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Dipping a toe in the melting pot

Sydney is a city of immigrants. In that respect, it reminds me of London, but with better weather and more attractive scenery.

Sometimes I wonder where all the Australians are, at least the ones actually born here. The bus from the airport is driven by a Turk with a huge boep and a less than pristine T–shirt (last time, the bus was driven by a man from Georgia, Georgia as in Stalin not Atlanta). A Jordanian masters student sells me a recharge voucher.

The estate agents who show me an apartment are from Hungary. “We are Australian,” they tell me in their heavily accented English. My personal banker was born in Dar es Salaam and grew up in England, though her vowels are still resolutely Indian. The bank teller is a young man who was born in Alexandria, Egypt; he speaks to me in Strine.

The train drivers are from India, and sometimes it’s hard to understand what impending destination they are announcing. The waiter is from Slovakia, though he’s probably a student on a working holiday. The taxi driver who takes us across the Harbour Bridge is an old Chinese man. He has visited Johannesburg, he says. He mentions horse racing and dentists from the university. “Wit water?” he suggests. “Yes, Wits University,” we respond, intrigued that he has heard of it.

The driver who takes us to Circular Quay is from Ghana and has lived here for the last 14 years. There are about 7,000 Africans in Sydney, he says, mostly from Kenya. The proprietors of the local pizza joint prove, somewhat disappointingly, to be Armenian rather than Italian.

At the office there are plenty of Brits, even a few South Africans. We’re forming a mafia, my friend jokes: “My people are multiplying.” It has a double meaning, of course, because he is gay, though there are lots of gay people in Sydney, more than in San Francisco I have heard. I often hear Afrikaans on the ferry: the other night an attractive young blonde spoke very loudly on her cellphone in that unmistakable plat way they have in Pretoria, where people say “yaw paw” for “ja pa“.

In all this ethnic mix, accents are the quickest and easiest way to place whether or not someone has arrived here from elsewhere. I make a conscious effort not to sound too South African. Somehow sounding South African seems too parochial.

And the original immigrants of 50,000 years ago? I have seen very few of them, mostly digiridoo players for the tourists at Circular Quay. I wonder what they make of all of these newcomers.

The notion of telling people to go back to where they came from makes little sense here.


  • Sarah Britten

    During the day Sarah Britten is a communication strategist; by night she writes books and blog entries. And sometimes paints. With lipstick. It helps to have insomnia.