My earliest multicultural memories were growing up in a terraced house in the working class suburb of Bristol UK .I remember in our neighbourhood we had Indian and Pakistani and West African families.The Indian and Pakistani households could be distinguished by their loud and exotic colour schemes.One in particular I recall up around the corner from where I lived being painted in bright purple and bright red with a garland of dried leaves strung across the doorway (to ward off evil spirits) and I remember a very pungent aroma of garlic that just about knocked you out as you walked past.
The Indian men were swarthy serious looking fellows in their tunics and oiled hair wound up into top knots and turbans.The Indian women looked beautiful dressed up in impeccably pressed Saris of rich brocades and brightly coloured silks.I was aware as a child of the cultural otherness of the Indian and Pakistani people. They seemed to live quiet mysterious lives in a hidden world that ran parallel to but did not intrude overly much on my own.The west Africans I remembered as warm and gregarious who peppered their sentences with the word ‘man’ a lot.Eg ‘Hows it going man? ‘ or ‘Hey man what are you been up to ?’
I was also fascinated by the gypsies that camped their caravans and cars on the verge of a nearby playing field .These gypsies were scruffy with runny noses and secretive furtive ways.
They didn’t live up to the images of gypsies of my storybooks like the Romany from eastern Europe with their brightly painted caravans ,waving tambourines as their gold hoop earrings flashed in the firelight who asked you to cross their palms with silver .Mum explained to m that the gypsies camped up the road were not the Romany but rather ‘ tinkers’ who were viewed by suspicion and mistrust by many in the community.My imagination was captured by the fact that here were people who got away with not having to live in a house and kids who it seemed got away with not having to go to school .
My own parents were of European e.g. Spanish on my dad’s side and Irish on my mum’s side.We used tojoke that my dad with his dark good looks and and maverick nature descended form Spanish pirates which was not so very far fetched given that I’m pretty sure the Spanish Moors invaded the part of the world where my Dads forebears lived.
When I was 12 my parents decided to emigrate to Australia to start a new life.We were 10 pound poms .Of saying goodbye to extended family I remember us being farewelled by the relis in the wee small hours of the morning in a strange gas- lamp lit train station dressed in our Sunday best clothes nervous,excited and irritable with lack of sleep and with the rigours of all the change happening to catch the train that would take us to South Hampton where our ship the ‘Castel Felice’ a Sitmar line cruise ship waited to take us to Austrlaia.
Of the journey I remember in particular wild stormy seas with huge killer waves that threatened to engulf us as the ship rounded the South African Cape .I remember people clinging to banisters and railings with green contorted faces .In the dining room I remember as the ship lurched and rolled cutlery and crockery and glassware slid down the end of the table .Some of it went crashing to the floor and but many items were skillfully intercepted from their destiny with gravity by nimble diminutive smiling brown eyed Italian waiters with names like Bruno and Gino who my dad impressed upon us were all gay.I don’t think I really understood what he meant at that age
Its funny the things that you remember. Much of that six week journey is a blur but I DO remember that the pump that pumped the ships sewage into the ocean went on the blink so that raw sewage from the ship was somehow being recycled up the pipes that ran the water from the sea into the ships salt water swimming pool.it was cordoned off and declared a health hazard.I cant recall as I saw any turds floating in the pool but my 12 year old imagine was captured with grotesque wonder and fascination at this event.
We had two stop offs on our journey over .One in Las Palmas Canary islands and one in Cape Town South Africa.Both of these were a revelation to me .In Las Palmas as we drove up the steep winding road that led up from the wharves to the town Mum and Dad pointed out whole families of people living in caves .
I was witness to what was for me a horrific event of shopping for a Sunday roast ‘Canary Islands’ style.While we were shopping and sight seeing we came to a poultry yard where lots of chooks ran around.Clearly the Spaniards liked their birds fresh.The customers would make their selection while the bird was still alive. Then the vendor would capture the squawking shrieking bird and unceremoniously chop off it’s head in full view of everyone and then hand over the bloodied lifeless carcass to the customers who seemed remarkably calm about the whole thing as if his sort of butchery and bloodshed went on everyday which of course it did.This was life in the raw for me .My eyes were beginning to be opened.
In Cape town South Africa we went to a large cafeteria and I was gobsmacked to find a dark black line painted down the centre of the room demarcating back and white folks eating areas .This was my first eyewitness siting of legally sanctioned apartheid and it was a very disquieting and unsettling experience for me.I was young but I felt and could sense the oppressive vibes all around ..Something felt really out of whack and brewing away just below the surface …This was the 60s
When we arrived in Australia we were taken to Wacol immigration centre in Brisbane Qld.I am sure we were well looked after and treated very well there but my dad especially was a self starter and didn’t much go for the institutionalized life there and he put his skills as a fitter and turner to good use to get a job and within weeks he had his family out of the Wacol centre and into our first Aussie home .
