A big, old plywood wardrobe sat at the back of our garden shed. It was eaten out at the bottom by termites, and not even good for storing gardening tools.
So my husband broke it up to put it in the rubbish bin.
And he noticed this on the back.
434 Newcastle Street, Perth.
European Labour Only
So I did a little bit of research on the Internet, and yup, Australian furniture manufacturers used to proudly stamp their products with this assurance to their (presumably white) customers than no Asians had been employed.
It seems this was a very common practice between 1900-1950s. A hang-over from Australia’s “White Australia” policy, that was finally swept away in the 1970s. My family came to Australia in the 1980s.
My curious eight year old, half-white, half-Chinese son Callum wanted to know what “European Labour Only” meant.
I wasn’t looking forward to exaplining to him what racism is, but he has to find out sometime, right?
I’m glad to say that this explanation took a long time, since Callum had no idea that anybody would hate someone else just because of the colour of their skin, or the shape of their face. In fact, he thought I was joking.
I’m so happy that my children go to a school so multi-cultural that they don’t really think racism is possible. But then, that is one of the reasons we chose to live where we do… a VERY mixed race area. I guess my children will find out the hard way, one day (deep sigh).
But maybe not! I have lived almost the whole of my life in Australia, and I can honestly say I have never been treated differently due to my ethnic background.
I suppose the white people who owned the furniture shop all those decades ago weren’t really BAD people. Probably, they just never had the chance to find out that Asian people are just like everyone else. Times change, people change, and societies change.
And places change. There isn’t a furniture factory at 434 Newcastle Street anymore.
(But there is a Vietnamese supermarket a few doors down!)