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Michael recently retired from the Public Service and is studying law in his retirement. His interests are politics, media, history, and astronomy. Michael holds a BA in Aboriginal Affairs Administration, a BA (Honours) in Aboriginal Studies, and a Diploma of Government. Michael rarely writes articles for The AIMN these days, but is heavily involved with the admin team.

Website: https://theaimn.com

First Contact

As the first Englishman to encounter Australian Aborigines, William Dampier instilled in other Englishmen’s minds the preconceptions about these people when he wrote that they were “the miserablest [sic] people in the world” (Donaldson and Donaldson, 1985:37). Banks and Cook were strongly influenced by Dampier’s writing, to which Cook added “the worst I think I ever saw” (Donaldson and Donaldson, 1985:37). The preconceptions had germinated by 1788, and the Eurocentric view towards Aborigines was neither innocent or neutral.

Contrary of course were the Aboriginal views. Opposite to English preconceptions, the Aborigines were attempting to relate to the inexplicable and apply cultural comprehension to their encounters with the advancing Europeans.

This post draws on selected features of three such contact periods between Aborigines and the English:

  • With James Cook (1770): lasting impressions
  • Arthur Phillip’s party (1788): superiority and sex
  • The colonial period from 1788 – 1790: dispossession.

Encounters with Cook

To the people on the shores of Fraser Island, the sighting of the Endeavour as it sailed past heralded great excitement – and significance. As the ship sank into the horizon and took with it the pale men on board, the local Aborigines drew connotations to the event with beliefs in their own customs. The pale skin – was symbolic of a corpse ready for burial; sinking into the horizon – was like a burial; and the mere presence of the Europeans – was an omen of ghosts returning.

To those on board the Endeavour this passing moment left no impression of excitement or significance: they had encountered Aborigines before, and as then, such passions were not stirred. In 1770 at Botany Bay, Cook and Banks accepted the Aborigines as Dampier had earlier reported: ‘the miserablest [sic] people in the world’ (Donaldson and Donaldson, 1985:37). Cook and Banks themselves were to add ‘naked and treacherous’ (Bourke et al, 1994:4): a collection of cowardly, unfriendly and vindictive savages belonging to the lowest order in creation. Such reports were to confirm the European concept of the ‘Great Chain of Being:’

Those newly arrived … did not see any positive attributes among the Aboriginal people and believed in their own superiority. The land was declared terra nullius … and the various Aboriginal nations declared uncivilised. (Bourke et al, 1994:4).

The ‘ghosts’ were to return in 1788.

Governor Phillip

On 26th January 1788, the history of European-Aboriginal interactions began as the British flag was raised at Port Jackson. A ‘history,’ reflects Edwards, ‘that treated Aboriginal people as little more than impediments standing briefly in the way of inevitable white progress across the nation’ (Edwards, 1988:111). But the features of the 26th – and the surrounding days – were to carry no indication of this.

Governor Phillip and others – as noted – brought their preconceptions about Aborigines and also their intentions of their future. They were, after all, now part of Australia’s past, yet an acquaintance of confidence and friendship was to be cultivated by the ‘superior’ Europeans. These are important considerations to be kept in mind while discussing European interpretations or recordings of this period.

Contemporary writers offer a picture that suggests that in January, 1788 amicable relations between the Europeans and the Aborigines were established with comparative ease. Among them, Bradley wrote liberally of pleasant interactions; mutual curiosity; the offering and exchanging of gifts and the Aborigine’s friendly and inquisitive nature. (Bradley, 1969:1-9). ‘They will soon discover that we are not their enemies’ wrote Hunter, who also noted that the Aborigines were treating the whites as their equals: joining them in song and dance and playful imitation. (Cited in Kohen, 1993:48-49). In the art of dispossession – a perfect platform from which to launch a colonial stranglehold.

These pleasantries had a two-fold purpose: apart from planting the seeds of dispossession it was also a means to foster female exploitation. ‘Conquest of Aboriginal women was an anticipated part of the colonisation of Terra Australis.’ (Russell and White, 1994:28).

British gentlemen in the late eighteenth century believed it was natural to follow their sexual urges … and ‘native’ women were understood to be freely available to men travelling and establishing colonies.

The colonist’s perceptions of Aboriginal women remain one of the most fascinating features of this contact period. ‘They savoured the tantalising combination of nudity and timidity’ (Russell and White, 1994:34), which their ‘superior’ minds equated to primitiveness: ‘inseparable from the female characteristics in its rudest state’ (Tench, cited in Russell and White, 1994:36). Yet they were still highly attracted to the women and busied themselves in acts of chivalrous seduction. It is one of those moments in history that one regrets not witnessing: the amusing sight of European gentlemen offering handkerchiefs – the symbol of chivalry – in excited anticipation to the Aboriginal ‘temptress.’

Gender relations were also important to the Aborigines, though for different reasons. Their first impressions of the Europeans were similar to those of the Fraser Islanders: their pale-skin likening them to spirits of the dead. Such impressions require cultural description: ‘Why are they covered in plumes as elaborate and bright as a bird’s?’ ‘Perhaps they are half-cockatoo?’ ‘Are they men or women?’ The latter is of significance, because it soon became evident that these pale-skinned people were not ghosts. They were strangers.

In these initial encounters it is significant that the Aboriginal men’s first vital enquiry related to gender. Gender specificity was crucial to Aboriginal diplomacy. It determined both their behaviour towards and their expectations of the strangers.

Eager to know the stranger’s sex, the Aboriginal men beckoned a response from the Europeans to disclose their gender. Upon being identified as men also, the Aborigines responded with an approving shout. The reasons for this approval were never recorded, but there are theories based on known traditions: The Aboriginal reaction may have been to persuade Aboriginal women to meet the British men. In many parts of Australia, a male-negotiated offer of women to outsiders is a sign of peace and hospitality.

Perhaps, at the time, the outsiders were welcome as visitors.

1788-1790

Within a few short years they had overstayed their welcome. In acts of ‘savagery’ they felled trees, cleared the ground, gouged the earth, and displayed barbarity by disturbing Aboriginal graves and sacred sights. The clearing of land had always met with Aboriginal resistance, but these increased depredations were a sign that the Aborigines were also no longer welcome in their own land. Further:

As Aboriginal people … had nothing the invader wanted but their land, the official attempts to maintain diplomatic relations with them were abandoned. (Kociumbas, 1992:55).

The land ‘grab’ in these early years engulfed the fertile Hawkesbury and Nepean River regions west of Sydney. These areas provided a livelihood for Aboriginal people by being rich in food resources, but they were also excellent farming regions for the Europeans who ruthlessly and violently drove out the Aborigines. Facing starvation from depleted food sources and being physically displaced from traditional lands, the Aboriginal resistance to the farming expansion was not passive. White responses to the ‘savage’s’ reprisals leave no doubt as to who the real savages were. Following one particular incident in 1790 which resulted in the death of a white man:

The Governor [Phillip] ordered a party of military to shoot any six Aborigines and bring back their heads in bags, as well as take two alive for hanging. (Kociumbas, 1992:55).

Dispossession took more devastating forms other than the farming expansion or forced removal. The introduced diseases such as smallpox had more impact on the Aboriginal population than any human agency, which by as early as 1789 had decimated the numbers in the Sydney and Hawkesbury regions. By 1791, the traditional lands were littered with the bodies of dead or dying Aborigines.

Kohen sums up the legacy of this colonial period:

In the space of three short years … [the local Aborigines] had been exposed to terrible diseases which wiped out entire clans, had been prevented from gathering their traditional foods, and were now being prevented from travelling across their own land. (Kohen, 1993:59).

And so the tone was set.

References

Bourke, C; Bourke, E; and Edwards, B. (1994). Editors Aboriginal Australians. University of South Australia.

Bradley, W. (1969). A voyage to New South Wales: the journal of lieutenant Bradley RN of HMS Sirius 1786-1792. Public Library of New South Wales, Sydney.

Broome, R. (1982). Aboriginal Australians. Allen and Unwin, North Sydney, NSW.

Donaldson, I; and Donaldson, T. (1985). Seeing the first Australians. George Allen and Unwin, Sydney, NSW.

