In the late 1990s, a follower of Jack van Tongeren’s white supremacist Australian Nationalist Movement, convicted of blowing up his local Chinese restaurant in Perth, confessed in a TV documentary that he and his wife had later missed being able to eat there.
While there is a certain dark humour to the bomber’s lack of intelligence, the less funny truth is that racism is most easily propagated in less-educated communities. And the story not being told about the “racially motivated” murder of Indian accounting graduate Nitin Garg, is that the park in which he was stabbed is bordered by some of the poorest and most poorly educated suburbs in Australia.
Walk due east, and you walk through up-and-coming Kingsville and into the already gentrified Yarraville — sold by real estate agents with the slogan “Live nowhere else”.
Walk west or north-west and you find yourself in dusty Brooklyn, which boasts miles of industrial estates and a giant landfill site (source of the dust); Tottenham, where even the tattoo shop has closed down; and Braybrook, judged by one recent study to be the fourth poorest postcode in the country.
These western suburbs have long been a “vibrant multicultural community” in local councillor’s election speeches — and indeed they are, with shops, temples, restaurants and festivals brimming with people from Vietnam, Ethiopia, Sudan, India, Uygur refugees from China, and Karen from the Thai-Burma border — even a few shell-shocked Anglos escaping the high rents of St Kilda.
But the flip side of all the “vibrancy” is that many of the new arrivals, and plenty of the older ones — including a well-established Anglo-Celtic and southern European working poor — do not have the education, community facilities and job opportunities that overseas critics of “racist Australia” would assume is the Australian birthright.
Veteran social worker Les Twentyman — who, with high-profile priest Bob Maguire, has offered to mediate between Garg’s killer and authorities to ensure proper legal process — told Crikey that “thousand of kids in these suburbs won’t be turning up on the first day of school in February because their parents can’t afford books, school uniforms or anything else”.
The limited recreation facilities in the region concentrate listless kids in a few locations, says Twentyman, and gangs beckon for teens with limited education and no job prospects: “I’d like to see a program to give the jobs in the west to people in the west,” says Twentyman. “There’s an army of professionals who cross the Maribyrnong River every day to do the good jobs over here, then drive home again.”
Twentyman is one of the few voices in the Australian media maintaining Garg’s murder “may have been racially motivated”, though his elaboration on this point might surprise critics in India. “It could have been someone from any of the ethnic groups that killed him,” he says. “There’s a kind of a status thing between the poorer kids and the Indians. They see Indians working for department stores or debt collectors or banks — jobs they can’t get. They see Indian guys as physically weaker — easy to push around — and financially better off. And what have they got to lose? You’ve got kids arrive here from war zones — you meet kids who’ve seen their parents beheaded and who never get properly debriefed and counselled. They’re not scared of jail — after what they’ve seen prison looks like a five-star hotel.
“It’s the poor suburbs that have always had to digest these groups of people — the more you pour into one area the more it tops up the problems. I’d like to see it spread around the city more.
“Jobs, education and recreation are what give these kids something to live for besides joining gangs and getting into heroin. I’ve been warning about gangs and weapons here for 20 years. Now suddenly everyone’s saying ‘shit, what can we do about that’?”