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Turning our backs on cultural diversity: thoughts on Harmony Week

By Jane Salmon

Growing up in bland suburban 50s, 60s and 70s middle-class Australia was all about enforced conservative norms.

You fitted in or were teased. You moved around in private cars where possible and kept to suburbs as uniform as possible. You treated foreign foods like spaghetti as exotic. When travelling, you were blithely ignorant of the benefits of tabouleh while strenuously fearful of being offered eating sheep’s eyes by Arabs. You were even assured you had nothing to personally feel “Sorry” about, whether or not you believe it. You stereotyped yourself by size, height, blondeness, occupation or interests: a Brady Bunch or Womens Weekly style template. You also mentally dismissed “chinks”, “gooks”, “wogs”, Nazis and Jews, “Abos”, males and females. To some extent, you still do. Privately.

These days Harmony Week is supposed to make a dent in the Aussie Anglophile smug. It’s generally a festival of traditional national food, music, costumes and dance.

Does it create change and encourage us to accept the gifts of other civilisations and cultures or does it reinforce difference?

“Harmony” seems needed more than ever.

Many Australians seem only too keen to accept Trump’s or Hanson’s permission to be selfish, angry, ignorant, unaware, fearful and above all, racist.

Despite SBS and the internet, far too many Aussies are opting for a festival of ignorance-fuelled fear and hatred right now. Exploring extreme stereotypes seems so much more satisfying than accepting the ordinariness of peace-loving people who just happen to grow up in different countries.

Refugees and migrants “take” jobs rather than “create” them. Many voters tacitly concur that resources are finite and that any generosity will cost them, that every transaction is part of a zero sum game, that you cannot grow the pie.

The belief that bigger demands on the rich to share wealth will harm the economy is well established. Far better to punish the vulnerable poor.

On Wednesday, IWD, a pro-refugee group of volunteers called “People Just Like Us” solicited members of the public to put messages of welcome to refugees on a sculpted metal tree made to celebrate Harmony Week. The work was sponsored by City of Sydney and completed by refugees.

The group has a level of fellowship. There is artist Jason Koh who came from Singapore 20 years ago. There is Angelika Treichler who was raised in post war Germany. Joyce Fu is from Taiwan. Fabia Claridge is from everywhere.

The sculptor is an Iranian called Majet. I also enjoyed meeting Amir, a smiling and very cultured estate agent whose achievements in Australia began with learning English and then representing his own immigration case in the Federal Court.

Passers-by either seemed to wholeheartedly embrace the concepts represented by leaflets and tree or to passively resent and ignore them. There was very little in between.

Many folk seem to avoid any challenge to their immediate preoccupations, goals and/or prejudices.

Getting past white entitlement is hard to do. We still fear difference. I still bumble and fumble the interactions, emphasising difference.

A phalanx of private school boys paraded past our demonstration yesterday. Their disinterest was polite. The blonde, slim, be-whistles teacher seemed warier of controversy than they.

But yesterday a few lovely folk had the leisure and grace to stop and chat. They seemed to be widely travelled, warm, educated and thoughtful.

One tourist sadly told me about the rise of COP18 & extreme National Front groups in poor parts of Britain, of polarisation that seems to grow out of poverty and ignorance. Brexit voters had no idea of the implications, he said. Nostalgia and nationalism are a heady mix. Colonialism and world wars are based on racist stereotypes.

Our government detains vulnerable men, women and children on Nauru. They isolate visa overstayers as hostages offshore in indefinite detention in our name. This seems to be at great expense to taxpayers and to mutual respect, trust and even peace. Australians can somehow afford to bomb Syria and Syrians from the air, to force people to stagnate in camps, but not find positive ways to embrace them when they coming looking for a fresh start.

Every one of us can take a step on the road to Harmony by getting to know a wider range of people. If you have time, wander down to Customs House on Sunday. Enjoy the cultural riches that newcomers bestow upon our country. Hear about the reasons ordinary folk flee extremists in their own homelands. Look a detainee of four years in the eye. See the needless damage and also celebrate all that they have achieved since.

