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29 September 2015


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Mike and Peter - I've amended the longer paper to make it clear I'm writing about interaction between Papua New Guineans and Europeans and Westernised Asians, as distinct from the recent Chinese, Filipino etc. migrants.

It's a work in progress. Any other comments gratefully accepted.

Yes, you are correct Peter, thanks for picking that up. I'll rephrase my comment "Given that most expatriates in PNG are, by observation, Caucasian westerners, your article maintains its validity" to clarify, to "Given that most western expatriates in PNG are, by observation, Caucasian, your article maintains its validity", which expresses better what I really wanted to say.

Sori Mike, maybe Caucasian Westerners predominate at the Papua Yacht Club, and other drinking holes around the place, but there are far more 'look north' dudes around these days than whitey, even counting the 'fly in - fly out' tourists.

They just aren't as visible.

Phil - great read! Any chance you could thread the contents of Summary somewhere into the Introduction of the paper? The words you used (in Summary) are very clear and important for all to see and read. I really appreciated those words. I also had a particular liking for the discussion on page 28. Thank you.

Appreciated your article Phil. In bullet point format as it is, it is a good summary of some of the issues creating misunderstandings. I will certainly recommend it to others to read.

Western nations today are multi-cultural, so we have statistics that one in four Australians has an Asian face and heritage, and so on.

This means that the "class" concept is actually also influenced by ethnicity. That makes it more difficult to label "expatriate westerners" accurately because the influence of their original culture will remain, especially if that includes dominant values espoused by their religion.

Given that most expatriates in PNG are, by observation, Caucasian westerners, your article maintains its validity.

Good point Chips - I'll include it in the paper.

With the greatest respect Phil, I agree with Chris to the extent that I think you have over emphasised the class structure of Australia by omitting the dynamic of class mobility.

That is, the ability of those born low to rise high by diligence and ability.

You only have to look at some of our national leaders to see how this mobility operates. For example, Paul Keating was a high school dropout, yet became Prime Minister. Bill Hayden began working life as a policeman yet became Governor-General, and our current prime minister began his education at the local public school. Thence, by way of Sydney Grammar, Sydney Uni, thence as a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford, he became a barrister, merchant banker, multi millionaire, and is now prime minister.

There are thousands of examples of those who bypassed the class structure to rise to the top, and this is what makes Australia the land of opportunities.

I had a problem with finding a suitable substitute for 'class' Chris. As you point out, the term has Marxist overtones that don't really represent modern perceptions.

These days we tend to use it to label a wider range of behaviours, the most recent being the 'political class', which is a concept that I don't think Marx or Engels really discussed.

These days we are probably all a little bit bourgeois and a little bit capitalist. It's interesting to think that the lumpen proletariat (peasants), who Marx despised, still exist in PNG though.

Perhaps I should point this out in the longer paper?

This is a great piece of writing Phil.

I think that most Australians of Caucasian origin are entirely unaware of their own cultural history and its peculiarities.

After all, just like Papua New Guineans, when we grow up within a particular cultural environment we simply pick up the "rules of the game" mostly by osmosis, so there is little conscious analysis of how and why we think and act the way we do.

Add to this a common but quite erroneous belief that the way we order our society and live our lives is inherently superior and you have a recipe for a great deal of misunderstanding.

So called "western civilisation" has a lot going for it but is still very far from perfection, so a little humility is needed, as is caution about trying to impose the whole package on others without regard to the unique characteristics of their society.

It should be compulsory for all Australians to read and understand a paper about us such as that you have written about Papua New Guinea.

One minor concern I have with your article is the use of the term "class" to characterise how our society is ordered.

Class in the traditional Marxist sense was about more than just socio-economic status: it was also about how social position was determined by birth and the associated inability to readily move between classes, regardless of personal effort or merit.

In our much more egalitarian and homogenised world, I think that class is no longer an accurate way to describe how social status and influence is defined and understood.

Nonetheless, I agree that there still are some subtle and not so subtle signals of social status to be found in things like our accents, use of language, place of residence, type of job and so forth.

I doubt that the average Papua New Guinean would recognise these unless he or she had had a long association with Australians.

As you rightly point out, social position in modern Australia is now largely determined by reference to wealth, although I am quite sure that being born into a wealthy family, going to Geelong Grammar and getting a job courtesy of your Dad's business and political connections can still smooth the road to wealth and influence.

All that said, I don't know of a short hand term that adequately conveys where a person sits within our modern social structure.

In planning terms, it was common to talk about which "socio-economic quintile" a person was in, but this is a pretty clumsy expression, so maybe class, misleading as it may be, is still the best short hand term available to us.

Anyway, I look forward to the next installment of your Beginners Guide to Expatriates which is a great device for writing a commentary on modern Australian culture.

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