Melbourne is the united nations of Australia, the ethnic mosaic that acts as a terminal between multiple worlds. Sprouting from the heart of the city, Russel Street boasts Greek taverns adjacent to Italian pizzerias sandwiched between sushi bars. Turning left from Russel Street we reach a new gate at the terminal, little burke street- as if a slice of China had been uprooted and planted right in the middle of Melbourne city.
We have cultural music festivals where the drums of Africa and the didgeridoos of the indigenous filter into the streets, a musical harmony that proudly demonstrates our ethnic diversity Visiting Federation Square during the Indian food and wine gala, the orange, green and white flag was raised high while the smell of coriander and cardamom filled the air.
Emerging from the shadows of the streets a wrinkled and deprived elderly man wearing a bindii on his forehead approached a young teenage girl sipping on a big bowl of yellow curry. Pleading for any spare change, the teenage girl simply turns around and mutters under her breath, “dirty taxi drivers”.
The incongruity of that picture will always be etched into my mind. This teenage girl holds insight into the daunting truth of our generation. Our recreational interest in cultures acts only as a mask to hide behind when accused of racial injustice. This food and wine mentality has evolved the infamous “I’m not racist I have a black best friend” to the now more common “I’m not racist I love Japanese hand rolls”. We are beginning to consume cultures just as we consume products.
With a selfish and egotistical agenda, we dive into multiculturalism on a superficial level. If we are ever going to tackle this racial divide, we must dig deeper than music festivals and miso soups and generate a genuine respect for their people’s interests. This year we have had a quite a confronting and raw insight into Australia’s racial intolerance verifying you don’t have to dig deep to uncover the underbelly of racism in this country. In March, a young 13-year-old girl was scrutinized and castigated for calling aboriginal player Adam Goodes an “ape” at not just any game, but the dreamtime aboriginal reconciliation game- the irony is tragicomical.
No matter how much try to make this girl culpable for her actions; she is sadly just a by-product of generations of hidden racism in this country…and it’s time we point the finger of blame to the mirror. We hear it all the time- On the streets, with our friends and it occasionally slips out while we are with our families. The “joke” as we try and cover it up , the “joke” that was harmless fun and was not meaning to offend. However, in Cronulla 2005, these jokes quickly became the vehicle for 26 injuries and 42 arrests in what would be known as one of Australia’s worst racial driven riots. Over 5000 locals joined together to protest against recent attacks by Lebanese gangs.
These protests soon become a purge for locals to unleash their inner racism. SMSs such as “Just a reminder that Cronulla’s 1st wog bashing day is still on this Sunday” circulated around the town, believing to have instigated the crowds. Our cultural music festivals and ethnic celebrations will sadly no longer conceal this ugly blemish with which Australia seems to have broken out.
Last November respected Aboriginal leader and former Labour candidate Tauto Sansbury resigned from the ALP because he lost faith in the party, which he says is dismissive of indigenous affairs and has in it “a big element of racism”. Continually side tracking aboriginal projects Sansbury contests that the “ALP only provide lip service to the Aboriginal community”.
We can no longer audaciously showcase our cultural events without simultaneously supporting them behind closed doors. However with every new problem, no matter how difficult, comes a solution. Maybe Rachel Perkins had it right with her musical drama that depicts aboriginal tracker, Albert attempting to help a reluctant white family in finding their daughter, Emily. Perkins uses Emily as the symbol for purity, running through the flowers and innocently waving at Albert’s family.
However, with a family like the Ryan’s there is no doubt Emily would have grown up to be just like the 13 year old girl at the dreamtime match. Perkins emphasizes the love and youthfulness of children, proving to our generation that they are our only hope if we are to nourish a truly tolerant country.
We can no longer rely on our festivals and worldly terminals to carry us through racial equality. We must actively have tolerance and a general interest in the needs of our Australian community. We have thirteen year old’s calling Adam Goodes an ape, and national celebrities making racist jokes on air. And no matter how many times McGuire pleads it was a “slip of the tongue” I’m afraid to say that this ‘slip’ has become an endemic in Australian society.