Thursday, November 4, 2010

Guest post by TFA: more on Woodside

(In the comments thread on the last post, the one about the federal government's plan to house asylum seekers at an army base near the little Adelaide Hills town of Woodside, regular commenter and fellow Adelaidean TFA left a comment so interesting and informative in its provision of historical context that I have asked and been granted his permission to reproduce it in a separate post so that a few more people will see it. NOW READ ON ...)

First, not all those who were vocal at the public meeting were Woodside locals: some speakers travelled from towns like Mt Barker and Gumeracha, 15-20 km away.

More importantly, I'm puzzled by the vigour of the objections to refugees given the history of the area.

For those not acquainted with SA, Woodside sits in the part of the Adelaide Hills first settled in the 1840s by German refugees fleeing religious persecution. Many of their descendants still live in the area.

Woodside subsequently hosted a camp for European refugees from the late 1940s through to at least 1959, apparently without major problems. And in 1955 they weathered one of SA's worst ever bushfires without loss to life or limb, so the fire risk argument looks spurious.

So Woodside seems an unlikely centre for virulent anti-refugee sentiment.

Witnessing spite and malevolence masquerading as resolute self-determination - especially within a society that I had held in regard for its ability to accommodate difference - is hard. And examining a Hills community to find the most base aspects of Western Sydney is - well, it would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Howard, it seems, broke something fundamental and important.


Lesley said...

We are witnessing similar redneckery here in WA with the good burghers of Northam, a wheatbelt town, whingeing and raving about a plan to locate 1500 single male asylum seekers in an old army camp.
But there has been much better news from Leonora, north of Kalgoorlie. At the start of this year, 200 asylum seekers were put up in an old mining camp and heartily welcomed by the townspeople and their shire council.
The school got extra teachers and resources; businesses are enjoying the economic benefits the camp brings; and folks are happy with this burst of life in their town.
This has been such a success that on the first day of the school year the townspeople, councillors and teachers (including a new ESL staffer) formed a welcoming party at the school entrance when the first busload of new schoolkids arrived from the camp, all with their (donated) new school uniforms, bags and books.
Hard to believe that now there's this iggerant ugliness at Northam and Woodside.

Anonymous said...

With his insistence on subject-based "Australian-ness" (immigrant exam questions, the answer to which was always Don Bradman, for example), Howard did break something.

What he broke was a very delicate social concensus: that "Australian-ness" is not a set of data, beliefs or historical bits and pieces - but an attitude, or the illusion of an attitude.

That attitude was "a fair go" or "live and let live". It was often raucous in expression, and also often more honoured in the breach - but it was what we were encouraged to think of ourselves, and so often acted on.

Howard, more than Fraser or anyone else, made despising the poor, the female, the boat person, the sudanese/lebanese migrant, the covered woman - socially acceptable. He is a true traitor.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Anon, Fraser was actually at his best on race and immigration.

Lesley, that is such a great story about Leonora. I'm going to grab that URL and put in on Facebook, and more power to the ABC for actually reporting a positive story for once.

Penthe said...

Anon, I think Howard did more than make it socially acceptable, I think he made all those things the definition of 'Australian'.

Lesley said...

Sorry, it was actually June when they arrived in Leonora, and the kids started school after the July holidays.
More info about that here:

Peter S said...

Kerryn, I have been surprised by the savagery of the attacks in Woodside, and in the Murray-Darling catchment meetings.
On hearing that two groups of non-locals turned up at the original Woodside meeting - one being of known Hansonites and the other being unrecognised - I wonder if this is all being organised to discredit the the government and its leader of unacceptable gender.
I also note that Arthur Sinodinus has returned to advising the Liberal party...

Bernice said...

Arizona running its own migration, sorry, exclusion policy. Sarkozy running the first part of the cleansing game in France. The Brits looking at tightening up asylum definitions.
Seems to be a lot of hysterical white people running about at the moment. And by that I mean the conservative political leaders. Howard may have broken something - Abbott by turning up to legitimize something ugly in our psyches is even more appalling and more dangerous.

Anonymous said...

No-one under about 45 would have a direct memory of the Dunstan era, and doesn't it show in today's public debate.

Adelaideans of a certain age can vividly picture how Don Dunstan would have weighed into a contentious public situation such as we saw in Woodside. And I'm reasonably sure that his contemporaries - Steele Hall, John Bannon, David Tonkin - would have been out there calming the crowd and putting the case for tolerance and acceptance, had anything similar happened on their watch. In contrast we have Mike Rann's low profile on the issue: noted as they say.

Also noted is the absence of anything like the Good Neighbour Council which did so much to smooth over community tensions accompanying the post-war influx of DPs and migrants. I think its time has come again.


David Irving (no relation) said...

Peter S, you'd think Sinodinos, being a wog, would know better.

Anonymous said...

Fraser was at his best long after the 1977 election, which ran on "Life wasn't meant to be easy." That was the beginning of making public, official jeering at particular groups acceptable.

Howard made Fraser look statesmanlike i much the same way as Bush the Younger made Reagan look compassionate.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Anon, agreed re Fraser -- when I said 'at his best on race and immigration' I meant 'while he was in power'.

TFA, that is an excellent point about Dunstan (I was at the public rally in 1979 about the Salisbury sacking, though not on the pier to be calmed down about the tidal wave) and to my shame, since I am thinking about Dunstan for the chapter in my Adelaide book that is more or less about him, I hadn't even thought to make the connection. And I agree about Steele Hall, who was a person of extraordinary integrity, though perhaps not about Tonkin (who was my ophthalmologist -- is this my era or what?), and I'd have to disagree about Bannon. But Dunstan would have been up there on Day One on the stage of the Woodside Institute, pointing out the advantages, and Hall, who was in many ways a classic 'progressive lberal', would probably have been up there with him.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to your Adelaide book and your section on Don Dunstan. Agree that he would have taken a leader's role in fronting the rent-a-crowd at Woodside. In my mind's eye I can see him standing in front of a rabid crowd in his pink shorts which were his badge of honour.

Cathy said...

I think comparisons with the Woodside Migrant Hostel post WWII are particularly interesting. In the '50s and '60s we were actively trying to encourage migrants to come to Australia. Refugees, or 'Displaced Persons' as they were called then, were housed at places like Woodside as a first place to stay, one suspects due to a housing shortage and in order give people a chance to settle in. Refugees were not locked up and they were actively encouraged to engage with the wider community through organisations like the Good Neighbour Council.

Anonymous said...

The post-war context of, er,post-war immigration is very important. We had all just seen what national/racial division had wrought in Europe and SE Asia. Forming a harmonious community was very much at the top of the immigration agenda.

(That desire created the criteria for selection of immigrants, as most likely to fit in by facial feature and body type. I can't recollect where I read that.)

@ Penthe - you're right. Tribalized bullying, jeering, and racebaiting did become the markers of "Australian-ness".

I remember John Laws in the 1960s, the first time I'd seen what I'd later recognize as a libertarian. His presiding characteristic was a meanness that could easily move into viciousness.

Rightwing talkback foretold.