The imperfect mirror

Thursday Island, Queensland, Australia

One of the things that we love about Australia is that it is, as Greg describes it, “like looking at a imperfect mirror at ourselves.”

20100320 - photo - la cruz marinaOr, yes ok it has been a while since we made a nautical reference so yes, like a reflection in a pool of water.  The point is that reflection is not perfect and there are many differences between our countries but of all the places we have visited Australia is the most like home:

  • We both started off as colonies founded by the same country
  • We are both a country of immigrants
  • We’re both, as countries go, large.  Really large.  As in “Europeans don’t get it” large.
  • We both managed to butcher the same source language – granted each with our own special flair
  • We both have to deal with issues revolving around lethal weapons

We could go on and we assume you get the point: As countries go, our two have a lot in common.  This is what makes Australia so very interesting: how they took a set of similar circumstances and ended up in a different place.  The choices we both made, as a people, and the results those different decisions had on where we both are now.

We didn’t want to bring this up until now because we really didn’t want it to taint our overall reporting, or our memories, of our experiences working in Australia.

At the same time it has happened at almost every place we worked and is especially prevalent at our most recent place of employment so it’s important we document it.  It’s not our best video; we recorded it for the audio so we could get our thoughts in the moment.

This article is about our experiences with sexism and racism in Australia.

It is important to note that this article is not about the native peoples (yep – more than one) of Australia, as we want to keep that a separate concept from this.  What we are talking about here is solely the prejudice we have encountered while living and working in Australia.

So right off the bat, we disagree on the scope of this issue in Australian society.

Greg is of the opinion that, due to the fact we are working minimum wage jobs and are effectively the Australian version of an “immigrant worker” (we’re legal though, don’t worry) that we are being exposed to thoughts, opinions and actions that may not be tolerated in other parts of the social / economic ladder.

Tiffany disagrees and thinks the issue is prevalent throughout the country.

What we can both attest to is that it is real.  Greg was not allowed to work at a gift shop or a reception job because he was a male.  Tiffany was not allowed certain fruit picking opportunities because she was a female. We were both told this point blank.

Greg had an easier time securing extra hours when he wanted them…he also had to sit in a car and listen in detail as his new boss described the “blacks” (native peoples) in far less than flattering terms.  If we didn’t like it, we could quit or speak up and get fired…and who were we to argue?  Two foreigners working minimum wage jobs out in the middle of nowhere, easy enough to replace and who would really care?  What were we going to do?

Is there a workplace prejudice hotline in Australia?

It was…difficult.  Extremely difficult living alongside prejudice every day.  Our reaction was mostly shock,

“Seriously?  Did they just SAY that?  Out loud!?  Did they literally tell me I was not fit for this job due to my gender!?  Who even does that anymore?!!?”

Followed by impotent anger alongside gratitude that the job we were working was a temporary one and that we would soon move on.

Also, this is not to say that every Australian is a racist and a sexist – that would be wildly incorrect and we have many Australian friends who shared our shock and outrage.  The counter to this though is that we repeatedly encountered blatant, obvious and unrepentant prejudice on the part of senior people on multiple occasions.

And this was one of the gifts Australia gave us because it forced us, in our fuming and huffing and righteous anger to pause a moment and take a hard look at ourselves, at our own country, though the imperfect reflection that Australia was providing us.  Because really, who are we as Americans to cast stones when it comes to modern prejudice?

As of this writing our own country has issues paying minorities, women and men the same amount for the same jobs.  Right now before our own supreme court is a case about equal rights and recognition under the law for a minority group.  Just because our prejudice is harder to see, just because we do a better job hiding it in polite society, does that make it any less reprehensible?

In the end, does it just make Australia more honest about the whole thing?

To learn more about how different cultures coexist and even integrate in nearby New Zealand, check out our article about our experiences with the Maori.

About the authors

Greg and Tiffany are traveling around the world on sailing yachts and keep a video blog of their (mis)adventures.  If sailing to Tahiti on a 44 ft sailboat, 3-day delays for wine tastings, getting pooped on by seagulls, opening coconuts with dull machetes, sailing past tornadoes and ukulele Christmas carols are for you, then check them out at!

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5 Responses to The imperfect mirror

  1. Dane says:

    Very interesting insights. I suppose those observations don’t come as much of a surprise to me, though. A country where judges still wear white wigs isn’t the first place I’d look for a culture of socially progressive thinking.

    That being said, I’m really excited to be sailing there this summer.

    Keep up the good work on the blog,


    • Greg says:

      Thanks Dane. It is actually really complicated – Many Australians rail against prejudice as much as we do. Personally, I think it comes down to the last point we make: They face the same challenges the US faces, it’s just that the Australians on both sides of the equation are more blunt / honest about their varying opinions than the typical American.

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