Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

KananKharbandaKanan Kharbanda and his friend were Indian students in Australia. Late one night in March 2008 they were in Sunshine, a western suburb of Melbourne, waiting for his wife to arrive on the last local train. Then 15 to 20 Australians came up to them and asked for a dollar. When they showed their empty pockets they were beat up.

When the police arrived Kharbanda asked for an ambulance or first aid, The police said, “Take a taxi. We know what our job is, you bloody overseas.” After he got to the hospital he waited eight and a half hours, bleeding and in pain, before a doctor saw him.  He is now blind in one eye.

Indians are hardly the only ones who are beat up and robbed, but in the western suburbs of Melbourne they account for 30% of those who are. The police see nothing racist in that. They blame the Indians, saying they come home late at night from work. Or carry laptops. Or speak in a foreign language. Like they deserved it or something.

There were at least 70 such cases reported over the past 12 months, though many probably go unreported, given how it might affect their education and given how the police are.

The number of Indian students in Australia has tripled over the past five years to nearly 100,000. It is cheaper than Britain or America. Half live in or near Melbourne.

Australia makes billions from its foreign students, more than it does from sheep. Only coal and iron ore bring in more money. Yet somehow it could not see fit to protect them.

Not, that is, till India made a big deal out of it after stories like this one kept appearing in its newspapers.

racismdownunderThe Indian press called the violence “racist”. Australians did not like that: Australia is a tolerant and multicultural nation that respects and embraces diversity, as the (white) prime minister put it. Yes, a place where Indians are called racist names not just by the roughnecks who beat and rob them but even by the police and ten-year-olds.

When the Indian students complained, the police were slow to take them seriously and do something about it. They were slower still to admit that racism might have anything to do with it.

On May 30th 2009 Indian students staged a protest, about 4,000 strong, in the middle of Melbourne. It met its share of police violence. A week later smaller protests were held in Sydney, which has its troubles too.

Amitabh Bachchan, a famous Bollywood actor, refused an honorary degree from an Australian university, saying, “I did not feel like accepting the honour when so much dishonour against my countrymen was taking place.”

A Bollywood union refuses to film in Australia till things get better. Two hit films in 2008 were shot there.

Australia has agreed to increase police in places which have had trouble and is thinking of passing a hate crime law.

New Zealand now courts Indian students saying that it is different than Australia – in a good way.


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Seeing Melbourne, Day 2

Detail from a manuscript page illustrating a bramble from the "Vienna Dioscorides" (c. 512) as reproduced in "The Naming of Names" (2005) by Anna Pavord.


This morning we went to the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne where an aborigine led us among the plants and trees. His tribe used to live along the river in what is now Melbourne.

He looked almost white. In New Jersey he could pass for Italian. But both he and the government regard him as an aborigine. At the age of four he was taken from his mother and sent to Tarana to be schooled and brought up as a white boy. He did not see his mother till 34 years later. His mother went to the judge to ask to see him, but the judge said it would not be in his best interests. He was taught the white man’s ways instead of those of his tribe.

His tribe’s language is dead and forgotten and so are many of the old ways, the ancient wisdom and knowledge of his tribe. But not all, some of which he shared with us.

Many of the trees and plants had surprising uses, which he knew. From one tree you could make a dark brown liquid that you could pour in the water and kill a school of fish by making it impossible for them to breathe.

Australia is a land with no great river and, before the British came, no grain grew there, not even in the wild. This made life largely a matter of moving from one place of water and food to another. To endure took a deep knowledge of plants.

Of the first three white men who tried to cross Australia, only one lived: the one who learned from the aborigines. The other two would not learn and one night ate a black berry (Duboisia hopwoodii) that kills you unless you cook it first.

He showed us a map of Australia. Not the one with the states, but one with hundreds of countries, coloured just like the maps of Europe. Each country had its own tribe, its own language. This is the other Australia, the one that whites have been destroying. How many of these nations are now lost for ever?

The aborigines are a very ancient people. Some of these nations go back thousands of years, back before the beginning of Egypt and China. Much of their hard-won knowledge has now been lost.

The whites thought they knew nothing – they were merely black primitives who would die out by 1900.

After 1900 when they refused to die out, the government tried to make them forget their ways. That is why our guide was taken from his mother – a practice that did not stop till 1970!

At the gift shop at the Gardens I saw Anna Pavord’s beautiful “The Naming of Names”. She writes about gardening for the Independent.

After the Gardens we went to the museum, the new one across from the grand Victorian Exhibition Hall. There we met another near-white aborigine, who showed us some dances. Leo got to do some of the dances with him.

