Some 30 per cent of Australians were born overseas (your English-born columnist is one of them) and by June 2020 there were over 7.6 million migrants, of the wanderlust-driven species Homo migratio, living in Australia.
I have no room here in this small (but exquisitely formed) column space to discuss the biggest of the big pictures addressed by Sonia Shah. That big picture is the way in which today is being added, to our species’ age-old reasons for migrating, human refugees now fleeing from places and lives made uninhabitable and wretched by climate change and its famines and impoverishments.
Meanwhile (to put that catastrophic scenario aside for a moment and to pretend it doesn’t exist) Sonia Shah is beautifully, thought-stokingly readable when she argues that human migrations owe a lot to our species’ instinctive appetite for wanderings, and when she shows that it is something that we, Homo migratio, have in common with so many creatures including hundreds of species of birds and butterflies.
In her book Ms Shah spends lots of time with migrating birds and butterflies, seeing in the sometimes climate-change-driven changes in their migrating behaviours some parallels in her parents’ and in her own migrations.
“Her parents … moved from India 50 years ago to fulfil a need for doctors in New York City, in the first wave of legal migration from the subcontinent. That migration instilled in Shah ‘an acute feeling of being somehow out of place’ despite having been born American, ‘I didn’t consider myself as being ‘from’ that place, even though I’d borne both of my children there’.
“For a few years, she and her husband left to live in Australia and became doubly ‘alien’. These feelings prompted questions in Shah: where did that concept of home originate? And was that a learned or an innate understanding?
“[In her book] her compulsive investigation into these questions becomes a political history of the human urge to move from one place to another. It begins with the ‘mitochondrial Eve’ identified as the African ancestor of all human societies – the prime mover of a species hardwired to migrate …”
So for example in recent days I have been marvelling at the pro-Pakistan and pro-India fervour of Pakistani-Australian and Indian-Australian cricket fans, praying that they are never prey to migrants’ confusions and alienations.
No, not even the Australian governments’ tantalising bribe of free travel from London to Sydney aboard a BOAC Boeing 707. No, not even the glossy propaganda booklets from Australia House targeting my impressionable post-pubescence by depicting absolutely every Australian woman as a voluptuous tanned jezebel on a perfect beach in a scant bikini.
Now at last I find beguilingly plausible (how about you, too, thou people of this “majority migrant nation”) to at last be able to semi-explain my migration as my being gripped by a hardwired instinct, and an instinct shared, so poetically, with the butterflies and the birds.