Racism comes from ignorance

Sydney Swans footballer Adam Goodes. Source: News Corp. Australia
DON'T know much about Adam Goodes except that in recent weeks he has shown himself to be a bloke of good character and that he spent part of his childhood in Merbein, near Mildura, where I grew up.
Melting pot is a hackneyed phrase but it describes the kind of town Mildura is. A cultural all sorts of indigenous and Anglo Aussies and everyone else who followed - the Greeks, Turks and Italians (my lot) in the fifties and sixties, and, in more recent years, the Filipinos, Tongans, Iraqis and Afghanis.
As multiculturalism goes, Mildura is as good a success story as you're likely to find in the whole of Australia. A racist city it is not.
But even the most tolerant of communities have their share of bigotry and racism.
I don't know a lot about Adam Goodes but if his experience was anything like mine, he probably felt racism before he knew the word or what it meant.
I know I did.
My "Nonna" used to sing funny little songs from her childhood in Italy, my "Nonno" would bake bread in the furno he made himself and every year we rolled up our sleeves and filled sausage skins during the yearly, traditional pig kill.
But I didn't know I was Italian then. I had to go to school for that.
At home I was me - and normal was the persimmons in the fruit bowl, biscotti bread and jars of dried tomatoes in the pantry and mum and dad conversing in and out of English and Italian.
But inside the school fence, to a cruel few at least, I was a "greasy wog" a "spaghetti muncher" and the butt of un-clever jokes about the mountain ranges of pizza and olive oil my family surely must eat.
Sometimes I would open the lid on my lunch box to reveal the salami sandwich my mother had lovingly made and felt embarrassed and ashamed. I wanted vegemite or jam, not so much to help me fit in, but to make sure I didn't stick out quite so much.
Eventually I became both accepted and popular at school, but I learnt that was sometimes because I had chosen not to take offence to some "wog" joke said in jest without malice.
Even as a boy I knew racist remarks came from a place called ignorance, which is was probably why I was so curious at home. Growing up on a citrus, grapes and vegetable farm with a constant need for seasonal workers, our property was an ever-spinning turnstile for itinerant workers from all over Australia and the world.
Even before I'd set foot out of Mildura, the world was at my doorstep.
The curious future reporter in me interrogated Chinese medical students, German accounting graduates and garden variety Aussie nomads about their country, their customs, their language and life.
And they felt different to me, these people, only in the most wonderful sense - that they were from far, away places and held facts and had had experiences I could only dream of.
I learned much about the world through my mini oral history taking, of China and New Zealand, Italy and the Philippines.
But of course the most important lesson was about the sameness of people.
That we have much more to gain by trying to connect through the things that make us the same and being genuinely curious about the things that make us different.
And that maybe if we did our children might learn about racism from a book, not in the playground.
This column was first published in The City Messenger and on advertiser.com.au