I get what’s left of my hair cut at a little barber shop tucked into the back of a $2 variety gift shop in Balaclava. The barber charges a flat fee of $10. Full head of hair or bald, the price is the same. He’s an immigrant from Russia who speaks many languages. The other morning I sat in a short queue along with 5 other customers. He greets everyone in their own language. While we wait he chats to the man in the chair but given the setting, its really a conversation with all of us. We are all regulars, and he knows we come from different parts of the world. “What do you think about immigration?”, he just kind of innocently throws out there. There are a range of replies. Some are almost compassionate. Some harsh. Some very harsh. And a couple of grunts and snorts. Strange really, how people from other countries can hold such unsympathetic views on the subject of other people arriving and settling in Australia. One man said that all immigration should stop because its changing ‘our’ way of life. Go figure! In that moment, the barber shop was a window into contemporary multicultural Australia.
It was quite clear from the conversation that the only thing we had in common apart from our humanity is our reason for being there – hair, and the reduction of it.
Then the barber rolls in another piece of provocation. What about this NAIDOC Week then? What’s that, one customer asks – eyes never leaving his mobile phone? Load of nonsense, says another. Another mumbled something incoherent about black voice. I won’t repeat what someone else said. However, he got up and left before anyone could challenge him. Just as clearly, that little conversation demonstrates that more needs to be done with regard to telling the story of Indigenous history. Especially, the consequences of colonisation by early and subsequent settlers; including present-day arrivals. Oh, and the wonder of cultural diversity.
It poses the very real question about how to get the message through to people on the street – especially those who have come from different countries and settled onto this land, enjoy its freedoms and benefits, yet remain ignorant with regard to who’s land has been occupied and what happens even now, to the First People of this land.
We clearly have a long way to go.