The journey of a journalist (Part 6A) -PHASE OF OZ: ORIENTALISM AND EUROCENTRISM
Posted on October 3rd, 2009

Shelton A. Gunaratne ©2009

I landed in Sydney as an immigrant on May 1, 1976, to settle down in tropical Queensland. We (my spouse and I) decided that Australia, not Sri Lanka, would be the better place for an inter-racial couple to raise a family. Had we chosen Sri Lanka, both money and language problems would have degenerated our existence to prolong our dukkha in the wheel of becoming. Besides, Australia offered me my first tenure-track job as a Grade 1 lecturer. I was getting tired of moving from place to place like a nomad.

Our plan was for me to arrive in Rockhampton first, take up the job, establish a place of residence, re-visit Malaysia to get married in Penang, and return to Australia with Yoke Sim as my wife. I must, therefore, acknowledge the role played by Arthur S. Appleton, director of the Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education, the avatar of Central Queensland University from 1971 to 1990, for eventually making us Australian citizens.

It was our initial intention to make Australia our home during our lifetime. Our son Junius Asela (born 1980), and daughter Carmel Maya (born 1984) became Australians by birthright. But the same man who played a Dr. Jekyll role in initiating us to Australia also played a Mr. Hyde role in driving me back to the United States by placing sundry roadblocks against my professional advancement at CIAE.

We left Australia on Nov. 27, 1986″”‚about 10 years and six months after our arrival Down Under. Legally, we are now dual citizens of the United States and Australia, and are no longer citizens of Sri Lanka. But I, “Weligama Podda” of yore, will always consider myself a Sri Lankan by birthright. True to my childhood ambition of becoming a world statesman, I have become a global citizen.

Initiation and Background

When I arrived at the Rockhampton airport just after noon on May 5, 1976, Paul Headon, an employee of the CIAE, took me to the immigration hostel “Yungaba” (destined to become my home until mid-October) on Ward Street, close to the botanic gardens. In the afternoon, Headon dropped me on the campus to meet with Doug Sadler, senior lecturer in the arts department; Mike Mellick, lecturer in broadcast journalism; and Grahame Griffin, lecturer in media studies. I was appointed as lecturer (Grade 1) in print journalism. My first impression of my colleagues: “They appeared to be a friendly lot.” Mellick, Griffin and I, together with Fred Morton (recruited later), would constitute the journalism and media studies section.

The next morning, I met with CIAE Director Arthur Appleton in the company of Sadler and Mellick. Appleton, an engineer with a doctorate, was an Englishman from Manchester who came to Rockhampton via Adelaide. It was he who interviewed me in Singapore (on Oct. 9, 1975) and offered me the CIAE job after negotiating my salary.

My first impression of the campus: “The buildings at CIAE campus are quite unimpressive””‚no architectural refinement at all. The library has only a small collection; almost no Asian journals.”

The CIAE was one of the several state-funded and controlled colleges of advanced education that propped up in Australia and lasted between 1967 and early 1990s to complement the federally funded and independent universities. Most of these colleges were originally teachers’ colleges that gradually diversified their course offerings after their name changes.

Sadler started as the head of the Department of Arts, which was transformed into the School of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1980. Sadler, who served the CIAE between 1973 and1986, designed the original Bachelor of Arts program. Neither Sadler nor Mellick and Griffin possessed a doctorate even though Griffin later earned one from Murdoch University.

The many non-PhDs who held senior academic positions in these colleges surprised me as I studied the structure of the CAEs after my arrival in Oz. The country’s tertiary education system was going through a period of diminishing quality because academic standards were determined by a group of power-brokers who despised those with doctorates as “lacking in experience.”

Academic promotions in the Department of Arts (later SHSS) and also in other departments at the CIAE were determined by an old boys/girls network of senior academics most of whom had never gone through the rigors of earning a doctorate. Once, I pointed this out to Appleton in a private conversation.

“Anyone can get a doctorate,” he replied. “Even I have one.”

“Then, why can’t these people get their doctorates if it’s that easy.” I responded. My brashness would have wounded him.

[Note: I publicly stated my views on the CAE sector in a letter to the Morning Bulletin editor headlined “CAEs “ƒ”¹…”degrade’ tertiary education” (Jan, 18, 1988) more than a year after I quit CIAE. Director Appleton blamed the Morning Bulletin for publishing “Gunaratne’s denigration of his colleagues and, by implication, the college that employed him as a lecturer for 10 years” and “his offensive remarks” (MB, Jan. 25). He attached a table showing the percentage of academic staff with higher degrees. In my response to Appleton (MB, Aug. 19), I pointed out that all higher degrees are not equal, and that Appleton’s table “has consciously failed to provide a breakdown in terms of terminal degrees (doctorates), master’s degrees and graduate diplomas.”]

It was clear that Sadler wanted Mellick, who was a broadcaster with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, to be the senior lecturer of my section. The CIAE (read Sadler) advertised for a lecturer/senior lecturer position, prompted Mellick to apply for senior lecturer, and offered him the job while I was under the impression that applying for reclassification was the only option available for staff already in the department. His appointment as senior lecturer was announced at a special meeting of the Department of Arts on Nov. 4.

Mellick, a garrulous Toastmaster with a stentorian voice, was an authoritarian administrator. Although of Lebanese descent, he amused himself by cracking racist jokes that often offended me. Little did I realize that he would turn out to be my nemesis (Devadatta) for more than 10 years. One Friday [May 9, 1980], Mellick phoned me and kicked up a row: As the senior lecturer, he should have been informed of the visit of a lecturer from another college, he hollered. I said the visitor did not come in an official capacity but as a personal friend, and I hung up since I was getting upset. Mellick came charging into my office and asked how dared I hung up on him! He created an unpleasant scene.

