Anglo journalists display an unholy glee as they point to the empty seats in such riveting sports as rowing or ping-pong. Australian journalists dismiss the feast of the Assumption of Panayia as a reason for Athens being empty and a low attendance at the Games. "They are on holidays, so they should be able to attend." There is no reason why the Greeks should not share Australia's monopthalmic, secular and cultureless society.
Yet criticism has shifted ever so slightly but in an ever more so sinister fashion from the Games themselves to the Greeks. It has become fashionable to denigrate Greeks wholesale as anyone who listens to commercial radio in Melbourne would discover. Celebrities possessed with the mighty intellectual clout that only Blair of Big Brother fame can muster comment that Greeks are persons who ride donkeys and hit their steed's posteriors with olive branches and the entire morning Melbourne traffic jam is enveloped in throes of laughter. Recently, a commentator on ABC's 'Lateline' sneered that Ilias Iliadis, the Greek Judo gold medallist had 'shaved since he was six.' Even the hapless denizens of the 3AW morning show, in their attempt to complement Greece, reveal exactly what they think of us, commenting that they can't understand how the Greeks here own little corner businesses when they went to a vast modern shopping center in Athens, that was actually clean. That is to say nothing of FOX FM's 'Bit Fat Greek Olympics' where demented 'ethnics are paid to say "Oh my God that car is fully sick vre,' in order to raise an Aussie laugh. Fully sick indeed.
Ten years ago, such comments were taboo. Everyone played lip service to multi-culturalism and only a few ultra-right wing conservatives on the margin of society railed at what they saw to be the extent that political correctness had pervaded Australian life. One could have been forgiven for believing that we were truly a melting-pot, where ethnic boundaries were unimportant. How radical our about face has been.
Commencing with the Howard government's refusal to publicly reject the racist slurs of Hansonism and moving on to the demonisation of refugees and other foreigners that was the Tampa incident, Australian society has gradually and imperceptively become insular, desperately seeking to assume one identity and extremely fearful of the 'other.' Welcome to mono-cultural Australia, the real Australia, hiding under years and reams of leftist, heart-on-one's sleeve Whitlamist Labor party policy directives, and now emerging triumphantly to regain its hunting ground and relegate those remaining 'wogs' who retain their culture unassimilated to the margins of scorn or at best indifference.
From television shows like Kingswood Country, to Graham Kennedy's World Tonight, to Acropolis Now and beyond, the message is received loud and clear: 'Wogs' are only acceptable when they are figures of fun, held up to the public scorn. Wogs cannot be accepted in their own right, unless they fit a certain negative stereotype. No wonder then that the Italians on Home and Away are cast as Mafiosi. That is what Australia wants them to be.
There have always been warning signs mind you. My classmates back in High School could not understand why we spoke Greek. They could understand that our parents spoke Greek because they had been born 'over there.' But we had been born here and that meant that we were Australians. This entailed 'speaking Australian' and 'acting Australian.' These kids were not hostile. They had just been brought up to believe that ethnic cultures were inferior and in true Anglo style, that the Anglo-Australian culture was so superior, that all should adopt it. They genuinely could not understand why we could not see that what we were doing, in speaking Greek in the playground, was un-Australian, or why we would persist in maintaining Greek traditions when we could partake in the glory of 'acting Australian'.
Still we were brought up differently. The racism we have had to deal with is not that overt racism which our parent experienced in past decades. A combination of brute force, determination, outward assimilation and ambition have seen the Greeks of Australia propel themselves to the highest echelons of Australian society. Yet still, a century on, we are an illegitimate presence, struggling to cope with a latent racism that is re-emerging, struggling to cope with the realization that despite the rhetoric, inherent prejudice never went away.
Dr Karl Kruzsenicki, famous in Australia for his re-popularisation of all things scientific recently appeared on the Denton show and spoke about what it was like to be an 'ethnic' boy going up in Australia in the fifties and sixties. He spoke of being accosted for speaking a foreign language (his parents spoke six) and as a result, rejecting his parents' polyglot, multicultural family background, to the extent where he could not communicate with them anymore. Many of our parents, mine included, have been the recipients of similar injunctions by 'well-meaning' Anglo-Australians.
No, we haven't really progressed. September 11, the Bali bombings and cynical governments who milk such occurrences to their full political yield have seen that in the new xenophobic Australia, there is no more room for grass-roots Multiculturalism, beyond the policy launch, or indeed for diversity. For where if not in a fear of strangers, an arrogant dismissal of other cultures and Bushian confidence in 'Our Way' as the only way does the ability of Australians to slander and poke fun at a minority Australian group with impunity come from?
Karl Kruzsenicki was admonished for speaking a foreign tongue in the sixties. Now, a modern cautionary tale. It is the new millennium, the era of progress and tolerance and my baby cousin, a toddler, is jabbering away happily in Greek to her grandmother as she picks her up from kindergarten. Suddenly, she is accosted by a very angry kindergarten teacher who tells the toddler in nasal, 'I could have been a teacher' tones that "we speak English in Australia." Now that child, a babe in arms, has not spoken Greek ever since. Welcome to the new Australia.
published in NKEE on 30 August 2004