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Posts Tagged ‘homeless’

The other night a woman I’ve never met before came to my flat to buy something I’d advertised on Gumtree. Admiring the view from my lounge – over a park – she asks if I had ‘seen the Aboriginals there’. That’s a strange question, I think. It’s not a park with any particular significance to the indigenous population. Along with a million Aussie pubs, it’s named after the Duke of Wellington, who as far as I know had little positive impact on Aboriginal history. But it is a city centre park, and as such attracts its fair share of homeless people; sometimes they may even have had a drink or two. Ah-ha! The penny drops. She’s wondering if I’ve seen them.

True, there is evidence that there’s high likelihood of any homeless people being Aboriginal. And while indigenous Australians tend to drink less overall than white people, those that do drink often do so to harmful levels. Sadly, these things are not uncommon in Australian cities, but when you look at the staggering inequalities between indigenous and white Australians, is it really so surprising?

‘More than 200 years of dispossession, racism and discrimination have left indigenous Australians with the lowest levels of education, the highest levels of unemployment, the poorest health and the most appalling housing conditions.’

So says Oxfam, which is running a major campaign to improve indigenous health. Yes, that’s right – Oxfam, otherwise known for its work in war-torn Africa and the poorest Asian nations, is working in Australia.

A great deal of work is being carried out now to right the wrongs of the past. But I have still been shocked by the casual racism displayed by ordinary people.

My Gumtree purchaser, a well-dressed, articulate woman from a nice suburb, would probably be horrified to hear that I considered her comment offensive. But for me, defining a person’s unfortunate situation in life by their race is just bizarre. And I can’t imagine anyone in the UK saying to a complete stranger ‘Have you seen the Blacks?’ in a similar way.

It’s not my first experience of this either. A few days into my first proper job in Perth, a colleague circulated a poem by email. The punchline suggested that it was acceptable to throw tins of tomatoes at indigenous people. To this day I feel guilty that it took me several weeks to raise it with my manager (because I was keen to settle in and not ’cause trouble’ in my first month), and that I never directly challenged the sender about it (although I did find plenty of reason to challenge his views as the months went by – soon after he moved on from Aboriginal people to his deep distrust of all Muslims).

Is Australia a racist country? I like to think not. I’ve met many people who respect all cultures – and there are many represented in this nation of immigrants – including indigenous culture. But these incidents, along with the Hey Hey It’s Saturday debacle and shameful crimes like this, make me wonder if the nation is as comfortable with its multiculturalism as it should be.

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