Transcript of ‘Griffith Review – State of Hope’
Speakers: Stuart Baines (S), Professor Julianne Schultz (J), Angela Woollacott (A), Dr Chris Wallace (C), Professor Peter Stanley (P), Amrita Mahli (M)
Location: National Library of Australia
SB: Distinguished guests, ladies and gentleman, welcome to the National Library of Australia. I’m Stuart Baines, Assistant Director of Community Outreach here at the Library. As we begin I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home.
It is our first Griffith Review conversation this year, we hope to have more, and I’m delighted to see how many new and returning visitors I can see out there tonight and for those of you who are returning please note our plush new theatre, it’s very lovely. The Griffith Review is a collaboration that the Library is very pleased to be a part of with the founding editor, Professor Julianne Schultz. We can always rely on these events to highlight issues of great significance and it’s a privilege that the Library is able to play some small part in facilitating that conversation.
The Griffith Review was established in 2003 and since then has been setting the agenda for current affairs, discussions through its themed editions. Tonight’s conversation will focus on edition 55, State of Hope, which explore the economic, social, environmental and cultural challenges facing South Australia. We’re very lucky tonight to be joined by Professor Julianne Schultz and contributing authors, Angela Woollacott, Professor Peter Stanley, Dr Chris Wallace and Amrita Malhi.
Dr Julianne Schultz is the founding editor of the Griffith Review and a professor at Griffith University’s Centre for Cultural Research. Julianne has made a – was made a member of the Order of Australia in 2009 for her services to the community as a journalist, writer, editor and academic. She will chair this evening’s discussion.
Angela Woollacott is the Manning Clark Professor of History at the Australian National University. Her most recent book, Settler Society in the Australian Colonies, Self-Government and the Imperial Culture was shortlisted for the History Book Award in the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards. She is researching and writing a biography of Don Dunstan supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant.
Professor Peter Stanley of the University of New South Wales Canberra is the author of 27 books including Whyalla at War. His recent titles include Lost Boys of Anzac and Bad Characters, both very good reads, which jointly won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History in 2011. Peter continues to be a supporter of our ongoing events program and is a great friend to the National Library.
Dr Chris Wallace is a Fellow at the National Centre of Biography, School of History, ANU and a member of the Canberra Press Gallery. Her doctoral thesis was on political biography as political intervention. She is the author of several books including Greer, Untamed Shrew and The Private Don.
Amrita Malhi is a visiting Fellow in the ANU Coral Bell School for Asia Pacific Affairs. A historian of southeast Asia she is also Secretary of the Asian Studies Association of Australia. In 2015 she convened Intercultural Adelaide, Cultural Adaptivity for the Asian Century in association with the 9th International Convention of Asian Scholars. All of that was an incredible mouthful.
So I ask you to please welcome our guests and I welcome you here to the National Library.
J: Thank you, it’s a great pleasure to be here again for the first of the Griffith Review National Library events for this year and I look forward to doing some more later in the year. I always really enjoy these conversations because they’re able to pull together some of the you know to really tease out some ideas that have been developed in the volume. This edition of Griffith Review’s State of Hope is the fourth that we’ve done with another university collaborating partner. I described this the other day to my Vice Chancellor as us pickpocketing the other universities to try and build that sort of support. We did one with University of Tasmania, with Curtin University, Melbourne University and now with Flinders University and I’m delighted that Dr Patrick Allington from Flinders who coedited this edition has been able to come over for this event this evening.
I think what we’ve been trying to do with these themed state – place-based editions is to try and tease out some of the complexity and some of the elements that make places different. There was a time I think in Australia where people were very much more defined by the state that they came from than I think is now the case. But I still think there’s something different in the DNA of people who come from a particular place that deserves to be teased out some more. I guess when we started planning this we knew that South Australia would be in the news because obviously this year is going to be a very, very big year for South Australia, I mean we didn’t anticipate the energy issues quite to the degree that they’ve been playing out but certainly with the closure of the car manufacturing plants and so on in Adelaide this year there’ll be a lot of attention on South Australia I think in the sort of public consciousness. So in a way we wanted to get in a bit ahead of that curve and really tease out those – where the places come from and where it might be going and what some of the issues and what are some of the emotional resonances in that?
So this panel that we’ve got tonight is really well equipped to explore some of those editions – those themes. And I mean one of the sort of starting points I guess is about coming and going, I mean the creation of South Australia, it was a very deliberate project and it’s been informed by very deliberate movements of people over a long period of time now. So I’m interested in each of your stories in that regard. And, Angela, maybe starting with you, I mean both in terms of what you’ve written about in terms of Dunstan’s sort of movement back and forth but also in your own sort of you know your own connections with the place.
A: Thanks, Julianne. Well I was delighted to be invited to contribute to this volume as a proud South Australian and I think very much shaped by having been born and bought up in South Australia, it was fun to think about the challenges facing South Australia now, the nature of South Australia and also how South Australia does have I think a sense of its own exceptionalism. People talk about American exceptionalism in terms of history but I think that we can make a case that South Australia has a sense of its own exceptionalism much of which of course is mythological but South Australians I think do play with the sense of South Australian history in drawing on current responses to political issues in South Australia. So I think South Australia is very much shaped by the comings and goings, the early comings and goings and more recent comings and goings. I was saying to Julianne earlier that my own history in South Australia goes back to the 1840s. On both sides of the family my antecedents were 19th century arrivals in South Australia. The Woollacotts, as early as the 1840s, it was a Woollacott who drove the bullock dray that took the first steam engine to the copper mines at Burra so there’s a long family connection to Burra and that part of South Australia.