Perhaps they’re not so dangerous after all.

And maybe we can all afford compose a message on a coloured leaf and tie it to an already bristling tree.

I’ll be there to enjoy dance and music, poetry (whether traditional or slam), build bonds and see those leaves of welcome burgeoning on every branch.

Hope you’ll join us.



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  1. Jaris

    This site is a crap.

  2. Roswell

    You don’t like multiculturalism, I take it.

  3. Kaye Lee

    On the IPA’s list of 75 ideas to transform Australia….

    73 Defund Harmony Day

    and Jaris, I don’t think you will enjoy it here. Could I recommend Larry Pickering’s blog to you.

  4. jimhaz

    [see those leaves of welcome burgeoning on every branch]

    I do not support anything that will lead to continuing high immigration, and a continuing loss of our Australianness (due also to neoconservatives) – so no harmony day for me.

  5. Roswell

    Well then, jimhaz, no pasta for you. Feel free to lock yourself in a cacoon.

  6. Matters Not

    Poetry – slam. Just checked it out. I live and learn. Far, far behind the times.

    This site is a crap

    Nino Culotta said much the same in They’re a Weird Mob . And how we laughed. But we also learnt how to eat spaghetti with a fork rather than a spoon. Yes we all benefit by learning from each other. Usually. Hopefully.

    But perhaps ‘we’ is too broad? Maybe ‘most’ is a better choice of word.

  7. Michael Taylor

    Jaris/jimhaz, this site supports multiculturalism. You don’t have to agree with it, of course, and you are entitled to say so, but there will be much here that you won’t like.

  8. Matters Not

    this site supports multiculturalism

    You don’t have any other choice! Multiculturalism is a defining characteristic of humans living in groups. Within all societies, there are ‘cultural differences’. While some are ‘recognised’, others fly beneath the radar. Sometimes all it takes is a little ‘scratch’ to see the differences emerge and perhaps ignite.

    Hands up those who like Tony Abbott? None? What about John Howard? I see a few.

  9. Kaye Lee

    Having a more diverse society has not negatively impacted my life in any way. Quite the contrary, it has enriched it, as have my travels. Meeting people of different cultural backgrounds has been interesting and usually an enjoyable experience. Meeting hateful and intolerant people has not.

    It isn’t our ethnic differences causing problems in Australian society, it’s our economic differences.

  10. Johno

    I don’t think I will see Jaris or Jimaz at WOMAD.

  11. havanaliedown

    Harmony day: as popular as a pork chop in Lakemba

  12. Kaye Lee

    My nephews who are of Filipino heritage love it havanaliedown. They tell their story at school. There are wonderful activities going on all over Sydney (and no doubt elsewhere) and at schools across the state – not sure about other states…is it a nationwide thing? If not they are missing out on a great festival.

  13. Pamela

    Harmony Day is a fantastic day and has been celebrated at my children’s school for as long as I can remember they really enjoy the activities and all the children join in… there are weeks of preparation and notices sent out both in primary and secondary schools with lots of multi-cultural activities planned… so I don’t know where havanaliedown, Jaris or Jimaz live or get there ideas from they must be in some remote area or blind to activities occurring in many cities across Australia. WOMAD

  14. Pamela

    I want to add to that, Chinese New Year, Glendi, Schützenfest, the Fringe, and then there are all the various National Day Celebrations, Refugee Week… National Reconciliation Week (National Sorry Day), National NAIDOC Week, Carnevale Italian Festival and not to overlook the local India Festival held at my local Community Club… there is so much and so much variety.

  15. corvus boreus

    Here on the mid-north coast of NSW, Harmony Day sees a programme of various cultural displays and performances (music, dance, foods and such) being held each year at the local Botanic Gardens.
    The quality of the different entertainments tends to ranges from impressive to inept but enthusiastic, but the event is overall quite popular with the general public and draws a good sized crowd (usually several thousand people) of mixed demographic.
    I have attended several, including representing my own northern european heritage as part of a historical re-enactment group.
    I accept that the sights and sounds (and tastes) of such a broad palate of sensory stimulation may not appeal to all, especially those who shun cultural diversity and crave homogeneity, and do not begrudge the disinterest of those who prefer their lives to be bland and boring.

