Sunday, February 19, 2017

For those who travel across the sea in ships –Immigration then and now

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

Overall, the annual intake  of people has certainly increased from approximately  82, 000 permanent settlers in the 1980s to around 339,000 by the 2009 Census, not counting the 320,000* students  and 101,000 business migrants  on long term visas, who may or may not decide to settle.  Their countries of origin have also become more diverse e.g. in the 1990’s  Vietnamese immigrants began to appear in the  top ten countries of origin, as did China and the Philippines, places previously  occupied  largely by people from Italy, Greece and middle European countries.  In 2001 India ranked in the top ten for the first time. However, after the UK, New Zealand ranked as the second highest source country with 8.8% in 2006. Another group which appeared in the top ten in the same year, are South Africans (many also travel on UK passports) who have also come to our shores in large numbers in recent years and while they enjoy higher employment rates and higher wages than most Australians, do not excite the same passions because they blend in.

One of the great levellers in that great wave of post war migration, was the public education system.  Almost every immigrant child I have spoken to went through that mill which made one ashamed of one’s heritage and culture and desperate to be like everyone else – no accent, no funny clothes, no funny food, in order to fit in, the need to belong being so intense. Peers, not parents became the role models for behaviour and parents lost their authority. Rejected by their children, ridiculed and demeaned in their new society, many did not find great happiness in their adopted country, although their children usually did well. 

Extreme views could not flourish in this climate, but this has also changed. Many people bring their prejudices with them too. Nepotism and corruption are still the norm in many of the countries from which we draw immigrants and in some cases notions of free speech, a free press, democracy and egalitarianism are not. India still has its caste system in which great degrees of inequality are acceptable. South Africa had Apartheid.  Nor is it an accident that whitening creams are highly sought after in several Asian countries, though that is not to say that everyone coming from a particular country will feel this way, any more than all people coming from post war Germany were Nazis. Rough and ready and at times unpleasant as it was, it was in that tumbling process in the schoolyard, that we were also exposed to the positive aspects of Australian culture such as the sense of fairness, mateship, equal opportunity and generosity.  In return, Australian children lost their fear of “the foreigners,” gained exposure to other cultures and ideas, and got pizza, decent coffee and doonas into the bargain. Society in general became richer, more open and more diverse. When immigrants remain within their own cultural groups and establish separate schools and churches, these great levellers can no longer fulfil this assimilative role and we remain separate, rather than united and the newcomers and their culture remain strange and even threatening to us.  


 The speed of change coupled with economic insecurity have not allowed the host culture to adapt as easily to newcomers in their midst this time around. The latter have also been drawn from much more diverse cultures with which we are even less familiar than that of those who came before, so it is little wonder that a not necessarily large, but extremely vocal section of the community yearn for those early days in the 1960s and 1970s, when migrants knew their place, kept quiet, settled in and did the back -breaking work without making the locals feel uncomfortable. 


In purely economic terms, it is most likely true as Patrick Carvalho  said on the Drum, that these migrants too will benefit the country in terms of productivity and innovation as those in the past have done and the general consensus is that they are less expensive to keep than the native born, when it comes to demands on welfare. There are however limits to growth especially if  everyone demands an affluent lifestyle with consequent pressure on water, energy and agricultural land, which are already in short supply. While Australia may look like a huge vacant lot from afar, especially compared to densely populated urban centres in Europe or Asia, it is not a very fertile or hospitable land and cannot support huge increases in population, especially under conditions of climate change. However, having said that, many of our rural areas could certainly do with a boost and already have spare capacity and infrastructure.


By far the biggest threat however, is to ignore the growing rifts in our social fabric. The resentment in the host culture must be taken into account before Fascist factions in our own ranks gain more power, and both growing inequality and the lack of individual advancement need to be addressed. Ideally, before bringing  in more people willy nilly, we should consider our capacity to absorb them and ensure that our own are adequately educated, employed and housed. Lastly, with respect to who should be allowed to come, perhaps we should focus less upon the potential economic benefits they could bring and more upon their values.  A personality test may be more important than a literacy test. Are they open, flexible, inclusive and tolerant? Do they believe in egalitarianism, individual freedom and the separation of church and state? Meritocracy? Freedom of speech and expression?  As far as Dinky Di Aussies are concerned a sense of humour wouldn’t go amiss either. 

* These figures may not be entirely accurate as long term visa holders who go home for a holiday or travel back and forth, are likely to be recounted each time they re -enter.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Recycling 2017 - Some new recycling opportunities you may not have heard of either

Time to recycle the phone (s)
Feeling rather chuffed today as I have recycled our assorted mobile phones. In this case it isn’t just doing the planet good either. During February, each phone also buys a meal for someone in need from OzHarvest.

