Jacqui Murray: Australia isn't paradise after all

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Dr Jacqui Murray is a historian and journalist who has worked with the ABC, SBS and newspapers, magazines and journals in Australia and overseas.]

AUSTRALIA is in denial. It has a problem called multiculturalism which, beyond self-serving platitudes and postured poses, it cannot explain -- much less discuss in any really meaningful way.

The elites have been way out in front of the rest of the population, and deep down they know it. Thus, multiculturalism is taboo and the fuzzier and less defined that it remains, the better.

Multiculturalism has now become a monster created by the political correctitude of recent decades.

It has been foisted upon Australians without adequate thought, explanation or, indeed, consideration for whatever Australia of the imagining might once have existed in the realms of the mythology of the bronzed Anzac and the Cronulla surf lifesaver....

What events in Sydney have revealed to the world is that Australians are nothing that special after all. And, in the popular refrain of youth, it's time to get over it. A bar of fond imagining was set too high and now we have all been found wanting.

Hard on the heels of the Paris riots, Sydney's shame was headlines around the globe. In a BBC interview, federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock tried to hose things down by describing the violence as ''exuberant youths'' breaking laws.

But his ''I don't think Australia is a particularly racist society'' was a hardly edifying examination of any deeper issues.

The Opposition fared no better. Federal Labor Tasmanian MP Harry Quick proclaimed racism was a part of Australian culture.

''Scratch an Australian,'' Quick said, and ''you discover a racist.''

While Opposition frontbencher Wayne Swan was quick to disagree, he -- like Howard, Ruddock, NSW Premier Morris Iemma and a host of others -- was describing the violence as a ''law and order issue''.

''Un-Australian'' also got a mention.

It is not. It is a symptom of a confused and fearful people who in recent years has been fed a steady diet of threats that further exacerbated divisions in a society looking for direction.

Savage mobs have appeared in Australia before, usually in times of great crisis and, interestingly, sometimes sparked by perceptions of threats to women.

One of the worst occurred in Brisbane during World War II when Australian and American servicemen, so-called Allies, fought a pitched battle on city streets. That event was a carry-over from other disgraceful incidents during the 1930s and 1940s which saw armed white mobs wreck Chinese-owned buildings in the wake of ''threats'' to Australian values and/or their women.

There is nothing new about ethnic minorities in Australia, nor indeed about Muslims or mosques.

In the 1800s a string of ''ghan'' towns ran right up the spine of this land, all with corrugated-iron mosques.

The Ghan train is named for Afghan cameleers who helped build the rail line. Between 1870 and 1872 they also helped build the overland telegraph to Darwin, which provided Australia with its first ''hi-tech'' communications to the world.

Fifth-generation Australian, descendant of Indian cameleers who arrived in 1850 and chairman of the Islamic Council of Queensland, Sultan Deen, said this week that too many leaders, and indeed parents, of all persuasions were ''pussyfooting'' around the issues and not ''putting enough in''.

''It was well known,'' he said, ''what was going to happen in Cronulla. Islamic leaders told their people to stay away and mostly they did. The Lebanese boys should not have been allowed out.''...

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Lorraine Paul - 12/25/2005

One further thing...why wasn't it also mentioned in the articles HNN has posted that in Maroubra, just up the coast from Cronulla, there was a demonstration of amity between surfies and those from a Muslim background? These two groups iterated that there was no animosity between them. This statement was reinforced by a shaking of hands all around.

I say shame to those who are using this incident in an attempt justify their divisive beliefs!

Australia IS a multicultural society. It is not perfect, but it is a reality. As the song says - "I am, you are, we are Australian"!

Lorraine Paul - 12/25/2005

For years a certain element in Australia has been crying out that multiculturalism has failed, will fail, cannot help but fail and is failing.

I couldn't agree more with John Snow above when he states that "The red-neck reaction is a direct result of the distortions and fears created by politicians and the media in Australia."

I should further mention that when this same redneck group called for the further racist action in other states they were greeted with a large yawn. Indeed, instead of rallying to their cry, the only response was that several demonstrations were held decrying the actions of the hoons of Sydney.

Sydney is NOT Australia, Cronulla is NOT Sydney. I love Sydney and will be visiting it late next month. However, I view it as a breed apart from the rest of us. Its hubris has to be experienced before you can really come to partly understand it. Sydneyites view themselves as being the only state in Australia; not just the only one that matters. As I said in another comment: if multiculturalism has failed where are the violent incidents in other Australian cities?

I am not saying racism doesn't exist here, of course it does. Racism is systemic to divide and conquer government. Indeed it, as in other parts of a colonial world it was once Government policy! However, one Cronulla does not a failure make!

In my extended family and friends, just about every continent is represented. We are even lucky enough to have a Maori!!

John Snow - 12/18/2005

True, Australia is not paradise.

For one, media-wise we are probably one of the worst served nations in the Western world. The reporting of the current troubles is no exception.

These troubles have far more to do with the fact that young Muslims feel, with some justification, that Australia and its media have joined the US and others in targeting Islam. Added to that is the fact that these young people see Muslim leadership in Australia as pretty pathetic when it comes to dealing with these issues at a public level.

These recent troubles arose out of years of frustration about this. The red-neck reaction is a direct result of the distortions and fears created by politicians and the media in Australia.