Tag Archives: culture

Freedom of Entry

“Do we have to pay?” asks my mother. We are trundling across McCallum Park, headed towards the Sunday farmers’ market.

“No, it’s free,” I answer absently, as I contemplate the perils of pushing a stroller past the stalls that have cropped up across the green. Freedom of entry, I realise somewhat wryly, is dictated by where my son’s stroller is able to go. However, the grassy expanse is dotted with other Baby Joggers and Steelkrafts. What is it about being a parent that makes you notice other babies and the brand of pram they are in? I decide the going will be fine.

We pass stalls selling fresh produce and colourful craftwork. No, I explain to my mother who is visiting from India, if it’s fresh and organic it probably costs more. Yes, Coles is probably cheaper. Even a dollar makes a huge difference, especially when you are mentally converting your gold coins into rupees.

We pass the community library. I have recently become a member, as has my six-month-old son.

“Can I go in there any time, if I want to read a book?” my mum asks.

“Yes, of course.” I reply. “You can borrow books on my card, if you like. Everyone is welcome. Entry is free.”

The words remind me of the military parade I had seen in Perth’s Forrest Place a few weeks earlier. I was impressed by the marching band in its the desert-hued uniforms and slouch hats with their characteristic upturned brims.

“It’s the Freedom of Entry parade,” explained one officer. Was the city not free to enter then? It was, I learned, an old English tradition, a granting of permission for the army to enter the city, and an assurance of their protection for the citizens. The battalions were standing at ease, being welcomed by the Mayor.

How were the first British regiments in Western Australia greeted by the Native Australians, I wonder. I do not say this out aloud, of course. No one speaks of these things. Centuries ago others arrived, also by ship and boat. They had freedom of entry but then they infringed on many native freedoms. Today, many choose to enter freely by boat. They are not free to stay.

Freedom of entry is very much in the Australian media and on Australian minds. A recent issue of The Monthly discusses Australia’s refugee policies, particularly concerning the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar who are being smuggled across the Andaman Sea eventually headed for Australian waters on fishing boats ill-fitted for the journey. Were we suitably concerned for their plight? The Abbott government’s determination to turn back boats suggests not.

Nevertheless, Australian is not entirely unsympathetic to those fleeing from conflict. At church this same Sunday morning, we listened as our minister applauded the government’s move to welcome twelve thousand Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, the editorial pages of The Age call for “a reality check.” What of the plight of those who have crossed the border only to languish in detention camps on Manus Island and Nauru, it asks.

Whether those who arrive at Australian borders should be viewed as refugees or as illegal immigrants is a question that has no simple answer. Do we tacitly support discriminatory regimes when we shelter the peoples they wish to eject from their country but do little to stop the discrimination or conflict? No nation wishes to make foreign troubles its own and every government is reluctant to send troops abroad to fight others’ battles. As Obama notes in one speech on the Syrian crisis, a nation cannot embroil itself in someone else’s civil war. Furthermore, it is very difficult for one nation to prevent another’s genocide or maltreatment of minority ethnic groups without threatening the latter’s sovereignty. As Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka have shown us, the law is punitive rather than preventive.

We are crossing a parking lot now, passing others on their way to the shops – Middle Easterners, Caucasians, Africans. I reflect on what it is to live in multicultural Australia. This is a country that has freely given a home to others like myself. Despite the many criticisms for the present government, I am happy that I was free to enter as a student and later as a professional. Freely, I have chosen to stay.

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North of the River

Last Friday I had a taste of Australian culture in Northbridge, courtesy of my Aussie friend Robyn and her mates. We began at the Ezra Pound, a pub named for the American poet, stopped for Japanese noodles at the Tokyo restaurant and wound our way round to Rosie O’Grady’s complete with “Oirish” bartender. I was rather thrilled at the idea of having officially done a “pub crawl”, although Robyn rather deflated my pretensions by pointing out that visiting just two pubs didn’t really count.

I must say enjoyed my first night at Northbridge though. I discovered my first pothole in Perth – in a parking lot near the Pound. This was a Moment for me, since the last pothole I saw was in Mumbai…in fact, back home I would have had a Moment if I had seen a stretch of not-dug-up road without a pothole. I’m sure my Australian companions think I’m crazy.

Still, I rather liked wandering past Perth’s Chinatown, right beside the train station, and down James Street where the restaurants range from the posh and pricy to Oriental and spicy. I was rather taken with the Outback Grill with its cowboy-hatted waitresses, much to Robyn’s horror. This, I thought was very touristy – pure Australian culture. Robyn thought not. Ah, well.

Costumed customers bounce into Rosie’s – a couple of clowns and a boxer. People watch a movie in a little park with an open air cinema. Clearly, not everyone comes to Northbridge for food, drink and dancing. The young and the restless are queuing up outside the Mint night club. We walk past.

Night lights: The Swan Bells

I ventured across the river for a second time the very next night. This time we did queue up, but for food at the Annalakshmi, an Indian restaurant at the Barrack Street Jetty. It was a novel experience to have to decide what was appropriate to pay, as the Annalakshmi doesn’t charge for its food. The food was South Indian and the restaurant manager was instructing his cooks in Tamil. Almost like home, but not quite. We were rather an international assortment – the Australian from Darwin, a Chinese, an Iranian-German, a Namibian, and yours truly.

Life stops in Perth on Saturday night. After dinner we walked into an empty mall (yes, such things exist outside Mumbai). The only signs of life were a few teenagers practising dance moves in front of the polished glass display windows. I tried my reflection on a few expensively dressed mannequins. Doesn’t someone do that in a movie? Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? I don’t know what amuses me more…my reflection in a little black dress, or the thought that I am part of Perth’s nearly non-existent Saturday night life.

But then, there’s something restful about being in a city without people…you notice the buildings more. The lights are beautiful, and the parks are quiet with shining lawns. You remember to look up and notice the stars. I notice things I’d like to revisit in the clear light of day.

As our little group breaks up, Darwin thanks us – very nice of him, I think. Time spent with friends is always time well spent. As for figuring out Australian culture….well, I’m still working on that.