Australia is a land of immigrants. The first Australians arrived, it seems, about 65 000 to 40 000 years ago, after the second migration out of Africa. The second group arrived only little more than 200 years ago. Some think of Australia as a young country with a history beginning with arrival of Europeans in 1788. But Australia is not only the oldest continent, it is also home to the oldest living culture and was inhabited long before many other parts of the world. It is a tragedy that little recognition and respect is given to this culture and its peoples.
Disharmony and conflict, on a scale from the personal to global, often occurs because of perceived differences: “He’s not like me. She doesn’t think like me. They don’t believe what we believe. I am right and you are wrong.” The realisation that what we share in common far outweighs the differences, and the appreciation of those similarities and differences, would go a long way to soothing that discord.
The National Geographic Genographic Project aims to find out more of our collective human history; where we originated and how we came to populate the world. Projects such as this may help to strengthen the focus on what we share rather than ways in which we differ.
Young children are generally accepting of differences they may notice in each other and are usually more concerned about having someone to play with than about visible differences. Fear of and discomfort with differences is often learned.
Mostly my classrooms were a microcosm reflecting the rich diversity of cultural heritages represented in Australia. Learning about those heritages from the children and their families, as well as through literature and other media, helped us all develop an appreciation for our differences as well as our commonalities.
The celebrations of International Days when children would wear traditional clothing, bring items from home to display and discuss, contribute cultural food to a shared lunch, teach how to play traditional games or share traditional stories were always appreciated by the children and families; including those who considered themselves to have a cultural background and those who didn’t.
Units of work, such as my Getting to know you — Early childhood history unit, learning to greet each other in the languages represented in the class, reading traditional tales and discovering each other’s favourites of anything also contribute to developing understanding and empathy.
“Whoever You Are” by Mem Fox is a wonderful picture book which can be used to discuss similar themes. It explains in a simple and beautiful way that although children around the world may live in different houses, wear different clothes or eat different foods, for example ‘inside, their hearts are just like yours.’ Mem Fox explains the story on her website.
I have drawn upon the ideas discussed above for my flash fiction response to this week’s challenge by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that shows the interaction of a migrant culture on the place of migration.
The adults dotted the perimeter, holding tight to their own; bound by the security of sameness reflected in their own eyes, excluded by fear felt for differences perceived in others: different dress and hair, unintelligible words and unfamiliar scents.
In the centre the children romped together, united in the secret language of smiles and laughter, funny looks and gentle patting hands; no words needed.
The children smiled, waving promises of future plays, as one by one the adults called them home, delighting in their children’s easy ways, wishing for their own nonprejudicial days. A nod. A smile. A beginning.
Recently I found this quote on Yvonne Spence’s post in 1000 Voices for Compassion. I think it sums up the intentions of this post beautifully.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.