The face of Hobart has changed in this Girl’s 20 years here.
There’s been a quiet sort of revolution, or maybe, it’s just been an evolution; but it’s cultural.
Tasmania’s arse-end-of-the-planet psyche has shifted. Finally, the world is coming to us.
This Girl was walking on Elizabeth Street one day and heard two things.
The first, a snippet of a conversation in an unfamiliar language, and the second, loudly exclaimed, ‘Why don’t they just go back to their own country!’
We’re a country of migrants.English is not Australia’s first language.
Around 450 languages* are spoken in families around Australia: a number of these are indigenous languages and the other languages are spoken by people both born in countries other than Australia and in Australia.
Tourism matters to the Tasmanian economy. Our environment; our food and wine; and the offerings at MONA, are all part of what makes this place a big deal. And we just recently got that good rap from Lonely Planet: Tasmania is one of the top tourism destinations on the globe at the mo.
To this Girl, these seem like valid reasons why hearing other languages than English spoken in our streets should be an acceptable thing.
Yet we have a very dysfunctional relationship with difference.
When America was embracing the migration that has led it to being one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world; Australia’s ethos was framed by the White Australia Policy and this dent in our consciousness is still present today.
We’ve had the One Nation Party.
Then there was the shame of the Cronulla riots.
And even though it is not illegal to seek asylum, we are detaining refugees in terrible conditions in the Pacific and other isolated and harsh places in our country.
We don’t seem to be very good at saying ‘Welcome!’
And we’re not particularly self-aware: why do we react with intolerance, higher moral ground, fear and hatred towards difference?
The scene is cosmopolitan Melbourne.
A 22 year-old French-speaking woman sings on a bus: a beautiful image in the midst of the daily grind.
This sentiment is not shared.
Instead, this young woman is subjected to a vitriolic attack with physical and sexual violent threats.
‘Speak English or die, motherfucker’, was just one of the taunts.’Cut the bitch’s tits off,’ was another.
The only reaction from onlookers was from those who encouraged the abuse.
In whose world is it acceptable to speak to each other like this?Who will stand up against vilification?
What is it about difference that is so threatening?
How fragile is identity if we can only define ourselves by excluding others?
Australia has prospered off the backs of people from diverse cultures: the slavery of the Kanaks, Aboriginal stockmen working for rations, the labour of Eastern European migrants on our hydroelectric schemes and much much more.
And we are still content to ignore, undervalue, marginalize and attack?
Well this Girls says: ‘You are welcome’.
This Girl wants more of the richness diverse cultures bring to this country.And I choose to use this horrendous incident as a reminder of the need to speak out.
If you find yourself on that bus in the future, here’s what you can do:
- Ask the perpetrators to stop – there are more or less confronting ways to do this – one way might be ‘Hey there are kids on the bus, you’re scaring them, and she’s not hurting anyone.’
- Tell the bus driver someone is under threat.
- Call the police.
If you found this post interesting, you might also like to read our other posts on racism: