Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent
header_02 home about login header_06
sidebar-top content-top

Two Wongs do make it right: A new Asian Odyssey for Australia

Two Wongs do make it right: A new Asian Odyssey for Australia.

By PF Journey.

To the average punters in Asia, the perception of Australia has been coloured, if you excuse the pun, by the White Australian Policy (THE WAP) and its remnants. Symbolically represented by Arthur Calwell's remark in Parliament in 1947 that "Two Wongs don't make a White" Caldwell later claimed it was a “jocular expression”. The contemporary Australia might have a hot economical engagement with the Asian region, but politically and socially, there are still nagging questions being asked about Australia. First, has Australia completely jettisoned the WAP? or it is still lurking just beneath the surface. Second, is Australia an Asian country? or a Western country? or an Eurasian country? or none of the above? Sometimes, I think we don’t know the answer to this question ourselves.

Post war, through the 50s and 60s, the racially based THE WAP had bi-partisan support and the support of the Australian people. Robert Menzies of the Liberal Party had skilfully exploited this to his political advantage with the fear of the yellow peril hordes charging down from the North culminating in the “all the way with LBJ” of the Vietnam War.

I was almost a victim of the WAP. I graduated from my university study in 1972 and was informed by the Immigration Department that I had to leave. I duly applied to go to Canada and was accepted in mid 1972. By then, the wind of change was blowing strongly in Australia and I decided to stay for few more months and see what tomorrow brings. The election of the Whitlam Government buried THE WAP and I stayed. Furthermore, Whitlam withdrew Australia from the Vietnam War, and established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC). The creaking door to Asia has been opened slightly.

Malcolm Fraser was a surprise. Many thought this gentleman farmer from Victoria would reverse Whitlam “closer to Asia” policy. Instead, he expanded immigration from Asian countries. More importantly, he supported and facilitated the boat people refugees to enter Australia and initiated Multiculturalism and created the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). Fraser since then has proved himself to be a great humanitarian for the developing countries.

The Hawke/Keating years adopted the “look north” policy. It correctly identified that “Australia's destiny lies in Asia and the Pacific" as said by then Immigration Minister, the colourful Al Grassby, whom many see as the real father of Multiculturalism. It has also correctly identified that the Asian economies will be the engine room of world growth and the emerging Asian markets for Australian products, goods and services. Paul Keating went further with a powerful signal to the Asian region by identifying the relationship with Indonesia as a key cornerstone. He developed a close relationship with Suharto, despite many domestic flaks. He was reported to have addressed Suharto as Bapak Suharto (father Suharto), the ultimate term of endearment or respect in the Indonesian social norm.

The Howard years were confusing for many Asians. For the start, Howard was handicapped by his August 1988 statement about Asian immigration into Australia that: “I do believe that if it is - in the eyes of some in the community - that it's too great, it would be in our immediate-term interest and supporting of social cohesion if it were slowed down a little, so the capacity of the community to absorb it was greater”. Howard’s anti Asian sentiment, rightly or wrongly, was further entrenched by his tacit support of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation adventure. Howard never could shake off the suspicion of being anti Asian.

To his credit Howard did many good things to enhance Australia’s standing in Asia. To name a few: in 1998, Australia assistance to help countries like Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea to overcome the Asian economic crisis; his tough stand by sending the troops to East Timor in September 1999, when the East Timorese were being slaughtered by the Indonesian militias; his active role in promoting the APEC as the prime forum for the Asia pacific region; his generosity to the Indonesian people during the Aceh 2004 tsunami disaster.

After 9/11, he lost the plot. His blind royalty to George Bush has not endeared him in the region. His deputy sheriff statement or non statement, plus his 2002 follow-up statement that Australia would launch pre-emptive strikes against terrorists in other countries, did anger many in Asia. The Malaysian Government responded by declaring that: “Australia has to choose whether it's an Asian country or a Western country. If you take the position of being a sheriff or deputy sheriff to America, you cannot very well be accepted by the countries of this region”.

He also raised the spectra of “is the WAP making a comeback in Australia” after his tough stand on Tampa, the new loads of boat people and seemingly anti Islam posture. It is a real irony that, while these were happening, his own seat of Bennelong was slowly changing and evolving into one of the most multicultural seats in the country. It is now folklore that Maxine McKew harnessed the multicultural votes successfully and defeated John Howard in the 2007 election.

