My favourite expression aimed at me to this day was: "You're not a Catholic; you're a ROMAN Catholic!!" indicating a minimal awareness of my heritage but an absolute ignorance of my religion.
When finally it was time to go to high school, I remember begging my parents to send me to an Anglican girls' school, rather than the local high school, which I think they initially found strange (since I never told them about any of this) but finally they agreed to, mostly because my best friend was going there and I think they thought she was a good influence upon me.
There, among approximately four hundred Protestant girls, I was one of two Catholics. The other girl, Gail, was of Maltese origin. She and I were not allowed to go to the weekly religious classes, but instead used to go to the library, which made us perfectly happy. Even then I was amused by the fact that each day, school opened with an assembly where we said the Anglican version of The Lord's Prayer, and yet, Gail and I were not excluded from saying it, Catholics that we were.
Does the story end there? If so, mine would possibly be considered a fine example of subtle racism, the kind that indicates the fear of difference that people all over the world demonstrate and experience.
It doesn't, however. I left Australia in 1985 and have since returned only intermittently. Nevertheless, each time I've been struck by the comments that I've heard from different white Australians all over the country:
* about Aborigines: "they're all on welfare"; "they'll never change"
* about Asians: "those Japanese are coming down here and buying up all our good real estate, pricing us out of the market"; "those Vietnamese carry knives!"
* about Middle Eastern people: "you can't trust them"; "they never speak English"; "who's to say they won't do to us what they did to the Americans?"
I hate to say this about my country, a country that I love very much, and recognise as merely sharing the same problems as other places. I won't lie about it, though. If we do that, then we don't face facts and recognise that something has to be done to challenge people who think that they're better than others because of where they were born, the language that they speak, and the colour of their skin.