  16. Phil

    Hey jimhaz – what is this “Australianness” you say you are losing?

    Smacks of code for not white enough, not male enough, maybe not ignorant enough?

  17. helvityni

    I have often asked: What are the so-called ‘Australian ‘ values? So far NO answers. How do they differ from good values of other countries?

  18. Keitha Granville

    I have to disagree slightly with the opening remarks, just personally – I grew up in the 50s/60s and we definitely didn’t move around in private cars wherever possible. My mum didn’t have a car, we caught the bus or walked. I think my parents were just naturally accepting of everyone, I don’t ever remember being told anything else. When a couple of Greek boys opened a shop in our village the world opened up. We embraced them as family. (even now 5 years after my mum’s death I see one of the brothers regularly and he always reminisces fondly of my mum) On the rare occasion when we went out for dinner (hardly any restaurants then, except in hotel dining rooms) we always went to an Italian place. Yum. I remember being taught how to eat spaghetti with a fork AND a spoon. I grew up not ever noticing that people were different and I hope my children will always be the same.
    The greater variety of peoples now in Australia is magic – their contribution to us in food, in artistry, is immeasurable. The Hmong market gardeners in my home state are legends ! They seem to be able to grow things all year round that fail miserably in my garden.
    Taking our jobs ? No, they MAKE jobs, they apply themselves to anything needed to make their way in our country. Imagine having to leave your homeland through war or persecution – we have never known that, probably will never know it, and it demeans us as human beings to persecute any victims of war or conflict.
    It’s about who individuals ARE, not where they started their lives, or what religion or colour they are.

  19. helvityni

    The post of the day goes to Keitha Granville ! Wonderful.

  20. havanaliedown

    “Australian Values” are not to be “told” – they are to be figured out for ourselves.

    I only noticed the first time I was called a “wog” at a tender age, but eventually came to embrace it.

  21. Jane Salmon

    Keitha, Yep. I grew upmin very vanilla Canberra. It too has changed a bit, thank heaven!

    Now a Car-less Sydney sider who loves public transport and almost all the interaction thereon

  22. astridnova

    Bland people find everything bland. You can find all kinds of bland people still – of every ‘race’, ‘colour’, creed, and national origin. This stuff about Australia being bland has been sold to us by the growth lobby that wants mass immigration to drive up inflation on resources and housing here. They want us to forget the society of Australia before the gold rush, which had a huge density of natural scientists from many different countries who were attracted to our bio-diversity. People who still care about wildlife and wild spaces hate how our country is being turned into cities, suburbs, mines and agribusiness. There were interesting authors and brilliant painters in Australia from the first.

    It is the financial ruling classes that divide and conquer using the ideology of racism or multiculturalism (which go to the same ends of defining people by their differences instead of by their commonalities.) and then import slave-labour. The white australia policy was a reaction by the working classes to the use of slave labour.

    The British managed to gain an agricultural foothold in a land hostile to agriculture using ‘white’ slaves in the form of convicts drawn mostly from the ragged army of their dispossessed. Their number was later supplemented by indentured labour, displaced aboriginals, and, until Federation, ‘black-birding’ – the practice of kidnapping Pacific Islanders and bringing them to work in Australia, principally for the Colonial Sugar Refinery Company. The gold-rushes of the 1850s attracted capital, finance and economic migrants, resulting in a rapidly morphing population and economy and formation of a working class. This class rejected the importing of slaves, based on the American experience of black slaving. This class made a national wage-fixing pact with capital at Federation in 1904 and also obtained the agreement of CSR to outlaw black-birding and the importation of other ‘non-white’ labour, widely perceived as synonymous with slaving. I learned this from a Greek-Australian lecturer in a post grad course in industrial law.