Edwards, W.H. (1988). An introduction to Aboriginal societies. Social Science Press, Wentworth Falls, NSW.

Evans, R; and Walker, J. (1977). “These strangers, where are they going?” Aboriginal – European relations in the Fraser Island and Wide Bay region 1770-1905 in Occasional papers in anthropology, number 8, pages 39-105.

Kociumbas, B. (1992). The Oxford history of Australia volume 2: possessions 1770-1860. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Kohen, J. (1993). The Darug and their neighbours: the traditional Aboriginal owners of the Sydney region. Darug Link: Blacktown and District Historical Society, NSW.

McGrath, A. (1995). editor Contested ground. Allen and Unwin, St Leonards, NSW.

Russell, P; and White, R. (1994). editors Pastiche 1: reflections on nineteenth century Australia. Allen and Unwin, St Leonards, NSW.

 

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Federation: A colonial view

Federation gave Australia a national government that speaks and acts for the country as a whole. First mooted in the 1840s, about forty years were to pass before the individual colonies took the first serious steps towards unification. In a theatre of intense colonial rivalry the moves towards federation were stalled and slow.

The first rumblings of nationhood developed under the repressive and militant sovereignty of a penal colony. Colonial liberals of the 1840s argued that the State – while under military rule and still receiving convicts – would continue to be seen as a gaol, discouraging both free emigrants and self-government. Political and social thought was in the process of evolving:

In short, the brutality and human degradation of the convict system destroyed the legitimacy of the old order and made new structures of government a precognition for independence. And, perhaps more importantly, this experience focused all attention on political reform and the benefits of a reformed – but still strong – state. (Najman and Western, 1993:31).

The first recorded idea of unification appeared in 1847 when Earl Grey, Britain’s colonial secretary, suggested a national assembly to regulate the common interests of the Australian colonies. In the 1850s John Dunmore Lang, a Scottish cleric in New South Wales, founded the Australian League which too called for, and campaigned for, a united Australia. The colonial governments, by the 1860s themselves in support of unification, began the first of many inter-colonial conferences to propose the role of a central government. However, because the participating colonies were also economic rivals, the movement towards federation was to be marred with hesitancy. As separate entities, the colonies were in conflict:

Each colony had its own customs and immigration laws, postal service and defence forces, and there was considerable mistrust between them. Increasingly free-trade New South Wales and protectionist Victoria feared each other’s motives, South Australia, free from the ‘convict taint’, looked down on the others, and Western Australia was suspicious of the faraway east. (Alomes and Jones, 1991:105).

Nonetheless, the Federal Council formed in 1885 and consisting of colonial representatives took the first steps towards federation by at least conferring on the prospects and advantages of a unified Australia. New South Wales premier, Henry Parkes, during his Tenterfield Oration in 1889 gave perhaps the first public announcement that the colonies did indeed view the prospect of federation seriously. The Australian Federation Conference in 1890 agreed to frame a constitution – the enabling factor in the system of government – for the Commonwealth of Australia, and subsequent conventions throughout the 1890s made considerable progress towards a constitution draft. In June 1900 the final draft was accepted by all the colonies, and in July of that year the Constitution Bill was passed by British Parliament. The Commonwealth of Australia came into existence on January 1, 1901.

Prior to federation the colonies were considered to be the real power of Australian politics. In framing the Constitution it was agreed that whilst the new central government “would have the authority to legislate on matters of common concern, [it] was not to interfere unduly with the legislative autonomy of the colonies.” (Crowley, 1980, p 146). The Constitution’s ‘Founding Fathers’ were thus concerned about keeping the existing colonial governments intact, and ensuring that the Commonwealth government’s powers were limited.

The federal Constitution reflected both British and American practices – that is, parliamentary government, with cabinets responsible to a bicameral legislature, was established, but only specifically delegated powers were given to the government. The new House of Representatives, like the British House of Commons, was based on popular representation, but the Senate, like its American counterpart, preserved the representation of the colonies, which now became states. (Powell, 1997).

The exclusive powers allocated to the central government included defence; trade and commerce with other countries and among the states; immigration; customs and excise, issuing of currency; interstate industrial arbitration; and postal and other communications. In essence it addressed the differences and rivalries that existed between the individual colonies, any of which can be a suitable argument as to why the colonies federated. Of the number of reasons that drove us towards federation, the three that I consider the most important (for the colonists) were:

  1. To facilitate intercolonial trade;
  2. The need for a united defence force;
  3. And – through immigration policies – to maintain and consolidate a ‘White Australia.’

Trade

One of the reasons that the move towards federation was marred with hesitancy was due to the economic rivalry and competing tariff systems between the colonies. The recognition of a uniform tariff policy – high on the agenda during the Federation Conferences – did not receive the cooperation of the ‘self-interested’ colonies. Acting independently the colonies had their own economic policies, and freedom of trade between these ‘economic rivals’ was stifled. Accentuating colonial differences was the manner in which the colonies controlled their own affairs. New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, for example, levied their own customs duties to raise revenue. Another element was the major economic differences between those colonies who could compete in export markets – such as New South Wales with its coal or Queensland with sugar – promoted ‘free trade’, and those such as Victoria which promoted ‘protection.’ Victoria, as a consequence of the gold rushes; the subsequent need to find unemployed miners work; and in an effort to improve working conditions had adopted a protective tariff in 1863. This policy also fostered land manufacturing industries. New South Wales on the other hand favoured free trade because of the importance of, and its strong base in, pastoral exports.

There was never any doubt among the Constitution makers that trade and commerce between the colonies could be absolutely free through uniform tariffs. The abolition of each individual colony’s customs and duties would have the effect of protecting the industries of one colony against the other. Under free trade the products of one colony – using Queensland in this example with sugar, rice, fruit and cattle – would have free entrance into the other colonies. The products of the other colonies would also have free entrance into Queensland.

As a commercial opportunity, “the form of the federation, and especially of its industrial and tariff powers … favoured more free market/low tariff policies.” (Najman and Western, 1993, p 36). The consequences, it is suggested, could have been chilling:

Without ‘state intervention’ Australia would be destined to develop rather as a poor Third World comprador economy, entirely dependent on cash crops and with a State designed only to maintain whatever measure of repression its foreign sponsors would demand. (Najman and Western, 1993, pp 34-35).

Defence

The issue of defence was simply a logical need for a “uniting voice on defending Australia.” (Forell, 1994:8). In 1885 – spurred on by perceived threats to their security – the colonies created the aforementioned Federal Council formally to manage such questions as defence co-operation. A brief summary of the preceding twenty five years provides the precursor for this agenda.

In 1860 the colony’s defence depended on some remaining British garrisons, and on the Royal Navy. By 1870 the last of the British garrisons had been withdrawn, leaving the colonies to build and deploy their own armies or navies. In the 1880s the prospect of European – as distinct from British – colonisation of the Pacific triggered fears of Australia’s subsequent lack of defence. Although Britain’s annexation of Fiji in 1874 was seen as steps of a stronger (and reassuring) British presence in the South Pacific, there was growing anxiety about the French penal colony in New Caledonia and their interest in the New Hebrides, and about German designs on New Guinea. Queensland, anticipating German moves, claimed Papua on New Guinea in 1883 on behalf of Britain – as a prod for Britain to further increase their role in the Pacific – however the British government rejected Queensland’s actions. Concerned that they might not be able to direct British policy in their interests and aware of the emergence of new powers in Europe, by 1885 the colonies – worried that Britain was insufficiently attentive to their fears – felt that their own security remained uncertain.

By 1889 however, the Federal Council – due to lack of co-operation between the colonies – had failed to deliver a unified defence program. In October of that year, Henry Parkes, in his Tenterfield Oration to mark the completion of the Sydney to Brisbane railway, appealed that having a national defence force under one central control was one of the incentives for federation. He endorsed comments from the British Imperial General, Major-General Sir Bevan Edwards as the conscience for this cause. Edwards had inspected the colonial forces and had been compelled to question the effectiveness of an “army without a central executive to guide its movements.” (Crowley, 1980:281). It was fuel for Parkes’ pro-federation speech, and driven by wild applause he further pushed Edwards’ message:

Believing as he did that it was essential to preserve the integrity and security of these colonies that the whole of their forces should be amalgamated into one great federal army, feeling this, and seeing no other means of attaining the end, it seemed to him that the time was close at hand when they ought to set about creating this great national government for all Australia. [Parkes appropriately added that, with the completed Brisbane to Sydney railway]: They had now, from South Australia to Queensland, a stretch of about 2000 miles of railway, and if the four colonies could only combine to adopt a uniform gauge, it would be an immense advantage in the movement of troops. (Crowley, 1980:281).

