TUMBY BAY - The current paranoia among Australia’s political class about Chinese expansionism in the south Pacific region is interesting to watch.
The politicians seem to be developing a kind of siege mentality much like they did during the war with Japan, except with an emphasis on economic and social matters rather than the military, although that’s there too.
Australia has only ever been invaded once as far as we know, and that was well over 200 years ago. That invasion was ruthless and overwhelming, and changed life for the original indigenous inhabitants absolutely and completely.
If you believe the politicians the incursion we are now facing is going to be subtle and nuanced, a kind of invasion by stealth that many of us will not even notice.
It wasn’t that long ago when one of our prime ministers was telling us the exact opposite. He said we had to stop trying to be so European and look towards Asia.
Others were telling us that this would be ‘the Pacific century’. They just hadn’t counted on the fact that it might not be us pulling the strings and benefitting.
The cocoon we are now intent upon weaving around ourselves doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of any of these things.
Modern Australians don’t know, and probably can’t imagine, what it would be like to be taken over by a totally alien culture. But our nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, certainly does.
Maybe PNG can give us some tips. Take the best and reject the rest, that sort of thing.
Then again, they are still dealing with the repercussions and might not even know the best way to handle things themselves yet.
They didn’t have much choice in the matter of their subjugation and I suspect that Australia, despite what the politicians say, will have little choice either.
But is it such a big deal? If you look at history Australia won’t be the first country that has succumbed to the expansion of an alien culture.
What many of those invaded peoples tended to do was to emerge from the experience decidedly more resilient and better off than before.
After the first invasion they seemed to be able to absorb subsequent invasions with ease. The Czechs, vulnerably positioned on flat terrain in the middle of Europe, got very good at it indeed. (And their culture and language survived despite many attempts at repression.)
Many historians point to my own homeland, Ireland, as another case in point. Through a cycle of invasions, Ireland developed the ability to absorb its invaders so that they “became more Irish than the Irish”.
I suspect this is what will happen in Australia.
How many times have you listened to Aussies on the radio and then been surprised they are Vietnamese or Indian?
I’m not sure this happened in Papua New Guinea but if you listen to people like Ron Knight, the ex-governor of Manus, you’d swear both sides of his family had been in Melanesia for centuries.
The same thing happened to a lot of kiaps too. I reckon I could mostly tell where a kiap had been posted by his Tok Pisin accent.
And I can tell you from personal experience that turning back into an Australian after living in Papua New Guinea wasn’t easy either.
So maybe our paranoia is misplaced. Maybe we shouldn’t be gearing up to speak Mandarin but rather getting ready to start teaching the newcomers how to speak Strine.
Maybe they just want to become Aussies. I mean, who wouldn’t?