Oz Harvest is in the business of recycling too, collecting surplus food from supermarkets and restaurants and redistributing it to the homeless and hungry. Much more could be said on this topic - food waste is in the news, but I will save that for another day.
The Mobile Muster is a voluntary industry funded and government approved program to make sure that their products do not end up as landfill. The valuable parts such as metals and mercury are extracted and the plastics are shredded to make new products. Your phone, chargers, batteries and accessories can all be dropped off at your nearest drop point or brought to Australia Post who will mail them for free, or you can download the Reply Paid Label yourself and send it to the recycling facility. While I was looking into this I came upon a number of other new recycling opportunities which are worthwhile sharing. 
Do you have any outdated makeup in your house or handbag? Now there's a way of recycling that too thanks to L'Oreal

Another industry sponsored event, this time by cosmetics manufacturers L’OrĂ©al, Garnier and Maybelline who have teamed up with Terracycle  to recycle unwanted beauty products - you know, that caking foundation, the crusty nail polish, old lipsticks – any brand, not just theirs.  All you do is put them in a box and download the label from the Terracycle website to stick on the front. L'Occitane accepts its own products and packaging via this company too.Terracycle also collects used toothbrushes, tubes of toothpaste, packaging and caps on behalf of Colgate. The bonus is that they will donate two cents to your favourite school or charity for each item that you donate.  They also recycle those Post packs  and Nespresso capsules which are not easily recycled because of their composite nature.There is no charitable donation involved in returning coffee capsules, but thanks to all parties for doing this at no further expense to the long suffering consumer.
Oral Care Products and Packaging are are handled by Terracyle too, courtesy of Colgate

While we are in the bathroom, unused medicines and out of date pharmaceutical products can also be recycled. While that doesn’t earn you any extra brownie points either, it is important both for health and environmental reasons, especially when you can’t even remember what on earth they were originally prescribed for. The RUM project involves taking these items to your local chemist to ensure their safe and responsible disposal.

Hard plastics e.g. your yoghurt tub can usually go into household recycle bins, but not so the soft or scrunchy plastics that come with packets of biscuits, packets of noodles etc. because they clog the processing machinery.They can however be returned to the major stores, along with any plastic shopping bags you may still be harbouring.  This is a free program operated by REDcycle  and backed by major brands. It converts the recovered plastic into things like outdoor furniture and park benches.

On the subject of supermarkets, Aldi now has a drop point for batteries, if you are lucky enough to have an Aldi store near you. Some scout groups and schools collect them too. At this stage we only recycle around 1% of these, compared to say, 85% for cardboard and paper, so this is definitely an area for improvement, especially as they are full of useful but also toxic material – cadmium, mercury and lithium, which become a health hazard in landfill.

Prevention is better than cure. I am replacing any used batteries with rechargeable ones. I already have three different recycling bins and a green bin for green waste, but spare a thought for the Japanese  who have no less than 12!

Halogen lights which I replaced with LEDS. A source of toxic waste or useful materials? It's all up to us

Lamps and fluoro tubes can and should also be recycled (not in your recycle bin), but by dropping them off at one of the places listed here. Ikea stores in Australia and the US have collection boxes for these near the door. If you don’t have an Ikea store in your area, CMA Ecocycle accepts these in prepaid packages at your expense. To get one call them on 1300 32 62 92. Since the recycling rate for these products is also at about 1%  - i.e. pathetic, and they too pose a health risk as well as an environmental risk, hail to those companies which are taking the lead in their end -of -life management. Click here to find out how to clean up a broken mercury light fitting. It's harder than you think and failure to do it correctly may expose you or others to neurotoxins.

Harvey Norman Stores accept old televisions and computers as part of the National TV and Computer Recycling Scheme while the Officeworks chain will collect not only computers but printers and ink cartridges. Cartridges can also be dropped into the boxes at participating Australia Post, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi and Office National stores. You can also apply for a free collection box for your workplace.  In other states, TechCollect  collect and recycle  e-waste. Since it was set up in 2012 TechCollect has recycled more than 80,000 tonnes of e-waste – keeping it off the streets and out of landfill. Consumers can access free and convenient recycling locations across the country.
As well as the service  listed above, Mobile Muster has teamed up with Storage King and ECOACTIV to provide a low cost ($3.50) E-Waste Recycling Box for mobile phones and a range of other small electronics including notebooks, video recorders, CD and DVD players, printers, cameras, MP3 players and gaming devices.

