Pioneer of multiculturalism honoured in Krakow

Wednesday, 26. April 2017

Pioneer of multiculturalism honoured in Krakow

(l to r) Australian Ambassador Paul Wojciechowski, John Bond, Prof Jacek Purchla, Adam Koniuszewski of Green Cross International
(l to r) Australian Ambassador Paul Wojciechowski, John Bond, Prof Jacek Purchla, Adam Koniuszewski of The Bridge

Australia experienced a social revolution in the 1970s and 1980s, as I realised as when I listened to a doctor I met in Krakow last week.

When he and his parents arrived in Australia from Poland in the 1960s, they were treated as second-class citizens. He spoke only Polish, and was left to struggle without help at school. Years later, by then living back in Poland, he accepted a four-year post in Australia and took his son with him. His son’s experience at school was completely different: he was assigned a special tutor, who translated everything in the school classroom for three months, by which time he was fluent enough to manage on his own.

One of the many Australians who worked for this change of approach was the Polish Australian sociologist, Jerzy Zubrzycki, who grew up near Krakow. He gave such influential leadership that he is known widely as the ‘father of Australian multiculturalism’.

On 11 April, 140 people packed the conference room of Krakow’s International Cultural Centre for the launch of the Polish edition of his biography, Jerzy Zubrzycki: wielki Polak i Australijczyk (published in English as The Promise of Diversity). The biography was written by IofC workers John Williams and John Bond, translated by Polish academic Joanna Nurmis, and published by Neriton Publishers in Warsaw.

The evening was opened by the Director of the International Cultural Centre, Professor Jacek Purchla, who is Chair of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee. It was chaired by the Australian Ambassador, Paul Wojciechowski, who emigrated from Poland to Australia with his parents as a child. He pointed out that a third of Australia’s Ambassadors were born outside Australia – a remarkable statistic which testifies to the social revolution to which Zubrzycki devoted himself.

‘Zubrzycki is known above all for his development of social policies which have met the needs of an Australian society growing steadily more ethnically diverse,’ said John Bond. ‘We wrote the book at a time when this aspect of his work was under threat, with a prime minister who sought the votes of the majority community by attacking minorities.’

A lively discussion on multiculturalism and the experience of exile followed the speeches. Several members of the audience spoke of their personal connections with Zubrzycki and of the relevance of his ideals for Polish society today.

‘Zubrzycki believed that wounds can be healed and enemies become friends,’ Bond concluded. ‘He devoted his life to turning those convictions into reality, and Australia is a far better country as a result.’