I was born into an interesting period in the working class suburb of North Melbourne in the 50s and 60s. My grandfather ran the local two up school frequented by the local spivs and the occasional serial murderer. Eddie Leonski the “brown out muderer” from the American base in Royal Park, murdered 3 woman before being caught, played there often. Don’t know if he won at two up but I know they hanged him at Pentridge a few years later – must have picked the odds instead of the evens
According to family lore aged about 2yo I used to sing and dance at the two up and then pass grandpa’s hat around for the odd pennies or threepences.
Obviously at such a early age it would be some years before coming to the realisation that a working class suburb could be so engrossed into its own internal racism. My teenage years were riddled with comments that are still relevant today, racism and bigotry don’t reside in any particular suburb but I can only comment on mine at the moment which will give me time to comment further as I grew older.
Racism is always with us hidden under a cloak of hatred and ignorance but always there in one form or other comments, actions,even looks sometimes sublime, other times simply outrageous.
Even as a naive school boy I was embarrassed by a particular member of my family shouting at migrants on the tram and ordering them off if they didn’t speak English and not their own lingo.
Rembering my early days at St Michaels School as I was trading my soggy tomato sandwiches with the newly arrived Italian kids for a new delicacy, salami, I often wondered in my neighbourhood why the grown ups referred to them as wogs and dagos. Less than human.
But stupid is as stupid does.
In my early teenage years I succumbed to the constant barrage of those in my home town, Protests at Princess Pier against new migrants coming to take our jobs and break down our conditions, fed by the mainstream media. Aborigines getting too much welfare without working was always a constant chant from people I knew. The ‘abos’ were drunks, let’s not mention the attitude towards aboriginal women – never any mention about culture and the history of exploitation.
I was taught by the Catholic nuns, never a lesson about our First Nations people except in a negative way, stolen children but many lessons and songs about the history of American war. I can still sing about the Halls of Montezuema to Shores of Tripoli, force fed by these ignorant Brides of Christ.
I was fast becoming a cheer squad for the misinformation on the drip feed fueled by people unable to accept change, frightened by the unknown new world we were about to become.
Racism is a slippery slope, a greasy pole, you either overcome or end up on your arse.
I was a 15 year oldo working illegally on Melbourne’s wharves and making good money and working with a great bunch of men from around the world, Maltese, Yugoslavs etc and even though they belonged to a fighting union it was always hard and dirty wor .
My salvation was the trade Union movement and I was destined to exit and re enter at various times at the whim of old men in black robes and horsehair wigs always trying to advance my education by offering me free education in government institutions with the only inducement parole at the end.
It’s wasn’t until this time I came to the realisation that I was not only a fervent racist but you could throw in a bit of masochism to boot. I know how racist think, I know how they act, I know how they can fall into the lies fueled by fear and ignorence. I was a victim. Full time .
Now the hard journey back. I secured work at Carlton and United Brewery in the early seventies and became involved in the trade union movement.
Only employing men at the time, I was working with every nationality from every corner of the globe despite the governments white Australia policy.
Similar to our own First Nations treatment I was learning fast about people escaping persecution, racism, poverty and war .
I became involved in the union where some of my outdated ideas were quickly quashed with more progressive attitudes, now working in an industrial setting involving the lives of working people with a sense of solidarity I hadn’t experienced for some time.
Becoming a union official at a period when old men in suits and ties dominated the movement, the issue of First Nations people was to emerge stronger than ever.
First Nations were organising, adopting new tactics to foil the tactics of racist comments prevalent in a fair section of the rabid media and the Australian population, were still being treated as 3rd class citizens .
The shameful history of colonisation is best left for the First Nations mobs not me.
My personal journey was to overcome my inbuilt predudice from my early years and, the more I was involved in the struggle of ordinary people, the more I understood the evils of their colonisation.
The reason for this post is that as the old song says “I’ve seen my life from both sides now “.
I know now how racists think ,I know how they behave knowing what appeals to the base instincts appeals to their greed, their ignorance, I climbed the greasy pole a number of times meaning you slip more in bullshit than on gravel.
Living in Broadmeadows in later years witnessing working class kids deprived of opportunity because they lived in the so called ghetto of the north, a suburb deprived of services, employment oppurtunity but not resilience.
My early time in the trade union movement was recognised by others ,I was offered a role as as probation and parole officer to show how you can turn your life around,
Talk about boiled lollies to chocolates .🤫
My clients probably referred to in the new money as “stakeholders “ young people on the outskirts of petty crime on the well known dusty road of revolt just going about it the wrong way .
Living in the Paris end of Broady ,we had a bus service except on sundays my only gripe is the louts from Toorak used to travel to broady and set fire to our trains ,of course the broady boys got the blame . My best mate “matches” and and his sidekick “kero” were always in the coppers sight .
Talk about being found innocent and still being hung !
Some young people while being oppressed by the negativity,the unemployment and the bad image of living in the ghetto only wanted to escape and one way was to don a police officer uniform and continue the oppression.