth of acceptance. Learn to share that warmth. Don’t stand on our beaches flinging stones at new arrivals.

Our Prime Minister Turnbull is quite good at playing the role of Multicultural Mal when it suits him, when the cameras are rolling.

But by their hypocrisy shall ye know them: one day Turnbull participates in a blatant attack upon our African community, enthusiastically endorsing Dutton’s vicious “African gangs” smears, the next he’s all smiles, graciously gushing and grinning like a wolf as he effusively welcomes Kenyan-Australian Senator Lucy Gichuhi to the Coalition dark side.

And then we get: “There’s no one more Australian than Barnaby Joyce!”

Actually, we get the government we deserve.

It’s really no surprise that our federal government and its brain-farts, thought bubbles and vitriolic public utterances simply reflects the confused and split personality that is our Australian psyche today.

Nothing is more illustrative of our schizophrenic national identity than the annual Australia Day/Invasion Day debate.

Poisoned by the leftover white entitlement of our colonial past so blatantly sprayed about by the Abbotts, Duttons, Turnbulls, Bernardis, Sheltons, Bolts etc. among us, public debate in Australia is constantly tainted by the rhetoric of division, of judgment, of racist bigotry, of intolerance and fear of the “other”.

It’s simple really. Do we want a united, inclusive nation?

Do we really want to live in that mythical land of the Fair Go?

Or do we want the division, the racism, the cruelty and contempt for our most disadvantaged being dished up daily by a government owned and operated by billionaires and bastards?

One thing is clear: A government that constantly singles out particular social sectors for demonisation can never unite our nation. Right-wing divisiveness is scarring Australia’s soul. To reject division and reclaim our nation’s heart, we must reject this government.


14 comments

  1. james mason

    Well said Loz ..If only there was a clear, unfaltering, forward-thinking, empathetic and understanding voice in the room that we could vote for that will ‘lead, ignite and encourage’ us towards a better Oz ..

  2. Freethinker

    I agree with your views Loz Lawrey but division of classesin Australia it is well before the Abbotts and Duttons in our political landscaping.
    In 1969, when I come to Australia I was classified by Australians as a wog, then I payed attention and found out that also was another two classes within the “working class” the bogans and the franos.
    All the above are a result of plain ignorance and do not think that only apply to Australia, it happens in every country.
    Regarding economic classes, that it is a product of the formal education which indoctrinate student for young age to create boundaries and not let them think.
    Later on, the neoliberalism create the economic classes and the “formed” people are prepared to go along with the class welfare.

  3. Malibu Mick

    Well said Loz. Government has a clear role to ensure that we celebrate and embrace diversity.

  4. diannaart

    Loz

    Loved reading your essay – having lived a very chequered and varied life, I was right there with you with each word you wrote.

    Although life has mostly been a struggle balanced with incandescent highs – I could not fit in with a system that depended upon, not only class divisions, but also not “rocking the boat” or “sticking one’s head above the parapets”.

    I consider myself lucky to have survived and in today’s judgemental, authoritarian, divisive climate, I may not have survived at all.

    I love my young niece and nephew and care about their future – they are just setting foot into adulthood – I am sure I have inoculated my niece with the travel-bug, not so sure about the boy – but growing into a man I can respect, which is beyond measure.

    Yes, Australia did have a wonderful, prosperous era. Unlikely to be repeated while neo-liberalism/conservatism/religion maintains its grip across society.

    Social and economic “class” doesn’t bring us together, it limits us and keeps us apart.

    Too true and it hurts us all.

  5. stephengb2014

    Excellant article Loz,

    I am from England, for me the classes were well understood and rarely discussed (except when were reminded of our place).

    My late father, was originally a coal miner, “darn the pit”. The war helped him escape and he wanted me and my sisters to go up in society (he succeeded). Dad was an aircrew Signaller during the war he spent his war on bombing runs over Italy and the Balkan’s. He survived two tours of combat duty!

    He learnt that there was a class of people called Officers and Gentlemen, who enjoyed special privileges just because of who they were, and many were Officers because of their family status.

    Dad was so used to being in the lower classes that when offered a commission as an Officer, he refused it, a decision that my father told me that he had regretted right up to a few months before he died.
    You see Dad was regretfull because believed that had he taken the commission my life and my sisters life would have been with the upper classes.

    But I am grateful that he didnt take that commission, because I learnt during my service in the RAF that those who got a commission because of their war service were actually snubbed by those whos commission was given because it was their right as real Gentlemen. You see no one is allowed to move up a class without the express permission of those that have that special coloured blood.

