Sadly we have heard a lot about racial prejudice and discrimination in Australia lately, be it police action against young African men walking down the street, attacks on women wearing their hijabs or ugly diatribes against people with the temerity to speak French quietly to each other on a Melbourne train, so it should probably come as no surprise to learn that the racists amongst us have returned to a tried and true favourite – anti-Irish prejudice. At one time anti-Irish prejudice in England and America was so strong that it was not uncommon to see signs in the windows of boarding houses or sentences in job advertisements saying ‘No Irish Need Apply‘. While there have been recent attempts to rewrite history and deny this, there is a folk song with that very title, which was widely sung during the nineteenth century – it might be time to revive it if we are going to see the sort of thing in Australia that recently occurred in a Bendigo hotel.
Mind you, the timing of the current outburst – during the Bendigo Festival of Cultures Week – was surprising, as was the locale – a Sunday afternoon session in a pub with an Irish name where a group of musicians were having a quiet ‘session’. Surprising as it clearly was to the mind of one racist, this group had Irish born members who played Irish music on Irish instruments! Surely, if you stepped into The Brian Boru, you would have a right to complain if you didn’t have an Irish experience! The man’s rant may have been utterly illogical, but it was also very shocking for his main target – Mr Martin ‘Paddy’ Dolan. Paddy Dolan was playing in The Brian Boru Hotel when a customer took his bodhran and played it so roughly, as well as dropping it twice, that it was very badly damaged. Anyone who owns a bodhran would testify how these instruments have a real personality of their own, but especially so for a professional musician like Mr Dolan. He said that watching his bodhran being roughly handled in this man’s clutches was ‘like watching a close friend die.’ Not content with that, this unpleasant person told Paddy that he was a bludger who ‘should go back to where he came from’ – an original remark to a man who has been an Australian citizen for over 25 years . One of the musicians rescued the bodhran and Paddy left, reporting the incident to the police. He had a gig booked for the next month but initially cancelled it due to fear about a repeat of the awful experience, showing the damage that these racist insults can do.
Fortunately news of this led to an outpouring of support and sympathy from the publicans, the head of the Loddon-Campaspe multicultural services and Ken Lay – the Victorian Police Commissioner. Mr Lay strongly condemned what had happened, said that he had been shocked to hear about it and that the Victoria Police take racism very seriously. Most important of all for Paddy Dolan, when ‘Michael Vignoles Bodhrans‘ back in Ireland heard how the bodhran had come to be damaged, they immediately offered to make a brand new one of the same quality, absolutely free. The level of support he experienced has encouraged Paddy to go on playing his bodhran and celebrating his culture.
A happy ending for one musician, but is anti-Irish prejudice truly back as a real force? There is some other evidence that it might be once more on the rise, given that a classified website Gumtree in Perth recently carried an advertisement saying:
‘Bricklayer needed ASAP. $250 a day, no part-time workers and NO IRISH.’
The news has already embarrassed the Australian embassy in Dublin who condemned the wording of the advertisement strongly, saying that the Australian government had an ‘unwavering commitment to a multicultural Australia’. And so they might have, but Simon – the man who placed the ad – actually defended his actions on the grounds that he was tired of Irish people applying for work when they had no experience of the building trades. He has apparently had to fire a number of inexperienced applicants and, he was too busy to watch over them, and so he decided to discriminate against applicants on the grounds of country of birth. He insisted that he was well aware of the anti-discriminatory legislation in Australia and said that ‘I have no trouble with Irish people’, but would not give his full name or the company he worked for to The Irish Independent.
So where does this leave people who oppose racism against all ethnic groups? Obviously this is not a discussion which has been settled – it’s rearing its head once more. We cannot rely on government policies to protect us as we go about our daily business, we need to cultivate an awareness of racist attack and a willingness to support the targets of it, who can feel very lonely indeed when they’re pounced on and subjected to some ignorant ranting. The hero of the old song ‘No Irish Need Apply‘ took matters into his own hands by visiting the person who placed the job advertisement and giving him ‘..such a welting as he’d get at Donnybrook..’ – that would be going too far today. Being caught in the middle of someone else’s rage and prejudice can also be very frightening, even for onlookers, but simple acts such as objecting to racist ‘jokes’ and even quietly standing next to someone who is being targeted in public can go a long way to stop racism in its tracks and support the innocent target of insulting remarks. In some recent incidents on Melbourne public transport, quick thinking passengers quietly filmed the action on their mobile phones and then offered the evidence to the people concerned when they got off the train. If Australians are really committed to retaining (or recreating?) a tolerant, multicultural society, the responsibility rests with all of us.
Tinteán thanks The Bendigo Advertiser for making the above photograph available.