Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Australia's Second Chance by George Megalogenis

Inspiration rating: 9/10
This book has inspired me to have faith in the humanity of our country to overcome our racial prejudice and welcome many cultures into our society

Finally a book that celebrates our multiculturalism!  With all the political rhetoric about asylum seekers, this book is a refreshing perspective of our real culture in Australia and how much our nation has thrived through immigration.
Megalogenis does not include indigenous Australian heritage, but instead spans the history of Australia (post colonialisation) making reference to the 'impact on the 'locals' in the early chapters.  It is also a nice change to see the reference to the Chinese culture in Australia, which runs quite deeply through our history.  I would love to see an equivalent book marking the indigenous multiculturalism in Australia acknowledging the diverse language groups and the external influx to the composition of our indigeneity. 
This book has a particular focus on the economic impact of migration and I believe the author does this deliberately, to give the book a central focus.  But in doing so, it does miss important details of the social impacts of the changes at each stage.
This book is easy to read yet does not compromise on facts: he has the evidence to back up his claims.  There are wall-to-wall statistics, humbling anecdotal stories and cringe-worthy references to our past mistakes.  But overall, Megalogenis leaves the reader with a strong sense of hope for social change in Australia, appealing to our financial greed to open our borders and enable us to embrace our multiculturalism, especially with our Asian neighbours.  Let's face it we have more in common with Asia than we do of the motherland...

Except from the book (p.196-7)
Sidney had a knack for riding out the global busts.  In 1921, he anticipated the post-war slump in import prices and threw a 'million pound master sale' to clear his old stock.  He lost half his fortune but was able to restock with cheaper imports and trade back into profitability.
His strategy to cope with the Great Depression elevated him to national legend.  In 1930, Sidney shouted Christmas lunch for ten thousand unemployed people and gave each child a present.  He undertook an expensive reconstruction of his Bourke Street store in 1931 to provide jobs and boost confidence.  'All staff, himself included - except for those affected by a wages board - endured a 20% pay-cut for eighteen months, so that no employee need be retrenched', historian Anthea Hyslop wrote. 
He urged the business community to promote jobs, and to donate funds to public works programs, saying, 'It is a responsibility of capital to provide work.  If it fails to do this it fails to justify itself.'  The Myer method in the Great Depression was the digger's own Gallipoli: self sacrifice and good humour.
A friend once advised him, 'You spendthrift - you are wearing yourself out.  You will soon have nothing left to give.'  Sidney replied, 'He gets most who gives most.'
He died suddenly in 1934, at the age of fifty-six, leaving behind a business of 5300 employees and 10% of his fortune donated to a trust, to assist 'the community in which I made my fortune'.  More than 100 000 mourners lined the city streets to observe the funeral procession and 25 000 people attended his funeral at Box Hill cemetery.
The young Robert Menzies, who was both Sidney's friend and his local member of parliament, wrote in 1936 that Myer was a true Australian pioneer.  'He rose from being an obscure alien peddler to being one of the great merchant princes of Australia.'
The Myer brothers were an anomaly in Australia.  They had fled the nineteenth-century Russian pogroms against the Jews when many of their countrymen had already settled in the United States.  If they had delayed their migration until federation, the dictation test might have denied them entry.
(I believe these are the stories we should be telling our children about Australia's history.) 

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