Arrivals and Departures then and now

Often books written long ago and now forgotten shed much light on the present. An example recently read is James Jupp’s 1966 Arrivals and Departures on post- World War II immigration to Australia. He shows how Australian policymakers engaged in endless self-congratulation about what a success the program had been and how welcoming they were to immigrants.  Immigrants disagreed but nobody asked them. Forgotten events such as the Jewish campaign against German migrants and the Communist campaigns against east European refugees are recalled. He highlights how much was spent to attract ‘Nordic’ migrants with very little success whilst southern Europeans struggled with services or support. What parallels could be drawn between the migrant hostels and current detention centres? The hostels were operated by a separate (although publically owned company) which reduced accountability. Most of all he shows how the ‘Good Neighbour Councils’ established to support new immigrants were actually completely irrelevant to non-English speaking and Southern European migrants very few of whom had ever heard of them. Recurrent sexual panics emerged about immigrant men and prostitution and the seductive impact of Lygon St espresso bars. Jupp suggests that the introduction of 10 PM closing probably did more for assimilation than any government program by removing a major source of grievance and of frequent conflict between immigrants and the law. European immigrants found the Australian pattern of work, fast drinking and then home to watch TV baffling, but Henry Bolte on returning from Europe expressed pleasure that Australian cities were not full of thousands of people late at night. There are some lessons here for contemporary conservatives. Opposition immigration spokesperson Scott Morrison has called for measures to ‘safeguard the borders of our values’. He cites a recent paper by conservative Olivier Hartwich in which the ‘success’ of the Australian post-war immigration program was attributed to careful selection of immigrants. In fact post-war immigration was the opposite of this, the attempt to select immigrants by criteria of cultural adaptability (i.e. ‘Nordics’) was largely unsuccessful. Policy also supported British immigration but the British were the most likely to return to their home country. The door was opened to European labourers and they came of their own initiative. The life that they constructed was largely independent of government policy. The situation today is perhaps little different.

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