Judging by the reactions and commentaries of the Asian press, the election of Kevin Rudd has been viewed as a very positive event and warming for the relationship between Asia and Australia. They have focused on:

Rudd is a former diplomat and an expert of Asian affairs.

Rudd will say “sorry” to the indigenous Australians.

Rudd will sign Kyoto and pull the troops out of Iraq.

Rudd will pursue a more independent foreign policy from that of USA.

The Japan Times said:

Will Rudd cool relations with Japan? Kevin Rudd's election as prime minister of Australia could mean a substantial shift in Japan-Australian relations. Japan has found a valuable friend and ally in Australia in recent years. The relationship blossomed under the departing John Howard — particularly in the past 12 months, which saw the signing of a joint defense declaration and the beginning of negotiations for a bilateral free-trade agreement. However, it is the new Labor leader's special affinity with China that is most well-known and documented. Fluent in Mandarin, the 50-year-old Rudd spent two years in Beijing in the 1980s as a diplomat.

Symbolism is everything. What is a better symbol to our friends in the region that when Rudd goes to Bali for the Climate Change meeting, he will take with him a Malaysian born, Chinese woman that goes by the name of Ms. Penny Ying-Yen Wong as his Minister for Climate Change and chief negotiator. And Mr. Rudd, our PM, has not only been acknowledged as an Asian expert and speaks Mandarin but he has also been bestowed the respect with his own Chinese name, Lu Kewen, which means the hard working and enduring one.

The Indonesians have a State motto: “Bhinneka Tunggal Eka”; it means “Unity In Diversity”. The problem is that the Indonesians don’t always practise what they say. Diversity yes, but often not much unity. I am glad to say that here in Australia, like good laconic Aussies, we don’t say much, we just do it.  The face we are presenting via Mr. Rudd and Ms. Wong is our “Unity In Diversity”. This is and will be our strength. This is a new Australia. This is a confident Australia. Confident of who we are and of our place in the region.

The first dividend might have already come in as reported by the Australian:

Kevin Rudd has achieved a significant coup in his bid to take a global leadership role on climate change by assuring Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao he is willing to act as an intermediary between China and the developed world. Sources confirmed last night that the Prime Minister had held a 20-minute conversation in Mandarin with Mr Wen, in which he also accepted an invitation to next year's Beijing Olympics. Mr Wen is the first world leader Mr Rudd has spoken to since his swearing-in on Monday after his emphatic victory in the November 24 election.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

What we need is an ethnic television network

PF Journey: "Aboriginal history has become part of the Australian story. But the histories that immigrants bring to this country remain largely excluded from that story."

Which is ironic, really, given the huge amounts of time, energy and money expended in promoting multi-culturalism at every level of society. And given that multi-culturalism is the closest thing Australia has to a state religion.

Could part of the problem be that the multi-culturalist liturgy seems so tightly under the control of the romantic bourgeois consumerist priesthood that is sooooooooooooo obviously the core demographic at SBS?

Or have the greater population on the sidelines merely failed to notice the overwhelming contributions to Australia's cultural fabric made by Danish homicide detectives, sultry peasant girls coming of age in Provence, virtuosic Viennese police dogs and nymphomaniac Russian pole dancers?

Rudd moves quickly to wind up the Pacific Solution

The Federal Government has moved to wind up the Howard government's so-called Pacific Solution by granting refugee status to seven Burmese men being held on Nauru.

The men have been held on the island since August last year.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans has told ABC radio's AM program that it is the first step in dismantling the previous government's practice of housing asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island.

He says the Labor Government is hoping to quickly resolve the claims of about 80 Sri Lankans who are also being held on Nauru.

"The task force of officials from the Immigration Department and ASIO left last night for Nauru," he said.

"They'll be seeking to process the remaining people on Nauru as quickly as possible, in accordance with the Migration Act."

Another promise kept by the new Rudd government. Isn't democracy great. Who you vote for really does make a difference.

The Gypsy

Penny and I have something in common, we are the Hakka people, the guest people, the Gypsy of China.

Penny Wong speaks to the Bulletin.


Dear Dr. Woodforde, FW, DFC, VC, DSM, OAM, MM, LOL, WTF, AWB, AA, OBE: Over there, it was said. They don't give a sh*@#, give a F@*&^, in what context, to whom, meant to be funny haha, I'm sorry I said it. 