With Dunstan I was – because I’m working on a biography of Dunstan it was fantastic to have a chance to do a piece on him for this collection and I think in many ways Dunstan exemplifies the complexities of the comings and goings, partly his own sense of the history of South Australia. I mention in my essay here that he very deliberately titled his political memoirs, Felicia, drawing on one of the first considered names for South Australia, one of the names that Jeremy Bentham in the early 1830s considered possible for South Australia to signify South Australia’s promise that it would be a very fortunate kind of place. So Dunstan was very conscious of that.
Dunstan who of course faced a great deal of opposition to his politics in his career in the ‘70s, one of the things that was often suggested by his political opponents with varying degrees of explicitness were the suggestions that perhaps he was racially mixed you know that he was – there was this term that was actually used against him in 1956 actually, it was first used against him by his political opponents that he was quote unquote a Melanesian half-caste orphan bastard and there’s always this you know somehow it’s always hung around, that questioning about his antecedents. His family on both sides were South Australian way back, Cornish mostly, so he too had that strong sense of South Australian history and yet as I argue in my essay he was very much shaped by the fact that he was born and grew up in Fiji. His parents both thoroughly South Australian had moved to Fiji because of his father taking a job there as a merchant, running a store.
Dunstan was born and brought up there, did much of his education there but actually kept going back and forth to South Australia for parts of his education and then for his career although the first part of his legal career was in Fiji so Fiji was hugely important in shaping him. So I suggest in my essay that it was actually growing up under British colonialism in Fiji with the powerful racial stratifications in a household with servants, Fijian and Indian servants, and observing the colonial racial hierarchies all around him, the treatment of Fijians but also very much the treatment of Indians that shaped his sense of racial injustice which then fed into his commitment to antidiscrimination in South Australia and influenced also his pioneering legislative initiatives in the 1960s for Aboriginal land rights. I’ll stop there.
J: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I’m intrigued by how in that experience that Dunstan had in Fiji in your essay you’ve made the argument in a sense that the – his progressiveness came as a reaction to what he observed and I guess the same point can be made about some of the early ideas in the establishment of the state itself, that it was you know it was a reaction to a time.
A: Well the early founders of South Australia I think had a you know it was a Wakefieldian vision with a particular notion of a kind of settler colony to be based on particular plans. So I’m not sure that it was reacting so much to other things happening in the empire but it was part of the you know the big settler explosion of settlers from Britain going around the globe and Wakefield’s vision of schemes of land ownership and actually political rights as well that would be beneficial to settlers.
J: Yes, yeah so the reform – that whole reform movement and those political rights thing which sort of coloured the early days.
A: Absolutely and South Australians of the 19th century had that strong sense of the importance of those foundations even though of course it was very – South Australia's history in the 19th century was chequered, it was up and down and of the course the idea – South Australians love to say well there were no convicts but actually you know the borders you know almost didn’t exist and there were convicts very quickly who came across from the eastern colonies so it was not reality.
J: It was a way of hiding out. Chris, your upbringing was very much as a product of growing up in that sort of Dunstan reform era which is what you’ve written about so your family moved from Sydney to South Australia, yeah.
C: There’s two kinds of migrants, international and intranational and intranational migration to South Australia is actually quite a feature like my pal here from Whyalla, when he speaks you’ll notice just a very slight English accent, I think. In fact my family shifted there in 1962 and we were from Sydney and Adelaide is the kind of place, you’ve got to be there five generations before you’re a local so we were joking earlier you know before the mikes were turned on you know this is a real South Australian 1840s. Julianne has some South Australian relatives going back to 1900, she’s a blow-in. And the Peter Stanleys and in fact the Julia Gillards of the world, we all turned up in South Australia and we were kind of outsider insiders who happened to lob in at this most extraordinary moment, kind of the second enlightenment experiment period that South Australia happened to experience.
Most places don’t ever have a single enlightenment experience but back then that Wakefieldian vision for South Australia, I don’t think many South Australians now appreciate just how unique and profound that was as an international experiment. It didn’t make it any better for the local indigenous population of course but it was a remarkable experiment that quickly became I think quite conservative because South Australia’s so tremendously isolated, there’s really so little rationale for its existence apart from the wine industry yet people like me and you and the Gillards blew in when in fact a conservative state premier, Tom Playford, decided in many cases literally to buy economic development for this place that had really no economic diversity at all and basically you know through industry policy plonked in car factories, plonked in a refinery, plonked in lots of middle industry and literally boatload after boatload of migrants turned up, poured out and were you know living in migrant housing developments, Housing Trust developments. There were literally thrown up hundreds of houses at a time around these new industrial areas interestingly by – mostly by a company that in fact was German and had built a lot of post-war recovery reconstruction dwellings in Germany.
So those German links, Schultz you know bit of a tell-tale sign there. Drive up the Barossa, even as a kid I’d hear German spoken in the street but you know it was an amazing time because the state was so affected. Even just prior to Dunstan there was a well-funded, incredibly robust, high-quality education system. There was a great health system. The state worked, it had a beautiful environment, stunning quality of life, incredible wine industry, the most remarkable produce even then and then Don Dunstan happened and it was a revelation you know he was the great modern enlightenment man, renaissance man of South Australia and we were electrified. Suddenly this place that had really become quite quickly historically the arse-end of nowhere literally was the absolutely cool place to be and the entire kind of east coast intelligentsia decamped, went to hang out with Wolcherry’s drama crew at Flinders and make art with Viv Binns and you know make – the South Australian Film Corporation were zooming and Don Dunstan, he was just incredible, we all felt like we were in the centre of the universe briefly.
