Tuesday, 30 July 2019

“Aussie” posters with photos of Chinese people, Cleveland Street

The photo in the “Aussie” poster on the right-hand side of the building wall in this shot is well-known in Sydney. I have seen it in various places around the city, including on the railway bridge over Wattle Street next to Wentworth Park. This photo shows an Afghan, one of the many men from his country who migrated to Australia in the 19th century during the colonial period (when the place wasn’t even called “Australia”). These men operated camel trains across the outback. There are today tens of thousands of feral camels in central Australia as a result of this commercial practice.

What was different in this shot (above) which, on Monday, I took out the open window of my car as I was waiting at the traffic lights on Cleveland Street just before turning north onto Abercrombie Street in order to make my way home, is the presence of the two Chinese people in the other posters. I have not seen a variation on the theme like this before and thought it noteworthy.

Chinese people started coming to the colonies in the 1850s after gold was discovered in NSW and Victoria but the flow of migrants from China was curtailed severely in the late 1880s due to xenophobia, which influenced government policy. Locals didn’t object to the Chinese workers due to laziness or anything like that. They objected to them because they were too hard-working and were considered to offer too much competition. The depression of the 1890s might have been alleviated by migration but it had been all but halted, and so for the next 50 years the economy struggled in low gear – a situation made worse by the Great Depression of the 1930s – until migration started up again when WWII finished in 1945.

What these posters do is ask us to interrogate the past. The old-fashioned visual aesthetic is deliberate and points in the direction we need to take if we want to understand ourselves better. The person who made the designs for these posters (if it was one person, and not more than one; I cannot say for sure) also wants us to look at who we are as a people. What do we stand for? Where have we come from? And where are we heading?

The ad for the Brazilian martial art “capoeira” that is visible in the frame I thought a nice addition to the theme of migration embodied in the three posters, as the ad attests to the diverse nature of Australia in our day: a place where hundreds of thousands of people come to live each year. Migration constitutes the single largest component of the country’s population growth, which is among the highest in the world.

After I got onto Abercrombie Street, with a red light on Broadway, a guy came up to the line of cars to clean windscreens and I let him do mine, passing him, through the window frame, a $5 note in return for the service.

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