By Stan Stewart.
My first ever vote was for ‘Pig-Iron Bob’- Robert Menzies (1951). My father was angry with me. “Our family always vote Labour.” Sadly, we never talked much after this about those matters.
‘Pig-Iron Bob’ was the name given to Robert Menzies by the Waterside Unions when he was Attorney General in 1938. They refused to load a ship destined for Japan with pig-iron because everybody knew the iron was going to be used in the production of arms. At the time, Japan was invading China and the wharf labourers struck in solidarity with their Chinese comrades. Attorney General Menzie broke the strike, and the iron went to Japan.
Menzies went on to be Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister. The unions never stopped tagging him ‘Pig Iron Bob’. I always voted for him because I thought he was good for business.
I never voted for Bob Hawke who was Australian Prime minister from 1983-91. Hawke cultivated a one-of-the boys, lay-about, rough diamond image. However, he did some smart and good things.
Back then, Australians didn’t like to ‘work’. My wife and I both experienced this when employed in government jobs. On a normal week, no work was done on Monday before lunch – “catching up on what colleagues did on the weekend”. On Friday nothing was done after lunch – “preparing for the weekend’s activities”. Attitudes like this meant Australia became known as 'The land of the long weekend’ – an apt description.
One of Bob Hawkes aims was ‘to get Australians working’. Finally, he came up with a cunning plan. “Encourage Asian immigration”. We already had huge immigration schemes, but these were focused on Europeans. People from these cultures soon assimilated the Aussies work ethic and they too became full-fledged citizens of the 'Land of the long weekend’. Bob knew Asians were different and he opened the doors of immigration to them. I heard him say something like this. “Those buggers will teach the Aussies how to work”.
In the 90’s, we were working in an affluent Sydney suburb. While waiting in the foyer of the local High School, I studied the school honour board - a handsome board which listed in gold letters all of the top students in the School. From the time Asians arrived in our area, almost all of the top students were Asian. Their unfamiliar names headed the list of academic achievements year after year. In our suburb there were many high achievers in every field. But simply from reading the school Honour Board it was clear that something remarkable had happened. A new breed of student had arrived. They had lifted the performance bar. This was happening across Australian society not only in academia but also in the workplace. I guess Bob Hawke was smiling. ‘The land of the long weekend’ was being shaken to its core.
I have often written about my son, Walker – over 42 days, paralyzed up to above his chest eighteen months ago by an unknown cause (word is that it is related to the covid vaccination). He is now in partial recovery, and we hope and pray for more. However, beyond the hospitals, there is another factor which has worked for his recovery – his wife Evie. She is a Moslem from Bali. Her care for our son is beyond anything we could have expected or imagined. In her Asian culture, all young people are taught the art of massage. She has massaged Walker for hours every day. She cared for him (nursed) when his life was slipping away, and all the functions of his body were failing. She gave up her job she loved to do this. Her religion means there could never be any thought of leaving him - even when he it looked like he would be an invalid forever. She was, and is, his rock. I doubt that most Aussie women would have put in these hard yards. I am convinced that some cultures and some religions which are completely different to ours have core beliefs which are of absolute value to our society.
When I first came to Whitianga, 25 years ago, Whitianga frightened me. To me the problem was the town was too ‘white’. After Sydney and Auckland, Whitianga seemed like a white enclave. Like Bob Hawke, I had reached the belief that to achieve a dynamic society, we need a racial and cultural mix. Returning to Whitianga, as I did last year, I was relieved to see the racial mix was beginning. Every time I walk ‘down-town’, I see Māori and Pacifica and Asian. Drinking coffee with friends, I am usually served by individuals from distant lands. It makes my break-that-refreshes all the more refreshing.
In our own immediate family, we have Turkish, Indonesian, Māori, Pacific Island, Australian Aboriginal, Phillipino, Welsh, and for good measure, one from England. We like it like that.
The world’s a mess. What I am sure of is there is no super race out there. It’s an old song but a goodie. “What we need is a great big melting pot”.