    The use of awards to protect wages and conditions from being eroded by cheap labour was shockingly destroyed by Kennett. (See this article for details:

    After awards were destroyed and Howard had used the corporations power of Section 51(xx) of the Constitution, to extend coverage of the federal industrial relations system to an estimated 85% of Australian employees, it became possible to import cheap labour. And that is why we have seen a massive increase in immigration. However this increase has been sold to naive Australians as immigration of refugees – so people actually believe that the rapid increase in population growth is due to refugee influxes – which it is definitely not. Those are economic immigrants. Anyone objecting is called a racist and the propaganda of multiculturalism is used to shut them up.

    My mother was the first English as a second language teacher in Port Melbourne and we often had people over from all kinds of places. I was given books from many different cultures to read as well as books about biodiversity and Darwin. I played with aboriginal children from the desert on coastal WA during geophysical safaris. I learned to speak french fluently from a French influx to Kingscross in 1968. The French used to run drugs there openly doing deals in French. I later was employed as a drug and alcohol counselor by aborigines in Melbourne, who told me how much they hated mass immigration and multiculturalism. They were the luckiest people in the world when you think that they had this country at almost stable population for about 60,000 years.

    There is nothing wrong with a gentle stream of immigration, but immigrationism as an ideology is what we are dealing with in Australia at the moment. Why is a free press site parroting this propaganda that stigmatises all Australians as racists? It is ridiculous and people are rightfully resentful. In the current climate of unemployment, rising resource prices and housing unaffordability people are not going to welcome artificially driven population growth.

  23. Kathy

    What was “bland” about these past decades? From the 1950s at least there were drugs ,sex and rock ’n’roll. What was missing? Nothing. We had BIO diversity- it was vibrant compared with now. We had children with diasbilites in the same class with normally abled children. Our teachers taught us about those differences at the age of 4 . Suburbs were not uniform- there was wide scope for individual expression and more space for this. Spagetti was a pretty run of the mill experience . In any case if Vietnamese people in Vietnam eat excusivley Vietnamese food does this make their lives bland?
    This sounds as though it was written by someone who was not present in the 1950s,60s or 70s or else is bearing false witness

  24. havanaliedown

    Too true Kathy… I went to Italy and all they had was homogenous bland boring Italian food… mmm….

    Anyhow get with the program – Aussies = racist

    You have much to learn here: brown skinned people cannot be racist or bigoted, and in Finland everything is better.

  25. jimhaz

    Well said astridnova. I missed seeing your post until now.

    On Tuesday I stuck my neck out and refused to partake in an in-house work lunch even when mild pressure was applied. I’m one of only a few anglos in my workplace, so they wanted me there.

    It is matter of principle as I see it as a form of social engineering of children to make them think favourably about immigration.

    I would have attended if the gov had plans to cut immigration down to around 50k. The concept of the day is fine.

    [Bland people find everything bland. You can find all kinds of bland people still – of every ‘race’, ‘colour’, creed, and national origin]

    I avoid the in-house lunch events as I find them too bland. PCism and lack of things in common, means you can only do small talk. I do go out for birthday lunches, but I’m not really sure why – all they do is make me pine for the old days.

    [Their number was later supplemented by indentured labour, displaced aboriginals, and, until Federation, ‘black-birding’ – the practice of kidnapping Pacific Islanders and bringing them to work in Australia, principally for the Colonial Sugar Refinery Company]

    There was a Who Do You Think You Are? story on Mal Meninga where this history was raised. Quite interesting – I watched as I’d heard the word Kanakas (non-PC word now) in my youth and all I knew was they worked on QLD sugar farms.

  26. townsvilleblog

    I believe that Australians welcome all cultures that benefit them, and none that do not benefit them. We love being multicultural but certain cultures that hurt the country are rejected because they do not offer anything to the rest of us. We have welcome the Chinese, Italians, Greeks, Scandinavians, Europeans that fit well with our culture. The only culture that ‘all’ Australians should respect is that of the first Australians but there is no doubt that the aforementioned cultures have been great for Australia, and I support them wholeheartedly.

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