"Ethnic performers" will be inflicted on passengers on the Melbourne to Frankston railway line if a proposal in the battle against "racism" goes ahead. You'd think the last thing train travellers yawning their way to work at 7am or tired after a long day in the office would feel like is to have their journey turned into an odyssey of multicultural harmony at the behest of officious busybodies trying to heal problems that don't exist. But of course the passengers' feelings don't come into it. According to one of its proponents, former Frankston councillor Christine Richards, the "Multicultural Express" project with its "colourful cultural displays", music, song and ethnic food stalls at stations is intended to "bring confidence to multicultural communities who have experienced racism along the line."

Is "racism along the line" worse than "antisocial behaviour" by young people? Anyway, "Multicultural Express" is also intended to tackle that. The organisers presumably imagine that feral youths will be so charmed by the sound of the balalaika that they'll leave cowering Asian students in peace, stop ripping the seats and desist from spraying the walls and windows of the carriage (and sometimes the students) with urban art.

It won't work. It's been tried before, mutatis mutandis. An experiment to create multicultural goodwill on trams running through the inner-city municipality of Burchett Hill had to be given up when it led to transport chaos and less rather than more racial good fellowship.

Things got off to a bad start on the first multicultural tram to leave the depot. A troupe of frangipani-decked Pacific islanders performing a Welcome Dance took up so much space in the tram (their persons being on the substantial side and their movements wildly energetic) that after the first few stops there was no more room for passengers. Stranded commuters dripping in the rain or crammed into the minute shelters along the line shook their fists as the tram shot by to the strains of Isa Lei and the pungent aroma of roast boar from the lovo oven improvised by the dancers in the rear driver's cabin.

Passengers who managed to thrust themselves into the next tram found themselves enjoying an Afghan cultural display. The driver, a recent arrival in this country, had formerly been employed on the Kabul bus line. At each stop he halted the tram for twenty minutes while he inspected the mobile phone of boarding passengers to convince himself they were not connected to a detonator. Several groups of teenage schoolgirls, wires protruding from their ears, did not hear the demand to produce their phones and pushed into the tram to station themselves comfortably with their feet on the seats. Some burst into tears as their phones were snatched from them, others into language unlikely to be approved of by their headmistresses. A sparkling trajectory of iridescent mobile phones rose like fireworks into the air as the driver hurled them into the street, where they were quickly crushed under the wheels of heavy traffic.

A further Afghan cultural experience awaited passengers on a later tram. The driver, an "illegal immigrant" who had been personally sponsored for a job in the tramways by Burchett Hill's Director of Diversity Enforcement, Greens Councillor Christine Plibersek-Ng, sprang like a jack-in-the-box from his cabin and rushed with bloodcurdling yells into the passenger compartment, flailing around him with the iron bar used for changing the points at junctions. Terrified passengers dived under the seats, seeking shelter among the micturitional smells and fast-food detritus lurking there. It transpired that, far from being an asylum seeker, the driver was a senior Taliban operative despatched to Australia to "embed" himself in the tramways service and "take the war to the enemy".

The Italian tram proved at first to be very popular, clacking along to the sound of mandolins from the on-board entertainers dressed as gondoliers and with gnocchi alla romana and tiramisu served to passengers from the food stalls at stops along the way. Straw-covered chianti flasks, suspended decoratively from the hanging straps, jingled merrily. All at once a crackle on the driver's two-way radio alerted him to a gang of youths throwing bottles and generally engaging in antisocial behaviour at the next stop. With the instinct of his forebears confronted with an enemy in battle, he threw the tram into reverse, the lurch causing the dancing group performing a sprightly tarantella to sprawl across the passengers, scattering laptops and shopping. A young homemaking couple saw the multicultural Swedish dinner service they had just purchased at Ikea smashed to fragments.

At the depot there was an unpleasant scene when the driver, explaining why he had reversed the tram, was accused by a shop steward of "hate speech" in his references to the antisocial youths. This led to a formal complaint and a visit by a high official of the Human Rights Commission who addressed the tramways staff on the rights of "antisocial behaviourists" who, she asserted in a three-hour session of Diversity Counselling, "are a victim minority entitled to live their own lifestyle in a pluralistic society."

Somali performers pirated the tram to which they were assigned and drove it off the rails in an attempt to kidnap the Mayor of Burchett Hill, Councillor Les Rhiannon, and hold him to ransom. With kalashnikovs firing from every window and bell clanging, the tram crashed through the bronze doors of the Town Hall and juddered across the grand Art Deco foyer towards the Council Chamber where the Mayor was addressing a multicultural seminar on the theme  "How Sharing Our Cultures Can Enrich All Our Lives". His speech was drowned out by gunfire as the armed guard perpetually stationed at the Town Hall to protect the Mayor from "harassment" surrounded the building. Suddenly over the din came the skirl of the pipes and the Scottish tram, tastefully painted tartan, swung into Civic Square. A stall serving finnan haddock, collops and tatties was sprayed with bullets but the kilted on-board entertainers continued undeterred with their performance of "Songs of the Bonnie Highlands". They were half way through a spirited action-rendition of "Donald, Where's Your Troosers?" when shrieks of protest echoed through the tram. Two feminist passengers, both Women's Studies lecturers on their way to Manning Clark university, were complaining loudly that they had been subjected to "flashing" and that the somewhat revealing performance amounted to "virtual rape".

The English tram never left the depot. The multicultural entertainers turned out to be union officials demanding that tramways staff operating the multicultural services be paid at a higher rate than for ordinary duty since, they argued, these services fell under the Pleasure Excursions award "requiring specific additional expertise and local knowledge skills". A "process of dialogue" had just begun with tramways executives when the arrival of a troop of volunteer Morris dancers anxious to help with the entertainment and do their bit for racial harmony prompted an instant demarcation dispute. With no harmonious outcome in sight, the union officials imposed a black ban and Burchett Hill commuters are now deprived of all tramway services  sine die.

20 December 2013

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