PFJ: Caldwell [sic] later claimed it was a “jocular expression"


As well he may have, probably in Cantonese. Had he ever become PM, he may have pipped Kevin R as Chinsese-speaking PM. Unless we count Holt, who probably conversed with the crew during his long undersea voyage.

And as well you know, PFJ, Calwell's remark was directed at Tommy White, Nationalist/UAP/Liberal WWI POW hero and a bit of a boy, who fancied himself as a low key saviour of two WWII internee sailors from Malaya - literally the Wongs in question.

The remark has been used since by an array of deeply dishonest racist half-men drongos, including grubby think tank nazis, to impugn Calwell's reputation. The Liberals, many of them very dirty racists, were (and remain) deeply irked by Calwell's warm relations with the Chinese community, as well as the Jewish community.

You can't thrust the Chows and Ikey Moes, you know, old chap. I mean, would you let your daughter marry one? And they'll certainly never set foot in my club!

But many of the Labor movement of the 1890s and federation were instigators of the White Australia Policy, alongside many other conservatives, especially in Queensland. The racists who drove the thieving blacks off the land rapidly converted it to slave-worked cane and cattle runs, with not only aboriginal slave stockmen but also Javanese and Kanaka slave cane workers, then Sicilian near-slave peons.

Slavery, PFJ, is merely WorkChoices in an earlier guise, owned and run by the same evil simpering goondahs. Working families (THAT expression again!) in Queensland provincial towns hated it - it undercut their shitty, pennyha'penny take home money.

They voted accordingly, right through to the DLP days when they could link arms with the Tories and fear not only the Reds Under the Bed, but the Yellow Peril chewing on the ticking down there with them. And (in a lesser key) the thieving blacks who wanted to steal OUR land. Not until Queenslander Tom Burns was ALP national president and Gough Whitlam was ALP leader did the ship begin to swing slowly around. Among other things, it sailed to China first. No sign of Harold E Holt in the group photographs, though. Must have been his day off.

In the end, many decent Australians of the left and right opposed the racist WAP, but the bloke who finally kicked the ball between the sticks was neither Holt not Calwell nor even Whitlam (and certainly not that thieving bludger Menzies). It was the much-maligned yellerfeller Charlie Perkins, straining a lot of his fibre for a youngster called Margaret Valajian. from Fiji. Read up, PFJ.

How the wheel rolls around, sport. But you won't find it in the Howard-Klaus Barbie Bishop compulsory flagpole history book for ultra-drongos. As you know. You're no drongo, are you mate?

Dr Woodforde, OAM, third hand again, all youse from Shanghai

The Manchurian Candidate and Workchoices

Hi DD, yes, the genesis of the WAP was in the goldfields and sugar-canefields of the 1800s. The hordes of Chinese that came over for the gold and the Pacific Islanders that were imported to work on the sugar industry. At its height, there was some 50,000 Chinese, made up some 15% of the then population. The trade union movement argued that the Chinese and Islanders were taking jobs away from the white men, prepared to work harder, lower working conditions and wages. Bloody hell, Workchoices strikes again.

It must have been some sight. The Chinese with their pigtail and manchu style dress. BTW, the pigtail and dress were imposed on the Han Chinese by the then foreign Manchurian Rulers. The Chinese hated this imposition and often rebelled against it. The Manchurians were eventually assimilated by the Chinese. Two of its Emperors were regarded as some of the best Emperors that ever ruled China. More importantly, during the rule of the Manchu, China formally extended its sphere of influence over Taiwan and Tibet. The genesis of the current hot spot over these two territories. That is another story.

Oops, sorry Victor

I think I exaggerated in that last comment.  My friend of Taiwanese origin in Switzerland would probably laugh hysterically if he knew I was describing him as a proud Swiss. He would never admit to that!

He always used to say to me, "you know David, Switzerland is like a five star hotel.  Everything is very nice, everything works and all your troubles are solved, but it will never be home".

We always used to laugh at that one and received raised eyebrows from Swiss.

Victor is one of these people who will never hesitate to point out a Swiss deficiency but on the other hand you know deep down he loves it and would never move any place else in the world.  He has raised his kids to be global and they are going to college in the United States. Swiss born, Swiss educated and higher education in the US.

