Information about work, life and play in Regional Australia

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Differing Cultures of Regional Australia - Polyculturalism

Photo: Gordon Smith, Tranquility. A gorge pool near Armidale in New England's Tablelands country.

One of the recent debates in Australia has been about the meaning and role of the word multiculturalism.

I really don't like this word. It implies, or seems to imply, that Australia is nothing but a series of different cultures living together in harmony. Now there is nothing necessarily wrong with this in itself. But Australia is more than that.

To begin with, we have a strong and vibrant core culture acting as a centre piece for all the different groups making up Australia. We fight about elements of this culture, but it exists.

Advertising agencies are one of the best signs because they focus on those things that will help them sell product. Here I found a story from last year that is good because it includes links through to video of some of Australia's best ads. I suspect that both Australian and international visitors will find these interesting.

From our core culture we move to Australia's increasing diversity. We can think of this in two ways.

The first way is the way the core culture itself varies across the country. Take language. Australia does not have the pronounced regional variation to be found in the UK or the US. But as I began to explore in an earlier post, the English language itself does vary across the country. Further, I suspect that these variations are increasing.

The second way is Australia's changing ethnic mix. Australia is still a land of migrants, with each new group adding something to the melting pot. In the beginning, each group stands out because of its different features, adding variety to the visible pattern of Australian life. Then, with time, they have an impact on the core culture itself.

Sometimes these changes are obvious and dramatic. Take what we eat and drink. Here each wave of migration has had an impact.

The most commonly cited example is the transformation in our diet associated with the mass migration program from Europe after the second world war. Prior to this, wine was very much a minority drink, concentrated in particular socio-economic classes or in particular regions such as the Barossa in South Australia or the lower Hunter. Now wine drinking is wide spread across Australia, helping fuel the spectacular growth of the Australian wine industry.

Sometimes the changes are less obvious. In NSW differing patterns of chain migration -Irish Catholics in the south, Scots Presbyterians in the north - in the early days of European settlement created different social and voting patterns that survive to this day.

Over the last three decades, the visible expression of change associated with migration has become more obvious simply because Australia has been admitting migrants from so many countries and different ethnic groups. I suspect that Australia now has a resident community from pretty much every ethnic group on the planet.

This change may not be as great, for example, as that in Auckland. I explored the New Zealand case in a post on my personal blog, Pasifika and New Zealand's Future. However, the effect has still been dramatic, in so doing further increasing regional variation across Australia.

Two factors are at work here.

The first is continuing chain overseas migration. Sydney in particular remains the main entry point, increasing the number and diversity of the overseas born in that city.

The second is internal migration. Again, Sydney in particular has been losing locally born to other parts of Australia.

The net effect of these changes have been changes in the look, feel and life of different parts of Australia. These changes add to the visitor fascination for Australians and overseas people alike.

I have started to use the word polycultural to describe this whole process in which we combine an evolving core culture with its own regional variations with a variety of other cultures, constantly creating new amalgams.

Introductory post. Next post.

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