A ‘White Australia’

To parallel the colonies’ fear of invasion was the “fear and loathing of other races.” (Alomes and Jones, 1991:125). Henningham summarises both:

Australia’s geography – further from the colonist’s ‘home’ than almost any place on earth, and separated by only a narrow sea passage from the ‘teeming millions’ of Asia – resulted in the development of a xenophobic, isolationist world view, in which psychological barriers were erected against near neighbours. (Henningham, 1995, p 2).

Fuelled by the concept of Social Darwinism, the colonists were also anxious to maintain white purity which was under threat of ‘decay’ from the Indigenous population, and more predominantly, from the ‘invasion’ of Chinese who had arrived as diggers on the goldfields some decades earlier. “Anti-Chinese paranoia” (Kingston, 1993:137) however, extended beyond the arguments of Social Darwinism. Fostered as anti-Christian by the popular press, and with government enquiries into their alleged gambling habits and drug use, the Chinese were seen as the mental and moral corrupters of society. The anti-Chinese sentiment was also extended to an anxiety about economic competition given that in a variety of lowly occupations the Chinese were seen as a threat to wages and conditions, due to their acceptance of both at a level below the standards of the white worker. Such sentiments were also directed towards the Kanakas: the Pacific Islanders employed in large numbers in the Queensland sugar industry.

Adopting their own measures the individual colonies passed legislations limiting Chinese immigration. The colonists, being mainly Britannic Australians and intolerant of all races except the Anglo-Saxon, wanted it kept that way. Uniform immigration policies under the guise of federation would endorse this sentiment – without interference from the racially tolerant British.

This draws two conclusions: that one of the foundations of Australia is racism; and that Federation was the rationale to maintain white superiority. Subsequently, the first act of the new parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act which gave Australia national immigration policies such as the White Australia Policy. ‘White Australia,’ was designed to keep out Asian migrants and serve as “an ideological function in reinforcing the concept of an all-white nation.” (McGrath, 1995:365).

The most “basic flaw in Australian nationalism was its view of race.” (Alomes, 1988:30). Perhaps then, national identity was enshrined in the White Australia policy:

Upon the very isolation of this vast island continent … a unique human experiment might be attempted. As with nowhere else upon the globe, here a distinct biological community might be established, maintained and nurtured within a single geographic entity. If the indigenous peoples continued their perceived decline towards extinction and other migrant races were excluded or expelled, a ‘pure race’ could logically result. From such a vision, the idea of a ‘White Australia’ was born – a society where national boundaries conformed to racial ones – and by the time of Federation, this was no longer so much a matter of debate as a nation-wide article of faith. (Cited in Evans et al, 1997, p 26).

 

Note: For a more comprehensive discussion on ‘White Australia’ refer to the article linked directly below:

Nationhood and the ‘Pure’ Race (part 1)

 


References

Akmeemana, S; and Dusseldorp, T. (1995). ‘Race discrimination; where to from here?’ in Alternative law journal, Volume 20, Number 5, pp 207-211.

Alomes. S. (1988). A nation at last. Angus and Robertson, North Ryde.

Alomes, S; and Jones, C. (1991). Australian nationalism: a documentary history, Angus and Robertson, North Ryde.

Crowley, F. (1980). A documentary history of Australia volume 3: colonial Australia 1875-1900, Nelson, West Melbourne.

Evans, R; Moore, C; Saunders, K; and Jamison, B. (1997). Editors 1901 our future’s past: documenting Australia’s federation, Pan Macmillan, Sydney.

Forell, C. (1994). How we are governed, 11th edition, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.

Henningham, J. (1995). Editor Institutions in Australian society, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Kociumbas, J. (1992). The Oxford history of Australia volume 2: possessions 1770-1860. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Kingston, B. (1993). The Oxford history of Australia: glad, confident morning 1860-1900, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Lovell, D; McAllister, I; Maley, W; and Kukathas, C. (1995), The Australian political system, Longmans, Melbourne.

McGrath, A. (1995). Editor Contested ground, Allen and Unwin, St. Leonards.

Najman, J; and Western J. (1993). Editors A sociology of Australian society: introductory readings, MacMillan, South Melbourne.

Powell, J. (1997). Australia in Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 1993-1996, Microsoft Corporation, CD Rom.

 

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Castle Hill: The Irish Rebellion in Australia

I have a confession: When it comes to history I am a total nerd. Today I offer a nerdish contribution of an event that most Australians may not be aware of:

We are familiar with two rebellions in colonial Australia; the Rum Rebellion (1808) and the Eureka Stockade (1854). But there was one more; the lesser known Castle Hill convict rebellion, which if successful, had the potential to change our history altogether*.

The Castle Hill Rebellion of 1804 stands as the “largest revolt in Australian history, and perhaps as the most dangerous to authority” (Grimshaw et al, 1994:47). However, it is to Ireland we turn to trace its origins. Thus I will open with a brief overview of Ireland’s struggles for civic and religious freedom, which culminated in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, where similarities later emerge at Castle Hill.

The transportation to Australia of large numbers of the Irish rebels was a concern for the authorities and the colony’s Protestant gentry: these convicts were Irish; they were rebels; they were Catholic; and they were anti-British. The pages of history provide us with some eccentric portrayals of this convict group – Marsden’s being notable – and some of these are included here for they are a good representation of the colony’s mood.

It is pertinent then that the mood of the Irishmen also be presented. Patrick O’Farrell (Aust/Irish historian) captures this and it is included while reviewing the aims of the rebellion.

I will endeavour to draw on the passion around the rebellion, for it was passion that drove it, and passion that attempted to prevent it and ultimately destroyed it. In essence, the moods of and preceding 1804 perhaps provide a better window to review the Castle Hill rebellion than most of the historical events themselves.

The Castle Hill rebellion has often been called the ‘Irish Rebellion’ owing to its strong Irish presence and leadership. It is worth then returning to Ireland to briefly review the struggles, events and significant outcomes of the preceding years which, in the Australian theatre, were to culminate at Castle Hill in 1804.

The history of Ireland was principally concerned with the struggle for Irish civic and religious freedom and for separation from Great Britain. The principles of the French Revolution found their most powerful expression in Ireland in the Society of United Irishmen, which organised the rebellion in 1798. To the cry of ‘death or freedom,’ (Connell and Irving, 1980:92) these Roman Catholic peasantry rose to their cause and, although insufficiently armed, made a brave fight. At one time Dublin was in danger, but the insurgents were defeated by the regular forces at Vinegar Hill. A French force of 1100 landed in Ireland but was too late to render effective assistance.

The British prime minister William Pitt thought that the legislative union of Great Britain and Ireland together with Roman Catholic emancipation was the only remedy for Roman Catholic rebellion and Protestant tyranny in Ireland. By a lavish use of money and distribution of patronage, he induced the Irish Parliament to pass the Act of Union, and on January 1, 1801, the union was formally proclaimed. Owing to the opposition of George III, however, Pitt was unable to make good his promise of emancipation for Roman Catholics.

The prospect of the seditious Irishmen of 1798 being transported to Australia created fears to the level of near hysteria among the Protestant gentry. Governor Hunter expressed these concerns:

“If so large a proportion of these lawless and turbulent people, the Irish convicts, are sent into this country, it will scarcely be possible to maintain the order so highly essential to our well-being.” (O’Farrell, 1993:37).

Similar concerns were later echoed by Hunter’s successor, the ever-fearful Philip King, whose own assassination was plotted by Irish convicts in 1800. The Reverend Samuel Marsden, the Anglican chaplain in NSW, added the contention that:

“… if the Catholic religion was ever allowed to be celebrated by authority … the colony would be lost to the British Empire in less than a year.” (O’Farrell, 1993:39).

