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Category Archives: multicultural Australia

Not Tehran

I took this a couple of days back in Chalmers Street Surry Hills and posted it on the photo blog.  The occasion: a group of Year 12 students hurrying to an HSC study day.

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I like the pic anyway, but thought it a nice follow-up to yesterday’s post here.

 

Sunday Floating Life photo 33 AND Friday poem 18

Is that confusing enough for you?

Peter Skrzynecki’s “Immigrants at Central Station, 1951” was the subject of my tuition session yesterday. The coachee is doing the ESL course in English. On my way I took some pictures of Central from the perspective of the speaker in the poem – as I read it anyway. (We read the poem carefully so he could see why I had chosen my angles.) Of course it isn’t 1951 any more, but I do vividly remember migrant camps, and Central Station in the 1950s. What follows the poem is a sketch commentary around that HSC topic de jour — “Belonging”.

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Immigrants at Central Station, 1951

It was sad to hear
The train’s whistle this morning
At the railway station.
All night it had rained.
The air was crowded
With a dampness that slowly
Sank into our thoughts –
But we ate it all:
The silence, the cold, the benevolence
Of empty streets.

Time waited anxiously with us
Behind upturned collars
And space hemmed us
Against each other
Like cattle bought for slaughter.

Families stood
With blankets and packed cases –
Keeping children by their sides,
Watching pigeons
That watched them.

But it was sad to hear
The train’s whistle so suddenly –
To the right of our shoulders
Like a word of command.
The signal at the platform’s end
Turned red and dropped
Like a guillotine –
Cutting us off from the space of eyesight

While time ran ahead
Along glistening tracks of steel.

Peter Skrzynecki’s “Immigrants at Central Station” describes a family who with other families has just arrived in Sydney from a migrant camp in western NSW. The poem is about the poet’s own family. As well as describing the scene, the poet tells us a lot about their feeling of not belonging in this new place and their fears about the future.

Their journey to Sydney had been through a night of rain, cutting them off from the landscape they were passing through, making them feel uncomfortable, and echoing their feelings

The air was crowded

With a dampness that slowly

Sank into our thoughts –

The families each huddle together not just for warmth but also because the only sense of belonging they have left is to the family and their few possessions represented by their luggage. In this city whose cold “benevolence” has controlled their lives for years now they feel anxious and lonely. They do not know anyone in those “empty streets”. They don’t even really know where they are going next, or what it will be like when they get there. They feel like “cattle bought for slaughter” or people about to face the guillotine. They have had very little choice in life up to now. But there is nothing they can do except to accept what they are given.

But we ate it all:

The silence, the cold, the benevolence

Of empty streets.

The whistle of the departing train which had left them at Central is a “sad” sound – the poet uses the word twice. The tracks back to where they came from are also tracks into their future. Like the steel of a guillotine blade the tracks are “glistening tracks of steel”. It could be though that the last image offers a little hope, as “glistening” does suggest light.

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— Photos – Neil Whitfield 1 November 2009

 

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Politicking boats and people movement

Here we are in deja vu land again. I ranted about these matters frequently in the past, the main rant being Massaging the Asylum Seekers (2001 – 2007).

Now as then an increase in boat arrivals has prompted a range of responses, some of the foolish and atavistic, others paranoid, and some sensible. (The atavism comes to mind as I reread that brilliant expression of deep invasion anxiety, The Lord of the Rings.) Could the boat people include some terrorists trying to enter the country? Well, you can’t categorically say no, but it would seem more likely they would arrive by plane, or even more likely be born here or already in the country. Most people in boats enter into their risky and often expensive project in order to get away from situations of civil war and terrorism, after all.

Rather than rave again I think I’ll just say the recent enquiry into Christmas Island deserves to be implemented. Here it is: HREOC report on Christmas Island.

For current policy see Managing Australia’s Borders from the Department of Immigration. I do accept the need on political, social and environmental grounds for border management. I do not accept the hysteria the topic generates.