Eurocentrism and Orientalism

Institutionalized Eurocentrism and Orientalism as explicated by Edward Said still pervaded the Australian social environment in the “ƒ”¹…”70s. A fundamental feature of Orientalism is the Occident-Orient divide in which the Western societies, cultures, religions, languages, and values are presumed to be superior to those of the East. Eurocentrism is the philosophy that legitimizes European expansionism because Europe is unique and superior.

The White Australia policy, which prevailed from 1901 to 1973, enabled the family of Ceylon Daily News editor Cecil Graham to migrate to Australia in the mid “ƒ”¹…”60s. The Grahams were Ceylon Burghers, a mixed people of Portuguese or Dutch ancestry. My immigration to Australia became possible because of the abolition of that racist policy by the Labor government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. However, racist attitudes toward Asian immigrants were in ample evidence, particularly in Queensland, with the covert support of the state government of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who ran the state like a pocket borough from 1968 to 1987.

Australia, established by the British as a penal colony in 1788, still looked upon Britain as the source of all expertise. Thus many Englishmen, who were academically mediocre, were holding positions of power in Australian academic institutions. The CIAE was a supreme example.

However, my first year at the C IAE was an exciting experience. A week after my arrival in Rockhampton, I bought a 1976 Datsun 180B GL sedan for $4,638 from D.C. Motors. Through Elders Real Estate, I purchased a 24-perch land allotment on Flanagan Street, in Frenchville, for $6,300. I got builder Kevin Roberts (on the recommendation of Percy Western, the Good Neighborhood representative in Rockhampton) to build a house on the allotment for $34,000. We moved into this house on Dec. 2, 1976.

I also took off on a three-week tour to present a paper at the IAMCR Conference in Leicester, England (Aug. 30-Sept. 4), to visit my folks in Colombo (Sept. 8), and to get married in Penang (Sept. 9-15).

Moreover, my journalistic itch prompted me to write to the Morning Bulletin, the local daily, expressing my views on matters of local concern. In my first letter published in the Bulletin (June 15, 1976), I said:

I have been in Rockhampton for a little over one month now; and every time I visit the city center, I am wondering how marvelous it would be if the city could have a shopping mall.

The very next day, the Bulletin carried a news story headlined “Newcomer’s views get blast from Mayor” [R. B. J. Pilbeam]. Appleton sent me a memo on public utterances (July 5) stating that I should be careful to dissociate CIAE when I write to the press in an individual capacity.

During the ensuing months I established connections with the Bulletin, which published a biographical sketch of me on June 24. I arranged for journalism students to gain newsroom experience at the Bulletin, which published two pages of my students’ work on a Thursday edition (Feb. 24, 1977), and again on the ensuing Thursday (March 3). But the student pages did not appear the following Thursday or thereafter.

The reason for this became implicitly clear at a section meeting on March 17 when Mellick asked me whether I didn’t know that journalism copy has to pass through him (senior lecturer Mellick). The acting head of arts Bob Hay ruled that I should kowtow to my “academic superior.”

Appleton gave me a sympathetic ear when I saw him on April 4 to discuss the difficulties I was facing with the senior lecturer. He acknowledged receiving a petition signed by journalism students protesting Mellick’s unnecessary intrusion. Subsequently, Hay ruled that a panel comprising Mellick, Morton and I pass the journalism copy for publication. But the Bulletin saw the internecine “warfare” going on among the teachers and quietly dropped the student pages. Obviously, I had caused vedanƒÆ’-¾ (hurt) to Mellick’s nƒÆ’-¾marƒÆ’-¦«pa (ego).

However, on April 6, the Morning Bulletin published a photo of journalism students interviewing Rockhampton Mayor Pilbeam the previous afternoon.

Looking Back

Despite these roadblocks, Appleton made me a tenured lecturer at the end of the probationary period. But he and his team never allowed me to break the glass ceiling of lecturer. Orientalism probably enabled them to devalue my experience as a journalist in Ceylon as not equivalent to a similar period of training in an Australian or a British newspaper.

I was soon to discover that my PhD in mass communication from the University of Minnesota meant very little in the eyes of the old-boys’ network of under-qualified academic administrators who wielded power. A glass ceiling knocked me back each time I tried to remove the roadblock placed on my way by this network.

In retrospect, I am guilty of disregarding the Buddhist ti-lakkhana and not comprehending the distinction between anatta (no-self) and atta (self). I am a mere a stream of consciousness in an ever-changing composite of the five skandhas. Interdependence is the truth of my existence together with anicca and dukkha. I should have restrained my brashness in expressing my dukkha that created bad blood between me and the network. At first, both Sadler and Hay insisted that I go through Mellick for every minor request thereby denying me academic freedom. This authoritarian line of communication was obviously intended as punishment for my intransigence. Had I controlled my ambition (tanhƒÆ’-¾), attachments (upƒÆ’-¾dƒÆ’-¾na), feelings (vedanƒÆ’-¾), actions (sankhara), ignorance (avijjƒÆ’-¾) and other dependent co-arising factors, I would have gone through less dukkha.

I never regretted accepting my job at CIAE. But I do think that I stayed there five years too long. When you don’t see eye to eye with those in power, the best recourse is to seek greener pastures elsewhere. The sooner, the better. Not that I didn’t try. I was a finalist for several senior academic positions elsewhere. But none worked out, I suspect, because no accolades came from my academic “superiors” at CIAE. Oz may be geographically large but its network of university and college contacts was very small.

Next: Part 6B Phase of Oz””‚Doing and teaching journalism

[The writer is a professor of mass communications emeritus at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He dedicates this installment to the memory of the late Raymond B. Nixon (1903-1997), his mentor in international communication.]

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