Multicultural Australia is working

I want to look more closely at my statement that multiculturalism doesn’t work.  I said this during the recent so-called ‘riots’ in England. I think maybe I neglected to be more searching in information before I posted that. England certainly has immigrant problems but that could also be due to the habit the English have of sweeping potential problems under the carpet and pretending they don’t exist until there is a flare up like the ‘riots’. So yes, there is a problem in that overcrowded country. And it is partly the fruits of Empire that need to be dealt with openly.

I have spent a week in Sydney and checked out Auburn where the local community includes a lot of Middle Eastern immigrants both first, second and beyond generations.

Wonderful shopping precinct BTW, just my cup of tea.

The local community in Cabramatta is mainly Asian with a predominance of Vietnamese immigrants again of first and second generation.

Shops in Cabramatta

Any food you could want in Cabramatta

Again, there was gorgeous food and a terrific shopping precinct.

The first place I went to, though, was like the United Nations.

Veges galore at Flemington

The Flemington Markets comprises acres of covered food markets and flower markets

Australian Wildflowers at Flemington

with stalls manned by as many nationalities as can be imagined. I bought a briefcase from a Russian woman with an enormous range of goods available and three woollies from a Chinese stall holder on the positive advice from a New Zealander who was checking out the clothes on an enormous table. An Italian man answered queries about the furniture that was offered for sale.

Negotiation at Flemington

The flea market was mind boggling. Second hand goods were everywhere, in bins, on trestle tables and piled high, on the ground and on hangers. How the stall holders kept track of their own particular wares and who was sifting through is anyone’s guess. It was all packed to the gunnels.

Clothes shopping at Flemington

I was with a friend of mine who pointed out that Australia had adopted positive multicultural legislation and that immigrants and authorities, native Australians and others were, in fact, forming communities where there was a sense of all belonging to the same country. Certainly there was no feeling of unease or strangeness anywhere.

We had an Italian breakfast at the Flemington Markets, hunted around for Turkish Delight and Iranian nougat in Auburn and had lunch at a Vietnamese cafe in Cabramatta. This particular Saturday was the day for the annual African Women’s Dinner Dance held in the Cabra-Vale Diggers Club.

Having heaps of fun

This photos from 2010 dinner

There was a magnificent Nigerian woman, larger than life, who was the community liaison with the police and the Deputy Superintendent of Police addressed the gathering about closer relationships between community and police. The night itself was a vibrant splash of colours, dressing up and dancing. It was the colours and high spirits that grabbed me. Excellent fun and pleasure.

What a day – I felt as though I had been on a whirlwind world trip.

What it did do was make me think about




multicultural communities and how we perceive immigration. Australia’s horrendous White Australia Policy was gradually dismantled after the Second World War and by 1972 official policies of multiculturalism were in place. (Wikipedia)

The top ten religions in Australia account for less than 63% of the population.

According to the (2008) census more than one fifth of the population were born overseas. Furthermore, almost 50% of the population were either:

  • born overseas; or
  • had one or both parents born overseas.


The meaning of multiculturalism has changed enormously since its formal introduction to Australia. Originally it was understood by the mainstream population as a need for acceptance that many members of the Australian community originally came from different cultures and still had ties to it. However, it came to mean the rights of migrants within mainstream Australia to express their cultural identity. It is now often used to refer to the fact that very many people in Australia have, and recognize, multiple cultural or ethnic backgrounds. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in Australia estimated that, in 2005, 25% of the Australian workforce was born outside of Australia and 40% had at least one parent born outside of Australia.

Following the initial moves of the Whitlam Labor government in 1973, further official national multicultural policies were implemented by Malcom Fraser‘s Liberal Government in 1978. The Labor Government of Bob Hawke continued with these policies during the 1980s and early 1990s, and were further supported by Paul Keating up to his electoral defeat 1996. CALD (or Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) policies continue to be implemented at all levels of government and public service, such as medical support systems which cater specifically to non-English speaking residents.

While multiculturalism in Australia is not without its critics and bigots, One Nation under Pauline Hanson being a major disruption and Howard within his conservative government’s term also criticised multiculturalism, the governmental policies already in place and tolerance seem to have held sway and inter cultural problems appear to be diminishing.

This is encouraging despite some hiccups regarding illegal immigration to Australia (the so-called ‘boat people – refugees constitute 5% of illegals).

The problem of illegal immigration in the UK stood in 2006 at about (nobody really knows these things) 1 million.

Amnesties are granted in every country and there are illegal immigrants in every country. Most are refugees and all are attempting to find a better life for themselves and their families. There are abuses and these are always highlighted in the popular press. But positive government policy rather than platitudes from politicians would be a better way of addressing immigration in the UK. Immigrant ghettoes are virtually non-existent in Australia. They are rife in some of England’s cities and this is exacerbating problems of not assimilation but integration.

