Tag Archives: media

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.

The Adults-Only Pit Stop

We’re refuelling – ourselves, not the car – at a gas station just out of Kalgoorlie. I’m having a doughnut for dessert. The truckies in the little cabin next door are having a very English dinner of four-finger fat sausages and ladles of mashed potato. There are two of them, each sporting black T-shirts that look a mile wide and white beards that seem a foot long. I could be exaggerating, of course.

I reckon I’ve got the best spot in the house, right opposite my friend, el geologo, with a view of the magazine rack behind. If my eyes are wide and my cheeks a bit warm, it’s not because of him (alright, I might be stretching the truth a bit here) or the hot summer night, but because of the array of men’s magazines I can see over his shoulder – and I don’t mean GQ. These are packaged to censor (the more interesting) sections of the covers and I’m a bit disappointed that there’s no one actually reading one – no, not even the truckies.

Light Reading: A view of something cool...and something hotter.

Light Reading: A view of something cool…and something hotter.

They’re not as racy as I imagine them to be, according to my companion. A bit deflating – I’m having very lurid thoughts at this point. Yes, I am from the land of the Kamasutra but India has rather strict views of adult products and censorship. Clearly, Kalgoorlie (with its adult shops and even more adult magazines at truck stops) does not.

In India, they’re still arguing about what women should wear. Men are writing letters to editors, complaining of women “showing skin.” While my (well covered) female compatriots are marching in Delhi to protest their right to dress as they please, in this remote corner of Western Australia women brave the summer in shorts and tank tops. In this country where so much skin is on display, magazine stands included, no one gives a second glance.

So did I sneak a peek into Playboy? No, but I’ve enjoyed my doughnut and the conversation and the view. It’s not a five-star restaurant, but so what? It’s the best seat in the house. Never say that a pit stop cannot be educational.

Who Wants to Be a Slumdog?

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Hot Seat is probably the only game show I watch with some regularity. It goes down rather well with my afternoon tea, and it’s satisfying to get the answer right before the contestants do. What’s really interesting about the show is how most contestants do the ‘slumdog routine’ these days.

If you’ve watched Slumdog Millionaire you’ll know that the movie is about a Mumbai quiz show contestant who explains how he knows the answers to the questions. Behind each answer lies a story, and each story links with another to tell the tale of the boy from the slums who makes it to the quiz show. Every other Australian I meet asks if I’ve seen the film if I tell them I’m from Mumbai. Since answering in the negative seemed to kill the conversation, I decided to sacrifice a weekend to Slumdog Millionaire and Australia. Nothing to do with Hugh Jackman – it was meant to be an educational experience.

Slumdog Millionaire does depict the madness of Mumbai’s train stations, but there’s little else of the city in it. As for Australia – I still haven’t come across a local who says ‘crikey’.  Neither movie has done much for my conversational skills. Still, the ‘slumdog routine’ seems to have caught on in the game shows – or was it always there?

Millionaire Hot Seat on Channel Nine is hosted by a genial chap named Eddie McGuire who prompts interesting anecdotes from the contestants. “Jane has actually met Muhammad Ali,” he says excitedly. “Tell us about that…” It seems having an interesting story to tell is one of the qualifications for being on the quiz show. The whole slumdog routine is as important as getting the answer right.  

To another contestant McGuire poses a seemingly difficult question about the location of Deakin University. “I actually should know this, Eddie,” replies the young woman.

“Oh, and why’s that?”

“Alfred Deakin was my great-grandfather.”

This, of course, provokes exclamations of surprise and much disbelieving head-shaking while the clock ticks away.

“Lock it in, Eddie,” I said, “and get on with the quiz. The answer is Warrnambool.”

“You should be on the show,” said my flatmate, after I’d managed to beat most of the contestants to the answers.

Yeah, right. It’s not like I have any interesting anecdotes to go with each answer. The only reason why my head is filled with such useless trivia is because I once worked for an encyclopaedia publisher.