You are at the bus stop waiting to get to the city.
An elderly lady walks up and sits next to you. She greets you in
typical Australian fashion and a 10-minute conversation follows.
A few others join in. The crowd grows as we wait for the bus, fuelling
our conversation. It begins with how beautiful the day is, moves
from news about a neighbour's big win at the Casino on to Pauline
Hanson and racism.
The bus arrives, you board the bus and the driver says hi and gives
you a big warm smile. Upon arriving in the city, you bump into a
university security officer and he says, "Good day, mate! How
That's very much a typical day here in Brisbane, capital of Queensland,
the state that endorsed Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party during
the last state elections. Nearly a quarter of Queenslanders voted
for her One Nation Party.
Since the rise of Hanson, a former fish-and-chips shop owner, racism
in Australia has become a hot topic indeed. Hanson favours a ban
on Asian immigration and an end to Aboriginal rights amongst other
race-based policies. Her weakness in economics cost her her seat
in Parliament however although her party did secure 8 per cent of
the popular vote during the recent federal elections.
When I call home, invariably I get asked if I have had any racist
I have not experienced overt racism personally. However, there is
no dearth of news reports about racist incidents. The ones I find
appalling are the stories of Australians spitting at Asians in the
Queensland University of Technology (QUT) student Timothy Ang says
it's a minority, which spreads the disease around. He says that
not everybody feels this way about race.
One Australian-born Chinese civil servant, 30, who prefers to remain
anonymous says that a couple of people at her workplace have passed
pretty nasty remarks, like "Go back you immigrant". She
said, "I have been here all my life and this is first such
episode. It seems this Hanson phenomenon has given many the license
to be racist."
Reports of racist incidents may have caused a drop in the number
of Asian students coming to Australia for further education. International
students inject $275 million into the Queensland economy annually.
Federal Government figures show the number of student visas issues
in 1997 - 98 in Indonesia fell 10 percent, Korea down 44 percent,
Malaysia down 21 percent and Thailand down 27 percent.
Then again, the fall could also due to the Asian economic crisis.
But whatever the reason, it has prompted the government to launch
a $200,000 marketing campaign aimed at helping Asian families feel
safe in Queensland.
Some are sending missions to Asia to boost intake, others are relying
on word of mouth and graduating students as ambassadors.
Communication Design student Simon Quah is ready to do his bit as
far as addressing post-Hanson racism is concerned. He reckons the
townsfolk are pretty nice but it's in the rural areas where you
have to watch your step and maybe have a thick skin. "Abuse
can be hurled at you or at times on the roads, drivers scream at
you for no apparent reason," he said.
QUT student Sii Kiat Hee, who has been there for the past six years,
agrees about the rural area being more racist but feels that we
must be careful not to fall into the racist mindset ourselves. He
says that we should not view the issue as 'us' against 'them', but
rather how we can effectively combat such attitudes.
Attitude is indeed important. Start out with a "racist"
mindset and you can find racism in many situations even when there
is none. Each of us has prejudices towards others due to our diverse
upbringing. I have heard my share of horror stories about working
with foreigners and how unfriendly Aussie classmates can be. So
far, I have not found that to be the case.
Ben Connolly, an Anglo-Saxon Aussie, says, "Most Australians
are friendly and I personally enjoy chatting with international
students. They give you a different perspective to things. It's
important to have a little cultural exchange and besides, I think
racism is evident in each place where there are minorities."
Personally, I believe someone has to make the first move and lower
his guard. When that happens, a more friendly relationship is formed.
I don't know how the myth about Australians keeping to themselves
In fact, I find that they are more than willing to share their culture
and opinion. I have learnt so much just from a simple conversation,
whether in class or on the streets.
Equally, I have also cleared up many misconceptions about Singapore.
It's amazing what a little exchange of information can throw up.
Many still think Singapore is a communist state, a Mandarin-speaking
nation and is part of China or Malaysia. I hope I have done my share
in debunking these myths.
As always, I have found attitude is everything. A positive attitude
and a willingness to tolerate differenced in culture, lifestyle
and opinions go a long way to make life more pleasant.
I know that I am having a great time here, Pauline Hanson notwithstanding,
because I am willing to see that there are many Australians who
are not like her and who do not subscribe to her ideas.