I think I defined Adelaide’s golden age in my piece as starting when the Beatles arrived and ending when Don Dunstan had his dressing down resignation press conference but in between was the most remarkable period of enlightened policy, cultural excitement, proper funding of public facilities, exciting leadership you know this guy didn’t care that people were calling him potentially you know Asian, he didn’t care half the town was saying he was gay behind the scenes, he was just going out and living, wearing pink hot shorts running up the steps of Parliament, sitting on the back of an elephant at the zoo reciting poetry, dancing on stage at the end of Hair, he was living and as a result we were living and it was a tremendous, exciting, beautiful shot for South Australia which after Don went then kind of slumped back into its –
C: Torpor. So good times and it’s funny when my piece went up a lot of the reaction I was getting was people commenting how significant a political leader could be in individual lives as an inspiration to appreciate and live difference, to actually animate your life by example. And I think if there’s a single gap in our current polity nationally and internationally it’s kind of Don Dunstan’s, to make us get off our arse and live.
J: Thank you. Now, Peter, do you want to reflect on Whyalla now or do you want us to stick to what we agreed earlier and you go last?
P: Oh I’m happy to go last.
J: You’re happy to go last okay so Amrita, in terms of your study of more recent migrants to South Australia in your work in that sort of multicultural space I mean how much do you think the legacy that Chris has been talking about is still present and meaningful in the lives of people there?
M: Yeah well I mean I think it’s present and meaningful in two ways, I mean one way is just the pride that people feel in that time and in the reforms led by Dunstan and actually another is in the way some of that – some of those reforms have calcified to for example the way in which South Australia and in fact the nation operates multicultural policy is very much from the era of Don Dunstan. It’s now 2017 and you know even in terms of my own comings and goings to South Australia, I mean talk about five generations being a blow-in, try five years. So I actually moved to South Australia in 2011, I am from Canberra, spent you know a couple of decades here, moved to South Australia to sort of you know do work in this field and you know have been nursing this sort of project on interculturality as the Premier was calling it so it was basically an initiative of the Premier’s Department. I was tapped on the shoulder, I was working at the Uni of South Australia, to begin a project on you know maybe there are new ways to actually sort of do multiculturalism as a nation that’s increasingly integrated with Asia, whose population is increasingly Asian and that’s actually very evident to anybody walking down the street, whose economy is increasingly reliant on international students, on immigration to prop up the housing market, all that kind of thing so is there actually a way of doing these things better? That perhaps move on from some of the methods that were developed in basically the ‘70s and ‘80s.
And so my story is of you know both working on that project but also kind of experiencing some of the ways in which these structures actually reach to me as an Asian person living in South Australia. So I tell the story in my essay of being approached by my local member, Kate Ellis, via the letterbox and she’s written to me – she wrote to me in Hindi hoping to hopefully I suppose you know activate me as a member of an Indian community that she must have imagined that I was a part of. You know I don’t come from India, I wasn't born there, I never lived there. I have been there and I suppose I am Indian in some broad you know diasporic, generational way you know but to receive a letter in the mail after 30 years living in Australia and I speak English as a first language so to receive that letter you know trying to sort of reach out to me in Hindi was very strange – made me angry, I’ve got to say. So I received it you know the day before election day and the next day I went to vote and I was just mad as hell, so mad, I can’t tell you how mad, not only because I’d been racially profiled but also because I’d been poorly racially profiled.
And I suppose this really helped me to understand just how much the practice of the state constructing communities that are convenient to it is really now starting to get in the way of our interactions with the Asian region, our interactions with ourselves as an Australian community that is you know so diverse now. You know people are very proud of saying – and government ministers will love to get up and say there are more than 200 cultural groups living in Australia now you know 40 years on from the collapse of White Australia or the abolition of White Australia. But the ways in which governments relate to these groups can actually be profoundly alienating especially if you’re a bit of a hybrid, you’re a bit different, you’re you know sort of got a long history of migration you know it can be very difficult indeed.
So I suppose just reflecting on that Dunstan time when it was you know the height of innovation to be talking about multicultural policy and to be bringing it in and now reflecting on just how some of those structures actually get in the way of doing multiculturalism better has been for me the experience of living in South Australia. So you know I hear a lot about its past that people have so much pride in, I haven’t experienced it and I actually had never really even thought about Don Dunstan – I’d probably heard his name but I’d never thought about him before getting there. But you see you know you feel this sense of pride but of course in South Australia just as across the rest of the nation it is actually quite difficult to get anything you know any sort of political reform through. Even if you’re asked for your advice sometimes it isn’t taken and you can’t get worried about that, you just have to sort of do it anyway.
J: Yeah okay, I want to come back to that discussion around racism a little bit later but firstly I’d just like to draw Peter in. I mean Amrita’s just described as constructing communities that are useful to the state at the time. I mean that’s very much your experience, isn’t it, in terms of the Whyalla.
P: Yeah, that practically defines Whyalla, yeah. For those who haven’t read the issue. I wrote an essay about my experience of living in Whyalla. We arrived as migrants exactly 50 years ago and can I ask, we’ve got several former South Australian here, how many former South Australians are in the audience? Hands up. Ooh, look at that, okay. Keep your hand up –
J: South Australian mafia, we’re all here.
P: Keep your hand up if you’ve been to Whyalla.
J: Wow –
P: Keep your hand up if you’ve lived in Whyalla. Okay, that’s very interesting. A place nobody goes to. Except that thousands of people did. You asked about migration, internal migration, lots of Australians, South Australians, people from the Eyre Peninsula, mid-north, went to live in Whyalla when it boomed in the second world war, again created by the state, and lots of people from other parts of Australia and from overseas especially Britain went to Whyalla when it boomed again in the 1960s. The issue is called State of Hope and as soon as I saw those words, and you put up a prospectus, for some contrarian reason I thought of Whyalla because Whyalla is a place most people, former South Australians, don’t associate with the word hope, they associate it with words like awful, hot, dusty, despair you know terrible place to go.