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Seeing Melbourne, Day 1

//www.world-guides.com/images/melbourne/melbourne_tram2.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Saturday April 14th 2007 at 03:34 UTC: Down in Melbourne near Flinders and Swanson. They still have trams and punk rock fashion here. It is not the small, well-ordered place that New Zealand was. It is much more like America – large, rich and disordered.

There is an old yellow Victorian train station and church that seems to have been built at the same time (St Paul’s). There is also something of a town square built in 2001 when Australia turned 100: Federation Square. There is a building, the Motion Picture Museum, on one side of the square that looks more drawn than built. It looks like it should fall over.

07:17 UTC: We are now at the top of Mount Dandenong. It is a mountain to the east of Melbourne. The mountain is covered in eucalyptus trees, tall straight trees whose bark is for ever falling off. Along the road up the mountain is the Snooty Fox and other places to drink and eat. The leaves are changing colours – the first clear sign since we have been down here that it is autumn. If I did not know any better I would think it was summer.

At the foot of the mountain a plain stretches away to Melbourne and the sea. We cannot see Melbourne – there is too much smoke from a fire. Canterbury Road leads back to Melbourne and passes a place called Ringwood.

We took that road back – it was crowded with people going out on a Saturday night. We drove past the university and then down Lygon Street. It was full of people sitting at tables along the street eating Italian food. This is where pizza got its start in Melbourne.

Melbourne has preserved a lot of its Victorian buildings. This gives Melbourne a something-old-something-new look. Some buildings, especially in the Docklands, look like they are from a future that never was.

We have yet to see any aborigines, the people who lived here before the British came. But that might be like expecting to see a Native American in New York.

Many of the houses in the suburbs are largely built of brick, have just one floor and not much land. Many have a red-tiled roof. As in New Zealand, the summer is far worse than the winter. Snow is rare. And, for the past nine years, there has been little rain!

The cars are much larger than in New Zealand. The general look of things is much more like America – you might almost think you were in Texas.

The way people talk is similar to New Zealand, a sort of Cockney.

Melbourne got rich when gold was found in 1851. That is when the Chinese came – there are a lot of them here. The ships dropped them off by the sea and they walked inland to find the Gold Mountain. Some found their fortune, but most who prospered did so by opening stores and selling food. Over a hundred years later some are still there selling food.

– Abagond, 2007.

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Australia (1901- ) is either the largest island or the smallest continent. Or both. It is also a country that was once part of
the British Empire. A place of strong beer and good weather.

Aristotle argued for the existence of Australia: there must be unknown land far to the south to balance out the known land in the north. Ptolemy even put it on his map – not as fact, but as theory. The place came to be called Terra Australis Incognita – the Unknown Land of the South.

The theory turned out to be right. Australia is south-east of India and south of China. It is on the opposite side of the world from America, where it is known as “The Land Down Under.”

Because Australia is a world unto itself, it has strange animals you see almost no where else, like kangaroos, koalas, wombats, platypuses and emus.

Australia is as large as America without Alaska yet it has fewer people than California: it is much drier than America.

The middle of the country is flat and dry – too dry – while the south-east is like Europe. In between is a vast land of grass where sheep live. There are more sheep than men in Australia. The north is wet and warm: it lies in the tropics. Australia has no great rivers.

Most Australians live in one of four cities along the sea: Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in the east and Perth in the west. The seat of government is Canberra, which is more an overgrown suburb than a city.

Australia is an English-speaking, largely Christian country. There are more Protestants than Catholics, but less than half the country is Protestant. It has a parliamentary-style democracy. The Queen is the head of state. Some wanted to make Australia into a republic not too long ago, but most wanted to keep the old girl on.

Australian English comes from the streets of London: it is closer to Cockney than the Queen’s English. Because it left Britain later, it is much closer to British English than American English is.

Australia was kept safe by British warships before the Second World War and by American ones since. Australia has fought with both in wars overseas.

Before the Second World War Australia feared British influence. Now they fear American influence.

You see this in a backward way in their spelling: the Labor Party spells its name in the American fashion: it was so spelled in the early 1900s when British influence was high. But now, with American influence high, everyone writes the word in the British fashion as labour.

Like South Africa, much of Australia’s wealth comes from mining.

The British began to settle Australia in 1788. The first settlement became what is now Sydney. At first Britain sent prisoners. Many were people would could not pay their debts – being sent to a land where gold would later be discovered.

The aborigines came to Australia thousands of years before the British. They still live there, though now only one Australian in 40 is an aborigine. They look like the people of south India, but darker. Their hair is black and almost straight.

– Abagond, 2007.

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