Melbourne's Easter Ethnic Stew


Denise and I have been living in South Yarra for nearly nine months. You know you're becoming part of the neighborhood when:

  • The local Indian car wash guy greets you as "You're the American, right?"
  • You say hello on Easter Sunday morning to the hermit who lives on Hardy Street, our street, and he smiles back.
  • You manage to remain friends with two families warring over a parking spot on Hardy Street
  • But the best (and only Aussies will really appreciate this one) is when the manager of the local Woolies (Woolworth) gives you a plastic chip to insert and reinsert into the slot that frees the shopping trollies (carts, for you North Americans) so you no longer need a dollar or two-dollar coin!

I had all these experiences this past week in this Melbourne neighborhood (they're called suburbs here) of mine. I had another quintessential Melbourne experience on Easter that I wanted to share as well. Denise had met this family who invited us to their church for Easter. Denise and I over 43 years have shared celebrating Christian and Jewish traditions. We'll do Christmas and Passover, Yom Kippur fasting and Easter service. So it was no big deal for me, the Jewish guy, to agree to join her on this special day for Christians the world over.

But I had not expected that we would be attending an Easter rock n roll service. I had been alerted there might be a mildly evangelical quality to the event. But as I walked in (slightly late) to people swaying and holding their hands held high, singing the hymns printed on two giant screens with eight vocalists backed up by a ten piece rock band in this auditorium that comfortably sat 2000 people -- I appreciated I was in for a new experience.

In continuing this tale I will end the suspense immediately and let you know that neither Denise nor I were saved - nor did we really want to be - at least in this setting. But in sharing this experience with these two thousand congregants I was utterly struck by the ethnic diversity of the crowd, which I feel is particularly reflective of Melbourne and Australia's other large cities.

One quarter of all people living in the state of Victoria were born overseas. In Melbourne proper the figure is 34.8%. Melbourne has the second largest population of Asians in Australia and the largest community of Indians and Sri Lankans. Not surprisingly Brits represent the largest number of émigrés at 4.7%, then Italians 2.4%, Greek 2.1% and Chinese at 1.3%. Other groups with very large contingents in Melbourne include Irish, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Indian, Sri Lankan, South African and Sudanese.

I don't know how many Americans have immigrated to Oz and wound up in Melbourne. An article featuring 10-year-old data had Americans as only the sixteen largest émigré group. I suspect as more young Americans learn of better employment opportunities and an easier time for the middle class in general, there may be more Yanks coming and staying Down Under.

But back to the Easter service. Whites were a minority in the crowd. Chinese (Asians) may have been the plurality. But in the auditorium was every different color of human. I was impressed with the subcontinent presence. I find Indians/Pakistanis/Sri Lankans in all neighborhoods occupying the service jobs typically held by Hispanics in California. They are also doctors, accountants and lawyers. There was a large African presence at the service - I'm guessing a Sudanese contingent though I think there were Ethiopians there as well. I even spotted one indigenous/Aboriginal chap (only 0.6% of Melbourne's population) moving about.

The only group not represented was people over fifty (like me and Denise). The service and its orientation was directed to folks in their twenties and families with children. I was glad I got to experience a type of service that every Sunday draws 20,000 or more in places like Houston, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia. They may also take place in the Bay Area but I'm not aware of them. Apparently there are two "megachurches" in California down south according to Forbes Magazine. And the megachurch phenomenon is obviously growing worldwide including in Australia.

But anyway, I'm glad I went. It was interesting to see how people got engaged (and saved). But for the moment I'll stick with being a somewhat observant Jewish guy in Melbourne (for another three months).

Here are our Australian words for this week:

  • prorogue - to discontinue a session of (the British Parliament or a similar body). Malcolm Turnbull, the current PM, is attempting to prorogue - an early double dissolution of both chambers of the Australian Parliament.
  • quallo - I think this may be a type of Australian bird but I could find nothing about it anywhere (help from readers)
  • rashie -- is a type of water wear, an athletic shirt made of spandex, nylon or polyester that is supposed to protect the wearer against rashes or abrasions (often worn by surfers under their wet suit)

Best to all and see you again in about two week,