Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Kent MacCarter and Ali Lemer (eds) Joyful Strains: Making Australia Home (2013)

Joyful Strains (2013) edited by Kent MacCarter and Ali Lemer, is intended to promote Australian multiculturalism by presenting 27 short memoirs by Australian authors of migrant backgrounds who write about and assess their experiences, both positive and negative, settling in Australia. They also discuss the evolution of their feelings for their country of origin, and reflect upon the evolution of their sense of identity, whether it became wholly Australian, or it remained ethnic, or became a mixed identity of ethnic and Australian characteristics to usually become and remain troubled and perplexed, or it became conceptualised as post-nationalist to be seen as global or internationalist, a citizen of the world.  Most authors deliver a mixed report card on Australia with ambivalence characterising their accounts. 

Australian democratic freedoms, its economic and educational opportunities, and wide open spaces are frequently noted as plusses, and Australian multiculturalism with its ethnic and cultural diversity, including its culinary diversity, often receives similar positive assessment.  However, to some authors Australia is not multicultural enough and it falls short of its multicultural promise and therefore remains a work in progress.  Some migrants from comparatively economically backward places praised Australia’s modernity and efficiency. 

Meanwhile, Australian racism and xenophobia are frequently presented as significant features of this society and are condemned, although most authors accept that this is less significant than before the introduction of multiculturalism in the mid-1970s.  But some authors who left countries that had significant racism and oppression saw Australia as more accepting of difference.  Added to this are complaints about Australia’s cultural shallowness compared to migrant source countries.  But this complaint is sometimes tempered by an appreciation of the relaxed casualness of Australian culture that, for example, puts less pressure on residents to dress up to leave the home. 

In addition, many accounts detail the challenges of negotiating cultural differences between Australia and their country of origin, such as dealing with different foods, standards of dress, accommodating the different architectural styles of Australian homes, interpreting the Australian accent and slang, dealing with the pervasiveness of egalitarianism and feminism, and making the transition from an economically backward village without electricity to living in a modern industrialised city.  Some writers wanted to highlight confusions experienced by migrants that many non-migrant readers would never imagine, such as the comical misinterpretation of the ‘NO STANDING ANY TIME’ traffic signs as applying to pedestrians rather than cars.  Meanwhile, another writer noted the contribution that mainstream television programs made towards orienting a young newcomer towards learning about this new culture. 

The text openly celebrates migrants and refugees for overcoming the challenges of moving from one country to another and establishing new lives in Australia, such as by setting up homes, completing one’s studies, finding employment, establishing careers, as well as negotiating cultural differences and dealing with racial or ethnic prejudice.  Notable among the problems of prejudice discussed were accounts of overcoming ‘wog-baiting’ and school bullying as well as one account of the difficulties of finding love across the ethnic divide.  However, many of the contributors did successfully marry outside of their race or ethnicity.  Meanwhile a South African of mixed race celebrated Australia as a place where one’s race did not matter while race defined one’s existence in the apartheid South Africa her family left behind.  In addition, a family of Jewish Holocaust survivors found Australia to be a welcoming place where the neighbours were friendly. 

Most of these migrants told stories of eventual successful settlement where they added their own contributions to the ethnic and cultural diversity of multicultural Australia.

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2019 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

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