Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

August 2016

An all-time record for posting ahead of time this month, but there is a good reason for it, as I am about to set off for Athens in order to be Granny/Yiayia: I am to mind my grandson Orestes while his mother goes about producing a little sister for him. Orestes, who is now three-and-a half, is in for the shock of his young life. I am jittering away, while feeling that after three sons and three grandsons, some kind of a drought has been broken. Watch this space for further all-important details.

The world is in a terrible mess, and it just seems to be getting worse. Fear seems to be one of the driving forces behind such messiness, fear and inequality, to put matters very simply. What follows is my reaction to one aspect of the recent Australian election. I had another destination in mind for this piece, but hope that followers of these monthly offerings will read, mark and inwardly digest.

I originally called the piece More of the Same.

Well, it’s like déjà vu all over again, as a recently deceased American baseball star memorably remarked. Yes, Pauline Hanson and One Nation are back. It is exactly twenty years since I noted her existence, so it is hard for me to believe in her resurgence, and harder still to believe that her mindset has not changed. In 1996, making her parliamentary maiden speech, Hanson said she considered that Australians were in danger of being swamped by Asians. Now, One Nation having apparently won three seats in the Senate, she is still harping (and carping) on the same old string: she recently called for a ban on Muslim immigration and new mosques; she also wants a royal commission into Islam.

Greeks like to tell the story of two mother birds. Mother Partridge, a busy bird, asked Mother Owl to deliver her children’s lunch to them. Mother Owl agreed, but said she did not know the little partridges. ‘You will,’ said their mother, ‘because they are the most beautiful children in the schoolyard.’ But the children went hungry, for Mother Owl returned the food. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘but the most beautiful children in the schoolyard are my own.’

Most mothers are one-eyed, and so are some politicians. And many people feel most uncomfortable when faced with any sort of difference, apparently believing that a clear vision of a stable identity, the comfort of knowing who you are and where you fit, makes for security. Yet great creative minds of the past acknowledged insecurity. Virginia Woolf maintained that we all have a thousand lives, and John Keats felt his very self to be continually under threat: When I am in a room with People…then not myself goes home to myself: but the identity of every one in the room begins to press upon me so that I am in a little time annihilated..

It would be difficult to attribute a Keatsian sensibility to Pauline Hanson, but when she mentions ‘swamping’ and makes calls for bans, it would seem that she does fear some sort of annihilation. She is adept at tapping into the general insecurity felt by many, an insecurity related to fear of the unknown and worry about an uncertain future. But what is ever really secure about the future? And perhaps the familiar is as much to be feared as the unfamiliar?

Twenty years ago, mulling over these same issues, and worrying about Pauline Hanson’s views, I suddenly felt myself looking backwards to a brief incident in my childhood. My sister and I were playing hide-and-seek in our grandparents’ house, and I clambered into a wardrobe. In the dim light I read the words stamped on the back of the cupboard: Made by Non-Asian Labour. Much later I thought and hoped that such sentiments had gone forever.

Pauline Hanson and One Nation seem unable to grasp the fact that since 1788 Australia has been a land of the dispossessed, invaded by waves of convicts, military administrators, settlers, miners and refugees from war, persecution and poverty, all of whom have had different, but equally peculiar ideas about entitlement and identity. And their own sets of fears. Years ago, I heard one Greek immigrant say to another, ‘Look what the Vietnamese have done to our Melbourne.’ Whose Melbourne, precisely? I wanted to yell, and then wondered what descendants of  the original people might like to say to John Batman and his cronies, if only they could.

My parents remembered a time when the population of Australia was not even five million, a time when about 97% of the population was of Anglo-Celt extraction. I myself can remember post-war immigration, when said immigrants, many of them hailing from war-torn Europe, were referred to as DPs, Displaced Persons or, somewhat later, New Australians. These terms were considered pejorative by the educated sections of society, and eventually fell out of use. And thank goodness for that.

My parents believed in the brotherhood of man, and tried to live up to that belief, so that I can’t remember any expressions of prejudice against the newcomers. I consulted a friend of similar age, and she said she couldn’t remember any prejudice, either. ‘But,’ she added, ‘we have to remind ourselves that immigrants then were overwhelmingly of a Judaeo-Christian persuasion. And they were white.’

I conceded the point, and nodded. Ruefully.


Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018