Families and cultural diversity in Australia

Historical publication – December 1995

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Families and Cultural Diversity in Australia is an edited volume of original chapters devoted to the exploration of the diversity of values by which Australian families, in all their cultural variety and richness, are living their lives towards the end of the twentieth century. It was conceived as a project for the International Year of the Family and coordinated by Robyn Hartley, until recently a senior member of the research staff of the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Ten years ago the Institute published a seminal volume entitled Ethnic Family Values in Australia (Storer 1985). The book fulfilled an important function in providing a highly readable and accessible account of the diversity of families in Australia, their structure and cultural backgrounds and the values of family members. It continues to be widely quoted.

Although many of the issues it raised are still relevant, during the decade that has passed since Storer's volume was first issued much' has changed in Australia. The children and grandchildren of earlier immigrants have themselves established families, and the second and third generations face different challenges from those of their forebears; new cultural communities have been established; there has been increased recognition of the' traditions of the indigenous peoples of Australia, and Aboriginal family values are being reasserted. At the same time, cultural boundaries are becoming blurred and increasing numbers of Australians are defining themselves as 'bicultural'.

It is against this background that the book's editor, Robyn Hartley, and her colleagues embarked on the project that has culminated in the publication of Families and Cultural Diversity in Australia. This new volume builds on the achievements of the Storer book. But it extends and updates them and thereby contributes to a better understanding of the diversity of cultural values that underlie the lives of families in contemporary Australia.

Families and Cultural Diversity in Australia is essentially about change and the processes of change. Following introductory overviews by Hartley and by McDonald, the volume comprises a series of chapters written by authors who are themselves members of the communities about which they write. The book as a whole provides informed, comparative, research-based accounts of family values from a range of 'insider' perspectives while avoiding the pitfall of characterising diversity as merely different from so-called 'mainstream Australian society'; for in contemporary Australia, diversity is the mainstream. Together, the team of contributors, under Hartley's editorship, has created an account of cultural diversity in Australia that adds significantly to our knowledge and understanding of the values which impact on the lives of families in this country and that highlights key issues of concern now and for the future.

It is fitting that Families and Cultural Diversity in Australia, written largely during the International Year of the Family, has been published during the International Year of Tolerance. Contemporary Australia bears testimony to how possible it is for peoples and families from many different backgrounds to work together towards living peaceably, relatively free from intercultural tension and disharmony, infrequently confronted by encounters with overt intolerance. By its contribution towards a greater understanding of cultural diversity, this book has the potential to contribute also to the greater growth of tolerance in Australia.

Harry McGurk Director,
Australian Institute of Family Studies