My other good friend in Switzerland is Italian.  We make an interesting trio in the bars of Basel.  A Taiwanese, an Australian and an Italian, each aged ten years apart.

Then there is the Tibetan who emerged as a rival to Victor in the philosophy stakes.  That was the most amusing era of all.  Tscherring was  his name (not sure of spelling).  They would try to outdo each other on philosophy.  Some of it was incredibly deep but the one upmanship became intense and Tscherring drifted away. Victor was quite dismissive of the Tibetan who tried to steal his philosophy king crown!

So in essence we had a Taiwanese and a Tibetan trying to compete on philosophy with an Italian and an Australian constantly in tears of laughter at the scene.  They were some of the funniest, most ridiculous and joyful discussions I have ever had the privilege to be involved in.

Switzerland may not always be ideal for immigrants but then it would be unfair to say it is completely bad either. How could it be?  In Basel nearly half the population is foreign!   As an example of modern diversity, Switzerland have the largest Tibetan community in the world.   I always found the way the Swiss embrace Tibet quite magic.  The Dali Lama goes to Switzerland all the time. It seems one alpine people understand another alpine people.  The mountains call and both understand. ... and people wonder why I love to travel so much!

It is the priceless experiences and the inter-cultural fun that make every moment of it worthwhile.

It even makes me hungrier to find out more of the multicultural aspects of my own city, here in Sydney.

The Einstein Factor

DD, it's the WAY. There is always the balance. Like my hero said, Mr. Einstein, it's all relative, it's all relative.

Lovely PF, lovely

I agree with all you say, PF, and I am pleased you have been so even handed about this.  This is the first time in quite a while we have agreed on things.

During November I spent a couple of weeks in Asia and it had me thinking about it again, of course!  I think what I like about what you have said is the comment that in Australia we just tend to do it without saying it.

All my life, I have been involved in a multicultural community. That is the reality of someone of my age. We could joke that everyone my age can use chopsticks properly but it is a practical reality and I'm not that young.  I remember when I did my post graduate qualification way, way back in the mists of time, every person in my self selected study group was an Asian Australian.  I remember at the time others from elsewhere commented on it but I never thought twice about it.  I wasn't trying to be anything and nor did I make any statements about it.  It just happened that way and that seemed natural to me in Australia.

I like to think it is the Australian way not to pat ourselves on the back for what we have done well in this regard. We do just do it.

I do find it curious sometimes when Asians go on about Australia as if it is unique amongst Western nations in being naughty and bad toward them.  I always maintain it is about the easiest Western nation for someone to integrate into. The US is also quite easy.  Europe, for all its talk, is not that easy.

Then of course we have the Asian nations themselves and their various attitudes toward race.  Much of that is not particularly pretty either.  For this reason, while I may agree with gripes about Australia, I search to find better places in my mind and I don't come up with a huge list.  In fact it is a very small list.

As for the White Australia Policy, you have chosen, of course, to tell Labor's version.  It was actually the Liberal Party that started to dismantle that and of course throughout the 1950s and 1960s the biggest supporters of the policy were the trade unions and the Labor Party.

I think we are of the same mind PF on the issues that matter in all this stuff so I do not have a big bone to pick with you.  I just remind you that if you are going to highlight Australia's deficiencies in the past, be sure to include Labor.  They were in the thick of it from day one.

I am glad you are not so blinded though that you cannot see progress in recent years.

I suppose I can relay something by example.  Truly one of my best friends in Basel, Switzerland, where I lived for years, came from Taiwan.  He is now a proud Swiss as is his wife. I remember once at dinner his wife brought up White Australia Policy as if it was uniquely bad.  Naturally, I was not going to defend it but I did remind her that in 21st century Switzerland, some cantons allow citizens to vote on who can become Swiss and some miss out on the basis of race.

For all the preaching against Australia, sometimes a dose of reality does not hurt. Australia has been bad but let's not kid ourselves that Western Europe or even the United States have been good.

That's history though PF, and where we stand right now is pretty damn good.  The trajectory looks good too. Right here, right now, PF.  It's not a bad place to be, is it?

Thanks for sticking with us in '72.  It was Australia's gain and the Canada's loss.


