One of the intriguing chores of newspaper journalism involves finding a case study to accompany a broader story about who we are as a nation. The family or individual selected to illustrate the piece carries a heavy burden: to embody a social trend.
When the 2011 census revealed that our national identity was evolving from Anglo-European to Eurasian, I had little trouble convincing my editors at the Australian to illustrate that shift with a Chinese family. I thought – wrongly – that it didn’t really matter when our avatars migrated to Australia. The key point to my mind was that they lived in Sydney, where the data showed the Chinese-born were poised to replace the English-born as the city’s largest migrant community. Nationally, Mandarin had already overtaken Italian as the second-most common language spoken after English. Our front page scoop, published in 2012, featured a Chinese Australian family from Epping, in Sydney’s north-west. It was a gorgeous image: the Chinese parents and their Australian-born children getting ready for their day. The two girls, in their private-school uniforms, were finishing breakfast as Mum and Dad shared a joke with them. This family’s journey from China to Australia’s cosmopolitan heartland seemed to reaffirm the essential virtue of our migration program. “The Sydney couple moved from China to Australia in 1990 with little money to start with, and for the next four years both worked up to 90 hours a week in various jobs until they had saved enough to buy their own business,” the article read. “More than two decades later, the couple run a successful chain of health food stores across the city, and employ 23 Australian workers.”