Multiculturalism: Did Australia Get It Wrong?

 In Educational Leadership

In 1973, Al Grassby, the Minister for Immigration in Gough Whitlam’s Labor Government, introduced the term multicultural to describe Australian society.

Although it was true that our population was comprised of people who represented different cultures, it was also clear that Australia had always been representative of diversity.

·      Indigenous Australians were considerably diverse, due to differences in language, cultures and traditions among their clan groups, and influenced by their ancestral homelands.

·      The 11 ships of the First Fleet carried more than 1,480 men, women and children, who, according to records, were of more than 60 nationalities, ethnic and religious background.

·      In the mid 1800s, the gold rushes saw an estimated 500,000 people coming to Australia from England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, China and the South Pacific.

Two questions, then:

Why was there a need for the description multicultural to be introduced in 1973?

And, importantly, is the description an accurate one?

Australia has flourished in many ways, and our diversity gives us much to celebrate. The country still suffers, though, from divisiveness and anger brought on by difference.

Australia has developed its own unique and distinctive cultural beliefs, not the least of which are a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude and a fierce loyalty to ‘mateship’. Australian born citizens, however, are not identified as an ethnic group.

The complexities of ethnicity and immigration affect our views on related issues, including assimilation, social cohesion, integration and social justice. They have both positive and negative impact, with the result that Australia cannot yet be considered a nation United in Diversity.

Was the term multicultural the wrong descriptor?

What would you do if – God forbid – there were another World War? Would you protect Australia’s borders from international threat? Would State and Territory governments – including those loyal to socialist beliefs and values – commit to national unity alongside a conservative Commonwealth Government?

All Australians would surely step up, join forces and subscribe to the protection of freedom, just as so many have done in the past. Or would they? Have 75 years of a multiculturalAustralia compromised such a commitment?

What if we were to relinquish the branding of Australia as a multicultural nation and replace it with one of cultural pluralism?

Surely the unique cultural identities, values and practices in our country are threads in a wider, clearly defined Australian cultural tapestry.

Australia has its own distinctive traditions and culture, including the English language, and laws that are consistent with the values of Australian society. We subscribe to inviting immigrants to belong – freely and genuinely – to Australia. And we expect all of its citizens to value its culture, become articulate in its language, and respect its laws.

Perhaps it is time to have an accurate descriptor for Australia – one that conveys the feeling of pride, and the sense of belonging to a nation that offers so much to so many.

Australia is not multicultural. Australia is the nation of the ‘hand up’, not the ‘hand out’. The nation was, and is, comprised of unique and complementary qualities that make up our great Australian culture.

And if that isn’t worth fighting for, then clearly you’re not Australian.

Copyright © Cheryl Lacey 2019

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