AUSTRALIA FROM THE MARGINALISED PERSPECTIVE

img_3072Many of Australia’s tour­ists and recent migrants from Europe will tell you excitedly about how grate­ful they are to be in this coun­try. They embrace the laid back ‘Aus­sie’ atti­tudes of the people, the bright sun that con­tinu­ally blesses the earth and the icon­ic beaches that look as per­fect as the post­cards present them to be. The bene­fits of liv­ing in Aus­tralia are undeni­able, the wages for many pro­fes­sion­al jobs are higher than in the US and UK, the min­im­um wage is rel­at­ively high, it is one of the safest coun­tries in the world and any signs of pover­ty, inequal­ity and unhap­pi­ness are not as obvi­ous as in oth­er places. These aspects of the coun­try are con­tinu­ally dis­cussed by the gen­er­al per­son who takes a per­son­al pride in being part of such a nation. But these aspects of Aus­tralia mask many under­ly­ing prob­lems that are incom­pat­ible with the main­stream nation­al nar­rat­ive.

Socially the coun­try is not as wel­com­ing as the media would have you believe. Any inter­na­tion­al Afric­an stu­dent will tell you as much. After the wheels of their arriv­ing plane touches the tar­mac and they have made it out into the air­port, they soon come to real­ise that the sort of warmth which is exten­ded to the Eng­lish ‘expat­ri­ate’ is not exten­ded to them. Instead, the may come to tangle with feel­ings of invis­ib­il­ity and mar­gin­al­isa­tion. Fur­ther­more, if you talk to any Indi­gen­ous Aus­trali­an, they can tell you about the harsh exper­i­ence of feel­ing like a for­eign­er in their own coun­try of birth. The leg­acy of white suprem­acy in this coun­try no longer expresses itself in expli­cit acts of racism but in the fact that minor­ity groups have to cre­ate spaces which will provide them with the kind of warmth that is so often with­held from the gen­er­al pub­lic.

The reas­on for high­light­ing these issues is not to focus on the prob­lems faced by mar­gin­al­ised groups but to explore the unique per­spect­ives that arise from being a cul­tur­al minor­ity. From with­in the waves of con­fu­sion that come with liv­ing as a per­son of col­our in Aus­tralia, an eso­ter­ic under­stand­ing of the coun­try can assist in cre­at­ing a ful­filling, altern­at­ive mind­set.

In the first case, it’s import­ant to truly under­stand (or ‘over­stand’ as we Jamaic­ans say) that this land has been col­on­ised. Des­pite the undeni­able, impli­cit, European claim to the land, the nat­ur­al world can­not be con­tained in such a way. It is far too old and has seen too much. It speaks another lan­guage that we can’t truly under­stand. And in any case, I don’t think it’s voice has an ‘Aus­sie’ accent. Observed in this way, a con­nec­tion with the land may bring a sense of peace to those of us who feel ali­en­ated by this cul­ture. For example, on one rainy night in the hills of Too­wong, I was look­ing out of my girlfriend’s win­dow and think­ing about the pre-colo­ni­al world. As I peered out, I ima­gined how long rain had been touch­ing this land and about how new the present situ­ation must seem to the nat­ur­al world. Mil­lions of years ago the flora and fauna would have respon­ded to the rain in vary­ing ways, relat­ing to their instincts and nat­ur­al drives.

Then,with the com­ing of humans, we can ima­gine the rain soaked faces and bod­ies of the indi­gen­ous people some tens of thou­sands of years ago. Back then they would have made sense of such a nat­ur­al phe­nomen­on by look­ing to myths and cre­ation stor­ies. For the hun­dreds of eth­nic groups and cul­tures that made up the indi­gen­ous pop­u­la­tion, the com­ing of rain would have sig­ni­fied a range of dif­fer­ent spir­itu­al and prac­tic­al ideas. And today, in spite of everything that has happened, the rain con­tin­ues to fall. It also made me con­tem­plate the far dis­tant future where all these issues like integ­ra­tion, racism and ali­en­a­tion would be the stuff of myths. Even fur­ther still, when homo-sapi­ens have long passed from the scene, the land will con­tin­ue to be showered by rain.

