Sydney, Australia, is a pretty safe place to live. Australia, in general, is laid back. Crime exists, but it’s not rampant. There’s no gun culture. It has it’s racist edge, no doubt, but that’s not typically translated into violence. It’s hard to incur aggression when your speech cheerily suffixes everyday chatter in “o”. We get petrol from the servo, visit relo’s in the arvo, donate to the salvos, agree with righteeoe, and wave off with a cheerio.
I dunno, perhaps this is only my perception and there are others who could tell a completely different story.
In decent areas, educated citizens see through and ignore media fear mongering, preferring to get on with life rather than live with irrational fear. In less than ideal burbs, even if you’re not liked, you probably still feel safe enough. In most places, most people can walk down most streets most of the time without a whisper of hinderance. Well, this has been my experience.
From my late teens I regularly used the Sydney train system. (Cityrail, as it was known then). Irk was limited to the occasional drunkard (late night or early weekend mornings) or a bunch of rowdy teens hurling insults at commuters, on a silly high with their first taste of obviously premature independence. This for me was pre-hijab years, for the world pre 9-11.
In the mid eighties I was doing a course near Central Station that ended at 11pm, and breezily caught the half-full train the hours journey home alone on Monday nights. After a few weeks I noticed a weirdo had begun following me, so after alighting at my home stop I scurried forward to walk beside an older looking guy in a long dark duffle coat, giving the appearance I knew him, which immediately deterred the follower. (Nowadays I would not be keen to take public transport alone late a night).
That would pretty much sum up my 3 decades of sometimes regular sometimes sporadic train life in Sydney, Australia.
Ahh… but the times, they are a’changin….
Now we have viral videos featuring racist rants against quietly shocked veiled women and immigrant men, and despite the subsequent much appreciated “I’ll ride with you” type support on social media, my feeds still catch glimpses of the ever simmering hate. “Bloody Muzzies!” write my fellow compatriots underneath misleading memes. (Yes, they shorten the word Muslim here too). “Islamic terrorists” we are called. “Go back to where you came from” a frequent phrase they say. Those are just the niceties.
Whilst I appreciate how a sunburnt suburban existence with a bottle-o haphazardly on every corner and The Daily Telegraph a persons only reading material could so easily limit one’s world view, the increasing nastiness, along with despicable world events and the resultant overloaded media coverage, combined with right wing government rhetoric, had me feeling a slight unease. So when I had to take the train to a business meeting in the city shortly after the recent Paris attacks, I felt my first real wave of apprehension.
Waiting for the train I stood near a pole on the centre of the platform, near the top of the stairs. I waited till the train had stopped on the platform before moving toward it. I wondered how many fellow hijabis felt the same, and for how long? In a gesture of friendliness I smiled softly at strangers whose eyes caught mine, something I’d do anyway, especially children and and old people.
I was not feeling greatly fearful in anyway, just somewhat cautious. Of course, no one seemed to give this travelling hijabi a second glance and I travelled to and fro in the safety I always have. But what was significant to me was that my thought processes had changed, my feelings of safety were questioned, apprehension had finally reached me.
Maybe it was a little late, compared to others. Maybe other minorities live like this daily? Maybe I live in a bubble? Maybe it was was as totally unfounded as it ultimately turned out to be. I would like to think the latter, but I know the guise of the laid back Aussie has never been all we like to think it to be. Indigenous Australia can testify to that.
You would assume that in a land abundant in sunshine, sea, space, sand, surf, bush, blue skies, BBQs, beaches and beauty, racism and wouldn’t stand a chance in the long run. The place is just to chill, and, after all, there is plenty to go around as our national anthem clearly states – “For those who’ve come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share”. You would think. And hope. And pray.
So as we enter a new solar calendar year, may we find common sense prevailing as we negotiate these new and troubled times. May those living in fear find safety and security, and those living in ignorance find the light.
Cheerio, and happy 2016.