This is the fourth in a series of short essays on the theme of “Invasions”
I’ll be posting. See backstory here… -Sarah White
by Jillian Hussey
At the end of World War II, an exodus began from devastated Europe. Millions of displaced persons, people who had lost everything in the six years of war, had to pick up their lives again and do their best to start over. Hundreds of thousands sought a new life in my homeland of Australia. I was nine years old when I became aware of people very different from me seemingly everywhere–on the trains and trams that I caught every day to and from school in Adelaide, the capital city of South Australia, on the buses, in the shops, in the street.
They dressed differently, smelled and looked different, and they spoke a myriad of different languages, none of which I understood. Some spoke a melodic sounding language, and were shorter and dark haired with “olive complexions” as my mother would say, and these I learned to identify as coming from southern Italy. Others spoke languages which sounded somewhat harsh to my ears, were taller than the Italians, with lighter complexions, and were generally described by Australians as what sounded to me as “the Bolts” – from the Baltic states of northern Europe.
They were a puzzle to me, and I had little understanding of who they all were, and why they were seemingly everywhere. I frequently heard them referred to as “New Australians,” and this term often was used in a derogatory way about people who were not “like us” and therefore somehow inferior.
In retrospect, I can only imagine how this intolerance must have made it even more difficult for them to adjust to a whole new way of life, knowing that they were not particularly welcome in this new land. Most of them could not speak English, which was often a source of criticism from “fair dinkum Aussies” – which I later recognized as an unfair and ignorant attitude, but which at the time was probably my attitude also. And then there were the English, who of course could speak English, but who were unpopular with Australians because they had a “superior attitude” towards Aussies, whmo they considered colonials, and therefore their inferiors (an interesting reversal of Australians’ attitudes towards non-English speaking immigrants).
However, these people new to Australia learned to overcome the many challenges they faced, and within a generation were absorbed and accepted by the “old Australians”. They became a source of cultural enrichment in everything from the arts and science, to the diversity of restaurants and the introduction of new sports, and in so doing, they helped Australia mature into a much more interesting and dynamic country.
Written November 7th, 2010