For me, there is no greater symbol of Australian tolerance and acceptance of multiculturalism than park life.
Not the song by Blur, but what goes in a park in Sydney or Melbourne (or Brisbane or Perth I am sure) on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
If you don’t spend much time in parks, I urge you to visit now that spring is in the air and the days are warming up and the skies are a deeper shade of blue.
Here you’ll find people of all colours, creeds and sexual and socio-economic persuasion eating, playing, laughing, drinking and cooking side-by-side in seemingly perfect harmony.
You’ll see Asian families with their massive plastic Tupperware containers of marinated chicken wings and rice eating under gazebos, traditional Muslim families sitting on rugs having picnics and pasty white folk riding their bikes, throwing the frisbee, walking dogs or just enjoying a good book on the lawn. The children’s playground will be a similar multi-coloured, multi denominational kaleidoscope filled with laughing, screaming happy kids having fun without a bother in the world.
I see scenes like this every time we go to the park, without fail. It’s positive reinforcement that Australians are decent at heart, kind, tolerant and accepting, fitting in with the global stereotype: the happy-go-lucky, easy-going laughable larrikin Aussie.
Parks are where I find myself, someone who does not usually engage with strangers, striking up conversations with parents of all backgrounds, while my daughter swings or hurtles down slides. Last week it was a guy, Rudy from Santiago, Chile, who has lived in a Australia for more than a decade, is an Australian citizen, making the move here for a better life. A couple of weeks ago it was a Greek grandfather “pappou” as his grandkids called him, with whom I discussed the economic collapse in the country of his birth.
It’s hard to correlate this multicultural idyll with some of the racist vitriol that is so very present in so many other aspects of Australian life and which reinforces another widely held stereotype, that Australians are racist bastards who call Italians “wogs”, Aborigines “Abos” and who want to send Muslims “back to where they came from”.
But yet, we live in such a dichotomy, one that is particularly pronounced under the most conservative government in the country’s modern history.
Last weekend’s Border Force crackdown Melbourne where there were plans for the new militarised goon squad in their sinister Stasi-like black uniforms to target suspected visa dodgers before a public protest led to its hasty cancellation only rammed home the message of racial vilification because after all, as a colleague of mine highlighted, they were unlikely to ask a pasty white guy like me (a permanent resident, but a foreigner none the less) for proof of my residency.
Add to this the thousands of mainly Muslim asylum seekers, deemed “illegal” by the government, locked up, abused and forgotten in offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, the many Reclaim Australia and even more sinister United Patriotic Front rallies – skinheads disguised as “concerned citizens” and the recent targeted booing of aboriginal AFL player Adam Goodes and its hard not to stereotype Australia as a hotbed of white-trash yobbos parading in those blue Australian flag singlets on Australia Day.
Most recently, a gang of racists disguised as concerned citizens protested at a property auction, because of the prevalence of Asian buyers in the overheated real estate market (even though research shows its local cashed up mum and dad investors that are driving up prices)
As someone who lived in apartheid-era South Africa, I am acutely aware of racism in its many forms, overt and subtle, as a Jew, I have experienced the occasional anti-semitic episode.
But it seems to be as though racism is too easily brushed under the carpet here. Racist remarks by well-known public figures like Dawn Fraser, Eddie Maguire, Darren Lehman and others are quickly forgotten after the most facile of apologies. There are no repercussions for the right-wing columnists like Andrew Bolt who regularly degrade minorities, while the government through its stoking of the paranoia of fear about Muslim extremists (when the greatest dangers appear to be domestic in nature), is doing nothing, but helping prejudice, bigotry and intolerance fester.
The remedy of course, is to forget all about this and take off to the park on a sunny spring day, breath in the air, feed the ducks and enjoy the multi-cultural ambience. Perhaps even strike up a conversation with a Muslim father playing with his kids, an African women walking her poodle or a tanned Spaniard practicing his English.
Think of it as anti-racism therapy 101. It’s good for the soul. It may also renew your faith in Australia.