My parents arrived in this country on a boat, and yet I call myself an Australian.
As a disabled woman, I am in a minority group, yet I call myself an Australian.
But according to racist pages promoting a new rally - the 'Reclaim Australia Rally' - 'patriotic Australians' need to stand together and stop the minorities from changing our country. They're marching in April to tell the rest of Australia that they don't want halal certification, burqas and the teaching of Islam in government schools. In short, they don't want Muslims in our country, and they don't want our country to change to suit them.
3,306 likes in Perth, and another 500 or so in Bunbury. One in almost every state. It saddens me, because this is the message to anyone who is different - 'we will not tolerate diversity'.
My parents arrived on the 'right kind of boat'. They were ten pound Poms, and my father was skilled and the right shade of white. He was Dutch, and his peers were self described 'wogs' and 'dings' - people from Italy or Greece or Malta, paid to come to this country under the Skilled Migrant program. Nowadays, being of Italian or Greek descent is unremarkable - but all the kids with salami sandwiches, back in the day, were teased relentlessly. I'm a first generation migrant, but nobody ever told me to go away because my very British mother bought Polo mints and held tea parties. No Aboriginal person ever told me that I should leave their country because I was white. Nobody ever told me what I ate or wore or did was wrong, or bad.
We will not tolerate diversity.
'We don't want to change the country to accommodate their needs', they say, and I feel uneasy. Because there is no reason that 'they' need halal - but there is also no reason that 'they' need steps, no reason they need to adjust their teaching in schools to accommodate differences. There is no reason 'they' should make things accessible and available to others, because we are a minority. Yet we disabled people lobby for change - change for a minority group. We will only ever be 20 percent of the population. Why should 'they' tolerate us and not them? Why should 'they' change? Why should 'they' tolerate difference, let alone embrace and welcome it?
'They' - the intolerant - are not just the rednecks from down the street. Facebook has a neat way of throwing up an algorithm that allows you to see the comments from your friends first. From the 'Reclaim Australia - Perth' page, a comment by one of our former Scout parents, a staunch Christian woman -
'Putting one or two or fifty in prison doesn't prevent their being replaced. They have to be removed from the country, every Islamic man, woman and child. As long as one Muslim remains there will be someone with intent on seeking the Islamic state agenda.'
And these views, from others -
'Islam is islam, the quran is the quran. No such thing as moderate Muslim.'
'That is true, and only because the tenets of islam teach them to do these very things! The fact that the majority of muslims choose not to openly engage in jihad against non-believers, simply means they are not good muslims. Those who do engage in jihad are the ones who follow the qur'an and hadiths very closely.'
And I think about my yesterday afternoon, which was spent with my friend and her mother. She always feeds me too much and I regard her as my own mother. We talked about each having six children (she with four girls, me with four boys) and breastfeeding and how wonderfully hot the weather was. I told her that I couldn't wear a hijab and long sleeves, I would roast, and she unbuttoned her dress to show me the light cotton wear underneath. I would still roast, I told her, and she smiled. Family talk, more offers of baklava, and I went home, and slept, and woke to these posts.
I spent my yesterday morning talking to people, including an Aboriginal artist who chatted easily with me about country, and his mob and mine, and painting styles and cultural traditions in Aboriginal art. I'm as white as the driven snow, but I'm still accepted as Australian by our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, the original owners of this land. We invaded this country, and brought our culture with us - my culture included, there is a fish and chip shop on every corner, teapots in every store. I went to my friend's house, then home to sleep, and woke to these posts.
I am almost in tears.
They horrify me, those posts, the idea of a rally against difference. This is not the Australia I was born into. This is not the Australia I signed up for. I believe in an Australia where you can embrace diversity and still be a patriot. An Australia where it does not matter what other people wear and what they eat.
A few months ago, there was a campaign to boycott Vegemite on the premise that it has halal certification. I forwarded the comments to Vegemite, including the accusations that they were 'funding terrorism'. They emailed me back. So the last word on this, for me, goes to Vegemite, who state that they are against racism and bigotry and disrespect. For me, THAT is Australian.
Vegemite's response re halal certification, 2014:
The AFIC symbol has been present on some of our products, including Vegemite, for some time now and we are proud to make products that can be enjoyed by people of different backgrounds, beliefs and ethnicity. We are also proud of locally manufacturing our products, many of which are exported to markets throughout South East Asia. Our export sales are an essential part of business, and crucial to preserving investment and employment at our manufacturing sites in Australia.
One of the main reasons for the AFIC Halal symbol on our packaging is to assist people of Muslim faith, both here in Australia and across our export markets, to identify our products as including ingredients that meet their consumption requirements.
Further, we wish to advise the Vegemite formulation has not altered nor does the product contain any ingredients from animals. Halal certification warrants that, in accordance with Islamic law, the yeast has been processed to ensure the product is alcohol free.
The inclusion of the AFIC Halal symbol is not intended to offend any member of the public of any cultural or religious belief. We do not believe that it promotes one religion over another rather it simply provides people of Muslim faith with information about the food choices they make. Following other consumer inquiries, we have written formally to the AFIC in order to seek clarification on its business activities. In response, the AFIC provided us with verbal and written assurances that it is not engaged in unlawful activities. As such, we have confidence in AFIC as a reputable organisation. We pay a blanket administration fee that covers the certification of a number of our products. This cost is not a tax and is not attributed to a particular product or brand, therefore consumers don’t pay more for a Halal certified product versus a non-certified product.
As a business, we are founded upon values of integrity and respect and take a strong stance against any individual or campaign promoting racism, bigotry and disrespect.
We hope this addresses your questions and any concerns you might have. We produce products that bring joy and pleasure to millions of people across the world every day, and we look forward to continuing this tradition.
Image description - a map of Australia has a series of primary coloured pins placed upon it to symbolise diversity.