A Line in the Sea
It was almost spring in Sydney the day the M.V. #Tampa sailed into our national consciousness. At first it seemed like another of those stories we are now accustomed to hearing: people packed on a ramshackle boat, headed for some ocean outpost or other – Ashmore Reef, Cocos Islands, Christmas Island – it didn’t much matter which. But for these voyagers a different (and as I write still unknown) landing awaited. Perhaps more than any event of subsequent weeks, the conflagrations in the United States that almost, but never quite, eclipsed it, the day the Tampa set sail towards us is a day that will change the meaning of Australia.
Of course Chippendale, where I write this today, is not Colombo (although in the week of September 11, I was racially abused on Sydney’s Broadway as I was on Colombo’s streets almost twenty years ago). Australia is not Sri Lanka. But it is as well to remember that multiethnic, multiracial societies are not geared towards unavoidable conflict. For that to happen active choices must be made; one set of options adopted over another; certain things said or not said; positions actively staked out; exclusions and inclusions clearly demarcated. As the recent work of Henry Reynolds shows, alongside the stream of racism, exclusion and violence there also always exists the possibility of dissent and opposition; of critiquing the racial claims and myths of our society; of challenging the stereotypes that would exclude certain groups from full citizenship in the public sphere. 14 Historically this stream is a source of counter-representations and narratives that resist the powerful, ongoing legacies of empire in Australia.
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