Multicultural Publishing –
How hard is it to do in Australia?
Mabel Lee (Wild Peony) chaired a panel of publishers at the Carnivale Literary Festival, New South Wales Writers’ Centre, Rozelle. Invited were Raghid Nahhas (Kalimat), Ivor Indyk (HEAT), Veronica Sumegi (Brandl & Schlesinger), and myself.
Here is my short answer: it’s bloody pointless, mate.
However, I’ll try a longer one as well. But let us ask at first: what actually is multicultural publishing supposed to be? Is it simply multilingual publishing or publishing in a language other than English or just any communication of an ethnic minority?
I honestly don’t know, as I don’t even believe that true multiculturalism per se exists. When I arrived in Australia in the late eighties I already was publishing contemporary literature for a decade or so in the German language. Publishing literature as such is hard enough. Let alone in a foreign language. Besides, it is absolutely pointless to do so for there is no market. The few German language books asked for in Australia are more easily ordered and shipped from Austria, Germany or Switzerland. The books of Australian authors I published in the German language or in bilingual editions where targeted for the European market. The hundred or so copies sold in local foreign language bookshops certainly do not justify a commercial publishing house.
So why do we discuss multicultural publishing, if it does not exist? Stretching the topic a little more I even doubt multiculturalism. If it describes a melting pot of nations and cultures like in the American society, it is not multiculturalism. If it describes the coexistence of cultures next to each other without much interference, as it is the Australian reality, it is not multiculturalism. What’s the point of living in Bondi Junction as a Jewish Australian, in Leichhardt as an Italian Australian, in Lakemba as an Arabic Australian, in Surry Hills as a Greek Australian or in Cabramatta as an Asian Australian? The list can easily be extended. What’s the point in sending the kids to ethnic schools, effectively separating them from the Australian culture? Do we want to become a conglomerate of little foreign colonies?
The people of this great country come from many places in the world and arrive for many reasons. And there lies some of the problematic issues. One can live here forever without the feeling to belong. True multiculturalism should be expressed in an oath that we all speak English, feel comfortable in T-shirts and thongs and call our next door neighbour mate, regardless of his or her colour of skin or whatever. This, as we have seen, does not work. For example, I have friends of Lebanese background, for they are Lebanese Australians. Not Lebanese who rather live in a Muslim country anyway. I have gone out with Hungarian, French, Greek, Colombian, and Portuguese Australians and our common tongue was always English; however, I have also met an East Timorese Australian who managed to live in Sydney for twenty-five years without learning a single word of English. That’s not what I call multiculturalism. Her having access to media in the Portuguese language and the support of the refugee community was even contributing to this non-integration.
So, is multicultural publishing the wrong instrument for a better multicultural society? (Or a ‘cosmopolitan’, as Ivor Indyk prefers to call it, and I agree.) Yes, we do not need an Austrian Club in Sydney for Austrians. I have not been there in twelve years and I’m proud of it. If there is one, it should be for Australians. We do not need Arabic schools for Muslim kids. If there is one, it should be for Australians. We do not need German language newspapers or community radio. If there are any published or broadcasted by Germans, they should be in the English language. We do need SBS TV and radios programs, foreign film festivals and language bookshops — and we certainly appreciate the international cuisine in the many restaurants; however, we do not need multicultural publishing.
Oops, now I have made some enemies, for it is not politically correct to condemn multiculturalism. Thank God I’m not of Anglo Saxon background – being a wog boy myself, I can openly take a stand in this sensible issue. But now that this is established I might as well take it further: I would stop funding multicultural projects, ethnic newspapers, and private schools. Take all these saved millions and give it back to the people. Spend it on Aboriginal reconciliation. On education for all these wog boys like me so we all speak and write better English. On publishing houses that do foreign literatures in translation. On bilingual websites. On so much more, that fosters one Australian people shaped from a great many culture, and one understanding.
Rozelle, 20 October 1999