Which is not the way people who stay in Whyalla feel about it so it’s a curiously - like South Australia as a creation, it’s a curiously artificial construction because it’s a place that should never perhaps have existed you know its environment is – well was pristine but has now been completely buggered by industry which affects and hurts the people who live there. So in lots of ways Whyalla is the paradigm for the sorts of issues that the issue – that the edition talks about. So yeah, we could - and those who – former South Australians who might want to chip into this discussion and talk about the way in which they feel about the state of hope, the state can I point out that they left.
J: I’m interested in that you describe in your essay, Peter, that you know the excitement of arriving and the sort of you know the sense of possibility and the blue skies and you know the promise of a lifestyle and so on and then you describe the process by which that lifestyle was degraded by the very environment in which people came. I mean was there a sense amongst you know your – you’ve still got family who live there - I mean of betrayal or you know of you know being sold a pup or was – did that optimism sort of continue for quite some time?
P: The optimism still continues. You know the story, Whyalla boomed and then they closed the shipyard – BHP closed the shipyard and the town’s been in a steady decline since 1978. And one of the things that I reflect on in the article, the essay, is that there is a persistent and inexplicable sense of optimism and it occurred to me that that comes perhaps from the fact of again people who moved to this place with an aspiration to live in a place that is different to where they came from, in our case is different to rainy old Liverpool – it never rained in Whyalla, my mum loved it – and a place where they can create a new future and they can shape their own future. And that again keys in with the idea of state of hope and it goes right back to the idea of the community that South Australia you know the visionary idea that the founders had.
So curiously – and I spoke to the Mayor of Whyalla – the old Mayor of Whyalla died last year and there were seven people who wanted his job. This is a town that’s dying and yet seven people have got a vision to create a new future for Whyalla. And I spoke to the Mayor and she spoke on – because of the Griffith Review issue she spoke on ABC Sunday Extra and she is absolutely committed to the future of the place and she’s not the only one there either. So it’s a paradox.
J: Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean there’s another piece in this collection by Michael Delaney about Port Augusta and it’s a similar sort of thing in a way, I mean they’re sort of similar towns in some –
P: Terrible place, Port Augusta.
J: - but he talks about the process of – I mean it’s obviously topical now but that you know when – as the sort of old coalmining sort of things were you know got rid of that as a source of generation and the move to a sort of renewable energy framework and that the sense in the town was that it was a place where energy was made, it didn’t actually matter how it was made but what they did was they made energy so it’s that same sort of sentiment to some degree. Is there something in that that you’d like to chip in on or –
A: Well I guess just some reactions I’ve had that people have been saying you know Chris was saying you know that for its early beginnings South Australia became conservative and then the ‘70s were this wonderful time which of course I think they were but I actually think that South Australia has had this very uneven history of being – going in and out of progressivism and conservatism so for example around 1850 South Australia was very progressive in terms of the relationship between church and state so it you know made reforms that meant that there was a whole plethora of churches – the reason South – Adelaide is called the city of churches is not because there are lots of them physically although there are but it’s actually because there was this flourishing of many different kinds of churches, there was a freedom of religion which was considered very important of course related to the Germans. The 1890s, South Australia was you know the first colony in Australia to enfranchise women and so forth so you know again there was this moment of South Australia being very proudly conscious of being progressive and making reforms that other colonies or states hadn’t yet made. Banning plastic bags before other states in Australia you know renewables. I mean I think that South Australia actually – obviously you can tell I’m a proud South Australian but I actually think that there’s been this tension between progressivism and conservatism and actually one of the things I think – seeing you two sitting there and one of the things I picked out of your two essays was you talk about living in Housing Trust homes as migrants or –
A: - intranational and international migrants and of course the Housing Trust was the first I believe public housing agency in Australia that – it was 1936 South Australia set up the Housing Trust, hugely important. Tom Playford, a conservative premier, and yet under him the Housing Trust mushroomed enormously and Playford of course as Chris has written about in much of her journalism like her piece on Julie Bishop you know there’s complicated politics of conservatism that could actually support public agencies like a Housing Trust and an electricity trust and so forth.
C: What you’ve said then is incredibly important because one must distinguish between the conservative tenor of much – many periods in South Australia from political conservatism ‘cause the truth is South Australian non-Labor people are historically and in a deeply continuing sense the most small L liberal progressive non-Labor people in Australia and you know putting Cory Bernardi aside –
C: - which I know we’d all love to do in a fuller sense than I’m saying it now, that the fact that the Liberal and Country League in South Australia had a wonderful kind of you know for conservatives, noblesse oblige, a paternalism about how they ran the state as expressed in things like Playford’s industry policy, it was a completely different kind of political tenor to non-Labor politics in the rest of Australia. And you know I’m not sure anyone’s fully explored why that is and I suspect the enlightenment experiment roots of South Australia is just so woven so deeply into South Australian DNA that even if you’re a Liberal, my God you’re just not one of those nasty pasties that we seem to get in the rest of Australia quite so much.
A: I think one of the other elements in that, I mean ‘cause obviously there’s the sort of British enlightenment group early on and then as Angela said the waves that’s come through but one of the other really significant groups in South Australia was that German settlement and there’s a tendency to say oh it was sort of people who were you know land traders or people who were escaping religious persecution and that’s all true but the other big group of the sort of German migrants during the second half of the 19th century were people who were coming – who were quite intellectual so you had people who were leaving Germany because they thought that there would never be a constitutionally bound German state and so they came and they arrived with you know very progressive ideas about the way the state should work, how the university should work you know a sort of – a secular liberal society to some degree from that period. And so they were there as a quite progressive force in South Australian politics through the sort of 19th century until that big internment that happens –
P: Until the first world war.
