Opponents to immigration often warn against accepting groups who do not ‘assimilate’ or ‘integrate’ into society, commonly using these two terms interchangeably. But in fact, the words have quite different meanings. While the likes of One Nation would accept the assimilation of all foreign cultural practices into an Australian hegemony, they remain vehemently opposed to ‘integration’.
Assimilation places the entire burden of acceptance on those who are migrating – those migrating must cast off anything that denotes them as foreign – forgetting their language, religion, artistic heritage and cultural traditions. Only then are they truly ‘assimilated’, made anew as ‘pure Australians’. But if we accept the existence of an ‘Australian culture’, then such a thing is surely not pure, but a mongrel culture, derived from a multinational milieu that has been fermenting since even before British colonisation.
Integration, on the other hand, is a two-way process. Practices from migrant communities are kept and shared with mainstream society, which in turn imparts its own customs and laws. Integration occurs when each side is able to accept change and adapt to living in a more diverse and interesting society.
Two of the most observable examples of cultural integration are the adaptations of local languages and the endorsement of foreign foods – indeed, food appears to be the first thing that springs to mind whenever someone mentions multiculturalism. But let’s first examine that thing that sets Australia apart from its Anglophonic siblings: the peculiar take on the English language.
Even for English speakers coming to Australia, our language can prove to be quite a hurdle. We have a fondness for colloquialisms and obscure phrases, largely by virtue of the fact that our language is one based on integration.
When we refer to ‘a bottle of plonk’, we are using a word that is bastardised from the French vin blanc (white wine), and while we simply keep the blanc (white) and leave the vin (wine), the meaning of ‘wine’ is what remains. ‘Goon’ has somewhat obscure origins, possibly being a shortened form of a ‘flagon of wine’, or perhaps being transferred from the south-east Queensland Aboriginal word goom, meaning water or alcohol.
Many of our words have Aboriginal origins, such as ‘yakka’ from the Turrubal (or Yagara) word yaga, meaning ‘work’. ‘Yabber’ comes from the Woiwurrung word yaba, ‘to speak’. ‘Billabong’ is originally from the Wiradjuri bila (river) and bang (fluctuation), and its meaning is now known across the country (and commercialised internationally).
There is some debate over the origin of the phrase ‘fair dinkum’ as an expression of confirmation or to signify something that is authentic, true or genuine. Many historians assert the phrase is derived from a Gloucestershire or East Midlands dialect. Others claim it emerged during the gold rush as a local corruption of the Cantonese phrase ding kam, which translates to ‘top gold’, something that was perhaps regularly overheard on the goldfields and found its way into common Australian usage.
The iconic Australian song ‘Waltzing Matilda’ exemplifies our mottled linguistic heritage, with Aboriginal words scattered throughout other colloquialisms of Scottish and Anglo heritage. To ‘waltz matilda’ is itself a phrase derived from the German expression auf der Walz sein/gehen, a phrase that captures the essence of being a journeyman or traveller. A ‘waltz’ as a form of dance also emerged as an anglicised version of this Germanic phrase.
Food, like language, is an integral part of our everyday lives. It not only provides sustenance, but also serves important social functions – dinner parties, family meals, birthday celebrations, weddings, wakes – none would be complete without adequate catering. In Australia our food, like our language, has been influenced by migration. We now have an abundant choice of cuisines to choose from in any major city: Vietnamese, Italian, Moroccan, Indonesian, Greek, Indian and Chinese restaurants are scattered through every capital.
One food item has found itself in the spotlight recently though, for both its popularity and its political impact. The halal snack pack (HSP) is a hearty meal of chips, halal certified kebab meat, cheese, and three sauces: chilli, garlic and barbeque. There has been some debate in recent years about halal certification in Australia, apparently even warranting a senate inquiry. ‘Halal’ is something that connotes Islam, otherness, a foreign cultural and religious practice. Such connotations often have the effect of drawing aspersions, but in this case, halal certification has become a rallying point of cultural mingling.
The Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society (HSPAS) Facebook group has grown exponentially since being founded in December 2015, and now boasts over 160,000 members. There is even a ‘Get me HSP’ website and smartphone app to help customers locate their closest HSP vendor.
For an unwieldy online mob in the hundreds of thousands, the group is surprisingly respectful. While styrofoam packaging is considered an iconic part of the HSP, when NSW Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi raised concerns about the environmental impact of using it, rather than lampooning environmentalism or launching sexist attacks that we so often see online, members of the community debated the benefits of choosing cardboard packaging instead. When one member attempted to publicly shame an employee for overcharging, rather than reaching for the pitchforks, most were quick to empathise with the employee, who had most likely made a mistake, and denounced public shaming instead.
The discussion within the group also sees the words halal and haram thrown around quite liberally, although almost never in a way that is disrespectful or inflammatory. In Islamic law, something is halal if it is permissible or accepted, and something is haram if it is forbidden. The words have expanded meanings now in this emerging Australian subculture, where halal has a broader meaning of being good, and the word haram is attributed to something perceived as bad, yet both words oddly retain their Islamic meanings as well.
When one member posted a photo of their vegan HSP, there was some debate over whether the meal was halal or haram. As meat is such an integral part of the meal, some considered a break from this tradition to be inexcusable, however vegan food (so long as it does not contain alcohol) does not contravene any Islamic law and is of course halal. In this sense, the words are being integrated into a broader Australian vernacular, retaining both their original meanings while also being used more colloquially to simply demonstrate approval or dissatisfaction.
What emerges above this diminutive linguistic reformation though is a genuinely respectful dialogue between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians, in which all parties openly share their own customs and beliefs. The group gives Muslim Australians a platform to share their beliefs directly with non-Muslim Australians and dispel the misinformation that gets so flippantly bandied around by politicians and journalists (like the baseless assertion that Halal certification funds terrorism).
A particular point of contention is the inclusion of tomato sauce as part of an HSP. Among the community, this is considered the most haram act, and is liable to have one branded a ‘haram dingo’, regardless of whether or not the sauce is actually Halal certified. The term ‘dingo’ perhaps refers to a stubborn resistance to foreign flavours or traditions, a desire to insulate oneself from cultural intrusion, to remain resolutely ‘Australian’ by choosing the safe option of tomato sauce over garlic or chilli.
Halal snack packs have actually existed for perhaps 30 years, and used to be referred to in some shops as ‘Aussie snack packs’. In the senate, Sam Dastyari referred to them as ‘a great Sydney tradition’. While it seems now that kebabs are ubiquitous across Australia, the first kebab shops didn’t open here until the late sixties, following waves of Turkish migration. The HSP, however, was not brought here, but created here: it is a fusion of Australian and Turkish culture, something that is fundamentally Australian, yet also fundamentally halal. In this respect it is perhaps similar to bánh mì, the Vietnamese sandwich that is in part a product of French colonialism, combining flavours from both countries, but presented as a profoundly Vietnamese dish, appearing around the world in Vietnamese restaurants.
The Halal snack pack is also beginning to emerge around the world, with one kebab shop in Germany placing it on their menu as ‘HSP Australia’. The HSP represents a further augmentation of our national character that serves to both enrich our culinary palette and encourage cross-cultural dialogue.
The Australia that Pauline Hanson desires is one in which all diversity is assimilated into a single homogenous idea of what it means to be ‘Australian’ – yet this idea is absurd, as, since invasion, Australia has itself been continually reformed through the integration of a myriad of diverse cultures. Moreover, it is integration that keeps any culture fresh, exciting and adaptable. To deny anything new, to be a ‘haram dingo’, is to encourage a sterile culture – sterile in the sense that it is bland and tasteless, and also in the sense that it will not endure for further generations.