The Black Australian :
Colour people at work
"Knock, knock!" Siri looked at the short dark person with a grey
beard standing in the doorway.
"Hello, I'm Frank."
"Oh. Come in, please."
"You must be Siri that Daryl has been talking about for days and
days? I'm sorry. I couldn't join you for morning tea yesterday. I
understand that you lived in Perth as a teenager before you migrated to
"Yes, for a little while I lived in Perth. That was long time ago!"
"How did you come? Where were you? What did you do in Perth?"
"I was here as an Australian Field Service Scholar. That was some
years ago. I studied at Wesley College for ten months."
"Oh, I see!" Frank laughed. "Then why the heck did Daryl tell us that
you were familiar with Australia and Australian culture? You studied
here for ten months, right? That was donkey's years ago!"
Siri immediately felt the sarcasm painted in that enquiring brown
voice. He controlled his emotions and said:
"I've been studying in Perth before I got this job, I did my MBA 
at UWA .
I spent almost three years at the university this time."
"Oh, I see! So what did you learn about Australia for three years?"
Siri felt as if he was in a boxing ring with a strong opponent.
"Well, I know that Captain Cook invaded this country. The First Fleet
came to Botany Bay in 1770. Captain Cook helped to overpower the native
people of Australia, the Aborigines!"
"Oh, you know our history then! Did you do well in History for your
MBA course? It sounds like they haven't taught you properly! It was
Captain Arthur Phillip who came in with the First Fleet in seventeen
seventy-seven with convicts, to Sydney. Captain Cook came on The
Endeavour in April 1770 and landed in Botany Bay. Captain Cook didn't
start any settlements here." Frank corrected Siri's understanding of the
history of their country.
"They didn't teach Australian history for my MBA!" Siri responded
without realising the sarcasm in Frank's words.
"So they didn't teach history you history! I'm glad I postponed doing
Siri was lost for words and Frank knew that he had won the argument
with his new colleague.
"So, where did you do your Civil Engineering degree?"
"Where the hell is Pera...?" Frank responded with a sarcastic laugh
and continued," Is it a college at UWA, or some strange place in the
Siri felt the sarcastic tone in that brown Australian accent.
"No, it's a university in Kandy, the hill country of Sri Lanka. In
fact, my university was designed following the Oxford and Cambridge
traditions. Our first Vice Chancellor was an Englishman!"
"Oh, then where did you study your Computer Science Degree?"
"AIT - the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok!"
"Oh, so you picked up your computer skills from Pat pong night
"You'd better mind your language Mister Bala Subramaniam. AIT is like
MIT in Asia! It's one of the best engineering universities in the
world." Siri boasted about his alma mater with an angry voice.
Frank saw the rage emerging like a tsunami on Siri's face.
"So, why do you get upset? I know about AIT. After all, I come from
Malaysia, another Third World Country! You are a very serious fellow,
I'm your colleague and just trying to know you better." Frank
extended his hand. Siri did not shake hands and responded like a fuming
cobra: "So you also know well about the Red-Light Districts in Bangkok?"
"Yes, of course! I've visited Thailand a few times. My wife, Ann, and
I plan to go back there for a holiday in a few months' time." Frank
"Look, Mister Bala Subramaniam! There's more than one Red-Light
District in Bangkok! If you need any assistance, I can help you with the
language. I'm very fluent in Thai Language!" Siri did not want to
control the tone of his words.
"You are a very serious person, Siri. I may call you Mr. Serious.
Siri, by the way, I'm not Bala Subramaniam. I'm Frank Peter Rowlands.
It's my adopted name in Australia! It's also on my Aussie passport and
the citizenship certificate.
"I'm proud of my name! I've brought my name with me and I'm not going
to change it. Why did you change your name Frank?"
"I know Asia. My grandfather is from India. I know all these Asian
problems, family linkage, caste system, race relations and marriage
That's why I don't go back and live in Asia again. Too many petty
things! That's why I'm Frank Rowlands. This is Australia and land of
many people. Our's is a multicultural society!"
"But why, Frank? Why so Australian? Is your family name Anglo-Indian?
Where did your grandfather come from?" Siri asked aggressively.
"Kerala! But I was born in Johor Bahru. It's very close to Singapore.
