Before coming to Australia, I lived for just over 10 years in Gravesend, Kent – directly across the Thames from the Tilbury docks.
This was a time when anyone born in the British Commonwealth, was entitled to a British passport, and Tilbury was the destination for hundreds of Indian and Pakistani migrants.
It is still standard practice in both these countries, for marriages to be arranged by the families. I was briefly acquainted with a young woman from the Punjab, who had been sent to Gravesend to marry a man whose wife had died, leaving him with one or two small children needing a mother.
We had no common language, but I did establish that she was in hospital over a threatened miscarriage.
It was quite normal in Gravesend for schoolchildren to shop with their mothers to act as translators, since the women lived fairly secluded lives, socialising only with family and other women. It took a few generations for the women to become fluent in English and adapt to their new environment.
There was a degree of mild discrimination in the local ‘white’ community, but it was never intense. It often related to different food practices, as some of the possibly over-sensitive objected to the smells of the spices used in the preferred foods of the migrants.
Those migrants who worked hard and were able to buy a house, generally decorated the house in the distinctively bold colours that were also used in their clothing. More conventional members of the local community rarely even used bold colours for the external doors, let alone on the brickwork! These houses were mostly semi-detached, 2-storey houses, with small front and larger back gardens.
Some existing residents, fearing their properties might be de-valued, sold out and moved elsewhere, until one street was locally dubbed the Khyber Pass!
I was never aware of any real hostility, but when the migrant families form what is virtually a ghetto, and the women do not speak English well enough to socialise outside the migrant community, it can be hard to bridge the gap, and even harder for the ethnic community to keep up to date with official information.
There would be similar situations in Australia. Just as some older Australians lack internet skills and often fail to receive information from governments – which now rely heavily on the assumption that everyone can be contacted electronically – so too there will be pockets of migrant groups which require particularly close attention in a situation like the current pandemic.
I get the feeling that Daniel Andrews is falling over backwards to avoid any remarks about the cluster of COVID-19 infections currently causing concern, where prejudice about the communities involved might be the outcome.
I have a friend, who is only a smidgen younger than I am, but whose aversion for most forms of technology means that I have to make sure she knows when notices to members of the bridge club where we both play have gone out!
I do not know to what extent governments use ethnic community groups to help ensure that those for whom English is not a first language receive accurate information about matters of community concern. I hope they do so to a meaningful extent.
To ensure that both the facts and the gravity of the situation are fully disseminated among all communities is a matter of real concern for us all.
Last night’s Four Corners exposé of the Newmarch Nursing Home debacle was a clear reminder of the dire consequences of failing to ensure that plans and communications which affect life and death have to be well thought through and delivered.
I end as always – this is my 2020 New Year Resolution:
“I will do everything in my power to enable Australia to be restored to responsible government.”
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