a multicultural History of Australia

Making multicultural Australia

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Commentary on: The Making of Multicultural Australia »

Prof Andrew Jakubowicz.

Text Commentary

Making Multicultural Australia is a continuing process - a process affected by world events, by national concerns, and by the relationships within and between communities. Before the British arrived in Australia and claimed it for their King, the Indigenous peoples had already experienced relationships with many of the global wanderers who came to their lands - the Chinese, Polynesians, Melanesians, Indonesians, Portuguese and Dutch. Within Australia the Indigenous populations sustained some of the world's longest surviving cultures, ones rich in oral and visual traditions, open to learning and evolution.

The wave of exploration and settlement that brought the British and the other European powers to Australia had begun in the fifteenth century, when the metropolitan societies of Europe initiated strategies of expansion that would transform the world over the next five hundred years. The invasion and settlement of Australia began a series of cultural transformations - of the Indigenous societies (in many cases leading to their extermination), of the geo-politics of the region (a European White power located close to the centres of Asian civilisations), and of the settlers themselves (moving from a Eurocentric society to one which became more multicultural and accepting of diversity).

Along the way the various governments of the Australian colonies, states and then Commonwealth, adopted a number of different responses to the existing Indigenous populations, and then to the diversity of populations immigrating into the country. For much of Australia's history (until about 1975), governments asserted the superiority of the White European races - especially the British - and sought to subjugate, remove or prevent people of other races from surviving or settling in Australia.

Australia has a history of racism, but a current policy and cultural orientation that condemns racism. This tension, between our past and our wishes for the future, underlies much of the dynamism and controversy associated with multicultural Australia in the 21st century.

Making Multicultural Australia records, analyses and probes this history, and explores the potential for the future. It provides our audience with the tools to research that history, understand current controversies, and reach conclusions based on evidence - rather than prejudice. As you will discover, Australians have many different views about the benefits and drawbacks of cultural diversity - many different senses of the pathways they want to follow in the future. What we can say for certain is that the cultural diversity of the Australians who are engaged in these debates is much greater than fifty years ago, when post-war immigration was starting to accelerate, and very much greater than 100 years ago, when White Australia had just been officially enacted as the policy of the new Commonwealth.

Welcome then to the ongoing journey in the Making of Multicultural Australia.