My grandfather worked on a rubber plantation there."
"Oh, that came to my mind earlier! So he has been brought up as a
plantation labourer from India!"
"Of course, yes! What's wrong with that?" Frank responded.
"Well, in Sri Lanka we still believe in purity, the status and the
"Oh, you believe in the purity, the pure race? The Sinhalese! So do
you also believe that lion story where the Sinhalese race; the
descendants of a lion, an animal? Look Siri, if anyone looked at us,
they wouldn't be able to differentiate whether we were from Sri Lanka or
India. Look at our skin complexion!"
"I'm fairer than you, Mr. Frank, and I'm tall." Siri laughed at Frank
"All right! Don't be on the defensive all the time!" I'll see you
later," said Frank angrily as he left Siri's office.
Siri thought of Frank as a snake under the grass and living in an
That same day, Daryl invited Siri over for a beer after work and
advised him that Frank had made a few negative remarks about him,
especially concerning the conversation they had had in Siri's office.
Frank was annoyed by Siri's racist remarks.
"Siri, I told you yesterday, Frank is a good networker! We need to
work with him and his Branch very closely. Without their support, we're
in trouble. With regards to Frank, he's a senior staff member and we
need to be tactful with him. He has been with the company since his
graduation. A very long time!"
"He insulted me. I think he's a Tamil!" Siri complained.
"Look Siri, here in Australia, race or ethnicity don't make a
difference. We are all Aussies and we need to work as a team. We have
these great concepts called 'fair go' and 'mateship'. After all, we are
workmates. Mateship is an important concept in Australia which goes back
to our convict past. We couldn't live and work without each other's help
then and we can't do it today!"
Siri looked blankly over Daryl's shoulder, through the glass windows
and the river flowing behind the walls. A big ferry was floating. He
watched the ferry moving slowly to the west, towards the Indian Ocean.
Daryl noticed Siri's blank look and said:
"Don't worry mate! You'll get used to get things done here. This is
your first professional work environment in Australia and you'll do
well! Don't be too serious. You must be able to take a joke or two at
least. We say things to each other, but we don't mean anything nasty at
all!" Daryl downed the last drop of beer and ordered two more middies.
Two weeks later, Daryl visited Siri's office again.
"Siri, do you have time for a chat?"
"Yes of course, I've all the time in the world for my boss," Siri
"Siri, you need to be a bit more careful when you write reports in
the future," said Daryl with a serious look on his face.
"I don't want to be a gatekeeper, but you must be careful when you
write and circulate reports to other Branches of the company." Daryl
continued, "See this report you sent to the Planning Branch about
options for new Project Management software? It's a bloody good report!
However, Frank brought this report to the Manager's meeting today.
He said that whoever wrote it shouldn't be writing reports in a
commercial firm like ours! He picked on a few grammatical errors. They
are not major ones. I know, and perhaps everyone else knew that English
is not your first language. Frank is not a great report writer either. I
think that's why he always writes in point form. That's one clever way
of overcoming the problems of grammar. I think your problem is not the
sentence structure, but the particles. Your use of 'the' and 'a' is not
consistent. Maybe it's something to do with your language, Sinhala. I'm
not going to fire you or disregard what you write because you've a
problem selecting the correct particles. You've identified the issues
and your analysis is great." Daryl concluded.
Siri carefully listened to his boss and smiled.
"What?" Daryl asked with a puzzled expression.
"You hit the nail on the head, Daryl! Yes, we don't have definite
particles in Sinhala. For example, in English we write: 'this is a
school'; 'that is the school I went to' etcetera. In Sinhala we write:
'this is a school'; 'this is my school' or 'this school is my school'."
"Okay, a good point, but please make sure that when you write reports
in the future you'll get someone to proof-read them.
I'd be more than happy to read any report that goes to the managers
or to the Board, and be careful of what you say to Frank." Daryl offered
Siri his support and went away.
It was past midday and most of the staff had gone to the pub for
drinks, as it was a Friday. Siri opened his brief case and took out the
weekly newspaper published by Lake House to find out what was happening
in Sri Lanka.
 MBA - The acronym for Master of Business Administration
 UWA - The acronym for the University of Western Australia