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Capital a haven for people of many cultures

By Kanchan - 27 January 2016 9

Diversity

Chances are, the majority of people reading this are not originally from Canberra. When you moved here how long did you plan to stay: three months; one year; until you could afford that place in Sydney?

Ten years ago when I moved here from London I was definitely in the three-month group. Initially, some issues with a potential job in Sydney meant I had to stay here a little longer. Then after the first year, having married my partner and turned our attention to starting a family, we decided to give Canberra a crack. And I am very glad we did.

Other than the town in England in which I grew up, Slough (yep, of The Office fame), I don’t think I’ve felt as at ease in any other place I’ve lived in. It was like slipping into a life I already knew.

I wonder what it says about me, not to mention Slough and Canberra, that those are the two places I’ve felt most comfortable.

Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects, to me, of Canberra was just how many shades of people there were. Apart from London, the places I’d lived in while in England didn’t have the same number of different cultures that we see in Canberra. There may have been two or three significant communities but I can’t recall the same breadth of communities, and from all parts of the world.

And can you recall any examples over the last decade of racial tensions flaring in Canberra? I can’t. There have been enough potential triggers and there have certainly been racist incidents but it never seems to have taken root.

In fact, aside from the sledging I get when the Ashes comes, I can’t recall a time when my different cultural backgrounds (my parents were born in India) has been an issue while I’ve been in Canberra.

I’m not naive enough to think Canberra is immune from racism. There is one form that seems to be less shame-faced than others – racism against Aboriginal people. This is not unique to our community but it is too common.

I haven’t been here long enough to know if this particular area of racism has increased or lessened in Canberra.

I can say that my children are teaching me about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures from what they learn in school. From songs, to traditional beliefs and more. It’s a learning curve for them and me.

I get genuinely excited when my two eldest come home from school and talk about their friendship circles, encompassing Aboriginal, white Australian and an invigorating number of different cultures.

It’s a good feeling to know I can go anywhere in Canberra and do so safely. It’s an infinitely better feeling to know that my mixed-race kids can do the same.

As my eldest says: ‘I’m half Australian, half English and half Indian.’ An inability to do basic maths is one of the skills I’ve passed on to him.

Pictured above are families enjoying a traditional Indigenous performance by the Wiradjuri Echoes at the National Museum of Australia on Australia Day. Photo: Charlotte Harper

Like to help Canberra celebrate its diversity? Support the ACT Human Rights Commission’s #diversitygoeswithourterritory campaign here and share a video featuring Australian of the Year David Morison discussing the issue here.

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9 Responses to
Capital a haven for people of many cultures
dungfungus 3:31 pm 30 Jan 16

wildturkeycanoe said :

“And can you recall any examples over the last decade of racial tensions flaring in Canberra? I can’t. There have been enough potential triggers and there have certainly been racist incidents but it never seems to have taken root.”
Most Canberrans are too busy in their own little worlds to form groups whom participate in racial violence. Nobody cares about anyone else’ business, they keep their noses out of trouble to a greater extent. That is why there isn’t really a “community spirit” apart from Skyfire and Summernats. In our street we only know about half a dozen of our neighbors. There is no real community atmosphere, there just aren’t any events that occur regularly to bring everyone together save maybe for the local school fete.

Actually, Canberra is a great global contemporary model for social harmony.
The biggest “racial” confrontations I have seen have been in the sporting arena; similar to those at national and indeed international venues.
There is no strict adherence to a religious deity (yet) and we all seem to respect good Christian values.
We are sitting ducks. Let’s enjoy life as we know it while we can.

HenryBG 1:33 pm 29 Jan 16

“As my eldest says: ‘I’m half Australian, half English and half Indian.’ An inability to do basic maths is one of the skills I’ve passed on to him.”

