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Land of opportunity, but not for monoculturalists

By Rachel Woodlock - posted Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Pauline Hanson, the former One Nation leader who polarised Australians with her strident anti-immigration views, invoking echoes of the defunct White Australia policy, wants to become a migrant ... to the United Kingdom.

Reported in the Woman's Day, the woman who once wrapped herself in the Australian Flag to promote her parochial party says that Australia is no longer “the land of opportunity”. While there are lots of Aboriginals, Asians and other assorted non-white people who are willing to contribute their blood, sweat and tears to make Australia a place of welcome and prosperity, no longer Ms Hanson. So much for loyalty to nation and all that.

Australia has always been characterised as a harsh land by its European settlers. This is a country that punishes those who ignore its complex ecosystem at their own peril, both physically and socially it seems. Burke and Wills died in their heroic attempt to cross the Australian interior, fatally refusing help from the local Yantruwanta people.


My own paternal great, great grandfather Robert Butson, who emigrated with his wife Mary to Australia on the Garland in 1851, appears to have found life as a settler difficult. He and his family returned to England for a while but returned to Australia in 1857 where they eventually settled in the gold-rush town Yackandandah. In 1878 he was found washed up in a river after having been reported missing by his family. The local newspaper reported he had gone looking for work in New South Wales and had a history of depression. We'll never know what happened, but life in Australia was clearly tough for a man who'd started off his working life as a farm-hand in Devon and then moved to the other-side of the world.

The mythology of the struggling European settlers, in far-exile from their natal home, laying the foundations for the Australia we know today, is commonly invoked by monoculturalist political figures such as Ms Hanson, former Prime Minister John Howard, and retired Liberal “bridesmaid” Peter Costello, but as important as those stories are, Australia has always been a land of diversity.

Even before settlement, the Indigenous peoples lived as many nations on one continent. The earliest ships brought prisoners and settlers from many different ethnic and religious backgrounds, although racial and religious discrimination and prejudice made life even more difficult. The opening of Australia's interior could not have happened without our Afghan and Indian Muslim cameleers. A name like Bejah Dervish - a decorated military man honoured for his contribution to the 1896 Calvert Expedition - should be easily recognisable to young Australian students, but the myth of monocultural settlement of Australia lives on.

We can see the existence of such exclusivist attitudes when surveys are conducted asking us what we think makes a true-blue Aussie. An analysis of the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, by Murray Goot and Ian Watson found that while most respondents felt to be “truly Australian” is to feel Australian, possess Australian citizenship, respect Australian political institutions and laws, and to speak English, 58 per cent of the 2160 respondents answered it is “‘fairly important’ for ‘true’ Australians to be born in Australia,” and 36 per cent “say it is important to be Christian” (p. 188 of their chapter in Australian Social Attitudes: The First Report).

Contrast this with our official policy of Australian multiculturalism that recognises the existence of a plurality of Australian cultural expressions - including Indigenous, European, home-grown and new migrant.

My own research deals, in part, with how Muslim Australians conceive of their attachment and connection to Australia. I am especially interested in the views of the approximately 40 per cent of Muslims who by birth are as Australian as Pauline Hanson. In a survey of 600 religious Muslims conducted as part of my doctoral research, I found that the majority of participants indicated they placed a high level of importance in preserving their Australian identity, and nearly 80 per cent of Australian-born individuals who provided textual responses to the request “tell us your thoughts on being Muslim and Australian” provided responses that can be specifically described, either wholly or in part, as affirming their connection to Australia and Australian identity.


Their responses are best summed up by one Victorian male participant of Egyptian ancestry, born in 1976, who wrote: “I don't separate the two. I am a Muslim and an Australian they are completely different concepts and for me work greatly together. I love being a Muslim Australian and an Australian Muslim.” It seems that Australian-born Muslims are more optimistic about their ability to manage the competing demands on their identity than many of their politicians.

Thus, it seems that while young Muslim Australians can positively appreciate Australia as a land of opportunity, Ms Hanson cannot. All the racist rhetoric telling migrants they don't belong is neatly expressed in a bumper sticker I've seen pasted on car windows: “If you don't love it, then leave”. How ironic it is that Ms Hanson, unwitting poster girl for racist nationalists all around Australia, is doing exactly that!

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About the Author

Rachel Woodlock is doing her doctoral research as part of an ARC Linkage project funded and supported by the Australian Multicultural Foundation, the Islamic Council of Victoria, the Victorian Multicultural Commission, and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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