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White, English-speaking migrant groups in

Chapter 2: Social Contexts

5. White, English-speaking migrant groups in

deviate from the norm (and even worse if it is vocal or political about that). So not only do ‘we’ decide what difference is, but ‘we’ also determine if and when that difference can be tolerated.

Paradoxically, where too much difference is difficult for ‘us’ to accept, so is too little. From an objective standpoint, white, English-speaking migrants from countries like the UK, the US, South-Africa and New Zealand differ from white, English-speaking Australians who were born here. They were raised in a different country, with a different landscape, a (slightly) different language, different values, identities and backgrounds. Moreover, their migrant-experiences have added to their different life-experiences. Besides, the Cornish differ from the Welsh, New Yorkers from people from rural Texas, and even within those groups there are differences.

However, in the Australian context, they fall into the category of ‘same’. To steal a description from Stuart Hall, when he is talking about differences within black identity, this is a “sense of difference which is not pure ‘otherness’” (Hall 1990, p 229). This notion of difference is thus deeply unsettling. If the other can look and (almost) sound the same, this poses serious questions not only about the nature of difference, but also about the identity of what is ‘same’. If difference can be so similar, what does that say about ‘us’?

It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness. I once discussed the phenomenon that is precisely

communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds, and in ridiculing each other– like the Spaniards and Portuguese, for instance, the North Germans and South Germans, the English and Scotch, and so on. I gave this phenomenon the name of ‘the narcissism of minor differences’, a name which does not much to explain it. We can now see that it is a convenient [sic] and relatively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier (Freud 1930, p 59).

Leaving Freud’s very optimistic assessment of this aggression being “relatively harmless” aside for the moment (Cain and Abel come to mind), this “narcissism of minor differences” might help to explain the relationship between groups of people who are very alike. As psychoanalyst Glen Gabbard sees it, these minor differences are used – and even exaggerated – “in order to maintain a sense of separateness”

(Gabbard 1993, p 229) within the individual groups themselves. Again, difference here works within a binary construction: in order to preserve an identity, people need to define themselves against what (and who) they are not.

In Australia, there are many groups of people who are (culturally) linked with what is called the core culture. English, Irish, Scottish, Cornish and Welsh all fall within the category ‘Anglo-Celt’, and even other white English-speakers are regularly included, like Americans, New Zealanders, Canadians and South-Africans. But here the (relative) problems start. Take, for example, the Americans. In 1935, when Australia was still ‘Anglo-Saxon’, “the fear of another war encouraged the spread of an ‘English Speaking Union”, “primarily concerned with Anglo-American unity”

(Cochrane 1994, p 9). Robert Menzies did not like this idea at all:

We err if we regard the Americans as our blood cousins. The majority of them are not Anglo-Saxons, their language is by no means identical, their

appearance is different; their ideas are cruder; their standards are lower; they have no consciousness of responsibility for the well-being and security of the world (Menzies 1935, in Cochrane 1994).

According to Aitchison (1986) and Mosler and Catley (1998), this sentiment set the tone of the relationship between Australians and American migrants to Australia as well. Between the end of the Second World War and 1983, Aitchison states, “it has been estimated that 70.900 immigrants from the USA came to Australia, nearly two percent of the more than 4 million people who arrived in that period” (Aitchison

1986, p 1). Aitchison flags “two half-truths” about the “ease of accommodation”

among Americans in Australia:

One is that the cultures of these nations are fundamentally similar. They are, of course, but they are quite dissimilar in many ways as well. Many of these differences are much more real than apparent. The second half-truth is that the analogies of the two derive from a shared Anglo-Saxon heritage and common language. This is also, of course, true. However, it is only the beginning of a complex story (ibid).

Mosler and Catley, in one of the very few academic studies into the position of American migrants in Australia, start their analysis by identifying the American migrants as “white, of European ancestry, tertiary-educated, English-speaking, and from an urban background” (Mosler and Catley 1998, p xiv). They claim that “they have come to an Australia, where America understandably appears as a dominant power the strength of whose culture threatens almost the existence of the Australian identity” (1998, p 7). Remembering Gabbard, this sounds like a serious case of sibling rivalry. As Mosler and Catley reason, there is a “cultural ambivalence expressed by both Americans and Australian in their interactions with one another”:

In this period of transition in Australia, from the British imperial political and cultural orbit to that of an independent nation greatly influenced by America, Americans in Australia would be both welcomed for their expertise and vigor and resented for their aggression, arrogance, and threatening presence (1998, p 23).

To put it into terms of family dynamics: now that the children have grown up and the influence of the parent is diminishing, the siblings have started a fight about

prominence and importance. Australians, who feel “swamped by American imperial power”, resist this by indulging in what Mosler and Catley maintain is “generalized cultural anti-Americanism” (1998, p 38). They assert that “in the 1990s, hostility to America and Americans has become something of a leitmotif in Australian culture in all social classes and ideological groups and in everyday political and social

discourse” (1998, p 108). “The popular image of America and Americans is generally a negative one […] the raised eyebrow and/or knowing smirk of the television

newsreader after one of those ‘only in America’ stories: ‘Those crazy Yanks are at it again’” (1998, p 111).

