My fiancée and I took a train together to Camberwell, a suburb of Melbourne, a couple of days ago. We were on our way to finalise the plans for our wedding ceremony with our celebrant. I suppose it wasn’t a particularly significant or meaningful meeting - just another one of the dozens of administrative steps you need to take to get married. However, what happened on the way to this meeting has been gnawing at me ever since. In fact I’ve been getting more and more angry about it.
About half way from the CBD to Camberwell a man entered our carriage and proceeded to ask each of the dozen or so people in the carriage for money. He was reasonably dishevelled, but judging by the quality of his clothes it didn’t look particularly like he was living rough - who knows I know you can’t really judge these things by appearances. He was however fairly articulate and engaged in good natured banter with anyone who helped him out.
After working his way through each of the passengers he sat himself down around the middle of the carriage in a set of seats backing on to a group of three young Asians (I assume that they were students but who knows). A short time after sitting down, the man proceeded to, quite loudly and aggressively, berate the Asians who were sitting behind him for speaking in another language: “Do you know you’re in Australia? Either speak English or go back where you came from. It’s so rude to speak Chinese or whatever you’re speaking. It’s annoying.”
Being half his size and having no idea what to do the group of Asians sat in silence. As did the rest of the carriage; except for another tattooed and unshaven man towards the back of the carriage who loudly said, “He’s right. People look at me like I’m crazy when I say that but he’s right.”
The first man then became convinced that the Asians had taken his photo on their mobile phone and started physically threatening them. “You had better not have taken my photo. If you have you had better delete it. I’m not joking. If you know what’s good for you you’d better delete it. You won’t be living if you don’t delete that photo.”
Again the carriage sat uncomfortably silent except for one of the girls in the group of Asians who had started to cry.
About a minute or so later, the train pulled up at Camberwell and the man got off the train and left the station. Two things happened after the man had left. A woman from the end of the carriage moved towards the group of Asians and gave the crying girl a hug. And another person leaving the train said to themselves as much as anyone else “I hate how f**king racist this country is sometimes”.
Oh, and then I went with my (Asian-Australian) bride to meet with our wedding celebrant about how many readings we wanted in our ceremony.
The thing is - I’ve been in this situation before. Some of you will know that I’m not backwards in coming forwards. It’s never been a problem for me to get involved in sticky situations on public transport. I’ve struck up conversations with a leering drunks on late night trains to stop them harassing women. I’ve calmly told people to pull their neck in when they’re making other people uncomfortable.
But it was different this time.
I wanted to say:
“Hey Dickhead - you know what’s rude? Begging for money from someone and then insulting them one minute later. You know what’s annoying? Having to listen to the stupidity and ignorance of the inner workings of your addled mind on a Saturday afternoon. You know what would happen if those three kids “went back where they came from”? Victoria’s biggest single export industry (education) would collapse leaving the State Government incapable of providing the support services you are so clearly relying on. Those students are your meal ticket f**kwit and you’d better show them some respect. You don’t speak for me you piece of sh*t and you don’t speak for our community.”
First published on the author's Facebook site on January 10, 2009.
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