Naracoorte...a cultural melting pot

A study by UniSA s Dr David Radford on the high numbers of migrants moving to Naracoorte and the flow-on effects it has had - in particular the growing Afghan Hazara population - has produced some revealing results.
A study by UniSA s Dr David Radford on the high numbers of migrants moving to Naracoorte and the flow-on effects it has had - in particular the growing Afghan Hazara population - has produced some revealing results.

A GROWING migrant population has stabilised and reversed Naracoorte's population decline, but the shifting mix of cultures has led to some challenging issues.

That's one of the key findings from an in-depth study into the influx of migrants by Dr David Radford, a Senior Research Fellow at Uni SA's Hawke Research Institute.

One of the largest migrant groups in Naracoorte, the Afghan Hazaras, have been a particular focus of Dr Radford.

According to Dr Radford, who has studied the situation through research with established locals and newcomers alike, the Hazaras are the largest group from a completely different cultural background to join the local community.

They have joined new citizens from Maori (New Zealand), Chinese, Korean, Filipino and English backgrounds among others.

Naracoorte is now home to over 300 Afghan people, representing about 2.1 per cent of the community of just over 6000.

Traditionally suffering severe oppression and systematic pogroms under the rule of the Taliban and their allies in their native Afghanistan, Dr Radford refers to groups like the Hazaras as "visible immigrants".

"In the past there may have been a large number of Anglo-Saxon migrants, but now we are seeing people come in who are obviously different to the local community," he said.

"I have been exploring the dynamics of the relationships between incoming migrants and the local population."

Naracoorte is attractive to migrant populations mainly for two reasons - the safety factor in that they have strong family networks, and the prospects of employment.

"Employment opportunities do vary (in Naracoorte), but there are many who work in agriculture or in the meatworks, and a few with the Migrant Resource Centre or as administrative assistants and teacher's aides, while some have started local businesses as well.

"Unlike Mount Gambier, which is a designated skilled migrant employment area and has schemes and programs directed at this, Naracoorte's growth has populised organically."

The movement of visible migrants such as Afghans into the region has been a relatively new development.

The rapid integration over the last four or five years has predictably led to some concern among long-term residents, but also for migrants.

Dr Radford highlighted the complicated and diverse range of reactions from individuals belonging to both groups.

"There are definitely some concerns and fears expressed, but there are also many who are open to new changes," he said.

"There are many different voices in Naracoorte towards the cross-cultural differences and how interactions happen."

In particular the inability for individuals to effectively communicate can lead to tension.

He recounted a story told to him where a local woman smiled at a Hazara woman passing on the street, but was upset when the woman lowered her eyes and kept walking.

While the local thought that was rude, Dr Radford reasoned that a lack of English could have meant the woman was hesitant to initiate a conversation.

Dr Radford also acknowledged that "sometimes it is rudeness that happens on purpose, and how people react to that often determines the relationship.

"I have heard examples where rudeness may occur by one party or the other and that person carries it with them and forms a prejudice.

"I have also heard examples where that person pursues the other, rather than simply takes offence, and talks to the other to try and understand the rudeness.

"In pursuing they often end up developing strong relationships with that person."

His research has highlighted the importance of sharing a common language when attempting to integrate and welcome a new person into a community.

"Clearly learning English is very important in bridging cultural divides and understanding people.

"In Naracoorte I have found that there are some resources available, through the Migrant Resource Centre and less so through TAFE.

"An effort has been made but there is always the need for more, one of the most important parts for many immigrants is practising English in a social setting, out of the classroom."

It is often easier for children to integrate much more quickly than their parents.

Through school, sports and extra curricular activities they are able to practice their English in social settings that are much harder to find for adults.

As Dr Radford explains: "A lot of adults do not have these same opportunities, although in Naracoorte there have been some trying through joining local sports teams for example."

It is in the workplace that a lot of integration can also happen, with employment being one of the key factors in the rural movement of immigrants.

This is likely due to the smaller, more welcoming nature of country towns.

"Many migrants feel safer in a small town, where they may have more social networks and opportunities to socialise," Dr Radford said.

"Regional areas such as Naracoorte are quite transient, in that they are often somewhere to acclimatise and learn before attempting to make a life in a larger city.

"It is the families however who often stay in regional towns, where they start businesses and their children can grow."

Such families have been vital to the stabilisation and consequent growth of what was once a declining population in Naracoorte.

Not only has such a resurgence been financially beneficial to the town, the increased diversity has resulted in a greater blend of culture and cuisine.

"It is a healthy thing for a regional town to maintain and grow their population, while increasing the number of cultures," said Dr Radford.

"It doesn't take anything away from the culture and heritage of a place, but rather provides the opportunity to grow and to change (a community) with a new richness and vibrancy."