I wrote this piece for the Brisbane Times... check the full article (and comments!!) out here. ***
In 2005, when news of the Cronulla riots spread, my family was inundated by calls from friends and family overseas asking if we were okay.
"We're fine!" we would say. "Queensland's different".
That's how I'd always seen it. Growing up in Brisbane in the 90s and 00s, I remember associating racially motivated violence with Sydney and Melbourne.
Although there were incidents in Queensland, it was never as common or visible. Even after 9/11, although our mosque was burnt down and there were incidents of racism, the community didn't experience the widespread and intense incidents of racial hatred as exhibited at the Cronulla riots or more recently, the attacks against Indian international students.
So why is Queensland different? Do the numbers support my anecdotal evidence? Are we more cohesive, or is it a case of luck and "it just hasn't happened yet"?
According to census data, New South Wales and Victoria have an over-representation of LOTE (Language Other Than English Spoken at Home) population, with Sydney and Melbourne's LOTE population at 37.8% and 33.7%, compared to Brisbane's 17.9% (ABS, 2011).
It is quite clear then, that the ethnic population density in Queensland is significantly less than those in the southern states, perhaps a reason for less racial violence.
Furthermore, the southern capital cities have more densely populated areas with particular groups of migrants that have been settled for longer, whereas Brisbane and Queensland's migrant populations are younger and less dense. In 1996, Queensland had 29.7 % fewer LOTE speakers compared to NSW (ABS, 1996).
On the other hand, the Scanlon Foundation's "Mapping Social Cohesion" (2012) report states that Queenslanders are particularly likely to hold negative views on cultural diversity.
Numbers may not always tell the whole story. As a lifetime Brisbanite, I don't think we have a widespread issue with racial violence as we are a little different to our southern neighbours.
Firstly, the settlement of racially diverse populations hasn't been in the dense concentrations of lengthy settlement as seen down south. This has allowed ethnically diverse populations to better embed themselves into the fabric of the mainstream community.
With that familiarity comes understanding and the reduction of the likelihood of racial violence.
Secondly, as a society, we are now much more aware the needs of migrants and LOTE populations having learned from Sydney and Melbourne. As populations now settle in Queensland, the many support mechanisms available from government and organisations help alleviate many of the issues based around settlement that may provoke violence.
When my family moved to Australia almost 20 years ago, the level of support was essentially non-existent. Now, there are extensive networks to help, and the positive impact this has cannot be understated.
However, it cannot be denied that there are negative - dare I say racist - views around the state. We've been lucky so far. I feel safe, accepted and don't find my race a major inhibitor in my ability to participate.
We shouldn't be complacent however, and as we become more racially diverse we must work together to ensure that our community isn't marred by the manifestation of negative views and the racially motivated violence that can truly damage the fabric of our society.
Thanks to the Brisbane Times for giving me the opportunity to contribute...
So what are your thoughts? I only had 500 words, there is plenty more to the discussion!