Growing up, members of my extended family would laugh when sports commentators would wax lyrical about recent migrant’s sporting achievements as “Australian.” “They are ‘Australian,’ until they do something wrong, or start losing,” they would scoff, citing as an example that while Jelena Dokic was Australian, Damir Dokic definitely was not. Mark Philipoussis while he showed promise, was deemed an Australian and yet his off-court antics permitted the media and the mainstream to create scatological versions of his ‘ethnic’ name, something that would have been inconceivable had he an Anglo-Saxon surname.
Furthermore, in snatches of conversation I chanced to overhear, I gained the impression that though members of my extended family have been settled here since the thirties, they believed that they were here only under sufferance and expected that at some stage in the thankfully distant future, the ‘right’ to be an ‘Austalian’ could be called into question and that they could even be asked to leave. In response to my attempts to convince them otherwise, they would cite not only a multitude of examples of day to day racism they had endured in Australia, but also, an older memory, that of being forced to leave a homeland in Asia Minor they had inhabited for generations.
I am fond of quoting George Vassilacopoulos and Toula Nicolacopoulou’s ground-breaking study: Foreigner to Citizen: Greek Migrants and Social Change in White Australia 1897-2000.” In it, they analyse how the key forms in which migrant communities manifest our existence here are paradoxical. Though lip service is paid to communities forming their own organizations and sub-structures, the way in which this is done is heavily regulated and prescribed by the state, originally in order to keep sub-cultures away from the mainstream. As a result of such government-sanctioned behaviour, the sub-cultures remain isolated, suspect and constantly having to prove their loyalty credentials to their host country, that is perpetually unable to accept them as they are.
Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou also note that such racially exclusion is symptomatic of the ontopathology of the predominant ruling group in this country, in seeking to legitimise its conquest and rule over Australia at the expense of its original inhabitants, by acting as arbiter over other nationalities it has chosen to include but not assimilate within its constructed society. Thus, despite the veneer of formal equality characterizing race relations in this country, there lurks within the substratum, a fundamental concept of the ‘perpetual foreigner.’ These foreigners are not automatically subsumed into the liberal democratic individualist paradigm. They remain a distinct ‘group,’ which is expected to provide appropriate declarations and exhibitions of loyalty to the ruling culture, or face the fear of being labelled suspect. As a result of this sociopathic world, generalisations and denigrations can still be made about ethnic groups, just as they were made in the early twentieth century, when ethnic minorities, the Greek one among them, were considered suspect and were subject to internment or at best, surveillance and censorship.
The latest racial attack visited by revered swimming legend Dawn Fraser upon Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic seems to prove Vassilacopoulos’ and Nicolacopoulou’s contention. In claiming that the young tennis superbrats should: “go back to where their fathers or their parents came from. We don’t need them here in this country if they act like that,” Dawn Fraser, a known supporter of Pauline Hanson, appears merely to be extending the paradigm of the ‘perpetual foreigner,’ further from that of the migrant, to the migrant’s Australian-born progeny. Thus, a child born in Australia of migrant parents will, in Dawn Fraser’s world, still be deemed to be a foreigner regardless of their level of assimilation into the mainstream (Mark Philipoussis’ Greek was extremely poor and yet he was still considered to be a ‘wog’ and anyway, why should affiliation to another culture or language make you less Australian?), by virtue of its parent’s birth. Applying the paradigm, given that such Australian-born foreigners are eternally subversive, they should be subject to deportation at the mainstream’s discretion, any time that they display behaviour that to the arbiters of Australianism, appears to be unsuitable.
Dawn Fraser’s ravings could be dismissed as those of a bigot or a racist if it was not for the fact that a very large portion of the populace tacitly or subconsciously shares these views. Symptomatic of this is the fact that a large number of mainstream Australians rose to defend Kyrgios’ character rather than condemn his disenfranchisement at the hands of his attacker, as an Australian. One could merely relegate Dawn Fraser’s bile to the dustbin of intolerance was it not for the fact that even now, her vision of two classes of Australian citizens is being envisaged by parliament via laws to strip dual-citizenship holders of their Australian citizenship if they are found guilty of ‘terrorism.’ Admittedly these laws are designed to protect Australia from an extremely serious threat that has plagued the entire world and caused untold suffering, yet their effect is to encourage the sentiment that there truly are two types of Australians: the dinky-di, true blue, and the ersatz, subversive ones with a dual citizenship that most of them have taken no steps to gain and is merely afforded to them as a birthright. What we are learning is that the citizenship of the country of their birth is negotiable, not a birthright and subject to revocation, albeit for more cogent and grave reasons than those that have so incensed Dawn Fraser.
Multi-culturalism, the way most of us were brought up to understand the term was supposed to be about embracing diversity. All cultures and languages were considered equal and valued as Australian cultures that enhanced and contributed to Australian society and its progress. We were led especially to believe so about Greek culture, whose values and institutions form the foundation of western civilization and thus of Australian Anglo-Celtic culture as well. Now Dawn Fraser, among others, confirms our sneaking suspicion that by extending the arguments of Vassilacopoulos and Nicolacopoulou, the doctrine, heavily regulated and prescribed by the state, was created, maintained or at least developed, in order to keep sub-cultures away from the mainstream. She makes this confirmation based solely on the looks and parentage of an Australian sporting identity.
It would be trite to tell Dawn Fraser, who is pictured herein bearing the Olympic torch, a symbol of the ingenuity of the country to which she would like Nick Kyrgios to ‘return,’ that save for the Aborigines, we are all migrants in this country. It would be futile to attempt to describe the feelings of hurt and alienation her comments have caused hundreds of thousands of migrants who have embraced this country, worked hard to improve it, fallen in love in it and can envisage no other live away from it. Had she the capacity to understand the depth of the love migrants and their descendants have for their country, she would not have launched upon such a lamentably heinous tirade. Yet it is incumbent upon all of us who love the ideal of multi-cultural Australia to protest vociferously at each and every snide exposition of intolerance, racism and bigotry until it is understood within the psyche of even the most unrepentant xenophobe, that we are not xenoi, but are here to stay. And if Nick Kyrgios is going to be shunted off to a country of which he has scant knowledge, we can exhort Dawn Fraser who will remain behind, να κάτσει να δει το χωριό της.
* Dean Kalymniou is a Melbourne solicitor and freelance journalist.