    Yes the class system is alive and well in the UK becausse it is accompanied by the spectre that some folk are actually “Blue Blood” decendents.

    I arrived in Australia in Aug 1978, and for about 8 to ten years enjoyed the egalitarian disposition of my peers and even my supervisors and managers, it was to me fantastic, no class mumbo jumbo.

    Then in 1983 Hawke and Keating launched Australia into the neoliberal age. And slowly but surely I began to notice the change, fist in my senior managers, then in my line managers and finally in my supervisors and yes even in my peers.
    By 2005, the evidence of class became pretty obvious (at least to me) – I was told at one point that I was unable to comprehend something because it was “beyond my pay scale”.

    I am retired now (the money is tight, but I own my home and I owe nothing to anyone except my CC, which has ballooned because of $5000 of unexpected repairs to my car and motorcycle, both of which are aging). But now I see in our politicians, both Left and Right the clear words phrases and trappings of our elite political class, who are beholden to the very rich class who through their lobby groups dictate government policy that labels the lower socio-economic classes and demonises them much the same as I recall in my youth.

    Yup history repeats itself.

    I hold great fear for my young family and for the youth of today, thos lot are in self destruct mode and they cant see it although look they have Joyce as a classic case of the hubris that destroys in the end.

    S G B

  6. Loz Lawrey

    I really appreciate the considered comments above. I learn something from each of you! Thanks to you all for taking the time to read my piece and share your responses.

  7. Roswell

    It was a grand piece, Loz, as are all the articles you have published on this site.

    I may not comment on them very much – if at all – but I certainly do enjoy reading them.

    I hate repeating worn-out cliches, but … keep up the good work!

  8. Loz Lawrey

    Thank you Roswell. Much appreciated.

  9. Locals

    we came here around 7 years ago from Europe and one day, on a radio , I heard guy was telling that.. last year 190K people came to Aus and at the same time around 100K permanently left Aus. I was really puzzled. Home come so many people were living? After 7 year of living in Sydney, nothing can surprise me any more.

  10. TechinBris

    Welcome all, to we, our family, our Society, because we choose to be stronger, with all of us together, with our differences uniting us instead of dividing us.
    Because we know we are all better working together, for each other, rather than fighting each other, in the promotion of that old world disease, greed.
    I too agree that our young should spend a time out of the comfort zone, to experience a part of the world that is very different to our own.
    For only then, as Loz and I both experienced, do you really find that amazing truth of what we all together can attain, if the family of our species united together instead of killing the other, the mentality “The Beast” demands we must give a religious zealotry towards, or else (insert fear here).
    I was in despair for the future of our Nation of the “Great Unwashed”, the under-trodden, the outcasts and their offspring, who have lived, laughed and cried side by side, grown up together and accepted our otherness in those who came here to share that wonderful experience of life, without the endless fear gnawing at our very souls, that has been gestated in the endless grind of “The Beast’s” War on the Communities, of our little shared rock that is plummeting through the Void.
    But then, from the very heart of their machines of hate and all that promotion of division which was imposed by our so-called Representatives of our Parliament and our Corporate Media, unwanted and utterly despised by the majority of us all, we stood together and voted that EQUALITY for all is what we prefer, with a SHOUT that shook the World for its response, from a election with voluntary voting.
    That changed my despair to hope, for we all together got to once again glimpse the power and the strength of our inclusion and how it can change the World around us, for a better future than anything of which they are currently offering us.
    Stay strong. The Dreaming continues, forever.
    Thank you for this uplifting story. Live long and in peace, everyone.

  11. Jack

    It’s nice to dream of a utpoia, but unfortunately class distinction has and will always be there. Its just human nature.

  12. Joseph Carli

    ” Its just human nature.”…so how come we are not ALL murderers, thieves, bullies, opportunists etc, etc, etc…? could this be one of those generalised statements like ; “Oh..both major political parties are the same as each other!” …or : “All unions are thugs and criminals”…or “The LNP are the only party that care for the individual citizen”…
    Not true….desirable in some, perhaps…but not true.

  13. Jack

    Joseph the whole article is based on a generalisation( we’re all one species, so reject any division between people, etc..). Your point is that we aren’t all cut from the same cloth, no? It’s a delicate balance between treating everyone equally, yet understanding that everybody is different and will need to be treated differently at different parts of their life

  14. Bec Brown

    Travel is a luxury not often enjoyed by the working classes.

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