By Kosta Sarandopoulos
Speak Bloody English has always been a term drenched in racism & discrimination when thrown around in this nation.
It has been used to belittle, bully, humiliate & ridicule many a migrant of Non-English speaking background.
The people who spat out this little sentence did it with spite, venom & self-righteousness.
They often ignored the fact that many postwar migrants had no English skills at all when they arrived on these shores…& nor was it a prerequisite to come to this country.
Unlike today where most migrants are highly skilled & need a level of English proficiency even before applying for citizenship.
The earlier migrants basically filled lower-end jobs at a time when Australia had chronic labor shortages during a post-war boom.
Australia often had to take what it could from overseas; so it was perhaps a case of ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ for Australia’s migration plan.
Most European migrants were looking at the US or Canada as preferred destinations.
Australia was much more remote & less known to the world & the government of the day enacted a charm offensive to promote Australia in many parts of the world they were trying to source New Australians.
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But somebody forgot to inform the general population of Australia’s little ‘chronic work shortage’ bind & the reluctance of many Europeans to come here.
It may have helped people understand that they probably needed the often lowly educated, non-English speakers at least as much as the migrants themselves needed a new start.
It may have also helped Australians of the day acquire a little more patience & understanding of the new arrivals whom they expected to learn a foreign language within 3 months.
We may have heard the term ‘Speak English’ less often & delivered with a more compassionate tone.
Well, these post-war migrants rode out the tough times & have grown or passed away.
Their children are very good English speakers & many have better English skills than their white Anglo-Celtic neighbors.
But the term ‘Speak English’ did not go away a there is always a new batch of New Australians to which it can be applied to.
Of course, it makes perfect sense to master the language of your new country; no one can deny that.
But if only it was said from a position of concern rather than derision.
A bad English speaker will harm their job prospects for example.
It may hinder one’s ability to integrate into society & not expand their social circle outside their language barriers.
That is definitely not the way the message was meant to be conveyed as it has been used against even good English speakers when they choose or need to speak a language other than English.
For example, I’ve had to translate for older relatives or friends from time to time & even the odd tourist.
I’m sure most people like me who are the 1st Australian-born generation understand this perfectly.
I sometimes get bad looks when I do this….which usually results in my raising of the volume.
So.. is there something else driving this desire to yell SPEAK ENGLISH other than to assist the newcomers in their new home? Like another political agenda…perhaps?
It has more to do with a colonial mindset & a desire to dominate & control by a section of the community that believes they were ‘born to rule’.
English is not the only language of Australia, although no one can argue against the fact that it is the official language of Australia.
Australia is home to at least 160 surviving indigenous languages still spoken in homes ( once were estimated between 300 & 700) & over 300 identified languages spoken in Australia as a whole.
So Australians need to get used to hearing foreign languages.
If it offends your ears then you’re really living in the wrong country.
I remember once working a security shift in a supermarket where we were often inundated by busloads of tourists mostly from Asia.
They were packing Tim Tams & Vegemite & any other distinguishable Australian product that they could lay their hands into overflowing baskets.
The store owners would have been ecstatic; but not so many of the store workers.
They were angry & offended that they had to try & communicate ( often with hand gestures) with people who knew little or no English.
So even tourists who had no reason to learn English in their lives were targets of the same old ..’Speak bloody English’mantra.
The fact that they spent a fortune in the store & would spend more money in our country was of little consequence it seemed.
I tried telling a couple of them just that but drew blank looks…almost like I too was speaking an unintelligible language.
I’m sure I had heard the same group lament that they went on an overseas holiday where the pesky locals refused to speak English…bloody French.
I often wonder what the ‘Speak bloody Englsh’ crowd thinks when the Naplan results are published every year.
There is proof that their children are being outcompeted in almost all areas of academia by students of non-English speaking background including ….yes you guessed it…English skills.
More concerning is that country kids from regional & remote Australia where the population is far less multicultural is falling behind in most areas of learning….including..you guessed right again….English skills.
What would the old European migrants who were harangued for their bad English make of this?
Perhaps we’d allow them the luxury of a little smirk.
Experience tells us that problems faced by white Australia are all of our problems & we need to help, throw money at it… it’s a national disgrace type of reaction…we must do something to help them etc.
We won’t hear right-wing commentators yell about a tribe of nations, multiculturism is killing Australia, kids can’t speak English properly in our schools etc… if this was the case in Sydney’s west for example.
Our right-wing pundits usually put on a sad face when discussing Anglo kids being out-done, instead of the predictable tsk-tsking & finger-pointing we see when the same palookas talk about lack of English skills in migrant communities.
Speaking of Sydney’s West one school with Ninety-five percent of pupils are from non-English speaking backgrounds and 64 percent are below average in terms of socio-economic advantage did better than expected.
We usually hear about these communities when they are being chastised for crime rates or for breaking Covid guidelines etc.
Canterbury Bankstown Mayor Khal Asfour made the comment that people in his L.G.A. were getting arrested for grieving at a funeral while others were sunbaking at the beach.
Mr Asfour was referring to an incident at Rookwood cemetery in Sydney’s west on Wednesday, when officers from Auburn, Burwood, Bankstown, and Campsie stations, as well as the riot squad, responded to reports that between 80 and 100 people were attending a funeral in breach of public health orders.
Meanwhile, at Bondi and Coogee and the eastern suburbs beaches, the locals were also breaching health orders with police taking no action.
Back in June of 2020, Peta Credlin linked a Melbourne COVID-19 outbreak to Melbourne’s South Sudanese community. Credlin claimed that the community’s alleged lack of education and inability to speak English was why public health efforts were failing at the time.
She has since apologized but mud can stick.
Credlin may as well have held a loudspeaker speaker to her mouth & screamed… ‘SPEAK BLOODY ENGLISH’.
She was soon to discover that the community under attack had sufficient English skills to take her to task by lodging a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Much of the criticism of Credlin was led by the Society of South Sudanese Professionals Australia.
These were not the actions of an illiterate community lacking in English skills.
I spend a lot of time in Canberra’s Health system caring for an elderly father who has cancer.
Most specialists I encounter are non-white & by my own estimate so are more than half of the hospital staff.
I sometimes wonder how many of their parents were told to speak bloody English? Now they may have to save the lives of their past tormentors.
I imagined seeing Peta Credlin coming in to be met by African nurses & doctors.
It made me smile as I prepared to translate for my father in very loud Greek.
*Kosta Sarandopoulos writes about multicultural issues. He was born in very multicultural Marrickville NSW. When he first went to school he was shocked to discover he could not speak the language.