In 1800 and 1801, hundreds of these ‘dangerous’ Catholic Irish prisoners were transported to Australia for their part in the 1798 rebellion, with most of them being assigned to the Castle Hill government farm near Parramatta. This influx swelled the number of Irish prisoners in the colony to over one-third of the convict population. The United Irish Rebellion had given Australia what the authorities had feared: some anti-British manpower which, if united had the potential to bring the colony to its knees.

These rebels were a colonial cynosure: their fellow Irish hero-worshipped them; the authorities feared them and exaggerated their numbers and influence. Governors had a potentially rebellious role marked out for them: their vision of Ireland was of a country seething with violence, its populace maddened by discontents, plots, and popery, in the grip of secret societies with designs and power beyond measure. Given this nebulous landscape of fear, the actual number of Irish was irrelevant: all Irish were rebels. (O’Farrell, 1993:30-31).

That fine custodian of moral virtue, Samuel Marsden, who epitomised the Protestant gentry that the Castle Hill insurgents would ultimately rise against, was quick to make public his further concerns. He reasoned:

The number of Catholic convicts is very great in the settlement; and these in general composed of the lowest class of the Irish nation, who are the most wild, ignorant and savage race … men that have been familiar with robberies, murders and every horrid crime from their infancy … governed entirely by the impulse of passion and always alive to rebellion and mischief they are very dangerous members of society … they are extremely superstitious artful and treacherous … they have no true concern whatsoever for any religion nor fear of the supreme Being: but are fond of riot drunkenness and cabals; and was the Catholic religion tolerated they would assemble together from every quarter not so much from a desire of celebrating mass, as to recite the miseries and injustice of their punishment, the hardships they suffer, and to enflame [sic] one another’s minds with some wild scheme of revenge. (O’Farrell, 1993:39).

One of Marsden’s suggestions was to abolish Catholicism, thus surely making the convicts worthy citizens and providing them religious happiness and personal well-being, while the official doctrine considered that the severe and savage penal code was the ideal agency of moral reform. However, the Irish convicts refused to be “metamorphosed” (Kociumbas, 1992:61), and on the evening of March 4, 1804, three hundred of their numbers stirred the feared (and anticipated?) rebellion. Led by Philip Cunningham and William Johnston – Cunningham himself a veteran of the 1798 rebellion – they marched to the familiar cry of ‘death or freedom,’ to which they later added: “and a ship to take us home.” (O’Farrell, 1993:37).

Overpowering the officials at Castle Hill, the insurgents seized arms and ammunition before breaking off into four groups to scour nearby agricultural settlements to collect further arms and recruits. The groups scheduled to reconvene outside Parramatta. Meanwhile, colleagues inside Parramatta were to set fire to the farm of John Macarthur – another epitome of the Protestant gentry – and during the diversion this would create the rebels would take the whole settlement. A simple yet equally ambitious plan followed: escape down the river to Sydney and secure a ship to take them home.

Some historians believed that the French may have been poised – at this point – to play an active role in the rebellion. A strong French presence in the Pacific (itself a cause of paranoia among the colonials) was enough to suggest that their aid could be solicited. An option, in the event that a ship could not be secured and the rebels having the numbers to do so, was to hold the colony until the French arrived. It should be recalled that the French were willing to fight with the Irish Catholics in 1798, and it is speculated that the aforementioned 1800 plot to kill Governor King also envisaged seizing the HMAS Buffalo as an offer to Napoleon.

However, the 1804 uprising was to lose momentum when two of the four rebel groups failed to arrive at the planned rendezvous outside Parramatta. Although they numbered between 250-300, and they had collected extra muskets, swords and pistols, it was an insufficient force to attack the town. Worse too, their confederates in Parramatta failed to light the diversionary fires, leaving the town more heavily defended than anticipated. Turning their focus towards the Hawkesbury, matters were to worsen further when at dawn they were overtaken at nearby Vinegar Hill by the forewarned Major George Johnston, and fifty-six men of the New South Wales Corps who had marched from Sydney.

Contemporary records of the confrontation are favourably biased towards the military, and as such, Major Johnston’s ensuing acts are credited with reports of heroism, rather than with expressions of atrocity (personal opinion). However, it is from the contemporary records that we have at least gained some narrative.

Major Johnston called on the insurgents to down arms and submit themselves to the mercy of the proclamation (of martial law). The call was ignored, though he was able to persuade the leaders – Philip Cunningham and William Johnston – to meet with him and another trooper in truce. Dispelling the impropriety of their conduct, the rebel leaders ended the truce with shouts of ‘death or liberty.’ Under the virtue of discretionary power, Major Johnston responded with “great presence of mind and address” (Crowley, 1980:27) by presenting his pistol to Cunningham’s head and ordering his detachment forthwith to cut the insurgent body to pieces.

In fifteen minutes of zeal, against futile resistance, the troopers killed nine rebels (without loss) and left dozens wounded. Taking flight, three more were killed by the pursuing soldiers – a small number, considered Major Johnston – in view of the fondness for blood that his well equipped troopers exhibited. (Johnston was to later report that his own intervention prevented the cold-blooded murder of several unarmed prisoners.) During the next few days volunteer settlers pursued and rounded up the remaining rebels. Peace had been quickly restored, leaving the Castle Hill rebellion itself as only a very brief chapter in Australian history.

It was a telling victory for the authorities that was to extend beyond the affray: the punishments reserved for the rebel leaders was to act as a deterrent to future insurrections for the remaining sixty years of the convict system. The human cost was a chilling deterrent:

Phillip Cunningham was hanged without trial, there and then, in the middle of the Hawkesbury settlement for all to see. … Eight other leaders [were] summarily courtmartialled and executed, two of them hanged in chains. Nine others flogged (200-500 lashes), and thirty more shipped north to [the harsh] Coal River (Newcastle) settlement. (McLachlan, 1989:45-49).

Moreover, it was a victory for Protestant ascendancy and a measure of dealing with Catholic grievances. One such measure – quickly adopted by the authorities – was to geographically disperse potential rebels rather than congregate them in numbers, as they had, at Castle Hill.

The aims of the Castle Hill rebellion are not debated by most historians. The rebels – it is agreed – did not seek revenge nor did they kill anybody. Nor did they have any political objectives. It was in essence an uprising in response to servitude. The central aim was to escape death or liberty, and a ship to take them home. But O’Farrell questions whether there was anything to gain out of the motivation for – ‘Death or liberty’:

Death or liberty was a choice of their own contrivance. Some of them were seven-year men who could have worked out the remainder of their sentences. Cunningham was a skilled workman acting as an overseer of stonemasons; he had a house of his own; as had other leaders of the rising. They had something real to lose; why throw it – and life – away? Theirs was not the rebellion of crushed desperation, but of sentiment and hope, forlorn maybe; an affirmation of spirit … What drove the Irish was not only ideologies and dreams, but frustrations, sickness of heart, and impulses of affront: in a word, pride, which in the circumstances of convictism – not very different in style from the looser yoke permanently affixed by England to Ireland – expressed itself in grim determination not to be broken … The cruelties incidental to transportation, degradation, uprooting, and separation from families, might have weighed more heavily than the direct burden of forced labour. (O’Farrell, 1993:37-38).

The origins of the rebellion, I conclude, cannot be found in the harsh reality of the convict system, but in the heart of the Irishmen themselves.

*It is teasing to contemplate what might have happened if the rebellion was successful and the French had came to their aid. Would we still be speaking English?

References:

Connell, R.W; and Irving, T.H. (1980). Class structure in Australian history, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.

Crowley, F. (1980). A documentary history of Australia volume 1: colonial Australia 1788-1840. Nelson, West Melbourne.

Grimshaw, P; Lake, M; McGrath, A; and Quartly, M. (1994). Creating a nation. McPhee Gribble/Penguin, Ringwood.

Kociumbas, J. (1992). The Oxford history of Australia volume 2: possessions 1770-1860. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

McLachlan, N. (1989). Waiting for the revolution: a history of Australian nationalism. Penguin Books, Ringwood, Victoria.

O’Farrell, P. (1993). The Irish in Australia. Revised edition. New South Wales University Press, Kensington, NSW.

Rude, G. (1978). Protest and punishment. Oxford University Press, Great Britain.

