Asian-Australians have been reporting incidents of racial intolerance and attacks during this time of isolation and lockdown. Australia is better than this.
We hear of people worldwide including leaders and people in power referring to the corona virus as the “Chinese virus”. We hear of racist attacks on people of Asian appearance in Australia and other countries.
Unfortunately Australia has a history of racism towards the Chinese people which dates back to the 1850’s even though the Chinese are considered to be the oldest continuous immigrants to Australian aside from the people who came here from Great Britain.
Around 7000 Chinese people arrived in Australia in 1850 to take up jobs as indentured labourers, shepherds and servants, they were fleeing from poor conditions in their own country including war and political instability.
Following the news of a gold rush in NSW in 1854 more, mostly Chinese men, arrived to seek their fortunes on the gold fields. The Chinese men worked in groups of 30 - 100 under the direction of a leader and consequently their efforts were very successful. This led to tensions between the Australians and the Chinese gold prospectors in the 1880s because it was perceived that the Chinese prospectors were taking the fortunes of the Europeans.
The press at the time often ran inflammatory propaganda and newspaper stories about the spread of smallpox and other diseases. The anti-Chinese sentiment was such that the premier of NSW at the time deemed it illegal for Chinese and European people to have “intermarriage or social communion” in 1888.
In 1901 the Australian Government passed the Immigration Restriction Act which later became known at “The White Australia Policy”. Anyone arriving in Australia had to pass strict requirements including being able to write a passage in any European language. This policy was not repealed until 1970 and had a great impact on the lives of the Chinese Immigrants in Australia.
Fast forward to the mid 1980s where the likes of Jack van Tongeron and his Neo-Nazi group “The Australian Nationalist Movement” prowled the hotels of Perth, Western Australia recruiting young skinheads to carry out his dirty work. ANM was a white supremacist group who robbed and firebombed businesses owned by Asians. Jack van Tongeron served over 13 years in prison and was released in 2002 where he resumed anti-Asia activities which lead to more convictions in 2006. Ironically, it was later discovered that Jack actually came from Javanese descent.
Fast forward again to 1996 and Pauline Hanson made her “swamped by Asians” speech in parliament as part of her “One Nation” party platform. When asked if she thought she was xenophobic her reply was “please explain”.
From the 1990s to the present day Asian-Australians have reported increasing discrimination when seeking housing rentals and purchasing properties in most States and Territories in Australia. According to a survey conducted by “The Institute of Australian Geographers” in 2018 some Australians still see Asian “invasion” and “takeover” as a threat to Australia’s white identity and political system.
Despite the policy shift from “White Australia Policy” to Multiculturalism at least 58% of Asian-Australians still experience racism in Australia’s major cities.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise then that with the recent outbreak of the pandemic Covid19 which originated in China that racism has once again reared it’s ugly head and Asian-Australians are being subjected to ugly and unfair discrimination and racial abuse. The Australian Human Rights Commission has recorded the highest monthly number of racial discrimination complaints this year.
Chinese students have been shouted at and punched in the face for wearing masks and others have been called derogatory names and spat on whilst walking the streets.
The Australian Prime Minister ,Scott Morrison, during a press conference last week rightly praised the Chinese community's contribution in the fight against COVID-19.
"The Chinese-Australian community did an amazing job in those early days of the spread of the coronavirus," he said.
Let us just remember that the last pandemic the world experienced was “The Spanish Flu” in 1918 which according to historical accounts did not originate in Spain. Spain was just the first country to report it as they were a neutral country in World War 1 and had the freedom of press to release the story to the world. The first known case was actually recorded as being in the United States.
Let’s just count ourselves lucky that up until recently we have been able to take for granted the freedom to travel all over the world and visit amazing countries, something that we are lacking right now that we are all locked down in our own countries. It could be the price we pay for having that freedom and we are all responsible for the worldwide spread of corona virus, not just one country or one race of people. I truly hope we can have that freedom again soon. In the mean time we are better than this Australia. Be kind to one another.
About the author
Freelance writer, amateur photographer, occasional performer of personal stories @Barefaced Stories. Lover of nature, music and art. I write content and copy for small businesses and teach part time in Perth, Western Australia