A: - in the first world war and then that other strand of progressivism which is – they weren’t all progressives, I’m not saying that but that other strand got closed down you know very effectively with then that sort of mass deportation of Germans at the end of the first world war so the 6,000 people who were sent you know over five or six years after the war, sent back to Germany so –
P: Oh they’re intimidated.
A: - it was a way of shutting down, a sort of – another strand.
P: That’s right.
A: Sorry that’s not written in this book.
C: Your story about the Reform Club and the <inaudible> 31:52, you’ve got to tell that.
J: I don’t know that I can remember it.
C: Well you go. In Julianne’s introductory essay you know the Reform Club in London, the great hot bed of small L liberal progressive you know enlightenment thinking in London, I think 90% of Adelaide’s original street names are named after members of the Reform Club in London. I mean we don’t actually fully understand - even South Australians don’t understand the DNA of that town and how it’s played out through Australian politics, it’s incredibly interesting.
J: Actually Mike Rann told me that story, he said oh – I said oh where are you staying? He said oh when I’m in London I love to stay in the Reform Club. I said oh that’s nice, a nice place you know I’ve seen the films you know I haven’t actually been there and said you know they filmed Harry Potter or one – not Harry Potter, one of the other movies where they needed that grand sort of club. And he says oh yes, he said – oh he said I’d never get in, they’ll never let me in and somebody said - and Rann said oh but somebody said to me if you just say that you’re the Premier of South Australia they’ll make a special place for you because as you go down the stairs every one of them is a photo of the people whose streets are you know the streets of central Adelaide and that so it happened.
One of the things though that sort of – I’m interested in this is that sort of – the sort of racism that plays out in different ways. And that’s between settlers but also in terms of relations with indigenous people. So there are some good examples of the sort of early quite progressive policies in relation to indigenous people in terms of giving land grants and so on but you know they’re short-lived to come back. But Chris, you said in your piece and I know you’ve said this in other forums, that the racism that you experienced was against the English you know that there was a sort of bias against the English.
C: Yes, our Housing Trust street was absolutely fantastic, there was my parents and my two brothers and me and across the road was a German family, he’d been a Luftwaffe pilot in the war and his wife was an Australian opera singer, next door was an Aboriginal teacher and her car salesman husband, the local copper and his family were the next house along you know there was this great big jumble of fantastically interesting people but we were swamped with these massive boatloads of you lot. And you know it gave me a different slant on – different insights into racism that perhaps other people have had because you know all of us, the Aboriginal woman next door, the ex-Luftwaffe pilot you know we all just felt swamped by 10 pound poms so there was no racism other than to you because you were so dominant. In my Year 12 class there were 38 kids and 35 of them were English and of course it was terribly difficult for us to maintain any racism ‘cause they all ended up being our mates and that again was a nice lesson about you know being in the hood. But Adelaide is so intensely English still, I think the seat of Kingston which is where the refinery and the old power factories were is the most intensely English seat in Australia, it’s very, very, very English.
J: So Peter –
P: We should talk about that and bring in other migrants because while – I – people sometimes say I have an English accent and if I do it’s because I hardly met any Australians until I came to university when I was 18. Whyalla was full of English migrants. They all had different accents but anyway the – but I’d like to know what’s happened because the British weren’t the last wave of migrants to South Australia, there have been many others and in Whyalla one of the ways Whyalla’s maintained its buoyancy is by welcoming – I think that’s the right word – successive waves of Indochinese and Sudanese migrants, South American migrants so what’s happened to that Englishness is the context of a multicultural society now? So I mean has that diluted the DNA?
C: We got saved – the biggest thing that happened in a culinary sense in Adelaide in my local area, Christie’s Beach, in 1974 was a Chinese restaurant opened up, fantastic and for a really cosmopolitan night out before that we had to go into Hindley Street to an Italian restaurant with chequered cloths. Incredible. Basically you know getting back to Dunstan, Dunstan was from Norwood, Norwood was the home of Italian migrants. Suddenly it was cool to be multicultural in Adelaide you know one guy changed at a stroke what was acceptable and exciting in Adelaide and suddenly you know everybody kind of came out of the woodwork and South Australia developed a complex, interesting food culture –
P: Okay, is it still cool to be multicultural in Adelaide?
J: Yeah and that’s my question to you, I mean you know and it’s sort of – you talk about that thing of having to take your multicultural self with you – you know –
M: Yeah, well I mean I suppose there’s multiple sort of ways of looking at that, I think - I mean I don’t know if I’ve experienced a particularly racist culture in South Australia, I don’t think anyone’s struggling too much with the fact that there are all sorts of new migrants or different – well non-white migrants, let’s put it that way – living in South Australia now. I do think there is a terrible amount of pressure on migrants though to actually stay in South Australia and in fact there’s a lot of discussion about how try as the state might it just can’t retain new migrants. So people will come in and I think they’re given five extra points or something you know to choose Adelaide over other cities and what they’ll end up doing is basically you know turn up, eke out an existence for as long as they can, unable to find proper jobs – they’re underemployed just like many other South Australians are - and then you know after their two years or whatever the rule is, after that time is up, they’ll pack up and head to Melbourne or Sydney.
And so there’s a very kind of complicated discussion about how much South Australia needs migrants and how hard it has to work to keep them and I think you know there’s all sorts of moves then to you know increase the number of international students and make arguments to the public that you know each student creates 1.25 jobs. I mean you could counter that 1.25 jobs for one extra person is not a very good ratio but all the same it’s all the ratio they’ve got and so there’s you know there’s this pressure, pressure to come, pressure to stay and that is I think a little bit – it’s a little bit difficult to be asked to be part of a state building project that isn’t really working for lots of people and so why then as a newcomer should you sort of feel that pressure on you? So that’s I think one of the issues.
