Tin Mine to Chamber of Commerce in Five Generations
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — WELLINGTON LEE, president of Melbourne's Chinese Chamber of Commerce, describes his school days in a North Queensland country town as ''brutal.'' ''I was the first Chinese and Asian my classmates had ever met, and I was almost killed my first year,'' he said. ''Then I made the rugby team and all that changed. I found instant respect. In much of my experience I was the only nonwhite Australian.'' Mr. Lee, a fifth-generation Australian, has been active in community and civic life in Australia for 40 years. His great-grandfather came from Canton Province in China to pioneer in the Northern Territory 150 years ago, where he founded the region's first tin mine. Lee's father helped build the overland telegraph. ''We've come a long way,'' he says. ''Australia is the most successful nation in the world as far as multiculturalism is concerned.'' ''Racism is still here,'' he adds. ''But I won an election against Anglo-Saxons, whereas my father wouldn't have been elected, and my grandfather wouldn't have tried.'' He is concerned that successive Australian governments are now using the doctrine of multiculturalism as a strategy to politically ''divide and conquer'' rather than to ''harmonize'' Australian society. ''The government is buying ethnic votes,'' he says. ''Government grants still favor Greeks and Italians because they are the most dominant and could influence an electorate. Ethnic organizations wouldn't exist without government support. We've created a class of professional ethnics.'' He particularly resents what he sees as a government policy of accepting political refugees who lack the skills to make a contribution to the country while denying Australian citizenship to the tens of thousands of Chinese students now in Australia and seeking to stay. Many Chinese students came here to enroll in a $6,000 course in English, and many came with an understanding that they would get citizenship, he adds. ''They came at great sacrifice: $6,000 is the equivalent of a 15-year salary in China. ''My people came here as economic refugees, and nothing is better than economic refugees. Poor migrants with no skills are getting in. But we're denying citizenship to [qualified] young people who are here.'' He also has doubts about the new push to use ethnic Chinese to build bridges to Asia. ''Australians are wishful thinkers,'' he says. ''I've seen constant trade delegations from China. The government thinks [the delegations] are coming to help, but they're coming to see the factory and set it up in China. ''