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Fabrizio Marsani

Once Were Wogs

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From derision to celebration. Within two generations we’ve come along way.

Cultural Diversity Week showcases just how much White Sliced Bread Australia has changed.

According to my local council I live in one of Australia’s most culturally diverse municipalities where 150 languages are spoken. So Cultural Diversity Week presents an opportunity to celebrate and showcase the diversity of these unlikely ethnic bedfellows.

Melbourne has seen the gentrification of most suburbs which fall within a ten kilometre radius of the CBD during the last decade or so. It’s been a fairly predictable makeover, where neighbourhood shopping strips have loosely supplanted utilitarian for lifestyle.

My suburb’s gentrification hasn’t been brought about by the usual suspects{ the Lifestyle Latte Lot } but by a racial transformation.
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For decades this was an area populated predominately by post war European migrants and their off spring. Today the shopping centre has become a Indochinese stronghold.
Cultural diversity takes on an especially poignant meaning as stoical octogenarian Eastern European women navigate shopping trolleys through South East Asian hawker style stores and stalls.

The catalyst for so many of the migrants having found themselves in this perennially unfashionable suburb is armed conflict, moreover war. And while six decades may separate the first wave of displaced persons from European refugee camps and the most recent Sudanese civil war. The common denominator which has brought them to reside here is the aftermath of either a political or armed conflict.
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One of the better places to observe the diversity of this cocktail of incongruous bedfellows are the aisles of an independent supermarket owned by an enterprising Timorese family. These local entrepreneurs have embraced cultural diversity with a gusto befitting the most ardent of Multicultural zealots. The godfather of Multiculturalism, Al Grasby would have been proud to see his policies inadvertently blossom in amongst the aisles of this global smorgasbord of ethnic foods. And yes the staff are an appropriate representation of one of Australia’s most culturally diverse municipalities. The owners are astute business people who have opportunistically carved out a niche market, by catering to all the area’s minorities whether they be Lithuanian, Laotian or Lebanese.

This enterprise is a rare example of small business taking on the big boys and hitting them for six. The local Safeway just isn’t in the game with their countless offerings of homogeneously packaged and orderly shelved offerings. The entrepreneurial endeavours of many of these communities have manifested into creating a dynamic neighbourhood, albeit one demographers would struggle to pigeonhole.

While upheavals have dispersed migrants to this pocket of Melbourne, it‘s commerce which brings them together, albeit fleetingly. The necessity to shop for food is this municipality’s gelling agent.

Irrespective of how bizarre their respective offal off cuts may appear to each other.

The council rarely misses an opportunity to reassuringly remind local burghers of their commitment to promote and foster this cocktail of displaced persons. Flying the multicultural flag as enthusiastically as previous administrations deftly harnessed the electoral machinations of Ethnic Branch Stacking. [This council knows the currency of Multiculurism as it churns out brochures littered with lines like.]

“We are committed to the implementation of world’s best practice assimilation strategies. Our charter is unwavering in providing transparent benchmarks embracing cultural diversity underpinned by inclusive and consultative frameworks… ”.

A transparent translation would in all probability loose most of its ‘feel good’ poignancy in Urdu, Mandarin or any one of the dozens of languages spoken up and down those supermarket aisles.

The linguistic challenges of bureaucrat jargon aside, residents can celebrate cultural diversity any day of the week…shopping.
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My father tells the story of how he was made to feel unwelcome when he first arrived in this now multicultural suburb in 1952. On two separate occasions he built a low level brick fence only to see it knocked down the following morning. After the third attempt he kept a night watch and caught the culprits in the act, an Anglo Australian couple who lived around the corner. It was their way of showing new arrivals that Cultural Diversity wasn’t welcomed. Today we have a street festival to celebrate and showcase what were once just wogs.
Fabrizio Marsani

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