 

 

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Fun times ahead

The AIMN opened its doors in January 2013. It was an election year and Tony Abbott was Leader of the Opposition, and Tony, bless him, was the gift that kept on giving: So much idiocy and incompetence wrapped up in one small package.

Readers couldn’t get enough of him. In my 15 years in social media I’ve learned that people love reading an article about someone they don’t like. It reinforces their own opinions.

Nobody liked Tony, yet I thank him for providing The AIMN with a wealth of material. They were fun times.

We belonged to the growing number of independent sites doing their darndest to keep him out of The Lodge. But alas, he got the keys and we then spent the next nine years trying to take away the keys from him and his successors.

Tony eventually became a distant memory, yet we got by without him.

After Labor’s victory in the May election I pondered whether our time was up. The battle had been won. What on earth would we do now? It was that “What will we do without Tony” sort of feeling all over again.

It appears though – that despite my gloom – our work is not yet done.

Fun times are ahead and we’ll still have plenty to write about:

  • Scott Morrison as Minister for Everything will attract a wealth of scrutiny.
  • There’s the forthcoming ICAC. That should be a real buzz.
  • The Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
  • Possible leadership challenges if Peter Dutton continues his slumping (un)popularity.
  • Murdoch suing Crikey and the ramifications of it.
  • The Jobs Summit.
  • Someone from the Opposition will do or say something stupid (that’s a 100% guarantee).

… just to name a handful.

Plus, of course, a government needs to be held to account no matter which party it is.

But primarily, we will be repeating our goals from 2013: Doing our best to keep the Coalition in opposition.

And here’s one scary thought to keep in mind …

 

Though hope is on the horizon …

 

Fun times ahead.

 

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What Morrison said

The excuses, reasons and justifications from Scott Morrison for taking over five portfolios – and the secrecy surrounding them – have dominated the media over the past few days.

Trawling the internet I have compiled a number of these excuses, reasons and justifications (which appear below) and after I will offer a deep, insightful, critical analysis of each (in bold).

From ABC News:

“I understand the offence that some of my colleagues particularly have felt about this. I understand that and I have apologised to them.”

“But equally, as prime minister, only I could really understand the weight of responsibility that was on my shoulders and on no-one else.”

Oh, spare me.

“You are standing on the shore after the fact, I was steering the ship in the middle of the tempest.”

What happened to the ship, dude? You left that bit out.

“There was a clear expectation established in the public’s mind, certainly in the media’s mind, and absolutely in the mind of the opposition, as I would walk into question time every day, that I, as Prime Minister, was responsible pretty much for every single thing that was going on, every drop of rain, every strain of the virus, everything that occurred over that period of time.”

Yep, and you lived up to those expectations. 10/10 for your delusional narcissism.

PS: Did you keep a straight face when you said that you walked into question time “every day? Every day!!!

“They are very complex, detailed issues in governance … I put in place a set of arrangements that ensured all decisions could be made instantaneously. That is the real-time crisis we were dealing with.”

Instantaneously!! Run that by me again.

“The risk of ministers becoming incapacitated, sick, hospitalised, incapable of doing their work at a critical hour or even fatality was very real.”

Logic isn’t your strong point. And who was going to take over if or when you got sick? Jen? Rupert?

“As prime minister I considered it necessary to put in place safeguards, redundancies and contingencies to ensure the continuity and effective operation of government during this crisis period, which extended for the full period of my term.”

I’ve never heard such utter bullshit. It is a good thing you kept it secret.

“I believed it was necessary to have authority, to have what were effectively emergency powers, to exercise in extreme situations that would be unforeseen, that would enable me to enact in the national interest.”

I love irony.

From 9News:

“I think there was a great risk that in the midst of that crisis those powers could be misinterpreted and misunderstood, which would have caused unnecessary angst in the middle of a pandemic.”

“I did what I thought was necessary in the national interests to ensure the government continued to perform well.”

Thank you for revealing your tender side.

“I regret that offence and I apologise for that offence, but I am pleased that through the course of the pandemic my confidence was in them to keep just doing their job,” Morrison said.

“The fact I didn’t interfere in doing their job shows the confidence I had in them.”

My head needs a desk to bang on.

“I was administratively sworn in which gave me authority, like many other ministers had, to exercise decisions in an emergency situation.”

“I sought those powers but I was only going use them in an emergency.”

But, but, but … you did nothing.

“It was something that was done on an order of many other issues we were dealing with at the time.”

If you say so.

“No Prime Minister has faced the same combination of circumstances, be it the pandemic or indeed the drought, the global recession and the Australian recession caused by the pandemic and the many other natural disasters that befell the country over that period of time.”

You sound like Trump.

From the News:

“I regret that offence [for taking over from his ministers] and I apologise for that offence, but I am pleased that through the course of the pandemic, my confidence was in them to keep just doing their job.”

Huh! They didn’t have a job. You took it off them.

 

That’ll do for now. There must be dozens of other pearls of wisdom on the internet but I was unable to read most articles as they were for subscribers only.

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Our Christmas message

Christmas Day is like any other day for me: I get to spend it with my favourite person and one of us will prepare a banquet for two yet large enough for ten.

I’m lucky, for there are many who will be denied the chance to spend Christmas Day with those they love, and this marks a sad occasion. To those people I say; “They are in your hearts, and that is the most wonderful place to be.”

Christmas Day has always meant family, friends, faith (to some), and food. I’m an expert on the latter.

Knowing that the year has delivered us untold tragedies I feared that – to top it all off – the world might blow up before Christmas, taking with it the ice cream we’d bought for the special day. I couldn’t bear the thought of it being hurled throughout the far reaches of the galaxy… so I ate it just in case. In an act of amazing self discipline, the replacement tub was not attacked by yours truly.

Carol and I like to mix our Christmas dinners up a bit so we do away with the traditional servings such as roast turkey or legs of ham in favour of something different.

As I nominated to cook, here’s the gastronomical delight I’m dishing up (you might want to write this one down and try it yourself – you’ll thank me later):

Fry up some chicken schnitzels, and once cooked remove from the stove and place in a baking dish. Spread sweet chilli sauce over the schnitzels and top them with slices of mango. Cover them liberally with shredded cheese (I use the Devondale “3 Cheese Blend” – mozzarella, colby and parmesan). Place in oven and heat until the cheese has melted. Serve, sit back, and wait for the screams of delight. You’ll be everybody’s new best friend.

Enough of my talk of food, and onto what I really want to say:

To everyone who helps make The AIMN a great place: the authors, the commenters, the moderators, our donors, our 23,000 Facebook followers, our subscribers, and the wonderful people who share our articles on Twitter and Facebook… Carol and I would like to extend our warmest Christmas wishes to you and your loved ones. You guys make Christmas special for us.

 

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Fake democracy

Leaders from “approximately 110 countries were invited to take part in” President Biden’s two-day Summit for Democracy.

The complete list of participating countries can be found here. You’ll notice that Australia attended (represented by Prime Minister Prime Minister Scott Morrison), which I will get to shortly.

President Biden focused on a few issues, including “election integrity, countering authoritarian regimes and bolstering independent media.”

It is the latter that I wish to comment on.

The President clearly takes independent media seriously, requesting “$236 million dollars in the 2022 budget to support independent media around the globe,announcing that:

“A free and independent media [is] the bedrock of democracy,” Biden said in remarks kicking off the virtual Summit for Democracy. “It’s how the public stays informed and how governments are held accountable.”

Let’s repeat that. “It’s how the public stays informed and how governments are held accountable.”

Scott Morrison should have excused himself at that very moment. If a democracy means that you encourage independent media or independent journalism, then ours is a fake democracy.

Why?

Consider this:

Amendments to the Federal Treasurer’s media bargaining code will be tabled in the New Year.

In a nutshell, if passed, it will mean that in Australia, Facebook and Google can only publish articles from the Murdoch media, Kerry Stokes media, and Fairfax/Channel 9.

Basically, it will be ensure that the voices of independent (or dissenting) media is muffled in the lead up to the next election.

Consider also, that the largest media empire in Australia, the Murdoch media, do absolutely nothing to hold the Morrison government to account. If anything, they seem to behave like the government’s mouthpiece.

