Sydney — The headquarters of Network 0/28, the government-funded Special Broadcasting Service, are on a small side street just over Sydney's famous ''coat-hanger'' Harbor Bridge.
In cubicle after cubicle, amid heaps of cans of videotape, translators are hard at work, subtitling the programs to be broadcast. One translator working with a popular German comedy program chortles with delight as she wrestles a triple pun into English.
The subtitling unit is so important here because 60 percent of the network's broadcasts are not in English.
This is Australia's multicultural television, designed to ''bring the world back home,'' broadcasting in 53 different languages.
It's hard to think of anything like it. The BBC's External Services come to mind. ''But that's all radio, and it's all for external consumption,'' says Jenny Looman, publicity director. ''We're broadcasting to our own people.''
Indeed they are. The 53 languages in which Network 0/28 broadcasts are chosen because they are all languages spoken by Australians.
Network 0/28 - named for the channels over which it broadcasts, on VHF and UHF frequencies, respectively - is not only an impressive broadcasting achievement.
It is also a vivid illustration of how Australia has evolved from an Anglo-Celtic society, as it is called here (and with a hard C in ''Celtic,'' if you please) to an ethnic brew nearly as richly seasoned as the United States melting pot. It's also an indication of how Australia's ''ethnics'' are learning to take pride in their backgrounds, without feeling therefore any less Australian.
Network 0/28 has won kudos in particular for its news programs, in which international news takes precedence over local reports. The news, along with sports and current affairs programs, makes up the 40 percent of the programming that is in English. The network's broadcast schedule also includes drama, comedy , romance, music, and dance programs in such languages as Cantonese, French, Czech, Croation, and Greek.
Programs are chosen with an eye to basic quality and to meeting the needs of the different language groups in proportion to their relative size.
Most of Network 0/28's programs are bought from abroad rather than locally made, and some language groups have been easier to provide for than others. Australia's sizable Italian community, for example, has been well served by the long-established film and television industry in Italy; but not every country has such industries, particularly not the countries from which there has been mass emigration over the years.
Network 0/28, which began broadcasting in 1980, claims an audience of 76 percent of the population of non-English-speaking background. And even 36 percent of the ''non-ethnics'' watch some seven hours a month. The intent is to give Australian ethnic communities something of their own culture, and to make non-ethnics aware of the other cultures around them.
With the BBC-style Australian Broadcasting Corporation and three commercial channels already available, ''we're the fifth cab off the rank,'' Ms. Looman observes. ''But even if people aren't watching us, the general public has accepted the existence of multicultural television.''
Australia first began to attract non-English-speaking immigrants in a big way right after World War II. A great many displaced persons from central Europe made their way here, as did waves of immigrants from the Mediterranean: Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia.
''In those days there were stories of Turks, for example, getting on the plane in Ankara and after about three hours in the air realizing they weren't going to Vienna after all,'' says Nadia Lozzi-Cuthbertson, executive officer of the Ethnic Affairs Commission of New South Wales.
The most recent wave of high-visibility immigrants have been the Southeast Asians, some of them ''boat people'' landing at Darwin in the Northern Territory.
Sensitivity on the Asians has been running fairly high. With the high unemployment of recent years, Australians tend to see immigrants as taking jobs from native citizens. That immigrants also ultimately help create jobs by contributing to the demand for goods and services is less well understood.
And the noted historian, Geoffrey Blainey, has stirred considerable controversy of late by suggesting that the much-touted ''Asianization of Australia'' is neither inevitable nor desirable.
Australia's population is now 2 percent of Southeast Asian origin, according to federal figures; if current trends continue, Southeast Asians will be 4 percent of the population by the year 2000.