A: Do you think the reason it’s not working – the reasons are economic or cultural or both?
M: Reflecting on the way the place works as far as I can tell it is very, very difficult to make friends and you know you don’t have to be a new migrant to feel like that so when I arrived in South Australia the first thing that people would ask me – I mean it must have changed since but they would ask me why is your diction like that where you’re from? And it wouldn’t be you know where in Asia are you from? It would be more like you know are you a newsreader sort of thing? I actually had somebody say to me in a bar you know are you a newsreader? And so it can be very difficult for people to –
A: I hope you said yes.
M: I should have said you know in a past life I was a newsreader but I think I just said oh actually I’m from Canberra you know I don’t <inaudible> 39:23 –
P: Weren’t offering you a job, were they?
M: Well they should have. But yeah so I mean for me as far as I can tell the pressure is a different sort of pressure, it’s a pressure to really love it and if you don’t love it that’s a bit hard, it’s a bit hard to respond to South Australians and say actually I don’t love your place. I live here, it’s fine, it’s not a problem –
P: I’m so pleased you said that.
M: - but I don’t love South Australia. And it must be so much harder if you don’t speak English as your first language, if you are having a hard time getting work, if your name’s Mohammed or something like that you know and you’ve got to put in for 65 jobs just to get one interview or whatever the statistic is that was recently in the media, I mean all that stuff must be so much harder and then to be kind of you know to have it demanded of you that you love the place I think that’s a little bit tough. So I mean that’s not really a discussion of racism, I suppose, it’s a discussion of different kinds of pressures. And you know even the discussion in the state about you know engaging Asia you know we’re going to grow our export markets, we’re going to go around sourcing investment, we’re going to have all these you know delegations go here and there and the government’s going to lead them and we’re going to help you know connect people with Asian markets and all that, I mean I’m not sure if they work, maybe they do and maybe they don’t but I think there is just so very much pressure on you know members of these Asian communities that are being constructed for example to do some of that work for the state –
C: As part of the bigger issue that confronts every South Australian because you know you keep coming back to this question and the history of South Australia, why is it there? You know what is the rationale without subsidies for that city and you know greater existing?
A: It’s so geographically challenged actually, I mean it is remote. It’s not as remote as Perth but it is remote so this you know this pressure to love South Australia is partly because South Australians do feel you know geographically isolated –
M: And pressure to build it when in fact you might not really want to build it, you might just think oh well this isn’t really working.
A: And the dryness, the dryness is a huge challenge –
C: The other thing is just in – I don’t know about you guys but in this discussion it’s really occurred to me why so many of us are in Canberra you know idealistic planned conception you know very progressive, has to be subsidised, would you bugger off if you could? You know I mean basically Canberra in a way is like Adelaide with proximity to Sydney, the snowfields or the coast, it’s kind of full of South Australians, there is an incredible South Australian mafia here.
J: There is, yes, yes. And that process of leaving, I mean I think that that’s something, I mean you talk about it in relation to people who’ve relatively recently come but you look at the demographic spread and that depletion of people in their sort of prime years you know from 25 to 40 is huge in South Australia.
P: And that brings us back to the people who stay because the people in Whyalla again who were so positive and optimistic about the place are the people who haven’t left, that Whyalla I think I said once is a very easy place to leave and the people who stay have this tremendous loyalty to it and I think the same thing happens to South Australia. My wife is a Scottish migrant and we went to the Barossa Valley for the very first time and terrible to say this but she was grossly disappointed because it wasn’t nearly as magnificent – where’s the valley? She said. She comes from Scotland.
C: It’s a big valley.
P: The exceptionalism that Angela mentioned, I think there’s a sort of expectation of loyalty that South Australia, although it’s dreary and dry and all the rest of it, people do feel a loyalty towards it. Do you not?
C: But the other thing is – I don’t know about you but it doesn’t matter what I do or where I live, the psychic landscape in my head is the Fleurieu Peninsula and always will be. When I die, when I close my eyes and die I’ll be seeing the hills of Wilunga. It’s that impactful landscape that’s beautiful.
J: I’m very keen to draw you in but can I just say about the Barossa Valley? ‘Cause after we did this launch in Adelaide the other day my husband and I went up to the Barossa Valley and I haven’t been there for you know for a very long time but having grown up in that sort of Lutheran Church world and I remember as a child going there and there’s the Table Lutheran Church and there’s the St Paul’s Lutheran Church and there’s the Zion Lutheran Church and there’s the Zion Subset Lutheran Church and there’s the Church of Peace over there like you know in this tiny area you know one after another, these big grand churches. And I had that sort of feeling, bit like what you’re saying, that I had this sort of memory – is it a deeply embedded memory of thinking that there’s that wonderful German line, Stadtluft macht frei, city air makes you free that I felt in this closed tight space that you would never be free you know it was rich and it was prosperous and it was you know people living comfortable lives and all but it felt like you wanted to get away and I mean how did it happen? I mean it’s probably 20, 30 years since I’d last been there but it was something very deep in that sort of emotional response to the tightness of the place.
C: We are the escaped.
J: So I’m really keen to hear some of the escapes, questions or joining the conversation because I’m sure you’ve got interesting things to add and we don’t need to dominate it from up here. There's somebody – the microphone’s around.
Au: Thanks. A question if you could discuss, South Australia suffers from many comparative disadvantages, everything's hard. Is that woven into what the attitudes of - or what creates the attitudes of South Australians? And how much of that do you think played in Playford’s mind when he bribed industries into existence in the state?