Hmmm…you might not want to write off his maths skills just yet…

Consider: Half the vegetables in my fridge are green, half of them are red, and half of them are cooked.

wildturkeycanoe 12:23 pm 29 Jan 16

“And can you recall any examples over the last decade of racial tensions flaring in Canberra? I can’t. There have been enough potential triggers and there have certainly been racist incidents but it never seems to have taken root.”
Most Canberrans are too busy in their own little worlds to form groups whom participate in racial violence. Nobody cares about anyone else’ business, they keep their noses out of trouble to a greater extent. That is why there isn’t really a “community spirit” apart from Skyfire and Summernats. In our street we only know about half a dozen of our neighbors. There is no real community atmosphere, there just aren’t any events that occur regularly to bring everyone together save maybe for the local school fete.

gazket 5:41 pm 28 Jan 16

what are you on about . compared to 20/25 years ago immigrants are everywhere now. How is Canberra a haven or refuge from the rest of Australia ? Are you saying the rest of Australia is racist .

Kanchan 2:54 pm 28 Jan 16

Zan said :

Great article. I grew up surrounded by people of many nations, Greeks, Italians, Lithuianans, Polish, German people just to name a few. I am thankful for their contribution to our society here in Canberra. I think because we do not seem to have any enclaves we seem to mix in a more harmonious way. The multi culture festival in February is so fantastic.

The National Multicultural Festival is one of the events I’m fortunate to be able to work on as part of my day job and completely agree with how good it is. A little plug for it, the Festival starts on Friday 12 February: multiculturalfestival.com.au

Kanchan 1:36 pm 28 Jan 16

‘It is ironic that the job that you may aspire to (or already have) in Canberra will probably go to someone in the country your parents were born in.
I think the experts call this “globalisation”.’

One of the great things about the cities I’ve lived in has been the ability to choose from various types of jobs and Canberra’s been no exception. No doubt industries and sectors of the economy will change but for now, at least, Canberra has always been able to provide me with employment.

Maya123 4:52 pm 27 Jan 16

“When you moved here how long did you plan to stay: three months; one year; until you could afford that place in Sydney?”

I had no idea how long I planned to stay. I certainly didn’t want to move to Sydney though. Still don’t. Almost any city in Australia I prefer to Sydney, but Canberra is plenty big enough for me, and the city doesn’t need to be bigger. My ideal was not to move to Sydney; my ideal was to move to a small pretty town. But that might have been because, unlike most people, I didn’t grow up in the city, or at least mostly not.
As a child I lived in six country towns, ranging in size from 500 to about 7,000 people, and one city, Brisbane. The last town – pop 1,200 – I lived in (for the longest) and where I did most of my high school was near a National Park and I would regularly visit the rainforest to explore and play in. So it took me many years (maybe twenty?) to accept the countryside around Canberra and I would very much have liked to return to that town with the rainforest, but there was limited employment, so I stayed in Canberra. Over time I grew to accept the surrounding countryside and even like it. (No leeches is a bonus:) ) Canberra also has shared paths to cycle on and a range of good cafes; both of which there was a dearth of in smaller towns. Now I am retired I have been out enjoying the bushland and hills around Canberra and finding the beauty of the landscape on my hikes.
I should mention though that there are some city things I really enjoy. Checking out good street artwork for instance. Coming across fun examples in surprising places. Thinking of the lane ways in Melbourne here. Coming upon an artist working on their artwork in a back alley is fun. Discussing the work with them. I have enjoyed good street artwork in Canberra, such as walking up and down the storm water drain in Woden to look at the work, but that is one area another city, Melbourne, far surpasses us with. Let’s get Civic up and running, so we can have a CBD too:) And then who knows what will develop!

dungfungus 3:55 pm 27 Jan 16

It is ironic that the job that you may aspire to (or already have) in Canberra will probably go to someone in the country your parents were born in.
I think the experts call this “globalisation”.

Zan 1:52 pm 27 Jan 16

Great article. I grew up surrounded by people of many nations, Greeks, Italians, Lithuianans, Polish, German people just to name a few. I am thankful for their contribution to our society here in Canberra. I think because we do not seem to have any enclaves we seem to mix in a more harmonious way. The multi culture festival in February is so fantastic.

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