Canberra Times: How 91-year-old Blaga from Macedonia can teach us about migrants

I was about 10-year-old when I first met people who didn’t look like me. They were a wonderful Chinese/ Australian family who lived over the back fence in Stawell, Victoria. Their 1/4-acre block was a veritable market garden that they shared with all the neighbours including my family, Australian newspaper Canberra Times writes.

To me they were just Aussies making their way in our country town. 

I’m full of admiration for our immigrants. 

“Didn’t we used to call them ‘New Australians’”? asks Louise. 

Indeed, we did, and it was a much nicer term than some of the others thrown around by the ignorant and misinformed, many of whom simply refuse to recognise the social and economic value of immigration.

If it wasn’t for “new Australians” there would be no Snowy Scheme for the Feds to turn into Snowy 2.0. Although I can’t see how the new scheme will give us much net gain after we use the electric pumps to push the water up so that gravity can let it run down.

But the point is that we couldn’t have built it in the first place without our great immigration program.

Our greatest Australian leaders understood this. Former prime minister Paul Keating summed it up in a speech at the University of Technology in Sydney on November 30, 2000: “We have shared in many triumphs but the greatest by far is the creation over the years of one of the great multicultural societies”.

And we should also acknowledge another former PM Malcolm Fraser who, against popular opinion at the time, realised that the great disaster of the Vietnam War meant that we had a special responsibility to help because of our involvement in the protracted conflict.

Fraser didn’t stop the boats, he welcomed them. And thousands of Vietnamese migrants have become great Australian citizens.

“We should be doing the same today for refugees fleeing countries where we have had a military force,” says Charlie.

I agree. Many of them put themselves in danger helping our troops, just as the Vietnamese did.

Acclaimed journalist and winner of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Award George Megalogenis says that “immigration is the greatest compliment that can be paid to a country”. He points out that a significant share of skilled arrivals are choosing Australia over the United States for only the second time in history.

So, I’m mystified that at a time when there are more people chasing a home in the world than any time since the end of World War II, we are more hesitant than ever about welcoming them.

Migration has made modern Australia. Without immigrants we wouldn’t have been able to exploit our natural resources or develop our agricultural production. Whether it was the Italians of the Riverina or the Frank Lowy’s in the delicatessens in Western Sydney or the Bolts as they called them who built the Snowy scheme, this country is a monument to migration.

I’m for a wealthy Australia that can leave something for our kids.

Megalogenis has always said we need openness to reach a position of natural maturity.

I was thinking about this on Monday as I sat in a Macedonian church in the western suburbs of Melbourne. I had been driven to the church by George, the head of a wonderful Greek family that helps me out occasionally with transport.

Many of you will know about the historic tensions between Macedonia and Greece. In fact, there were large gatherings of Macedonians in many parts of the world including Washington, Sydney and Melbourne this past weekend protesting about contentious Greek-backed ideas regarding naming of their old homeland regions. Understandably feelings run high where family connections remain.

I was sitting in a cafe next to the Melbourne demonstration and I was fascinated to hear the crowd singing the Australian national anthem before the Macedonian one. Even when involved in historic disputes from the other side of the world, our migrant families have strong allegiance to Australia.

But back to the Macedonian church. I was there to say goodbye to a wonderful woman I have written about before. Her name is Blaga and she was being buried on her 91st birthday.

She arrived in Australia in 1974 having raised a family in Macedonia, but when she lost her husband she emigrated alone to Australia. She worked in the meatworks and when she finished her shifts she would then look after the children of other immigrant families whose mothers and fathers were working two or more jobs. She spoke five languages, married a Ukraine-Australian and helped raise three more children.

She was a great Australian and just one of the hundreds of thousands of migrants that have paid us the greatest compliment. They have given us their working lives and their families and helped create a great society.

We should honour them.



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