Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 20 August 2016
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 20 AUGUST 2016 21 COMMENT unique opportunity for our community to declare its ethnicity, language and religion. Accordingly, federal and state government utilise the information contained in the census in their planning for ethnic communities and the provision of services for them. Regardless of the fact that we Greek Australians are a diverse and mixed lot, it was broadly felt that it was important we all ensure that we, pardoning the pun, stand up and be counted on census night. Yet in all aspects dealing with ethno-linguistic minorities, the 2016 Australian census suggested that its creators lack the capacity to appreciate the complex relationship between ethnic communities, the mainstream and other ethnic communities. Instead, they tend to view ethnic communities such as ours as a monolithic bloc of homogeneity, ignoring, or rather not realising, the diversity of experience, sub-identities and intercultural relations that increasingly form the norm within most integrated ethnic communities. For starters, the Australian census assumes that there is no such thing as multilingualism, requesting that the population only declares ONE language other than English spoken. It therefore ignores or does not address the possibility that in many ethnic communities and families, a number of languages other than English, and not just one, are used on an equal basis. Many Middle Eastern and Balkan Australians, where functional multilingualism is the norm, were thus unable to record this on their form. Families hailing from Florina, where Greek and the Slavic idiom of the region are both equally spoken, were unable to have this linguistic complexity reflected in the census and had to arbitrarily choose one. On occasion, Biblical censuses have more nefarious purposes. In Samuel we learn that "once again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census ... So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, 'take a census of all the tribes of Israel - from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south - so I may know how many people there are'." As this census was done for capricious reasons, the Lord insisted on a punishment, letting King David choose between seven years of famine, three months of fleeing from enemies, or three days of severe plague. David chose the plague, in which 70,000 men died. It is rumoured that persons claiming not to have completed the Australian 2016 online census because the site crashed or their computer was running a system will be offered a similar choice of condign punishments. David's son, King Solomon, as we learn in the book of Chronicles, had all of the foreigners in Israel counted. It is this aspect of the Australian census, the manner in which the character of ethno-linguistic groups within Australian society will be recorded, that has exercised the attention of the Greek community which broadly believes, anarchist discourse about government as repression notwithstanding, that the Australian census was a Furthermore, such a blinkered view of language fluency completely ignores the phenomenon of minority language acquisition and use as a result of mixed marriages. The members of my household speak three languages other than English on a daily basis and yet only one of these could be recorded. While such a phenomenon may not be common, it exists, and it is precisely these types of instances of diversity that a census sensitive to recording the true nature of linguistic and cultural multiculturalism should capture. Further, no provision was made for people who cannot speak a language, such as infants, or the disabled. Thus, the good people of the census asked me which language my three-month-old daughter speaks and I was compelled to respond. A similar dearth of appreciation of the manner in which ethnic communities self-identify was also displayed in relation to the ancestry component of the census. How will the ancestry statistics be used and/or interpreted? If someone is half-Greek, half-Italian, for instance, will he be numbered both among the Greeks and the Italians or will there be a separate category for Greek Italians, Greek Australians, Greek Chinese, Greek Lebanese, etc. and every other possible combination among all the ethno-cultural communities? concern, since it becomes apparent that our statistics gleaners, and by inference our government, may not understand the true complexity of the mosaic and melting pot of our multicultural community. The listing of Greek Orthodox on the census form in the religion section is also problematic because while it may feed Greek vanity in that it singles us out as prominent, it allows other Orthodox communities to qualify their orthodoxy with an ethnic affiliation, thus fragmenting the true number of Eastern Orthodox adherents in this country in the statistics. The members of my household speak three languages other than English on a daily basis and yet only one of these could be recorded. While such a phenomenon may not be common, it exists, and it is precisely these types of instances of diversity that a census sensitive to recording the true nature of linguistic and cultural multiculturalism should capture. Further, no provision was made for people who cannot speak a language, such as infants, or the disabled. Thus, the good people of the census asked me which language my three-month-old daughter speaks and I was compelled to respond. Furthermore, what if one is only one-quarter Greek? No provision was made for composite ancestries. Also, it is difficult to see what purpose answering such a question on its own would serve. It would have been more incisive and useful to include a question about a person's cultural affiliation, that is, how they identify themselves, which often differs to their ancestry or language spoken. For example, in most cases of mixed relationships, many progeny end up identifying primarily with one, rather than both of their ancestral cultures. Others marry into a culture and embrace it entirely. In the case of persons hailing from Florina, or the ongoing debate within the Syriac-speaking community as to whether they espouse an Aramean, Chaldean or Assyrian identity, identity becomes a vexed question, and questions as to ancestry do nothing to address composite or conflicting identities within the one individual. These are important elements of multicultural Australia which are not reflected in the census and are of Thus the census does not take into account that Greek Orthodox refers to jurisdiction, not religion, and that the religion that should have been recorded is ‘Eastern Orthodox’ with a space, if required, to record the necessary jurisdiction. It is of concern that after one hundred years of a dynamic presence in this country, the powers that be appear not to understand the basic nature of the churches within it. Some members of the Greek community lament the fact that Australian censuses are invariably conducted in August, when a large proportion of the Greek Australian community is lapping up the Greek sun, thus resulting in their diminished numbers in the census statistics. Yet the quantity is not so much relevant as understanding the changing nature of our community, both in how it sees itself as a whole and in relation to broader Australian society. And in this, apart from the Biblical trials and tribulations faced by the populace, especially the elderly and those unable to speak English, the census has been tried and found truly wanting.
13 August 2016
27 August 2016