|UWA's Uniting chaplain Ian Robinson wrote this as a competition essay on racism.
Australia — a racist country?
When we went through that intersection, the light turned green and suddenly I can hear what you are thinking. It’s weird. The radio is crowing the latest shock jock judge jury verdict punishment on all things unAustralian non-male non-white or religious or courteous or intelligent or educated or artistic. But he is also thinking, and I can hear it.
Ok, ten minutes to go to the news. I have to hold my speech for a few seconds, cut to the caller, stir up one, cut off the next, agree with the third and sing ‘Waltzing Matilda’ with the fourth. Cue that CD. Colin and Mei Fun are coming to dinner tonight, such discrete friends. ‘And you heard it from me, telling the truth, like it or not, Australia.’ I might duck out for a sushi and coke. Off.
There’s an audience for racism. In the car park, I pull in beside the dual cab ute with the fat chrome barwork. Baby seat in the back, he and his missus have finished with bags of shopping.
Nah well yeah like I am not racist but I know what I like, see. Why should we here in Australia, bloody fantastic country have to pick up the dregs from the world’s no-hoper countries? Why are they all comin’ here? Cos they want what we got. Pretty soon they will all be here and we won’t have it anymore. They will turn Australia into one of their no hoper countries. No wages, no jobs, no education. Swamping us, they are. They bring their gangs and their wars and drugs. Breed like buggery. God knows how we haven’t had the mafia here like in the old country, know what I mean? We had Triads and Lebanese Lions and god knows what else. Now we got terrorists from Al Kada and bombs in Indonesia. Stop the lot; stop the rot, that’s what I say.
Why does he think he doesn’t need to think about what he is saying? I try to catch the eye of the black man pulling trolleys around.
At school they call out to me bad words. I do not know why. I do not hurt nobody. We come four months ago. My English that I learn in the camp is no good. No one understands. My mother is sick from worry. My sisters will not go outside. We do not know where my father is or my uncles. Four years now, must be dead. Our church is wonderful, like a soft bed, speaking our language, singing songs of home. We can’t go back. We want go forward, make home here. It is very bad what they say.
Two teenage girls dressed in tights and tats are texting each other.
You know that Djambo, right, well he couldn’t even catch a bus right. I saw him on Saturday and the bus driver like tells him: ‘verify your buspass’ and he didn’t get it. ‘Verifyyourfuckinticket’ he says and Djambo like just stands there. So funny. Just wet himself and ran off. What a retard.
Limping behind his shopping trolley from behind the sliding doors, an elderly gent with a large moustache and cardigan led his silver haired wife towards the parking area.
No, it’s not their fault, really, it’s not a racism situation, really. They are floating on a situation created by certain foreign interests. I blame the nanny government. The bleeding hearts have made everything so soft. Back in my day we had to work for anything we got. And work we did. We come here with nothing. ‘Two pound poms’. Long days hot and hard on the farm. No rest until after harvest, none of this forty hour week business. None of this ‘welfare cheque until you are established. No need to learn English, we’re multicultural you know’. We had to assimilate, and we did. So can they.
From England to Australia – one giant leap for mankind.
She is hanging around the newsagent on her own, walking quickly up and down, head turning in three directions, waiting for someone, pacing. I can hear her head too.
I remember the day they took my cousin. Mum was trying to hold the door closed. Aunty was screaming. Us kids hid in the reeds at the river and they found little Colin under the sugar bag. We didn’t see him again until he was 34, big burly man like his dad, but dad had already passed on. And Colin was a stranger. We sang a lot of songs together. Showed him where his people grew up. He was just lost. He said he ran away trying to get home so many times and got a whippin’ every time. Then juvenile detention and jail. Tried to teach him a trade or read and write and he just wanted to escape. Year after year after year. Drugs and fights and grief and more grief goin’ nowhere. It’s like everything he did and everywhere he went he was lost in his own land. He should be here by now.
Why can’t we be more proud of the oldest continuous culture on the planet?
I am looking forward to this morning coffee. He takes my order with a quick smile.