The two considerations above should disqualify us from calling ourselves true democracy.

 

 

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Respect: Let’s show it

Back when Gough Whitlam won the election a few of us guys from the local football club went along to our pub, and on this day we thought we’d drink in the lounge, rather than our regular spot; the front bar.

We talked about Gough’s win when a bloke started chatting to us about how bad it was that Labor won.

He would have been in his mid-fifties, and he was clearly a right-winger.

We gave him hell. Not just on that day, but whenever we saw him again in the lounge bar of the pub.

We were quite nasty, actually. Our language was appalling, splattered with such terms as; “F#ck off, idiot”, Go f#ck yourself”, “What the f#ck would you know”, or “Go and talk to your f#cking friends over there”.

And as we were disgusting people, the “c” word was used liberally.

You get the picture.

And of course we enjoyed it. We were bloody heroes.

After that our lives took us down different paths and 25 years later I was working for ATSIC in Port Augusta.

One evening on ANZAC Day an old WW2 veteran was interviewed by one of the local Adelaide news channels.

This bloke was in the air force and had been shot down over Germany. Parachuting (luckily) to safety, he hid from the German forces for over three weeks, managing to find his way to the Allies.

It was a tormenting, harrowing experience. At any time he might have been only a minute away from capture, or worse, death. This man – probably in his early twenties at the time – was a true Aussie hero who gave up everything to go and fight for his country.

Can you imagine the guilt I felt when I recognised him as the bloke me and some footy mates used to throw the most vile, disgusting abuse to whenever we saw him in the pub all those years ago?

We knew nothing about this bloke when he was the victim of our insults.

It’s a bit like social media. How often do we see abuse hurled at someone that the abuser – in all likelihood – knows nothing about. The abused person may be someone with a mental illness, or someone who is a hero as a community worker, or someone who had just lost their partner. The list goes on.

Sadly, very sadly, I’ve been one such perpetrator. I remember on one occasion suggesting that a very annoying person was drunk. Little did I know that this person was a non-drinker after years of fighting alcoholism.

The little things we say that we think are funny, might just be shattering to our target.

Tempers have been demonstrated this year, not just on The AIMN, but Facebook and Twitter. The looming election gives us the opportunity to focus on the true enemy, and not just each other.

From what I’ve seen elsewhere the government (and their mates in the MSM) are watching social media like a hawk.

Let’s not give them anything to swoop on.

At The AIMN we’re fortunate to have fantastic writers and commenters who lead by example.

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What is it with some people and longer cords?

Here’s a little gem (which I published years ago on another site) from the now defunct Originz podcast about a teacher in Western Queensland some time back.

The said teacher was in a very small community which consisted of a hotel (of course), a police station, a small school and a few houses. He was the school’s only teacher and the school had only a dozen students. Even in Queensland – his region at least – Winters can be cold. Some heating was needed so he wrote to the Education Department requesting that some kerosene heaters be supplied to the school.

They wrote back advising that electric heaters only would be provided, to which he responded that electric heaters would be unsuitable for the school’s generator.

Again he requested kerosene heaters, thinking that his reason for needing them was well spelled out. His argument, unfortunately, was unconvincing even though it was logical. The Education Department continued to insist that only electric heaters would be provided.

Our teacher conceded and agreed to be supplied the electric heaters. And they duly were.

Our teacher then wrote back to the bright folk at the Education Department requesting … a 700 kilometre power cord so he could plug the heaters in somewhere!

So why am I mentioning this now?

Well, because it reminds me of our illustrious prime minister.

 

 

What is it with some people and longer cords?

 

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Nationhood and the ‘Pure’ Race (part 5)

Conclusion

Intellectual fashions in Social Darwinism and eugenics sought to ‘purify’ and secure a white Australia. The Indigenous population (and what was seen as the hordes of Chinese entering the colony from the 1850s) were perceived as a threat to this ‘purity’. This thesis has reviewed a number of writers who conclude that the ideology of Social Darwinism was to become dominant in the public discourse, and that the ideology shaped the White Australia Policy.

Prior to colonisation, yet amid aggressive imperial expansion, much of the European knowledge of Indigenous people was constructed in their absence. In Australia, as in other colonial frontiers, Europeans imagined the indigenes as the Other and a collective identity was forged through a discourse that set them apart from Europeans. However it is recognised that the discourse of racism does not consist simply in descriptive representations of others. It included a set of hypothetical premises about human kinds (eg the Great Chain of Being and the aforementioned Social Darwinism) and about the differences between them both mental and physical. Such racial ideas went hand in hand with British imperialism and were to be embedded in colonial thought.

It is understood that early in colonisation the succession of British Governments declared Aborigines their subjects, and as British subjects, were entitled to all the rights of protection, as well as the responsibilities afforded by British law. However the rhetoric of the British Government was to become “ineffectual” (Kalantzis, 1998a) in the Australian colony with an opposing and dominant ideology. To the colonial observer Aborigines were certainly not British subjects. They were perceived as something far less superior.

Social Darwinism, based on Darwin’s concept of natural selection (The Origin of Species, published in 1859) provided validation for this perception of inferiority and subsequently for the predicted extinction and destruction of such ‘inferior races’ in the wake of colonial progress. The colonists readily accepted themselves as superior and considered Aborigines far less travelled along the evolutionary path. As such, this thesis has examined the argument that under the pretext of Social Darwinism the extinction of Aborigines was proclaimed and that this became the underlying basis for government policy in the shadows of Federation, and was ultimately justification of a perceived strong and ‘pure’ white state in the young Australian nation.

However the real strength of the idea of inevitable extinction lay not in the empirical evidence but in the theoretical constructs of evolution. Fuelled by this doctrine, the Australian colonists were anxious to maintain ‘white purity’ which was considered to be under threat from the Indigenous population and the growing population of non-Europeans. This perceived threat to the emerging Australian type was an active agent in promoting the discourse of Social Darwinism in popular consciousness. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, it was increasingly to the writing of natural science that Europeans turned to find the most credible and compelling support for their racist suppositions. In this regard, the Aborigine was the victim of an intellectual “hiatus” (Kearney, 1973:12). The task was not to find out whether the Aborigine was inferior to the European, it was instead a task of confirmation. Scientific applications such as craniology and phrenology provided conclusive evidence to the colonial observer that the Aborigines were indeed lowly in terms of evolution.

‘Race’ as a biological issue in the Australian colonies structured class inequality and an ideology justifying the colonial situation. In its most strident form, Australian racism argued that Aborigines and other non-Europeans were not only inferior but would debase the white population. Thus, the opposition to non-white immigration and hostility to the Indigenous residents in the latter half of the nineteenth century, both based exclusively on racial grounds, laid the basis of Australian racism. The popular press in the latter part of the nineteenth century was active in promoting the discourse that the Australian type and Australian society had evolved into something worth protecting. The beliefs, attitudes and values which underpinned the White Australia Policy were such things as Social Darwinism and feelings of racial superiority.

Markus, Pettman, and Evans are among a large group of historians who attest that the need to maintain a British ethnicity was the prime motive for the colonies to federate. Identification as British and as a part of a great empire was obviously a convenient basis upon which to define the identity of Australians at the time of Federation. White (1981:64, 71) argues that this racial element formed the belief in the emergence of the Australian type and the maintenance of racial purity or homogeneity. These racist attitudes and sentiments towards non-Europeans were similar to the already existing racist attitudes towards the Aboriginal people. Unlike the indigenous Australians, who nature had supposedly chosen for extinction, the Chinese threat came not only from the racial conflicts that inspired the doctrine of Social Darwinism, but from a media inspired regime of propaganda.

In summary, this thesis examined that the desire to remain one people without the admixture of other ‘races’ was one of the most powerful forces that impelled the colonists towards Federation and the ‘pure race’ that could be codified. Historians are in no doubt that a central policy of the movement towards Federation was the exclusion of all people considered inferior and unfit for a white country. Federation was the rationale to maintain white superiority and racial homogeneity, and subsequently the first act of the new parliament was the Commonwealth Immigration Restriction Act (1901). Racial discrimination in entry, residence and citizenship provisions were sanctified, and a unified White Australia established. This policy confirmed the racist ideologies based on white supremacy and the dominant perception of Indigenous inferiority and their low evolutionary progress.

