Populate Or Perish

In 1957 an author called John O’grady wrote a very good novel, based on the premise that Australians are a wierd mob.  It was, as I recall, a story about an immigrant from Italy, arriving in Australia (a nation of immigrants) and his escapades in trying to understand and assimilate into the “australian” way of life.  I say it was a very good novel, based solely upon its popularity at the time, and the fact that the story was ultimately made into a film.

I was three years old in 1957.  It was a time when a great many immigrants were arriving in Australia from Europe, displaced by the terrible human tragedy that was World War II.  As a small boy, I have distinct memories of my own association with some of those immigrants.  Children, in their innocence are not like adults in adultary!  They aren’t small and petty minded.  They aren’t mean and exclusionist. They aren’t compelled by a need to dominate and they aren’t driven by unfounded fear. Children accept each other, totally devoid of the myriad prejudices and misconceptions that adults cultivate so enthusiastically.  I had several friends who were the children of immigrants.  For a time, we lived in a rented home that was owned by an Italian man who lived in the garage in the back yard.

Some of my friends had parents who were unable to speak english fluently but I have a sharp recollection of being made welcome in their homes.  I was a child from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ and I can also recall feeling far less welcome in the homes of some of my Australian school friends.  I don’t recall the name of our Italian Landlord but I vividly recall being invited into his home (the garage in the backyard) and being given macoroni cooked in some kind of cheese sauce.  It was delicious.

I can remember in those days, that many Australians were extremely intollerant towards immigrants.  I remember derogatory terms that were levelled at them and I remember only too well how many of them were reviled and shut out of community life.  Even their food was considered as ‘wog food’ that no self respecting Aussie would have anything to do with.

When I think back to those days, to the animosity that was often shown to ‘New Australians’, to the wonderful contributions that they made to the Australian economy and, even more, the wonderful contributions that they made to Australian culture and Australian cuisine, I can only feel totally glad that they came, that they stayed and that they so totally enriched our Australian way of life.  Eventually, we learned to accept our new citizens.  Their kids became the friends and peers of our kids and, with  few exceptions, there was an eventual assimilation of these people into Australian society.

In the early days of post-Federation Australia, the politicians of the day had the sense to recognise that Australia was a vast and empty land, with no adequate population to either exploit or develop its resources or, for that matter, to defend it against outside aggression.  There was a campaign of ‘Populate Or Perish’ and the population was encouraged to go forth and multiply, to fill up the available space before someone else did.  I think its fair to say that the campaign didn’t quite work!  As I type this today, I am looking at a page of figures that I calculated, from information that I dredged from the internet.  I’m not good with figures and I despise ‘statistics’.  But my calculations tell me that we ‘Australians’ occupy 5% of the earth’s land mass, we have three tenths of the planet’s arable land and we represent three one thousandths of the world’s population!  I hope I messed up these calculations because if I didn’t, then we are indeed, still a vast, empty land with no adequate population to exploit or develop our resources or to defend ourselves against outside aggression!

As for the populate or perish notion, we see even in current times, that women are rewarded for producing babies, with no regard whatever for whether or not those same women are appropriate people to be producing and supporting children.  The campaign is therefore likely to be most effective at the lower socio-economic end of society.  Educated people tend to only produce the children that they can afford to raise and many of them are so taken up with our materialist lifestyle that they aren’t much inclined to reproduce at all.  A one-off baby bonus is hardly likely to influence them but its a significant financial incentive for ‘less fortunate’ people.  One doesn’t have to be Einstein to understand that if the smarter people within society aren’t replacing themselves while the lesser intellects are breeding like rabbits, there will inevitably be a ‘dumbing down’ of society.  Paid breeding programs, it seems to me, fail on pretty much every level.

At the same time that we are paying Australians to produce more little Aussies, many Australians are vexed by what they see as rampant immigration, both legal and illegal; both migrant and refugee.  They fear, probably justifiably, that a great infux of immigrants will bring changes to our society and to our way of life ….. changes that we neither welcome nor want.  I would suggest though that Australia has now, just as it did back in the fifties and sixties, far more to gain by welcoming new people into our nation, than it stands to lose.

We can be guided by our own previous experiences with immigration, as well as the experiences of other nations.  I doubt anyone would say that the United States of America could be regarded as anything but a wonderful endorsement …. of the possibilities and the potential benefits of opening one’s arms and hearts to people from other lands.  If one wants to see the negative side of bad immigration policy, on the other hand, we have the Early American slave trade and the recent United Kingdom’s immigration policies that we can reference.

It seems to me that, if Australians wish to preserve, so far as is possible, their current way of life and their current society, their best chance of success is THROUGH immigration, rather than by avoiding it.  I believe the trick is to activley pursue a policy of balanced immigration, bolstering and enriching our current population by welcoming a mix of people from other cultures.  The very thing that most threatens our current way of life, is pursuing a biased immigration policy that will see large groups of persons from just a few ethnic groups, creating cultural ghettos.  We don’t need to duplicate the racial imbalance and tensions that have evolved in the United Kingdom.  The more diverse our migrant mix, the greater will be the potential reward to our nation.  And the better the chances of preserving, so far as is possible, our way of life.

The choices, it seems to me, are blatantly obvious.  We either get behind the fact that we NEED immigration to supplement our population, or we accept that sooner or later, an overcrowded world will tire of looking across the water at this vast, empty, under-exploited land ….. and simply take it from us.

If we encourage immigration; if we open our hearts and minds to new Australians and help them to “Call Australia Home” we will help to achieve a society that is rich in diversity and a people which will stand ready and able to defend THEIR home against those who would threaten it.

The oldies were right, way back then.  We must indeed ‘populate or perish’.  We just need to open our minds as to how that can best be achieved.

Andrew Caddle  2013-12-02



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