We settled in Capalaba which in those days was a fairly rural suburb in the Redlands Shire.In those days my sensibilities were more aligned to the English concepts of beauty in nature …the primrose and pansy ,rolling green hills etc and I had no affinity with either the Australian landscape which seemed coarse strange harsh and unrefined.So too some of the people I met and at first I thought I had landed in the land of the barbarians .
In England at school I had been in the first year of high school and was involved in several different musical activities . At school we sang Handel’s Messiah in four part harmonies .I played beautiful medieval music in recorder ensembles and I was learning the clarinet .Because we arrived in Australia late in the year I was advised to go back to primary school in Australia to finish the year out.I have got to say that this felt at the time like a terrible fall from grace to go from the sophisticated urban high school I was in in the Uk with its sophisticated music program to this hokey little rural primary school in Capalaba.The school was not completely bereft of a music programme.We did sing a few tunes like’ Yellow Submarine’ and ‘Purple People Eater’ along with the ‘Sing’ tapes and there was a recorder band of sorts.The only thing the band seemed to lack was any sort of teacher or musical director .
This sad absence was never more apparent as when the girls playing the recorders accompanied the morning assemblies ‘God Save the Queen ‘ There were Descant and Alto recorder players who by rights should have been playing harmonies but somehow what happened was that both the altos were playing in one key and the descants in another key altogether so that effectively ‘ God Save The Queen’ was being played in two altogether different keys at the same time and it sounded bloody terrible .Worst still nobody else seemed to notice or say anything about it .As a new comer I felt a bit shy and nervous about speaking up .Inwardly I rolled my eyes to heaven and though I had landed in the land of the barbarians ‘Eeh gads. Beam me back to Mother England pronto ’I thought to myself
However my disgruntlement and jarred sensibilities were soothed and assuaged as I listened to the wind whistling through the sweetly scented pine forest on the edge of the school grounds where we sat to eat our cheese and pickle and vegemite sandwiches and drank our chocolate milks .This I had to admit was so much nicer than the cold wet concrete prison exercise yard style playground I had left behind at my urban UK school.Then as it has so often since the beauty of the Australian landscape came to my rescue soothing my soul restoring my sense of balance and and putting the world to rights.
I am not sure when it happened .It was a gradual awakening I think this falling under the spell of and falling in love with the Australian landscape and I make mention of it now because my connection with the Australian landscape has had a strong influence on my own sense of Australian identity .
It happened gradually, imperceptibly overtime. As she seeped into my consciousness and I became better attuned to her the subtleties and nuances of her particular and peculiar charms,her bold vivid coloured flora her strange ungainly fauna …Australia and her landscapes and wide open spaces crept up on me so that today finds me besotted with this powerful, mysterious, ancient, timeless, magical country and landscape I am so happy to call home.
As a little girl of about 9 in the Uk I remember standing at my bedroom window gazing out over a sea of grey and red slate roofs and concrete backyards yearning for wide open spaces, seeing in my minds eye a place filled with grass and trees and landscapes stretching away for ever where brightly coloured birds flitted and played thinking to my self that is where I belonged .Perhaps at the time I thought it was my idea of heaven .Years later I look back and realize it was Australia I dreamt of in those powerful daydreams which were for me a premonition of a land I would eventually live in.
As a teenager in my second year out from Teachers College I put in to go to an Aboriginal settlement school. Initially my idea was to go to a disadvantaged country school regarded by the Dept of Educaton Qld as extremely challenging. I would thereby be in line for a metropolitan posting a whole lot sooner .This was the plan however my year of teaching at Woorabinda Aboriginal community turned out to be so much more rewarding and meaningful than I ever imagined it would and I was sorry to leave in the finish.
I taught a kindy class and the first question my little brown- eyed darlings asked me was ‘Hey Miss you got dogs, you got babies?” In that order. I loved the honesty and realness of the kids and the people I worked with.I enjoyed the lack of social pretensions and airs and graces ..Still I was at that time at age 22 very much aware of my cultural otherness and I felt the chasm wrought by our differences
I was English and I was educated and I was white .I was to all intensive purposes another European white colonial expansionist do gooder I felt .I sensed these people had much to teach me but I was too young and too reserved and too shy to reach into the community beyond the role and scope of my teaching involvement and tended to stay in my comfort zone after work up the white end of town.Indeed It wasn’t until quite a few years later that I ‘got’ what he Aboriginal dreamtime and the connection to the landscape was really all about.