With regards to the his­tor­ic­al aspect of our lives, I’ve found that sim­il­arly mar­gin­al­ised groups in Aus­tralia can find a sense of con­sol­a­tion in relat­ing their past stor­ies and cul­tures. Through these inter­ac­tions, an under­stand­ing of the inter­con­nec­ted­ness of his­tory and every­day exper­i­ence may allow for feel­ings of warmth. For example, the event of European col­on­isa­tion is a com­mon his­tory for both the indi­gen­ous people of the land and the many eth­nic minor­it­ies that have come to Aus­tralia. I remem­ber talk­ing to an indi­gen­ous woman once and she referred to a child as a ‘picka­ninny’ which reminded me of a sim­il­ar word in Jamaic­an patois, ‘pick­ney’ which has the same mean­ing. I reasoned that there must have been a sim­il­ar lin­guist­ic, colo­ni­al con­nec­tion. A few years later, my West Afric­an friend was speak­ing pidgin and he also referred to a child with a sim­il­ar word, ‘pikin’. Look­ing for fur­ther inform­a­tion, I found that the Por­tuguese ‘pequeno’ (mean­ing ‘small’) was a pos­sible root for these words. Though this is a small example, it is an indic­at­or of the wider his­tor­ic­al sim­il­ar­it­ies between many people of col­our in Aus­tralia. Many of our col­lect­ive his­tor­ies have dealt with dis­place­ment, loss of cul­ture and the recon­fig­ur­a­tion of post-colo­ni­al iden­tit­ies.

On the imme­di­ate and per­son­al level though, the under­stand­ing smile of a per­son of col­our brings more of a sense of famili­ar­ity and con­nec­tion than any his­tory class can. If you pass through a park in Kur­aby in South Bris­bane on a Sat­urday even­ing, you will find Afric­an and Arab fam­il­ies hav­ing bar­be­cues as their chil­dren play togeth­er. The bas­ket­ball courts and foot­ball fields are full of people prac­tising their respect­ive sports. There is a strong sense of com­munity there where the people wel­come new faces and are open to talk about their lives. Just listen and you might hear nar­rat­ives of move­ment, change and new begin­nings. There the youth have become cul­tur­ally hybrid, mix­ing their par­ents cul­ture with Amer­ic­an hip-hop influ­ences and Aus­trali­an ver­nacu­lar. If you head to Moo­rooka you can find a num­ber of busi­nesses and res­taur­ants owned by people from a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent Afric­an back­grounds. Related in their sim­il­ar exper­i­ence in Aus­tralia, they come to learn about the cul­tures of one another and work togeth­er to build a pan-Afric­an atmo­sphere.

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When I go down to Moo­rooka for my yam and plantain or for my afro hair products, I am reminded of the high roads of Tot­ten­ham, Har­les­den, Brix­ton and Hack­ney in Lon­don. I often talk with my friends at the barbers shop about recent events and the word ‘brother’ holds a par­tic­u­lar sig­ni­fic­ance in our souls.

A sure way to con­nect with oth­ers with sim­il­ar struggles is to attend any of the new­er cre­at­ive events in Aus­tralia which are con­cerned with rep­res­ent­ing hid­den voices. In the city centre and sur­round­ing areas, these events allow for a revi­sion of his­tory and help to cre­ate spaces for unique expres­sion. At one par­tic­u­lar art exhib­i­tion, I was able to talk to Abori­gin­al people of the older gen­er­a­tion who talked to me about hope and edu­ca­tion. Although we were from dif­fer­ent his­tor­ies, I felt that there was an unspoken con­nec­tion in cul­ture which placed them as the storytellers and me as a mem­ber of the young­er gen­er­a­tion who could learn from their stor­ies. After speak­ing with them I felt more con­nec­ted to the older gen­er­a­tions of people of col­our in this coun­try. It reminded me of the sorts of rela­tion­ships that I have with older people in the UK and Jamaica.

Finally, join­ing groups and soci­et­ies whose aim is to pro­mote unity is a healthy way to deal with feel­ings of ali­en­a­tion. Over the course of a semester at the Uni­ver­sity of Queensland, I have had the pleas­ure of being part of the Afric­an Stu­dents Asso­ci­ation. We often hold dis­cus­sions that relate to our lives here and back in our respect­ive homes. We also hold social events which are filled with laughter and music. The soci­ety gives us all a sense of belong­ing as we as African/black stu­dents make up one of the smal­lest demo­graph­ics of the Uni­ver­sity. We are often the only Afric­an stu­dent in our respect­ive classes and there­fore have a great feel­ing of togeth­er­ness when we see one another on cam­pus. A sim­ple wave or head nod means all the dif­fer­ence and we find that it seems to wash away those linger­ing feel­ings of dis­place­ment.

 

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Nicholas Milverton
A writer with an interest in Philo­sophy, Soci­ology, Anthro­po­logy and all things intro­spect­ive. Someone who is equally at home in under­ground house raves as he is in café’s. He is con­tinu­ally ques­tion­ing the sys­tem and his own lines of reas­on­ing. There­fore, he is always rein­vent­ing him­self.

About Nicholas Milverton

Nicholas Milverton
A writer with an interest in Philosophy, Sociology, Anthropology and all things introspective. Someone who is equally at home in underground house raves as he is in cafe's. He is continually questioning the system and his own lines of reasoning. Therefore, he is always reinventing himself.