Advance Australia Fair

Roopen Roy

Almost three decades ago I lived in Melbourne. Melbourne is in
Victoria, Australia. I have been back several times since.I had the
privilege of attending the final ceremony of the Melbourne
Commonwealth Games when Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and her team
took over the batons for the 2010 Games in Delhi.

I have very fond memories of Australia and many dear friends in that
country. I nostalgically remember the late night dinners at Little
Bourke Street which is Melbourne's Chinatown. We spent many magical
hours in the Eastside of Collins Street known as little Paris--
complete with side walk cafes and chic stores. My landlady was
originally from Poland and my boss Frank Ensabella had emigrated  from
Catania in Sicily. My flatmates Thiam Khor and Boon Jam Wee were
Malaysians of Chinese origin .They found it tough to communicate in
Chinese as one spoke the Hokkien dialect and the other a version of
Hainanese. I had friends whose extended families were still in Greece,
Turkey, Italy, Ireland and the UK. Melbourne to me  looked more like a
salad bowl than a melting pot. My host manager and coach was Paul
Brasher, then a feisty young man with a flowing blonde beard-- always
at hand to mentor and help. He is now the Chairman of the second
largest professional services firm in the world with a turnover in
excess of $26 billion.

 Victoria is a land of vast expanses and breathtaking beauty. On
weekends we went to "barbies" (barbeques), picnics on the Hanging
Rock, trips to the Philip Island where fairy penguins came back from
the sea at sundown like little gentlemen in dinner jackets. In March,
Melbourne celebrates the "Moomba" ----Australia' s largest
carnival-style festival with floats and parades. In November,
Melbourne hosts the Melbourne Cup -a race of thoroughbreds that stops
the nation!  The Victorians love the outdoors, yet are very home
They  have a very cheerful way of greeting you: "Good day
mate"-(pronounced G’Die Might). When they address an  Englishman as
"you little pommy bastard" they do so with exquisite fondness -almost
with a touch of endearment. I was told that an Englishman was a
"pommy" because he had pale skin as yet not tanned by the fierce
Australian sun and, therefore, resembling pomegranate.

I faced some initial challenges with the language and the way of
life. When I invited some Aussie friends to tea, I served them some of
the best Darjeeling that I had brought from home. But after several
cups they seemed to stay on with heightened levels of  curiosity and
impatience.After a while one of them enquired quite abruptly when the
"tea" was going to be served.Looking at the expression on my face, the
one among them who was somewhat better travelled realized my “
mistake”. "Tea" in Australia is dinner! A phone-call to the nearby
Chinese take-away saved the day.

I learnt the hard way the perils of joining in a large "shout" with
Australians in a pub. When you go drinking with your "mates" on a
Friday evening you are expected to buy a "shout" i.e. order a beer for
every one of your friends.The bigger the group the larger the shout.
If you have joined a shout of ten, you may end up guzzling ten drinks
in one evening until you manage to escape. Joining a smaller shout is
advisable because it is kinder to the wallet and gentler to the liver.

To really prove that you are a "true mate" you have to demonstrate
that you are as good as the locals in several things -for instance
eating a hot Australian meat pie while walking and talking in a busy
street. I spoiled three shirts before I could master the art with
patient and intensive off-the-stage coaching from a kind
colleague of mine.

I was shocked to read in the mainstream daily "The Australian"  that
"through the widely publicised assaults, murders and arson attacks on
Indians and Indian houses of worship, Melbourne has become the
racist-violence capital of Australia."

I have the deepest of respect for Prime Minister Kevin  Rudd . I was
particularly moved by his emotional and courageous Speech delivered on
February 13, 2008  before the Australian Parliament. He had moved a
historical resolution to apologize to Australia's Indigenous people
often called "the Aboriginals" . He called the racist mistreatment a
blemished chapter in the nation's history. These were his very words,
"For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their
descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.Let’s
grasp this opportunity to craft a new future for this great land:
Australia. I commend the motion to the House." Few politicians have
the honesty and courage to admit mistakes and travel the road of

I do not believe that Australia is a racist nation. But I have a
friendly advice for my "mates" down-under. Free market economists have
taught us that foreign investments go to countries where it is
welcome. They stay where they are safe and earn steady returns. Capital,
investment and customers can be fickle. Today many foreign students
are flocking to Australia .With a $14 billion in earnings from
education exports it is Australia's third largest foreign exchange

But competition is revving up. Universities in North America and
Europe are attracting large numbers of students. New Zealand is
waiting in the wings. India has announced that it will legalize the
entry of foreign universities in India this year.A feeling of lack of
safety and a perception that Indian students are targets of hate crime
can really spoil the party. It is also in Australia's own economic
interest to have India as a close business partner. As The Australian
has remarked, "India is an enormous power in the new world order. It
is Australia's fourth-largest export market, our second-largest source
of foreign students. We earn about $14 billion a year in education
exports. And it is a central player in the geo-strategic equations of
Asia and increasingly of the whole world."

It would be politically incorrect, socially unacceptable and
economically hurtful to continue the current state of denial that
nothing has happened. It is important to bring the culprits to book
and punish them. I love Shane Warne and Steve Waugh but there is urgent
need for crime prevention and law enforcement. The walk is more
critical  than the pleasant celebrity talk. I have no doubt that my Australian
“mates” feel the same way. I draw great faith and confidence from the
National Anthem of Australia and I quote the last few lines which
capture the spirit :

For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia fair.

For the Editor: the Australian article is