Mosler and Catley do a lot to explain the complex status of American migrants in Australia. Firstly, they emphasise that most of their 302 respondents (almost all of them white, as most American migrants to Australia are) do not consider themselves migrants, “on the grounds that ‘migrant’ implied a person of low socio-economic status, someone who had arrived on assisted passage (low status again), and, as is particularly crucial for Americans, a rejection of the Motherland and/or a kind of cultural treason to one’s nationality” (1998, p 66). When Australians treat them as migrants and thus ‘different’, the Americans are annoyed. On the other hand Mosler and Catley quote an American letter-writer, who feels that to be an American in Australia is “not to be taken seriously. That, of course, is exactly the problem. The discrimination that a US immigrant faces in Australia […] is totally unacknowledged”

(1998, p 148), mainly because the focus of discrimination is on migrant groups who are more different from the Australians than the Americans. The consequence of this, they argue, is that these migrants have a relative social “invisibility”, which “obscures the full story of [their] migration” (1998, p xiv). Or, to come back to the family dynamics, they are different from their siblings, but measured against the world outside of the family they are similar enough to be the same.

Another example of the similarities between family dynamics and differences within Australia is the situation of the British, who are, culturally speaking, both parent and sibling. I will address this more broadly in the chapter on Alex Miller’s work, but as a general introduction a few thoughts might be in order here. In his article on Britishness in Australia, Peter Cochrane starts by identifying the internal family relations within Britain itself. Britishness in Britain emerged, Cochrane claims, when the internal differences were diminished “by a growing sense of likeness and collective interest”. It became an “extended family metaphor”, “the invention of a unifying tradition”, an “allegiance to a single symbolic family”, something which restrained them from too openly resenting one another or resorting to “separate mobilisations of identity” (Cochrane 1996, p 63). This Britishness, Cochrane reasons, had an extraterritorial dimension as well, “uniting Britons wherever they might be in the world”, with “empire as imagined community” (ibid). In Australia, this “was not a simple matter of transplantation”, but “Britishness had to be sustained in unusual, new conditions, it had to be reformulated in a field of relationships that was very different to that in Britain” (ibid). At first, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Britishness, originating in the colonising country, had the guiding light of the parent. There was “a sense of

superiority” attached to it, in that it “marked out identity through difference and anchored all sorts of claims to virtue, achievement and destiny deep in history” (1996, p 68). Cochrane marks the end of this period roughly around Menzies’ funeral in 1978. The Second World War had briefly brought back a feeling of “nostalgia” for the British connection, but this “was not sustained”:

With new patterns of immigration, ethnic diversity and a ‘baby boom’ which greatly increased the number of Australians whose forebears in this country went back three generations or more, British identity began to lose its centrality in the culture. ‘Dramatic shifts in self-perception’ came with a resurgence of national feelings and symbols. […] The word ‘Anglo’ became a disparaging abbreviation. […] The media began to routinely define national character in opposition to the ‘British’ (1996, p 72-73).

In short: the child had come of age, discovered its own, separate identity and needed to distance itself from its parent. This process of emancipation was accompanied by a mixture of anger, confusion and relief. As David Malouf asserts, there was “great bitterness on the part of Australia” when Britain became a full member of the European Common Market, because it felt, in some way, betrayed. Still, the

consequence of this was that it brought “Australia – the land itself – fully alive at last in our consciousness. As a part of the earth of which we were now the custodians. As soil to be defended and preserved because we were deeply connected to it. As the one place where we were properly at home” (Malouf 2006, p 60). Malouf uses another image of family life when he concludes that “Britain no longer sits at the head of the table. […] The fact is, there is no longer a ‘centre’ around which we circulate and dance. We have all shifted place. The world has turned upside down in terms of where Australia and Britain now stand in relation to one another” (2006, p 66-67).

What remains, though, after this “development of a sense of ‘Australian-specific national capital’” (Stratton 2000, p 30), is, as Stratton contends, the idea that the differences between British migrants and the Australian-born are so minor that the two groups are basically the same. This has to be so because it was “needed both for the legitimisation of the origin myth and for the solidarity of British/Anglo-Saxon Australians, and Australian culture, over and against those who were more usually known as New Australians’: ‘non-Anglo migrants’” (2000, p 31):

Against all demonstrations of difference, both the British and the Australians were committed to the claim that British culture and Australian culture were

fundamentally the same. Hence, British migrants were supposed to feel at home in Australia immediately. That they didn’t, was an ongoing challenge to the legitimacy of the ideology (2000, p 32).

The ambiguous migrant-status of both Americans and British migrants (and, as I will try to show in the writers’ chapters, South-African and New Zealand migrants as well) leads us to consider the concept of migrancy in general.