There are several ways to recycle glasses
Recycling glasses and spectacles has received some bad press lately for those who look at things only in $$$$ terms, but you only have to read some of the moving comments at the end of that particular post, to appreciate the difference a pair of glasses can make in poorer parts of the world. The Lions Clubs of Australia still collect, sort, clean and deliver thousands of these via their Lions Recycle for Sight Program. If there is a Specsavers* optometrist near you, you can leave your glasses there and they will forward them to the Lions Club. If there isn’t, Lions will give you a Reply Paid Number where you can post them without charge. (A similar program runs in the UK, in which participating optometrists also collect glasses but in this case, only recycle the parts and use the money to support vision programs in Africa). Personally, feel good factor aside, anything that means something will be reused in some way, rather than going to the rubbish tip or consuming yet more resources to make new products, sounds like a good thing to me. If you want to be more directly involved, then send your used glasses to Carenza who takes them to rural villages in India, along with an optometrist. Contact her at

If you want to keep other items out of landfill and prefer to personally donate them to someone in need rather than giving them to charity shops, here are three possible avenues. 
offers free listing of free items, as well as things which you want to sell.
The mission of OzRecycle is “to reduce the number of useful things thrown onto the rubbish pile only to be burnt or buried." You can help by becoming a member, inviting your friends and family, telling your local council and using the Oz Recycle Free Recycle Classifieds  to give away unwanted but sound goods. There is also an Items Wanted category. Any member who is interested in taking your unwanted item will be in contact with you.
Givit has a similar program of matching donors with people in need, but doesn’t require membership.
I read about this scheme which seems very active in Queensland, on an engaging blog called:  which also has some other interesting ideas, including the link to Carenza. Most of the other information initially came from The Planet Ark website  Recycling Near You  which has much more advice on where, what and how you can recycle. You can also call their hotline on 1300 733 712.
(The 911 Earth Watch site has information on where and what you can recycle in the USA).

Don’t despair if some of these programs are not /not yet available where you live. Perhaps you or a community group could start one. We also know that Australia’s vast distances and sparse rural population densities can make recycling seem uneconomic and less environmentally friendly, given the extra fuel needed and consequent emissions. Councils also have limited capacity, but where there is a will, ways can usually be found. For instance, if goods can be delivered to outlying areas, then surely recycling could be the back freight, especially if there is a small financial incentive to go with it.

The same excuse does not hold for our cities. Tyre disposal remains a problem, the voluntary industry scheme for return of used plastic oil containers is about to collapse and there is no excuse for continuing to drag our feet with respect to Container Deposit Legislation. South Australia, with its container deposit scheme which it pioneered in 1977, achieves a 76% return rate, compared to less than 50% for the rest of the country, significant in a place which uses 14 billion drink containers annually.What happened when the Northern Territory wanted to do the same, is an absolute disgrace. And could someone please do something about disposable nappies?
We can learn from others too.  Many countries, and especially Germany with a 70% recycling rate and Japan with its twelve domestic recycling categories, are way ahead. While the abovementioned efforts at stewardship by corporations are to be applauded, both Germany and Japan are also way ahead when it comes to working with manufacturers to prevent their products ending up as landfill. See for example the Guardian article about what is happening with white goods in Japan where manufacturers achieve a recovery rate of 85% and are working to reduce that even further. All very well for big affluent countries you might say, but tiny Finland with under 6 million people and one of the lowest population densities in Europe is designing new villages with zero waste in mind and expects to recover between 96-98% of its waste. It is probably no coincidence that Finland also  leads in education. Please tell us too if you know of other novel ways to recycle which I haven't mentioned here.

Lastly, noble though it may be to recycle, it is far better to not use so much in the first place. Even recycling consumes energy, raises greenhouse emissions  and uses water and other materials to create new products. Hooray for phone manufacturers seeing the light and unifying their chargers. The same principle could be applied to so many more products."Planned obsolescence" belongs in the dust bin of history along with fur coats and gas guzzling cars with fins. However, the two most important things to take away from this post for the time being are to think before we buy and to think before we heedlessly throw things away. 

P.S. Before I forget, on the subject of prevention being better than cure - when did you last use a phone book and not your smart phone? You can stop having phone books delivered by clicking on this site.

Now for a small plug for another Specsavers Community Program, though it rightfully belongs in the Australia Day post. As well as raising funds for the Fred Hollows Foundation to restore sight to the needlessly blind, it has provided funds to combat Trachoma, the fourth leading cause of blindness in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Australia remains the only developed country which still has this disease which is prevalent in 60% of remote Aboriginal communities.