Do you come from a land down under?

The people

For most of us who moved countries, it was no impulse act. The months and maybe years of planning, preparation and determination – sometimes against the advice of family and friends – was just the beginning of the journey.

This was the reality for 49 percent of the Australian population.

Myself and around a quarter of the population have felt the stomach-turning anxiety of the first day of school and work in another country. 

Seven different perspectives on multiculturalism. Video: Neelam Dajee

Sascha and Jessika, featured in the video above, mention throw away comments such as, “Speak English here, it’s Australia” and “Wow your English is actually really good”. Jake, Stephanie and I, people of colour, hear ‘sorry, you do not fit the brief for this character’ when applying for minor roles in the entertainment industry. 

“You always find examples of people looking for roles and they want Caucasians, but there doesn’t seem to be a reason why that particular role needs to be Caucasian.”

– Jake
Dr Marilyn Metta. Photo: Neelam Dajee.

Stephanie says although South Africa has its own history with Apartheid, someone would not be told they are not the ‘right’ ethnicity for a role. After nearly a decade in Australia, South Africa is still home for her. She says, “Where you come from is home, even if you make a life in Australia”.

Our Indigenous people: Dr Marilyn Metta.

The treatment of our Indigenous communities is just one example of how actions from the past can haunt the present says Jessika. She says the rest of us who emigrated to Australia should be aware of this.

“The biggest problem here is unfortunately the Aborigines people, and the conflicts they face.”

– Jessika

Jumpa says she has had good times and bad, but the key is not to let the bad ones make you afraid. She says as society changes we are all feeling more socially isolated and maybe we should start by getting to know the people on our street.

She says Netflix and UberEats create more space for people to be isolated from the world.

“Sometimes you feel lonely here because everyone lives so separate.”

– Jumpa

Jumpa says sometimes she feels like she belongs here, but other times she feels Australia cannot be her home.

Sascha talks about his experiences travelling and how Australia is one of the most diverse places he has been to. He says his experience here is different to his friend’s experience who is from Singapore. His friend told him he felt ‘Western’ but coming to Australia, people saw him as Asian, and treated him differently than he expected.

Sascha’s experience is similar to Jessika, they both say how chatty Australian people are. How weird it was initially to tell someone packing your groceries how your day has been. He says in Germany the greeting is ‘Good Day’, no question, no answer.

“In Germany, you do not speak to foreign people on the street and ask ‘hey, how are you?’.”

– Sascha

Oliver says he is half Australian and half Dutch. He referred to his mother’s heritage as Australian, which means she could have emigrated from just about anywhere in the world. He says an important part of any culture is food. He thinks all the different cuisines make Perth unique.

Public fears: Dr Marilyn Metta.

Our fixation on multiculturalism and assimilation are, in part, influenced by political moves which seek to entice and attract foreigners says Dr Marilyn Metta.

Culture in play

Navrang event planner Mr Doolabh says the event is important because it helps people from other cultures learn about Hinduism. He says their aim is to spread multiculturalism to the already diverse West Australian people.

Navrang presents the celebration of Navratri, where Hindu’s around the world worship the Goddesses for nine consecutive days.

Navrang does not get government funding. They rely on volunteers and local Indian businesses for the donations and services. From 2011 till today the organisation raised more than $100,000 for West Australian charities and organisations.

This year the money will be donated to Epilepsy WA and the Arthritis & Osteoporosis Foundation.

Navratri: How culture creates community. Video: Neelam Dajee.

The country

The annual Scanlon report studies the changing immigration patterns of Australia. It investigates discrimination, the sense of belonging and our willingness to accept others. 

2018 Scanlon report data. Infographic: Neelam Dajee.

Migration stories are often a mixed bag. 

Is it a surprise Australia, like other post colonial settlements, has a history of racially motivated segregation? Does the history mean discrimination is inevitable? If so, are we burdening minorities and people of colour?

For migrants who come from ‘Western’ countries, Australia may be the land of endless ‘plains to share’. For those who have strong accents or struggle with English, communicating can be especially hard.

Jessika says learning English ten years ago was far easier because people were more patient than they are now. At her work, people who do not speak good English or have strong accents are the centre of jokes and bullying. When she migrated, she found Australians were generally friendly. She recalls being confused when the bus driver asked ‘how ya going?’, her gut response was ‘none of your business’.

The social grading system: Dr Marilyn Metta.

We should question why migrants feel this way says Dr Metta.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently attended a Diwali function. In his speech he said “There are many metaphors which are given to explain multiculturalism in Australia. But the one I like best is garam masala”.

Last year the Prime Minister said we needed to cap permanent migration. He said it will ease congestion in major cities.

Despite the evidence showing that Australia is a multicultural nation, is our fair-go, mate-ship bound rhetoric just a surface?