 

References

Akmeemana, S; and Dusseldorp, T. (1995), ‘Race discrimination: where to from here?’ in Alternative law journal, Volume 20, Number 5, pp 207-211.

Bird, Greta (1992), editor Racial harassment, Aristoc Press, Melbourne.

Evans, Raymond; Saunders, Kay; and Cronin, Kathryn (1993), Race relations in colonial Queensland: a history of exclusion, exploitation and extermination, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia.

Goldberg, David (1990), editor Anatomy of racism, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.

Goodwin, Craufurd (1964), ‘Evolution theory in Australian social thought’ in the Journal of the history of ideas, Volume 25, pp 393-416, in Knowledge, Ideology and Social Science (Level 1) Readings, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Hollinsworth, D. (1998), Race and racism in Australia, 2nd edition, Social Science Press, Katoomba, NSW.

Jupp, James (1991), Immigration, Sydney University Press, NSW.

Kalantzis, Mary (1998a), ‘Reconsidering the meaning of our Commonwealth (part 2)’ on the Women’s constitutional convention website (Online, accessed 9 Apr. 2001). URL:http://www.womensconv.dynamite.com.au/kalantz2.htm

Kearney, G. (1973), editor The psychology of Aboriginal Australians, John Wiley and Sons, Sydney.

Markus, A. (1979), Fear and hatred: purifying Australia and California 1850-1901, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney.

McConnochie, K; Hollinsworth, D; and Pettman, J. (1993), Race and racism in Australia, Social Science Press, Australia.

McGrath, Ann (1995), editor Contested ground: Australian Aborigines under the British crown, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards.

Pettman, Jan (1988), ‘Whose country is it anyway?: cultural politics, racism and the construction of being Australian’, Journal of intercultural studies, Volume 9(1), Pages 1-24, in Race Relations in Australia: Theory and History Readings Part 2, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

White, R. (1981), Inventing Australia, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Yengoyan, Aram (1999), Racism, cultural diversity and the Australian Aborigine, University of California, Davis.

Link to Part 4

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Nationhood and the ‘Pure’ Race (part 4)

The other threat

With the discovery of gold in 1851, the influx of Chinese became a major focus as the intensity and institutionalism of racism increased, and this continued to agitate throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. Forewarning of the ‘Asiatic hordes’ as early as 1879, Blaire wrote that:

Among the motley population attracted to the colony by the gold discovery were the Chinese, who, about two years after Ballarat and the sister goldfields were published to the world, began to arrive by thousands, and swarmed like locusts at the chief mines. They have called up already a social and political problem in Australia. The proportions of Chinese immigration threatened far to exceed all the usual experiences of international intercourse (Blair, 1879:423).

These largely inoffensive and hard-working people were perceived as representing an implicit threat to white Australians. Just when the colonial population had begun to feel comfortable in their new surroundings and had written the Aborigines off as a dying race, the large Chinese presence “… raised the spectre of the European Australians following their black predecessors along the path to historical oblivion” (David Day, 1988:10).

Subsequent anti-Chinese paranoia was also fuelled by intellectual fashions in Social Darwinism. This led to pressure in colonial parliament to limit the flow of Chinese entering the colonies, and culminated in the White Australia Policy as formulated in legislation in 1901. Indeed, fear and loathing of all non-Britannic Australians, and a firm belief in ‘white superiority’ could be expressed in the uniform immigration laws. The colonists, being mainly Britannic Australians, wanted it kept that way.

Australia’s geography, positioned close to the heavily populated Asian countries, resulted in the evolvement of a xenophobic, isolationist worldview, in which Social Darwinism justified the construction of psychological barriers against the near neighbours. Discernment, or rather, paranoia of the Asian ‘hordes’ to the north, and a tenet that Social Darwinism served to create an awareness of struggles between races, was a source of civic anxiety in colonial Australia.

A forewarning that mass Chinese migration was as great as the threat of Indigenous insurrection was an issue that was not lost on the press of the day. European racial ideals and preoccupations are indeed well exemplified by editorials and correspondent’s features in a number of journals, both influencing and reflecting public opinion. Hollinsworth examined that these journals were filled with articles of provocative issues that popularised scientific racist theories and provided plenty of examples to support these theories. Collectively, Markus (1979:84-85), Evans and others (1993:15), and Hollinsworth (1998:102) report that a number of popular journals such as The Age and The Bulletin, and local and national publications all harangued the public with sensational articles and cartoons warning of the threat to the social and moral well-being of – and in particular – an emerging Australian type. Evans and others note that these journals were:

Filled with articles of substance and lively debate on provocative issues provided their readers with a wealth of illustrative material which both popularised scientific racist theories and provided plenty of local examples to bear these theories out (Evans et al, 1993:15).

In particular, adaptation of evolutionary theory to the defence of radicalism was well ‘illustrated’ from the 1880s in contributions to the Sydney Bulletin. As one of the more influential journals of the period, a number of historians are of the accord that the ferociously nationalistic publication unleashed itself as the most persuasive and effective journal in the country for promoting the discourse that the Australian type and that Australian society had evolved into something unique and worth protecting. The Bulletin showed constant enthusiasm for the things it admired most about Australia – egalitarianism, democracy, masculinity, the bush tradition of mateship, and the emerging Australian type. It contributed:

… more than a little to the belief so clearly stated in the first federal parliament’s White Australia Policy that the Australian type and the Australian society had evolved into something unique and worth protecting (Kingston, 1993:106).

From 1893 The Bulletin’s banner declared ‘Australia for the White Man’ and continued with suppositions that both the Chinese and the Aborigines (or any peoples considered racially ‘inferior’) were to be absolutely excluded. It would be pertinent to review the extent of its propaganda during 1901; the year when nationhood was nominally proclaimed. Evans and others (1993:352) identified that throughout this year the journal carried over fifty racially oriented cartoons that threw scorn upon Aboriginality and the threat to white Australia from coloured immigrants. They also suggested that on the minds of the patriotic British-Australians, with their special aversion to miscegenation and race consciousness, the impact of The Bulletin’s propaganda was most likely quite immense.

Hollinsworth (1998:75) was one of the few historians to observe that the development of the White Australia Policy “has often been presented without reference to the position of Aborigines in colonial Australia.” His observation of the Chinese threat is recognised as comparative to the threat that the Indigenous people posed to the heredity succession of the emerging Australian type. He infers that the attempts to prevent or restrict non-European immigration to Australia can be seen as a parallel process to the construction of the various colonies’ segregation and protection systems applied to Aborigines in the late nineteenth century. Both movements sought to purify and secure a ‘White Australia’.

If the White Australia Policy was a matter of national ‘security’ in relationship to what was perceived as a racial threat, the adoption of the White Australia Policy also had an ultimate impact on Australia’s first inhabitants. Not only did Aboriginals become wards of the State under the policy, but it promulgated and enhanced all of the attitudes of racism and ethnocentrism which have firm foundations throughout all of Australia’s colonial history. While they could not be removed from Australia (or denied entry), it was confidently felt they would follow the evolutionary path of all extinct races.

Nationhood and the ‘Pure’ Race

In the late 19th century, particularly, considerations by white Australians of Aboriginal welfare were dominated by the ‘doomed race’ theory. Since colonisation, observations of declining Aboriginal numbers, combined with the evolutionary theory, led white Australians to the conclusion that nothing could be done to save the Aborigines from extinction. Furthermore, their demise was merely in accordance with the unchallengeable laws of nature. Such ideas, supported as they were by scientific certainties, found ready acceptance in a society founded upon the dispossession of the Aborigines and loudly proclaimed the dedication to a white Australia.

Peterson and Saunders suggest that accordingly, the Australian Constitution was drawn up at a high point of racism when there was mounting pressure for the adoption of a policy that would exclude Aborigines (and non-Europeans). In this environment, it is hardly surprising that Aboriginal people were paid very little attention by the drafters of the Constitution and in fact were effectively excluded from the merging nation. The Commonwealth Constitution had only two minor exclusionary references to Aboriginal people. These references were at section 51 (xxvi) and section 127. Section 51 listed the powers of the Commonwealth and, at subsection xxvi, included a power with respect to:

The people of any race, other than the Aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws. The second reference to Aboriginal people was at section 127 and stated that: “In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, Aboriginal natives shall not be counted” (Peterson and Sanders, 1998:7-8).

