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A few days ago someone at work told me about what it was like growing up in rural New South Wales in Australia as a non Anglo-Saxon in the shadow of the white Australia policy.

It’s almost a surprise to think it was only overturned in 1975. That Australia really was more than 95% Anglo-Saxon. That Australia was God’s Own Country to assign to the British descendents as a birthright for the purposes of agriculture and mining. That other countries (aside from England) and their people were considered inferior. That the idea of a “man of colour” being “after our women” was so anathema that if said man (or boy) wandered onto the property they would have been shot. That people didn’t even know the difference between Indian and Red Indian let alone Indian and Pakistani.

It’s also a surprise to think that the anti-education culture was even worse then. How little people valued a high school education let alone university. That the expectation was barely finishing school with basic literacy (Banjo Paterson) and maths (arithmetic). That any more learning was sneered at as pretentious wankery. Not knowing your place. Because God forbid that a farmer or shopkeeper would need algebra or knowledge of biology.

The land suffered under the weight of the hooves of cattle and sheep. It was drowned with water and fertiliser. It was burned by ultraviolet light.

Then the people came in their boats. By air, by sea. Then they went to Australian Universities and became doctors and lawyers and lecturers and engineers and accountants and plumbers and electricians and taxi drivers and shop assistants and nurses and pharmacists and chefs and hoteliers. They came and they made money and bought houses. And they wanted rights. Rights? They came to Australia and they thought they could speak their own language and demand rights? And claim that Australia was backwards and that in other parts of the world things had moved on? How ungrateful.

And then things changed. And slowly things improved. Not just Chinese restaurants but Italian, Indian, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Thai, Greek. People realised that everyone knew someone from another country. And so the world got smaller.

The resentment never really went away in some parts. And some of the newcomers parroted what their Anglo-Saxon compatriots said. No more people from country x! None of them refugees!

And then of course John Howard and his gang of bullies absorbing the worst traits of Australian racism from Pauline Hanson and stoking bigotry to political advantage.

“Fuck off, we’re full” – an odious bumper sticker featuring the Australian map as xenophobic. And the misappropriation on the driver’s tattooed arms of the Southern Cross as a white supremacist symbol.

Labor has only marginally improved the situation since then. And Tony Abbott, the smug, conceited, bigoted bastard continues to use immigration and refugees and aboriginals as political fodder.

Old people always surprise me with how passionately they advocate for their in-laws and friends and neighbours who are non-white; how strongly they disapprove of the refugee policies; how interested and happy they are to see people from other places and learn about other parts of the world. How much they hate the use of vulnerable people as excuses to buy votes.

Things slowly improve with time. But not fast enough. This is the only place in the world where I have felt defined by my race more than where I live or was born or my personal character.

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