|Migrant construction workers in the 50s - Dad was working as a tradie for two years as part of his contract to come to Australia. He's second from right, smoking a pipe|
I have just been reading the e-book recently launched by the Heritage Council of Port Phillip, about those who arrived in ships at Melbourne’s Station Pier in the post war immigration era. It’s been a fascinating read not the least because it is a part of my own story.* While the stories are a mixed bag – some celebratory and some sad, the enduring thread is the bravery of those who dared to make that journey, that leap of faith, to leave their families and homelands and seek a new life in a country far away, one which was often stranger than they could ever have imagined. Many now question how it was that such large numbers of people could have been peacefully integrated over the ensuing decades, when we have such difficulty now.
Listening to the vehement arguments about immigration which are going on not only here (see for example Senator Jacquie Lambie’s recent tirade on the ABC’s Q and A program), but in many countries around the world, I wondered how the landscape of immigration had changed between then and now. True, there was scorn and derision then too, for those who were different, from which even the Ten Pound Poms (subsidised immigrants from the UK) were not immune, though they enjoyed a number of advantages e.g. such as the right to vote without being citizens, acceptance into higher occupations and positions of seniority, no doubt aided by a good command of English and a grudging respect from Australians, even as they mocked them for their supposed airs and graces or for complaining if things were not quite as they had been at home.It wasn't always plain sailing, not even for those from the UK.
For those who emigrated from other places, things were very different. For a start it took our father ten years to pay back our fares. Nor was there any assistance of any kind – no business loans, no English classes, no support groups. With memories of the war still fresh in people’s minds, Germans and people of Asian origin were viewed with some suspicion as were those with links to communist countries, though they may well have come to Australia to escape all that, as no doubt is the case with many moderate Muslims today. Non -English qualifications were not recognised and New Australians were largely left to do the menial work shunned by Australians. They were teased about their clothes, their accents and their “funny” food, especially those garlic munching Italians and the ‘Krauts’ with their German sausages, black bread and pickled cabbage (now very much in vogue) but on the whole migrants gained respect for their hard work, so long as they kept their place and posed no threat to Australians in general.
|My sister has written a book about the immigration experience from our mother's perspective which should be available as an e-book soon|
The biggest difference was that it was a time when there was plenty of work for all and there was far greater security of employment, so everyone could look forward to getting ahead, New Australians and old. Environmental limits to growth and progress had not yet reared their ugly heads and all stood a chance of owning a home at some stage, a dream that has become much more elusive for subsequent generations to achieve, whatever their background. Now unemployment and underemployment are facts of life, real wages are stagnant and Australia is hostage to global economic conditions over which it has little control – the price of iron ore, rising exchange rates, troubles elsewhere. Aside from the many jobs which have been lost through automation, economic rationalism and globalisation, particularly through adherence to free trade agreements which make our goods uncompetitive against imports from low wage countries, there really is more competition for the remaining work within Australia, though technically the 451 Visa is only supposed to apply if no Australian can fill a position.
While new migrants, especially refugees and “boat people” have become the scapegoats for this frustration, the poor and the desperate are not to blame since the humanitarian segment is only a small fraction of the annual migrant intake, remaining more or less static at around 13,000 year since the 1980s, compared to say, the intake of skilled migrants which represented only around 10,000 in 1984 -1985 but had risen to 113,000 per annum by 2011.
Not only are overseas qualifications now recognised, but Australia is actively recruiting skilled and educated migrants and seeking affluent business migrants who are well equipped to compete directly with Australians for housing and jobs in ways that past migrants could not. Those born in the UK are still the largest number of immigrants 25 – 30%, despite what people may think in those suburbs which attract more than their fair share of other immigrants who are noticeably different. Ghettoisation – the concentration of particular nationalities in one place, was always frowned upon, but now the Indian immigrant is just as likely to be your doctor or your solicitor as your taxi driver, and may well be driving a better car and living in a bigger house. Old Australians can no longer lord it over such immigrants or congratulate themselves on their progress.
|Happier times, although Dad did eventually return to Germany|