I am so tired. I get nightmares. I see pirates with their machine guns stealing my mother on to their boat. They take all the money and jewellery, strip the clothes for anything sewn in. Now I see the fire spurt out of the barrels. But I cant hear anything, just fire fire fire fire and holes jumping up in our boat. Mouths open screaming but I can’t hear. Then the sea rush over us and a sailor grab me and throw me onto a wooden crate. My mother try to jump and they hit her face and she fall backward. We float four hour up to an island off Malaysia. They throw us in camp and throw away the key. Five year and I am here now. I study I work I cant sleep I work my soul is still floating in the South China Sea. They say ‘Aren’t you glad you came to Australia’ and I know they want me to say ‘yes’ but I don’t feel like I am anywhere. I am so tired. I make mistake. Hope he doesn’t fire me. When I graduate I get good job and wife and buy house. Then I will belong.
My brother, how can I help you to shelter here?
The table next to me is filled with a largish and lovely lady of mature years, enjoying her friend and reading the community newspaper.
Yes we used to go to that centre. We tried very hard to be friendly but they would just look away. It was embarrassing. We smile and try to shake hands, they look away and give us that polite bow. They were never friendly. I am not racist but. Really! How rude!
The waitress brings my coffee with the same quick smile.
She did not recognise me. We all look the same to them. They come to the migrant centre like an invasion. They smile and stare at your eyes and talk loudly and grab your hand. They want me to be all teeth and jokes and weather. On good days we share a meal and dance but the music fades. We don’t live in that old country anymore, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Why can’t we just be friends? Eat and drink and talk about our families and work. She sit and drink, I work.
Maybe we can picnic at the river, bring our families?
I am at the pharmacy, and waiting patiently in a row of seats is a man with a mullet and a bandaged hand.
I could have walked away any time. But he was my mate. His family gave him such grief, week after week, taking his wages, smashing his car. I don’t know how he put up with it. One night we went out on the town and we’re just walking down the street and this huge constable comes up and questions him on nothing, no respect at all, and they tell me shut the fuck up. Then we go to the next bar and some big angry bogan with too much money wobbles out of the crowd and just takes a swing at him. No warning nothing. Jeez he was quick though, ducks and jabs, drops the guy and makes a run for it all in one go. I’m running and the bouncers get us on the floor, lay in the boot, call the cops and who is it but that same constable. I knew I could have played white-boy card and walked home. But I told them I was aboriginal from Carnarvon with no ID so they locked me up. Not gettin’ me to walk away from a mate.
The pharmacist has served too many people with too much goodwill for one person in one day.
He never smiles. Never says thank you. Pride is everything to those men. Ask how they are, and they might have a leg falling off from gangrene and they will say ‘I am fine thank you very much.’ Show no weakness. There are no women in this country for them, so they just wind each other up. Gossip, secret alliances, beatings, unpaid labour, henchmen. Gangs for the young boys and closed shops for the men. Code of silence, no sign of weakness, no second chances. Heaven help you if you express any second thoughts about it all, about your religion, about Australia. I know we have our own problems in this country, but this is an evil culture.
On the bench in the mall, a man in a white hat and a lined brown face is watching everyone go by, and smiling he holds his hand and greets two friends.
It wasn’t like this at home. The war changed everything. Peaceful neighbours had to take sides. From government to local, the leaders were all the same. Corruption sprang up like weeds in a garden. We could trust no one. We even had to bribe an official to get bread for the children. It was hard and we became like machines, military machines. Murders were common, but no one spoke a word. If you wavered in loyalty, you were dead, or your children were taken. We had to escape. Even here the news will get back if we are not careful. Our relatives will be tortured for what we say here. We have only each other. And praise God we are here for each other. They hate us Muslim.
The local member is at a card table doing a credible act of listening to locals.
There is so much could be done. Departments and offices, programmes and subsidies in place to create opportunity, redress disadvantage. Why don’t they take it? It is all efficiently organised. We need to be hard, get the motivation really burning. We could be really productive then, be competitive. But it would be electoral suicide. No one wants the truth to be told.
And the check out boy is finding it hard to concentrate.
She is so beautiful. I have never really met a Tamil girl. She moves like the breeze in the leaves. My parents would freak if they thought I was interested in a Tamil. If I took her home dad would make some tamil tiger terrorist joke. I know her uncles are all dead, and her dad is disabled. I hate to think how that happened. She is small and bright yet her head is full of this horror story. I wonder if she would go to the movies with a Chinese Aussie boy?
The future turns up. My head is trapped in a washing machine of stories. I am out of here.
As the doors slide open, my psychic mind suddenly cuts out. Silence. More silence. Looks like a young aboriginal near our car. Wonder what he wants.
I will ask.