Back in 2007 I commented on my rant linked at the head of this post: “It seems likely that some of the worst aspects of those years will be corrected by the Rudd government. Already, the Pacific “Solution” has begun to be overturned.” I have not been entirely disappointed but we could do better.

 

Sunday Floating Life photo 31

Here’s one for spring. This is yesterday. Today is rather different.

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Tanveer Ahmed’s interesting insight

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Above is a typical Sunday scene at Sydney’s Central Station, and a typical 21st century Sydney group.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Australian Muslim psychiatry registrar Tanveer Ahmed offers some thoughts I find worth noting on current demographic and educational issues.

… Members of the Great Public Schools, in particular, foster what sections of the establishment in many former British colonies do – being ”more English than the English”. The sight of children of Chinese or Indian backgrounds taking part in a regatta, singing hymns or baking scones for the tea break of a school cricket match was common.

But increasingly in Sydney, the schools with the narrowest social and ethnic student bodies are the selective public schools.

Much has been said about the dominance of students from Asian backgrounds in gaining entry to these schools. Statistics from the Department of Education last year suggest that close to two-thirds of students in fully selective schools such as James Ruse Agricultural High School are from such backgrounds. Census figures from 2006 back that up, and indicate the figure is much lower – closer to a quarter – in private and non-selective government schools.

But of more interest are the increasing complaints I hear from Asian parents that selective schools are too Asian.

This may reflect the reluctance of other parents to speak their minds for fear of being branded racist or a trend of aspiration among immigrant groups when they begin to mimic the tastes of the establishment, like taking up golf or developing a taste for fine wine.

Recently I had a patient of Korean background who was due to sit the selective schools test. He developed a phobic disorder, refusing to leave his room for days on end. It resembled a description of a similar disorder rife among adolescents in Japan…

 

About last night

You may have guessed from the previous post that Sirdan took me to the Opera House last night to see Aida.

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Excellent it was too. The Pharaoh was played by David Parkin, winner of Operatunity Oz at age 27. Rosario La Spina was extremely good in the role of Radames. Claire Rutter played Aida, and Elizabeth Campbell was Amneris. I was taken by Warwick Fyfe as the King of Ethiopia.

It was often said that it would be impossible to mount Aida at the Opera House as the interior was so compromised when the bureaucrats took over the project mid-stream – a situation that apparently is to be corrected. We ended up with a shoe box instead of a grand opera stage, you see, as the planned concert hall morphed in a moment of bean counting into the Opera Theatre it was never intended to be. Nonetheless, Graeme Murphy has done the impossible with his usual flair, and even if large parts of the cast occasionally sang from somewhere off stage in the mass spectacles the result was spectacular still. There may even be a plus: the “smaller” moments were thereby highlighted. Come to think of it, I’m not sure a cast of thousands and live elephants pissing all over the place would really have added much.

On the way I was distracted…

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As we left an old SBHS colleague Dallas Watts joined us. Turns out he was in Aida. Amazingly quick change back into civvies!

 

Sunday is music day 24: Click go the shears…

… or perhaps “Quick go the shears…”

Yes, that is SO Australian. But it tells of time past rather more than time present, and is more true of 1909, even 1959, than of 2009. All things must pass, as the article I linked to above in The Australian notes.

THEY are becoming icons of a passing era. As sheep numbers continue to plummet, so do the carloads of shearers crisscrossing the backblocks in search of work.

In Western Australia, where some of the big remote stations could carry up to 60,000 head of sheep in their heyday, the harsh realities of modern life are threatening to turn our most romantic profession into nothing more than a curiosity…

In 1971, there were 155 million sheep across the nation, propping up the long-held notion that the country had made its luck off the sheep’s back. Today, there are fewer than 70 million, and that number has been dropping annually by anywhere between 5 and 8 per cent over the past decade. That trend is not expected to change…

Here is another rendition, in its own way a marker of how this country is changing.

Well, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube…