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