Posted on February 7, 2008

Tension Still Simmers in Springvale Melting Pot, Study Says

Demi Cooke, The Age (Melbourne), February 6, 2008

IT IS one of Melbourne’s most multicultural areas and the streets of Springvale are a testament to the waves of migrants who have flowed there over the decades.

Vietnamese community leader Phong Nguyen remembers Springvale as a suburb that was home mainly to Greeks and Italians when Vietnamese migrants began to arrive in significant numbers during the 1970s and 1980s.

Today, Vietnamese-born residents are the largest ethnic group in the area and make up more than 21% of the population.

But research shows that the negative attitude to immigration prevalent among Australian-born residents during the 1990s still lingers in the area today.

A Monash University study tracking the change in attitude among residents of Springvale and surrounding suburbs over 14 years shows that, in 1993, 62% of the Australian-born population in nearby Dingley Village believed the number of migrants to Australia was too high.

By 2006, that belief had shrunk but not disappeared—48% still thought too many migrants had been allowed to settle.

Researchers Andrew Markus and Arunachalam Dharmalingam surveyed 1169 people living in Springvale, Dingley Village, Keysborough and surrounds.

Professor Markus said it was still clear that there was a “gap of understanding” between those born in Australian and those born overseas. “The striking thing is the level of misunderstanding across cultures and the fact that, while there’s been a softening there hasn’t been a sea change,” he said.

For My Hue Nguyen, Springvale is home. Born in Vietnam, she spent years living in Sydney before settling in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs 20 years ago.

She loves life in the cultural melting pot and has many Australian-born friends and colleagues.

“My Australian friends, they really like me for who I am,” she said. “They love Vietnamese food, they love the interaction that I have with them, so I don’t see any difference between us.”

The survey found that although Dingley Village residents increasingly believed that “Asian migrants have much to offer Australia”, 38% in 2006 were unhappy about the number of migrants living in Springvale or thought immigration “should not be allowed”.

Nearly 32% of Australian-born people thought Australians were justified in thinking their way of life would be threatened by multiculturalism, whereas only 13% of those born in Vietnam agreed and more than 55% disagreed.

There was also a view that Asian migrants had made little effort to mix with Australians.

This was disputed by Vietnamese community leader Phong Nguyen, who said that through the hard work of the second generation, the broader community’s suspicion of Springvale’s residents had been quelled.

“Today we can go to any shopping centre in Springvale and we see more Aussies than Vietnamese at lunch time, so come on, that fear isn’t there any more,” he said.

Professor Markus said Dingley Village and Springvale were not isolated examples of where diversity had bred tension. He said the report’s findings showed the need for governments to fund more and better support programs to foster “acceptance and participation”.