An unremarkable thing occurred on the train last week. A young Asian lady nearly fainted in the crowded, airless rush hour carriage.
Her face had turned pale and it was obvious her legs would give way at any moment.
Immediately, people sprung into action.
The young Australian man standing opposite her offered her his arm to steady herself and calls went out for someone to offer up their seat. An Indian man obliged.
Then, as the train pulled into Kensington station everyone in the train carriage – all of us strangers – seemed to agree that it was best if the young lady get off the train and get some fresh air.
An older man, perhaps in his sixties or seventies, carrying a bag of groceries, said he was getting off at the station and volunteered to help her off the train. We all looked on with relief as she made her way out the train, resting her hand on the old man’s arm, to sit on a bench on the station platform and regain her strength.
As the train doors closed, I suddenly felt this immense sense of community with those people around me, people of as diverse backgrounds as it seemed possible in such a small, confined space. Pride in my fellow Melburnians, my fellow Australians, this multi-cultural fledgling nation.
I say it was unremarkable incident because these sorts of things, these acts of basic decency and kindness by complete strangers happen all the time in Melbourne as they do in Sydney and Brisbane, and as I recall them happening in London and in Johannesburg.
We should be incredibly proud of our multi-cultural nation. It is far from perfect, but it still a community and most of the time we do more than just get along.
All of which means we should be even more vigilant as we face the unfortunate prospective of a divisive figure like Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party, given a voice in the Australian Senate.
The “Australian values” which Ms Hanson and One Nation claim to represent are none that any decent Australian believes in or aspires to make part of their belief system; they are the views of someone who has probably never known a person of colour, or spoken to a Muslim or spend time with a refugee.
These are views derived from fear and ignorance, passed down from others or just lifted piece-meal and selectively from the internet.
We can laugh Ms Hanson off as a pantomime villain – as most South Africans did when the White Supremist Eugene Terreblanche rode into town on his horse, and then promptly fell off it – or we can pity someone so ignorant, but we should certainly be vigilant.
As American society fractures into a broken mess – where police offices shoot people of colour on a daily basis in a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach – as Britain abandons Europe to the sheer horror of its young folk, we should be ever vigilant of forces like One Nation, the Australian Liberty Alliance and other ironically titled organisations, who seek to divide Australia into an ‘Us’ vs ‘Them’.
We are not strangers on a train, suspicious of our fellow travellers because they don’t look just like us. We are a proud, successful society of many races, creeds and colours. We are a great and glorious, yet imperfect melting pot.
Let’s not break it.
For more on our great nation of many cultures, read these:
Australia’s cultural diversity: www.racismnoway.com.au/about-racism/population/
Our people: www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/our-country/our-people
One Nation, Many Cultures: www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/one-nation-many-cultures-20090317-911y.html