I was born in the late fifties in a small country town and then went to school in the Western suburbs of Sydney. My friends had surnames like Evripidou, Tsoukalis and Malouf. Perhaps they experienced discrimination and name-calling but I was not aware of it and it certainly never happened in our group. They were just my friends.
Their families came from various different countries and going home to their place was always a treat. I didn’t feel threatened by Anna’s grandmother who was dressed in all black including some sort of head gear. She couldn’t speak English but she always hugged us and had something delicious waiting for us to eat when we walked in. I learned to say kali mera and yasu.
Lebanese parties – 21sts, engagements, weddings and christenings – always left me with a groaning stomach as the aunties tried to fatten me up. Greek dancing was also fun.
I went to church with everyone – Christadelphians, Greek Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants. Had I known any Muslims I would have gone along there too – the Lebanese I knew were mostly Catholic.
I played netball with Maori girls and was welcomed into their community. They even made me sound good when I sang (though that may be an alcohol-influenced memory).
As a teacher, I met many more families from diverse backgrounds, including many Muslims – parent teacher night chatting with Mohammed Ali, Rashid’s dad.
My husband and I travelled before having children. Our attempts to speak the language in other countries led to great laughter all round and very kind people helping us out as we used charades and the few words we had in common to communicate.
When I had kids, they too brought home a multitude of different friends of every ethnic background imaginable. No-one seemed to mind giving a couple of the boys a lift to cricket because their father had to pray. He joined us later and was very knowledgeable about the game and always helped with scoring while mum helped in the canteen.
My family includes people from all over as do my children’s partners’ families.
But one thing I do remember with shame is the apartheid practiced in the small country town I came from where Aboriginal people lived in the mission on the outskirts of town. They had a special roped off section in the cinema right under the screen. They couldn’t come in to the pub my family owned but that didn’t stop us selling them alcohol out the back door.
I saw the damage done when people are marginalised and regarded/treated differently. We must never go back there.
I cannot for the life of me understand the fear shown by too many Australians for other Australians. We all share a connection to country in the place we inhabit and we have a shared responsibility to make it a safe, inclusive place for all who live here, helping them to be productive, happy members of the community.
Imagine if Peter Dutton had said we must support our Lebanese community whose children are being put at risk from evil people who seek to seduce them with lies rather than his clumsy dogwhistling.
If I wanted to get rid of anyone, it would be those who preach hatred and division, regardless of where they, or their grandparents, came from. Pauline Hanson and Peter Dutton would be top of my list.
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