A brief and biased social history of Australia since World War Two
Mr Abbott, I won’t address you as Prime Minister – even though your party elevated you to that position – because I don’t think you deserve the title; Prime Ministers are leaders, you are not. A lot of people might disagree with that opinion, perhaps thousands, and that’s fine, I can cop that sweet, but it’s me talking to you. Who am I? Well in your books, a nobody I suppose. A 70-something-year-old Old-age Pensioner born in Australia of mixed, though chiefly Celtic ancestry, who finished serving his apprenticeship in Fremantle a year after you arrived here from England.
Speaking of England, I’d like to ask you to clear up a couple of things about your move to Australia, because it seems very complicated. As I read it, your father had been living here with his parents who had migrated to this country in 1940, soon after the outbreak of WWII. Your father then returned to England where he met your mother, an Australian, and in 1960 the family came back to Australia under the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme. How could this be? Your father was living in Australia then returned to England, your mother was Australian and presumably a citizen of this country, so how did they manage to get assisted passage back here? If this was a rort, it might explain your relaxed attitude to today’s Parliamentary entitlements.
But back to the present and me explaining why I don’t think you deserve to be addressed by your title – neither do I think you deserve to be called an Australian, but more of that later. The Australia I grew up in was a pretty good place, still is as a matter of fact, but the way it was run left a lot to be desired. When I was a kid we had a thing called the White Australia Policy; you probably know about that, it was a latter-day construction of the belief that all our migrants should come from the British Isles – preferably England or Ulster and a few from the more compliant parts of Scotland but with allowances made for the Welsh and Irish and the naughty bits of Scotland that for some inexplicable reason wanted shot of England.
However, during WWII the Japanese gave us a bit of a shock and so governments of both stripes came up with a campaign around the slogan Populate or Perish, which was later expanded to the Holy Writ of the Two ‘I’s – Immigration and Irrigation. This, it was thought, would hold back the Yellow Peril, the Asiatic Hordes poised to sweep down upon us, carry off our women into white slavery and, in a grand irony, force upon us the evil of opium – the very drug the Western Powers had forced upon the Chinese, leading to the Boxer Rebellion. However, the flow of Poms and Ulstermen was not enough to realise the Grand Ambitions of the Anglophilic Establishment, so it was decided that we would allow people from the less savory parts of Europe such as the Baltic states and the Mediterranean to sully our fair land. It was suggested that we should begin with only blue-eyed “Balts”, to allow the gentlefolk of Australia to accustom themselves to foreigners, but that was overruled and soon Italians and Greeks began arriving in their thousands, their customs and mannerisms giving rise to the same horrified reactions that greet Muslims today. One newspaper I recall ran a lurid story about a group of Italian men watching dogs copulating in a park. It was probably the same august publication that informed its readers that the saxophone solos in rock and roll tunes copied the mating calls of African animals and in the same article called Mitch Miller a prominent jazz musician. We were already pretty well versed in dishing out the borak to people who weren’t the same as us, after all, we’d been giving the Indigenous peoples gyp for a couple of hundred years and government policies and the media of the day made sure they stayed on the fringes and invisible.
Women and kids got the rough end of the pineapple too, even white women. Aboriginal women got it really rough though. Young blokes, and some not so young, in country towns all over Australia used the women in the blacks’ camps – euphemistically known as The Missions – as “comfort women”, to use a not-so charming Japanese phrase from WWII, with the added benefit that they didn’t have to feed, clothe or house them. It was a rite of passage for a young feller from the bush to get pissed with his mates on a Friday or Saturday night and then head down to the camps to root a gin. Wonderful stuff.
Any bloke could bash his wife and kids without reprisals from the law, because the coppers “didn’t interfere in domestic disputes”, and the churches for the most part seemed to think it was biblically right and proper. If a woman left her husband, especially a woman with kids, she couldn’t expect help from anywhere, often not even from her own family. Rarely could she get a divorce – even if she could afford the legal fees – because her husband had to agree. Many married women didn’t know what their husband earned; he kept control of the purse strings and doled out “housekeeping” money to the little woman.
So you can see, Tony, Australia was pretty barbaric place to live. Oh I’ll admit that it wasn’t just Australia, every civilised country was pretty much the same. But that didn’t stop our soldiers, when they saw Gypos and Arabs treating their womenfolk badly, from being outraged. Terrible people the Wogs, uncivilised, mate.
Same thing happened when the Italians came over here. “Make their women wear black after their husbands die and all the old girls have to wear it for the rest of their lives. And those awful bloody head scarves the old women have to wear…”, this from women of my mother’s generation whose husbands often left them to sit out in the car, if the family owned one, while they drank with their mates in the pub, bringing them out a shandy or a glass of lolly water every hour if they were lucky. Women weren’t allowed in the Public Bar, only in the Ladies’ Lounge or, if they were accompanied by a male, the Saloon Bar. So that’s the sort of Australia I grew up in, Tony. Then along came the 60s and the 70s, and things really began to change.
But I’ll leave that for the next instalment and in that I’ll also explain why I think you – and a bloody lot of people like you – don’t really love Australia. Okay? Too bad if you’ve stopped listening, because I’ll keep rabbiting on anyway. I’ve got the bit between my teeth now and look set to bolt.