This letter was originally going to start out with an invitation to you to attend a two-year old swimming class on Sunday mornings at the Richmond Recreation Centre in Melbourne.
I’m sure you get lots of invitations to do lots of things like eating halal food, all of which are probably designed to broaden your mind. I know that it’s a waste of time. Your mind is not for broadening only narrowing and certainly not for changing.
So I’ve changed my mind, I’d rather you didn’t come. I’ll just tell you what goes on there.
I attend swimming lessons every Sunday with my son and my grandson, Winton, who is two and learning to swim. That’s him and his dad, Simon, at the end of the mat and that’s Mel, the instructor, in the middle.
First a bit of background.
The Haslett grandparents, Tim and Di, are economic and educational migrants who arrived with their first son, Andrew, from New Zealand in the early 1970s. Their next two boys, Simon and Nick, were first-generation Australians. We are a pretty typical migrant family, although our process of assimilation was probably somewhat easier than most.
The boys are all married now. Andrew has married Ness who is from the Philippines and their son, Connor is a New Zealander. Simon has married Natasha, who is French-Burmese and their son Winton (named after the Australian author) is an Australian.
Nick married Susie who is an Australian. So our family is very much a reflection of Australia’s melting-pot relationship with Asia and this is why I find your xenophobia so deeply insulting and repugnant.
Richmond is an inner-city suburb in Melbourne.
It has been regularly swamped by migrants, notably the Greeks after the Second World War, then the Vietnamese after the Vietnam War and now the cashed-up retirees and upwardly mobile professionals from the eastern suburbs. It also has a significant concentration of public housing so large numbers of refugees from Africa live in the suburb.
You would hate it. It typifies everything you were wrong about 18 years ago when you first appeared in Parliament. And are wrong about now you’ve got back. But I’m going to try not to be vituperative in this letter.
But back to the swimming pool.
Parents must accompany the children in the two-year-old lesson. It’s a bit of hoot really. Some of the dads wear their glasses when they go swimming. But the interesting thing is that all of the dads in the lesson are white Aussie blokes and all of the kids are Aussie/Asians. I told you that you would hate it.
Actually I’m wrong about the Aussie dad thing, there is a Chinese mum who brings her Chinese little boy and the whole family, dad and grandma included are waiting for them to finish when the whole family has a swim after the lesson.
And do you know what the Chinese family have called their little boy? Alexis! It’s a Greek name meaning “the defender”. I told you there were a lot of Greeks in Richmond. This is them after the swimming lesson.
Oh, yes and they bring the nanny with them. She’s a young Australian girl. Amazing isn’t it, first they come and take our jobs and then they start giving them back.
And the swimming instructor. You know, I never thought about it until I started writing you this letter. He’s Asian.
Because Simon and I have both been surf lifesavers (you know all the stereotypes bronzed Kiwis/Aussies etc) so I think it’s an interesting commentary on how the world is changing that my grandson is being taught to swim by an Asian swimming instructor and quite a brilliant one at that. I tell him so frequently.
But there is something else that I hope you get a chance to see one day. There is a Somalian family that sometimes comes swimming and a young girl who is probably about seven who has taken quite a fancy to Winton, and he to her.
Seeing them together is something I can only watch in complete amazement and with great pleasure. Having seen your face on Q and A when you found out that Sam Dastyari was a Muslim, I’m not certain how you would handle a situation like this. This is one of the reasons I’m not inviting you to the swimming lessons.
My grandson is growing up in a world that I never knew in white monocultural New Zealand in the 1950s.
His world is a more vibrant and diverse one than mine ever was. And I suspect and fear it is vibrant and diverse for more reasons that you will ever understand.
But this is what the world is like in Richmond.
The view of the world is vastly different from that from behind the counter of a fish and chip shop in Ipswich. But then you really never did venture out, did you?