I think that what changed Australia’s attitude was this understanding that integration was preferable to an unworkable assimilation policy and that migrant rights were paramount. Something similar is needed if the UK is to seriously address its immigrant population. Its own indigenous community needs training to accept diversity and not marginalise it thus compounding the problems.

My beautiful sunflower


8 comments on “Multicultural Australia is working

  1. Anonymous says:

    “…habit the English have of sweeping potential problems under the carpet and pretending they don’t exist …”

    A somewhat unfair and probably untrue statement. A look at world history reveals the “English” to be no worse than most and definitely better than many countries in this regard.

    • Veronique says:

      But I wasn’t talking about other countries. I was only talking about the English habit of sloughing off potential problems until they flare up. My concern is with the growing problem of a governmental system that has yet to learn to be proactive about immigration issues and not just reactive when crises occur.

      By contrast, Australia has addressed at least some of the issues. I taught in Melbourne in the early 1970s in a technical school where there were a lot of boys of Middle Eastern backgrounds – immigrants just off the boats with poor English speaking skills and an attitude to the freer, easier and self regulating behaviour that is basically Australia. They had difficulty with all of us female teachers because they couldn’t relate to women in some sort of authority. They were expected to knuckle down in a totally foreign culture and pass school.

      They were difficult days for us and Australia. The Italians, Chinese, Greeks and Indians had adapted to Australia and were flourishing after decades of immigration and children and grandchildren having been born in Australia.

      The new immigrants posed the problem – that seems to have settled out and because immigrants’ cultural identities have been able to develop and been accepted within their extended communities, with deliberately formulated and inclusive legislation, multiculturalism appears to be blossoming. Not all roses but much better.

      In England the dominant culture is very strong and not very inclusive. So ethnic groups are tolerated passively not actively included. That’s the difference that England has to address.

      I assure you that I am not being unfair, merely an observer. Empire in England means something more than history. It is an embedded part of English culture and has ramifications in the 21st Century.

  2. Michelle B says:

    My British husband usually has cause to say each day, oh, sheesh, that conflict between countries (and there are so many at present) is clearly tied to the ridiculously sloppy and absurd manner in which the British settled their empire.

    I suspect anyone’s motives when they are not able of being honest regarding the negative influence that the British empire and the way it was dissolved is having on present reality. And yes, I would say, that approach is an ingrained British one, to focus on things other than their black marks. All countries may dabble in it, but the British excel at it.

    • Veronique says:

      I agree with your husband. Empire was a big and highly commercial adventure for England and the proceeds, plundering and controlled foreign ownership that came with it began to fill England’s coffers again after expensive wars and other squandering had depleted them. Elizabeth needed money and badly – she got it and a lot more besides!! The English adventure developed far too fast and England was uncompromising in its ‘superior and conquering’ attitude to the countries it gobbled up. This is what is coming home to roost now.

      England just doesn’t know ‘how to’. I read a very good fictionalised account of Jamaicans coming to the ‘Motherland’ after the war and finding out what it meant to be a colonial. Britain used her colonials during the war and then left them hanging.

      So yes, the finishing of Empire was appallingly sloppy and unconscionable in many ways. And now the issues are out of control of the communities and legislators. At least, that’s my fear.

  3. Rosie says:

    Just off to walk from Scotland to England – a massive experience of multiculturalism! I look forward to reading your blog more fully when I return. Meantime, in the worlds of Kahlil Gibran: The universe is my country and the human family are my tribe. Interesting concept to mull while walking over the hills, probably in the rain on both sides of the border!

    • Veronique says:

      Have a good walk. 65 miles is a bit much for me, you tough lady, you. And you may be able to keep a note diary of the people you meet and where:-)

      Good to hear from you.

  4. Anonymous says:

    In recent decades it has been fashionable to blame much of Britain’s problems on the effects of past colonialism; fashionable, but inaccurate as many notable historians and thinkers are now saying. When the British empire first began the goal was trade not imperialism, Spain and Portugal held sway and were far richer and more intent on conquering. There is much evidence showing that many so-called British colonies were not under government control but in the hands of private individuals and companies, William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) for example, or the East India Company which was the most successful business in the history of commerce. The EIC ruled India through prince’s and other powerful locals whose position they maintained by the force of its private army, only after the Indian Mutiny was the British government forced to take control.

    I could go on but this is not the place for a history lecture.

    A look at British immigration reveals that the vast majority are from former colonies, could it be that these people mourned for what they once had and want to regain what they lost? I think it may well be the case.

  5. Dod says:

    You are correct Anonymous, commerce was always the reason the British set foot in other lands, conquest was considered undesirable. Winning hearts and minds was far more useful and life for those in colonised lands was usually much improved under British administration.

    Under “local rule” former British colonies in Africa for example, have sunk to very low levels in almost all aspects of civilised life. Bearing in mind the size of the British Empire at its peak,
    it’s actually amazing how smoothly things went when Britain withdrew from her colonies, the blood baths between local factions happened after the Brits had gone.

    Ah well, “Brit bashing” fads enjoy short-lived popularity from time to time.

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