A: Well I think stoicism is very much a part of the you know the 19th century you know the culture of South Australia that goes back to the 19th century you know the attempts to establish farming, I mean you know clearly there are fertile regions in South Australia and Fleurieu and the Adelaide plains and the southeast and so forth but you know those desperate attempts to go you know to go further you know the Goyder's Line that was set up you know beyond which there isn’t rain. And in fact there’s a wonderful photo essay in the book that talks about this you know with the photos of abandoned stone – small stone homesteads and that is such a part of the South Australian experience, that battle against the really inhospitable conditions and it’s – back to Dunstan, it actually was part of his family history, his grandfather killed himself because he was trying to farm in a you know up north where it was too dry and when Dunstan’s father was a small child he just killed himself and left five kids – his widow had to come back to Adelaide and you know so that was – Dunstan actually talks about that in one of his books, he was very aware of that part of his family history. And it is very much a part of the South Australian – that kind of pioneering sense is part of the older South Australian culture. And of course the reality of the geographical challenge is still so much a part of South Australia, ‘course it’s part of why renewable energy is attractive to South Australia ‘cause you know there is wind and that so –
P: Sorry, I keep bringing Whyalla in, don’t I? But the aspirations that the two waves of settlers in Whyalla brought with them, especially the first, the 1940s, they were people from the land and I think their aspirations were tremendously modest if that’s not a paradox or contradiction, that they wanted security and a house, maybe a small Trust house. They didn’t want riches, they didn’t want anything grand and they were able to attain that modest expectation so it possibly does come back to the harshness of the environment maybe.
C: One rider about Playford, it’s a complete mystery, I mean worth one of us going back and having a closer look at what was in Playford’s head because he was an Adelaide hills cherry farmer and he had his cherry stand at Adelaide Market next door to Julie Bishop’s father’s cherry stand, he was also an Adelaide hills cherry farmer and why a South Australian Adelaide hills cherry farmer should suddenly become the national champion of interventionist highly subsidised industry policy to create a huge manufacturing base and support massive migration, I mean that’s actually one of the kind of notable events of mid-20th century Australian politics and I don’t have the answer. Frank’s here, do you know why that happened, Frank?
F: <inaudible> 48:40.
F: <inaudible> 48:43.
C: What was the answer with McKewin? Okay, question on notice.
Au: Thank you for your panel. My family left South Australia in 1850 so – for the Victorian goldfields so –
C: Good move.
Au: But I can claim to have an Adelaide Street named after my family and they weren’t anything to do with the Reform Club in London. So I just – what lessons does South Australia have for the rest of us, I think, is the question that comes out of this collection very strongly and particularly I would like to hear more about the alternatives to two-party politics which seem to me to be very much the rich heritage of South Australia, Xenophon now, Chip and also I wonder about the German community and its relationship to the Gruens in the original 1970s and that sort of idea of third parties or small L liberals who don’t do what conservatives do now. Thank you.
J: Well if Dennis Atkins had been able to join us who was meant to be a member of the panel he would have been a perfect person to answer that question but Chris or Angela?
C: Well I think it goes back to that incredible tradition of small L liberal Liberals that makes it different from anywhere else in Australia and also a tolerance for kind of maverick behaviour you know Robin Millhouse getting a government-funded bicycle instead of an official car and you know it’s a place where you can be - ironically given it’s so conservative – a bit different and it’s alright, almost possibly the English eccentricity thing manifesting itself. But things like the Liberal movement and you know the Xenophon thing, they’re not so attractive the closer you look. For example Chris Pyne told me the other night at China Plate where I was accidentally next door to him, not deliberately sitting with him, I hasten to add, that he survived in Sturt at the last election because he’d done a behind the scenes deal with Sarah Hansen-Young to shut out the Xenophon candidate so there’s an example of a minority party just doing the normal politics as usual behaviour. But yeah, God, if I could take that small L liberal South Australian liberalism and infect every other conservative in Australia with it, again putting Cory Bernardi aside –
J: Cory Bernardi and Family First as well which is the other bit of the more conservative part of South Australia.
C: Yeah, that’s not confined to South Australia though is it?
J: No but it grows out of that sort of religious fundamentalist stuff as well, doesn’t it?
C: If you look at why our politics in Australia has gone so wrong in recent years it’s because that hard, nasty right – right, right attitude has taken over the conservatives and if we had more South Australian small L liberalism – since there has to be a change of government every now and then – and have a conservative one. God, I wish we could have more of it.
A: I guess I would just chip in, I’m not sure that the third-party phenomenon has been a longstanding phenomenon in South Australian history. I mean in some ways for example South Australia wasn’t as affected by the split in the Labor Party, the DLP as much as New South Wales and Victoria or Tasmania so you know that wasn’t a huge issue in that significant period. I mean it’s clearly very much a part of the scene now but I’m not sure it’s really a longstanding part of South Australian political history. I mean the Liberal movement and others have kind of been brief –
C: And Xenophon is just increasingly looking like a conservative, you rarely see him voting with Labor on anything. Same thing.
J: Yeah, there’s a couple of other questions. Person with the microphone.
Au: I grew up in Murray Bridge then down at Glenelg, was lucky enough to go to Emmanuel College, Lutheran College, was in the first intake at Flinders and it’s interesting you haven’t used the word Cinderella state and I always remember these things from school and the driest state and the driest continent. Now with all the industry going and this – if it’s a global move or whatever, I don’t know whether this is a fair question to ask the panel, this but the roboticising of work, now that the employment is largely disappearing in terms of industry and that from South Australia have you talked about that at all, the panel, with your state of hope? Do you see where the possibility of employment may come from for the state?
