Posted on February 21, 2013

Multiculturalism’s Here to Stay, So Let’s Embrace It and Look to the Future

Harold Mitchell, Sydney Morning Herald, February 16, 2013

Melbourne has a very popular lord mayor in Robert Doyle, and I was honoured to sit with him at the annual Weary Dunlop Lunch, which celebrates the great surgeon who worked with such humility in the prison camps of the Burma-Thailand railway.

Weary was also the first Victorian to represent Australia in rugby union. He is the only Victorian in the Wallaby Hall of Fame.

And, not surprisingly, the lunch at Crown was an unstinting rugby crowd, all buoyed by the coming British Lions tour, which our energetic mayor reckons will bring at least 30,000 overseas supporters to the 25,000-seat AAMI Stadium game, against the Rebels.

“They will be hanging from the rafters,” says Charlie, who knows how to predict everything. “Well, at least 5000 of them.”

But as the lord mayor made his speech, he mentioned something that has brought home the real and exciting nature of the country that we have become. He said more than 200 languages are spoken in Melbourne, and I am sure the same is true for Sydney.

Sometimes I wonder if our media and marketing people understand this rapidly diversifying country. There is a very strong Anglo-Australian force in the advertising industry with a healthy representation of young British professionals. They grew up in the English advertising culture that was so vibrant 25 years ago with the likes of Morris and Charles Saatchi and others. So it’s not surprising they came up with the infamous line for the Australian Tourism industry “Where the bloody hell are you?” And it went down like a lead balloon.

That campaign sank without trace because it completely misread the true nature of our culture and the world beyond our shores. Who can’t wait to snorkel on the world’s best-known coral reef, experience an opera in the most famous modern building on the globe, or simply get married in a rainforest?

If you think of our society of more than 200 cultures, how do you think that line would work for a middle-class traditional Pakistani or Indian family planning on visiting their student children?

So the challenge in every business is to recognise that new people from new cultures will be our salvation.

Consider Google, and the others who created the dotcom boom that saved the American economy. You could walk through the corridors of these great creative institutions and be forgiven for thinking that you were in uptown Madras. “You mean Chennai,” pipes up Louise. And she is correct, of course.

The transformation of India in every way, from reclaiming the traditional names of its cities, to its mastery of software development, is running rings around its old colonial masters and anyone else who can’t see the profound changes that are underway.

I am not saying that we forget our roots in the “old country”. Britain has given us, and India and Pakistan, the basis for strong civil societies and powerful ships of state, but let’s not get so sentimental that we can’t see where the world is going.

Speaking about ships, recently I attended the launch of the largest naval craft ever commissioned by our country. While the fitout was done here, by a typical multicultural Australian workforce, the vast hull and superstructure was manufactured in Spain and our 92,000 Spanish Australians are as proud as Sangria for the boost it gave their former country’s economy.

The ship, HMAS Canberra, was launched according to maritime tradition by the wife of a former admiral and the vast vessel looked a fine sight soundly afloat on Australian waters. But this did not deter Louise quoting a writer mate: “The ship of state is the only vessel that leaks from the top.” Well what can I say, other than to wish all who sail in Canberra a fair breeze and a steady course.

Some would say that it is no surprise to see a Canberra all at sea.