I adored the kids I taught who gave back in spades warmth and love and trust and open hearted affection and head aches and reasons to sigh and to smile a plenty.Of all the kids I have taught I remember most of these kids each as large as life, frozen in time though by now they will be in their 30s perhaps with teenage kids of their own .I look back at their photos and I remember each and every name of the kids I taught who were 4 and 5 at the time
One memory I do have of Woorabinda is during an election year during the Bjelke era when the National Party Cavalcade came to town.They suckered the kids in and tried to exchange green and yellow balloons and caps for national party votes.It was sickening to watch .A bit like exchanging beads and blankets for land I thought .It was the very early 80s aand out in the backwoods of central Qld things were starting to change slowly but there was still a long way to go.It was because of the backwards politics in Queensland at the time , that I decided eventually to move further south .After teaching on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland I then taught along the coast of northern NSW and eventually worked my way down to Sydney where multicultural delights aplenty far beyond what I had ever imagined awaited me.
Over the past ten years I have done quite a bit of casual teaching in Sydney and I have been so intrigued and fascinated by the whole multicultural growth phenomenon going on here in Sydney.So many different nationalities living side by Suchide from all over the globe in relative harmony .such Mullticultural diversity to discover and explore and enjoy right here on our doorstep ?
In any given casual teaching week you might find yourself in the Arabic quarter over at Auburn teaching predominantly Arabic and Moslem kids. Many kid names you will barely be able to pronounce much less remember and better not wear a tightly fitting shirt too closely outlining your feminine assets if you are female and assigned to teach the older grade boys and want to be accorded respect as a teacher and get through the day in one piece .
The next day you might find yourself teaching in Burwood where the Chinese Korean and Japanese kids will impress you with their quick sharp minds especially when it comes to computers and maths and such is their motivation to do well you get the impression their parents have impressed on them just how lucky they are to be in Australia and the opportunities it represents for them to succeed and do well in life
The next day might find you up at Westmead where soft eyed little Indian children will disarm you with their gentle playful creative demeanours , and the levels of respect they accord you because you are that most esteemed of creatures eg their teacher( I believe this is culturally taught) I think I taught one of my most favorite classes of all time an Indian year 1-2 class .A dream class whose enthusiastic responses,creativity and warmth and serious application were so rewarding and exceeded my wildest expectations of what teaching could be .
The following day might find you over at Leichardt the Italian quarter where you might be lucky to sit in on a library lesson and listen to the librarian read to the children little Red Riding Hood in Italian. The school tuck shop might sell real bruschetta and pizza made by Italian mums and of course it makes perfect sense to stop in at one of the many restaurants and cafes for an authentic Italian pasta and coffee on the way home.
Then Friday might find you over at the Northern beaches teaching surfer boys and little blond angels dressed to kill who will always have an opinion about your outfit and and who can’t wait to tell you about their trip with their NBFs (their new best friends) to watch the latest Hanna Montana movie.Miley Cyrus is all grown up since then.So casual teaching in Sydney can find you working across a wide variety of cultures ethnicities and demographics that can truly be like going around the world in a week.
Because I have dark hair and dark eyes and olive skin,I am often asked are you Italian ?or are you Greek? or are you Lebanese? or are you Aboriginal? or are you Central American ?I enjoy the idea that I could visit many nations in the world or many suburbs in Sydney for that matter and fit right in
I went for my Australian citizenship ceremony a few years ago after 35 years in Australia . (Better late than never.)it was such a proud moment to stand there virtually the only white person alongside people from all over the globe of many different races who had travelled here with dreams in their hearts to start a new life perhaps free from the tensions and trials of their troubled homelands representing limited opportunities . Perhaps carrying dreams in their hearts not so very different from the dreams my own parents held as they travelled here to embark on the adventure of a lifetime as new Australians.
Perhaps my most profound multicultural experience was when I was on playground duty at Home Bush West School .It is a school with a very diverse ethnicity which particularly goes out of its way to cater to celebrate and support its multicultural diversity through frequent cultural arts festivals and field trips etc .
As I stood on duty I watched the little kids playing together from perhaps a dozen different countries around the globe with such spontaneity enthusiasm and joy. They seemed completely untrammelled by any considerations of ethnic or cultural difference or separation as yet unmarred by any reservations or prejudices their parents might have about which kids might be suitable to play with .Kids just being kids and connecting with one anther at the deeper level of commonality in humanity and human experience that simply transcends cultural differences .
As we watched to them I thought to myself ‘Yes here there is a quiet revolution going on that bodes extremely well for the future of global harmony in our world.’
These kids are growing up perhaps from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds but sharing in common the adventure of growing up in Australia and attending an Australian school in a land of sunshine and open-ended opportunity and it is these kids who will forge bonds of connectedness and empathy with one another that will stretch across cultural divides and usher in the fabric of a new society so much more cohesive and cooperative and global in its perspective than anything we have ever experienced here in Australia before.
It filled my heart with rich pride and awe to feel that I as a teacher in Australian schools have a part to play in helping to shape and direct this quiet revolution .
This semester I take up a new position as a music teacher in a Sydney primary school .It goes without saying that I will be including in my program a variety of Music eg songs dance and activities from around the globe in my bid to have children discover enjoy and celebrate the magnificent artistic and cultural diversity that is their natural heritage as young Australians and to help them better appreciate the global community of which they are all a part .