DIVERSITY - Together, we can rewrite history - Australian Policy Online - Aboriginal history has become part of the Australian story. But the histories that immigrants bring to this country remain largely excluded from that story. The tenor seems to be: “Of the way of life of these people before their coming to Australia, little need be said.”

Asia's future is American and European

Gareth Eastwood says:

Re “culturally, we have little in common with Asia.” Maybe not yet, but eventually Australia and the Australian population will be considered at least part Asian.

Asian culture itself is increasingly globalised, as will be our culture too.

European past, Asian future

Eliot Ramsey, re “it's not like we are part of the Asian continental landmass” I don’t think continental geography is particularly relevant. Australia is a lot closer to Indonesia than any European nation; a continental shelf is not some sort of barrier, just another geographical feature.

Re “culturally, we have little in common with Asia.” Maybe not yet, but eventually Australia and the Australian population will be considered at least part Asian. Who knows, maybe racially we’ll end up being renown for our unique Asian-White blend, a nation of Michelle Leslie’s. My own extended family is certainly heading down this path.

Australian culture will evolve as our links with Asia grow; sporting links are one example (moving to the Asian Football Confederation and ties to the subcontinent via cricket). Economic links are another; already half our exports go to Asia.

Stop fawning, I say.

Evan Hadkins: "I don't think we have a way of thinking about ourselves in relation to Asia yet."

Well, it's not like we are part of the Asian continental landmass, like Europe.

And our indigenous people don't come from Asia, unlike Native American people.

And culturally, we have little in common with Asia.

So, that might explain why you're having trouble with the concept.


All you say is entirely accurate I think.

I'm not wanting fawning - I think we need to advocate for human rights for instance (while looking after our own backyard of course).

Not sure how the Native Americans are relevant.

It's not about geography - we feel close to the US and England for cultural reasons. So it's not about location. Buddhism started in India but is dominant in other cultures, Christianity started in the (now) Middle East and Islam did too. Culture can migrate geographically.

Culturally, karma seems to have penetrated deeply some sub-cultures, and the yinyang symbol seems to be in the process of doing so. The avant-garde (sic) of the arts seems to me paying attention to Asia.

My guess is we need to start thinking about what it means to be a middle order power instead of the dutiful servant of an empire (whether Great Britain or the US). I think Australia is capable of peacefully integrating other religions and cultures. Although not automatically - the isolation of the Vietnamese probably encouraged some drug networks, engaging with the Islamic culture has barely started so far as I can tell. But it can be done - probably through those who already see themselves as acculturated I would guess.

So I don't think we have the concepts yet. But I do think we are capable of developing them.

Human Rights

I don't think we have a way of thinking about ourselves in relation to Asia yet.  Some of us (including me) are far more European culturally than Asian (though I have studied Japanese and Chinese movement arts - Shintaido and qi gong).

My guess is there are still racist/nationalist elements (who are entitled to parliamentary representation).  This is quite compatible with being Asian or European - both regions have been, are and probably will be capable of cultural imperialism and invading other countries.

It seems impossible to me that we could ignore geography.  Our neighbours are pacific islanders and asians.  Indonesia and China are likely to be especially important.

Which brings us to human rights.  I think this is the real issue in diplomacy.  Getting compliments from authoritarian regimes (Bob Hawke being called a hero by Singapore) or toadying to Indonesia instead of the US (Paul Keating) is hardly what I would like.  If we can stand up for ourselves and our values (which will mean looking after the situation of Aborigines in our own backyard) then I would like to see us playing a role in our region.  If it's simply the mercenary attitude - you give us lots of money (trade) so we are good friends - I can't see this bringing much of a future.

I think it is being able to advocate for human rights that is the real test for our relationship with Asia.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
© 2005-2011, Webdiary Pty Ltd
Disclaimer: This site is home to many debates, and the views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the site editors.
Contributors submit comments on their own responsibility: if you believe that a comment is incorrect or offensive in any way,
please submit a comment to that effect and we will make corrections or deletions as necessary.
Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner

Recent Comments

David Roffey: {whimper} in Not with a bang ... 12 weeks 5 days ago
Jenny Hume: So long mate in Not with a bang ... 12 weeks 6 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Reds (under beds?) in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Justin Obodie: Why not, with a bang? in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Dear Albatross in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Michael Talbot-Wilson: Good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Goodnight and good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 2 days ago
Margo Kingston: bye, babe in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 6 days ago