J: Yeah, it’s a thing that John Spier from Flinders has addressed in some length, about the future of creating different sorts of jobs and how they might evolve you know with some assistance and organically. But I think it’s an area which is you know really going to take a lot of serious hard work over a long period of time to work through. I mean the other bit of South Australia’s economy of course is the mining industry and mining has been you know from earliest settlement you know from the Cornish miners you know through to the whole sort of BHP Broken Hill experience you know through to the more recent mining history. That’s sitting there as – I don’t want to say bedrock but it’s sitting there as a sort of – the source of a lot of the state’s wealth and sort of ongoing sort of momentum. And one of the things that we’ve explored in this edition around that is how the failure to resolve native title agreements in those areas that have been generating so much of the state’s wealth, that that’s stalled which is sort of at you know it’s a bit like the ups and downs that we were talking about before you know that there’s an intent but the detail’s not always worked through. Does anyone else want to comment on the work situation? Amrita, is your –
M: Well I think I wanted to comment on both the last two questions so I mean in terms of work I mean you know underemployment is just such a chronic problem in South Australia that sometimes you know you get these clever responses to it then actually in their cleverness reveal just how desperate they are and one example is the vibrant city culture. You know as I said before I don’t really love the place even though I don’t mind it but one thing that really gets on my nerves is discussions of the vibrant city culture because very often what it is, it’s about basically giving the underemployed a way to earn some cash so you know for example the food trucks, South Australia is so proud of its food trucks in the city and ultimately what it is is people who can’t earn enough of a wage you know setting up as small traders. You know in southeast Asia they’d call these people hawkers and here they’re called entrepreneurs so there’s a lot of – I mean of course I don’t mind them, I can buy from a food truck either so on the one hand you know it’s quite a pleasant thing, on the other it actually does sort of paper over some very, very serious problems.
And I think in terms of the political stuff, I mean I don’t know if it’s always going to be good for the Xenophons of this world but I think that underemployment is linked to the rise of these new political forces in a way that nobody’s really all that happy to acknowledge. So people will talk about unemployment but you know the eking out of existences across - I mean let’s just talk about the nation, really, I mean South Australia is a case in point but there’s an increasing kind of you know number of people who are trying to just piece together bits and pieces of work enough to pay their bills and you know there’s a kind of desperation about all that that I think is feeding you know some of these new developments and I think that actually the audience for the people like Xenophon, I mean it’s in a way good that there isn’t a more racist Xenophon in South Australia because I think the audience for a less racist or more racist Xenophon is there, it’s huge.
C: Cory Bernardi?
M: Cory Bernardi. I don’t think he’s a joke, yeah.
C: I don’t think he’s a joke either.
J: So have we got time for one more question? Yes? There was a person over here but you’ve been walking in the opposite direction.
Au: Well should say that I’m one of these ex-South Australians, I have ancestry on my mother’s side, they came out in 1839 or 1840 or some –
P: You win the prize.
Au: This is partly going back to some of the things you were talking about a couple of questions ago, one of the things that – well I can remember from growing up there, there’s about the religious - there’s a bit to do with multiculturalism but the religious mix from the 19th century and you still see it when I you know lived there in 1950s, 1960s, a much higher proportion of nonconformist churches and mu – someone mentioned diversity in the city of churches but nonconformist tradition from late 18th century, 19th century England tended – was a big lot of sort of social progressivism and so on and I – obviously the Cornish miners when they came out, they would have been – I think mostly they were Congregational or Baptist –
Au: Methodist, they were you know you more about the mix of the – but that - very strong in South Australia and of course a much lower proportion of Irish – people of Irish origin and I think that was one of the things that does make it really distinctive and I just wondered, do you think – particularly the nonconformists contributed to this sort of form of progressivism or small L liberals because I think that’s very strong in England from my knowledge of sort of social history.
C: Well the case in point is Bob Hawke whose Cornish heritage both sides you know Methodist household, born in Bordertown, absolutely classic. It was something like Methodist, wasn’t it?
C: Congregationalist. There you go, close enough.
A: Yes, the nonconformists were very much a part of the sense of difference in reformism in 19th century South Australia and you’re absolutely right about the lower proportions of Irish and Catholic and I think that continued to shape South Australia through the mid-20th into the later 20th century, that sense of I think perhaps particular tensions between Protestants and Catholics because of the lower proportions of Catholics.
P: But you, Angela, refer to the myths that South Australians cherish and I would suggest in response to your point that South Australia has a high proportion of ex-descendants you know there are lots of people who have Methodism in their family histories but that doesn’t mean they have Methodism or Uniting Church in their lives so South Australia like the rest of Australia is essentially post-Christian. One last Whyalla story, in 1973 there was something like nine or 12 nonconformist Ministers in Whyalla – that was before the creation of the Uniting Church, 1977 and now there’s something like one. Now that tells you something about the degree of faith among a city of 20,000 and declining but also perhaps something about the spiritual needs of a city of that size which maybe aren’t being met so South Australia may cherish its nonconformist background but whether it actually lives it today is another question. So –
J: Alright well thank you very much.
S: Unfortunately we do have to bring it all to an end here but I think you’ll agree that the conversation deserves to go on and you might be surprised it can go on. At the end of proceedings if you go up the stairs you can buy the book in the bookshop. We have 10% discount for anyone here tonight and of course any purchase you make that goes to support your National Library. I’d like to thank you, Julianne, for your continued support in bringing the Griffith Review to the Library and this fantastic connection and the fantastic conversations we get out of this, it’s great to be a partner with you in this.
We have a very exciting program of events coming up here at the Library so pick up some brochures on your way out, there are many including another great one next week so please, we’d love to see you come along. I would just like to thank you and hopefully you can all join me in thanking our panel tonight and I hope to see you all here again. Thank you.
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