Pauline Hanson elected to Australian Senate: How do we explain this overseas?

Dear Pauline

Your recent return to the political centre stage reminded me of an incident of sorts some years ago on a passenger train halfway between Hong Kong and Shanghai. It was when you were last prominent in the public spotlight, warning us of being "swamped by Asians" (you were, at that time, not as concerned about the Muslims masses, as I recall).

I was sharing a sleeping compartment with a stranger - an English-speaking Hong Kong Chinese pharmacist - who, over the course of the 36-hour journey, I befriended. We enjoyed a convivial lunch together in the dining car over delicious Shanghainese fare. You would have loved it (actually, perhaps not).

China – now there's a country swamped by Asians! – in all of its then largely impoverished, agrarian glory, swept past the window when, during our meal, my new friend downed his chopsticks and leaned across the table and asked, "You seem to be very comfortable around Asian people."

Naively perplexed, I explained that many Australians like me adore Asia, imperfect as it is, for its culture, its cuisine and its people. "Yes," he replied, leaning a little further across the table, brow furrowing, "but what about the red-haired lady?"

So, now that you're back, I guess I now need to get my story straight again when I next to travel to Asia, and for that matter, the Middle East and other corners of the world (on my last trip I was having to explain to everyone how on earth we'd ruined the Great Barrier Reef).

With your return we seemed to have trumped the Americans and scored our own Donald, except that our version already got elected. Another, more sensible American, the cosmopolitan Mark Twain - his thinking always so advanced for his times - once wrote that "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness".

But it's Twain's full quote that, to me, really resonates: "... and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I'd love to see your passport, Pauline. I could be wrong but I wonder how many stamps, if any, there are for Asia and Middle East nations. If you've visited them you'd realise, as is oft pointed out, that there are hundreds of million Asians and Muslims, who are struggling, like many Australians, to make it through their daily lives, with no time, let alone inclination, for political ferment or violence.

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I recently travelled through Malaysia for the umpteenth time. It is an ostensibly Muslim nation as you may know, and yet again I returned entirely and remarkably unmolested (that's not to deny that a real threat from terrorism does exist pretty much everywhere nowadays with Muslims themselves frequently the victims).

Australians now take a collective nine million or so overseas trips a year with most of surely realising that we can no more hide from the outside world than we could the last time you were fully in the public gaze.

What should I say to the next Asian person I meet on a train or a plane or even a ship on my travels Pauline, when they ask about the "red-headed lady"? Actually, don't answer that. I'm not sure I want to know. I'll handle it.

It's a big, wonderful world out there, Pauline. You may want to try it sometime.

Sincerely,

Anthony

See also: Why you should visit a Muslim country

See also: What's wrong with Australians' perspective and how travel can change it

Anthony Dennis is Fairfax Media's National Travel Editor.

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