This thesis has reviewed writers who have identified a link between Federation, the growing sense of nationhood, and the need to maintain and consolidate a sense of ethnic identity. For most of the nineteenth century there was no strong evidence of distinctively Australian identity, Australians saw themselves as part of a group of predominantly Anglo-Saxon emigrant societies. A sense of national distinctiveness only grew stronger towards the end of the century, and this was accompanied by a more explicitly racial element, based on being Anglo-Saxon, as confidence in the new society grew. It was further possible to isolate the Australian national type founded on the structure of ideas about national character, which witnessed the construction of hegemonic ideas of racism and superiority among the European-Australians.

It was believed that as long as racial purity could be maintained then there was confidence that the future of the British-Australian type was secure. Colonial Australians were confident that Australia could maintain the purity of its British old stock, and this gave them confidence in the future of the Australian type and the maintenance of what was identified as its racial homogeneity. White (1981:81) argues that Social Darwinist concern about the future of the race as a whole was used to justify the racism of the immigration and exclusion policies of the fledging Australian Government. Raymond Evans and others further comment that the desire to remain one people without the admixture of other ‘races’ was one of the most powerful forces that impelled the colonists towards Federation and the ‘pure race’ (Evans et al 1997:26). There is no doubt that a central policy of the movement towards Federation was the exclusion of all “inferior creatures unfit” for the new white nation.

Federation was the rationale to maintain white superiority and racial homogeneity, and subsequently the first act of the new parliament was the Commonwealth Immigration Restriction Act (1901). Racial discrimination in entry, residence and citizenship provisions were sanctified, and a unified White Australia established.

The beliefs, attitudes and values that underpinned the Commonwealth Immigration Restriction Act were such things as Social Darwinism and feelings of racial superiority. This Act came to be known as the White Australia Policy and as the name implies, was a policy that confirmed the racist ideology based on white supremacy and subsequently complemented the “laws that denied citizenship to the Aboriginal people” (Pettman, 1988:3).

This broader, Social Darwinist concern about the future of the race as a whole was used to justify the racism of the White Australia Policy. According to the Bulletin in 1902, the policy was fundamental to Australia’s existence. It was based on:

The instinct against race-mixture which Nature has implanted to promote her work of evolution … Once a type has got a step up it must be jealous and ‘selfish’ in its scorn of lower types, or climb down again. This may not be good ethics. But it is Nature … the Caucasian race, as a race, has taken up the white man’s burden of struggling on towards ‘the upward path’, of striving at a higher stage of evolution … If he were to stop to dally with races which would enervate him, or infect him with servile submissiveness, the scheme of human evolution would be frustrated (Cited in White, 1981:81-82).

White Australia, simply, was designed to serve as “… an ideological function in reinforcing the concept of an all-white nation” (McGrath, 1995:365). It composed a policy of the most persuasive and effective journal in the country: to preserve the future of the white Australian. The broad consensus of aims and values that led to Federation for a homogenous society were based on ‘race’ and racial superiority. On this basis national identity was enshrined in the White Australia Policy, the sentiments of which are summarised by Evans:

Upon the very isolation of this vast island continent … a unique human experiment might be attempted. As with nowhere else upon the globe, here a distinct biological community might be established, maintained and nurtured within a single geographic entity. If the indigenous peoples continued their perceived decline towards extinction and other migrant races were excluded or expelled, a ‘pure race’ could logically result (Cited in Evans et al, 1997:26)

It was an ‘experiment’ – to borrow a word from Evans and others – that was achieved to the approval of the young nation. David Day reveals that at the laying of the foundation stone for the new capital in 1913, Labor politician Billy Hughes, pronounced with apparent satisfaction on the absence at the ceremony “of that race we have banished from the face of the earth.” Again in 1927, when the Federal Parliament assembled to open its new building, the Prime Minister, Stanley Melbourne Bruce, predicted a future for Australia in which “millions of the British race will people this land” thereby setting the seal on its occupation (Day, 1988:13).

 

References

Akmeemana, S; and Dusseldorp, T. (1995), ‘Race discrimination: where to from here?’ in Alternative law journal, Volume 20, Number 5, pp 207-211.

Blair, D. (1879), The history of Australasia, McGready, Thomson and Niven, Glasgow.

Buggy, T; and Cates, J. (1982), Race relations in colonial Australia – an enquiry approach, Thomas Nelson Australia, Melbourne.

Day, David (1988), ‘Aliens in a hostile land: a re-appraisal of Australian history’ Journal of Australian Studies, Number 23, pp 3-15 in Constructions of Aboriginal Studies 1 Readings Part 3, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Evans, Raymond; Saunders, Kay; and Cronin, Kathryn (1993), Race relations in colonial Queensland: a history of exclusion, exploitation and extermination, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia.

Evans, R; Moore, C; Saunders, K; and Jamison, B. (1997), editors 1901 our future’s past; documenting Australia’s federation, Pan Macmillan, Sydney.

Gibb, D. (1973), The making of ‘white Australia’, Victorian Historical Association, West Melbourne.

Goodwin, Craufurd (1964), ‘Evolution theory in Australian social thought’ in the Journal of the history of ideas, Volume 25, pp 393-416, in Knowledge, Ideology and Social Science (Level 1) Readings, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Hollinsworth, D. (1998), Race and racism in Australia, 2nd edition, Social Science Press, Katoomba, NSW.

Kingston, Beverley. (1988), The Oxford history of Australia volume 3: glad, confident morning 1860-1900, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Kociumbas, J. (1992), The Oxford history of Australia volume 2: possessions 1770-1860, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Markus, A. (1979), Fear and hatred: purifying Australia and California 1850-1901, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney.

McGrath, Ann (1995), editor Contested ground: Australian Aborigines under the British crown, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards.

Peterson, Nicolas; and Sanders, Will (1998), editors Citizenship and Indigenous Australians, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Pettman, Jan (1988), ‘Whose country is it anyway?: cultural politics, racism and the construction of being Australian’, Journal of intercultural studies, Volume 9(1), Pages 1-24, in Race Relations in Australia: Theory and History Readings Part 2, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Stratton, John; and Ang, Ien (1994), ‘Multicultural imagined communities: cultural difference and national identity in Australia and the USA’ in Continuum: the Australian journal of media and culture, Volume 8, Number 2, pages 1-20.

White, R. (1981), Inventing Australia, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Yengoyan, Aram (1999), Racism, cultural diversity and the Australian Aborigine, University of California, Davis.

Continued tomorrow: Conclusion

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Nationhood and the ‘Pure’ Race (part 3)

Ideology and the Indigenous Australians

Racial preconceptions had germinated by 26th January 1788 when the history of European-Aboriginal interactions began as the British flag was raised at Port Jackson. Accordingly, Governor Phillip and others brought their own preconceptions about Aborigines and also their intentions of their future. Based on these preconceptions they would be considered a part of Australia’s past.

Contemporary writers offer a picture that suggests that in January 1788 amicable relations between the Europeans and the Aborigines were established with comparative ease. Among them, Bradley (1969:1-9) wrote liberally of pleasant interactions. “They will soon discover that we are not their enemies” wrote Hunter, who also noted that the Aborigines were treating the whites as their equals (Cited in Kohen, 1993:48-49). However:

As Aboriginal people … had nothing the invader wanted but their land … attempts to maintain diplomatic relations with them were abandoned (Kociumbas, 1992:55).

Nevertheless, Aborigines were to be treated as equals of British subjects – without actually being British subjects – in order to allow the Governor some semblance of control over actual British subjects.

Peterson and Sanders (1998:4) have examined the legal status of Aborigines in the early days of colonial settlement. Official correspondence, they note, frequently drew a distinction between British subjects and the Aborigines, treating the two groups differently. (See R. v. Bonjon regarding the trial of an Aboriginal person for the murder of another Aboriginal person. The legal status of Aborigines in Australia was certainly a subject of legal argument). But Peterson and Sanders also recognise that as interaction between the groups increased, Aboriginal people came to be treated as if they were British subjects, albeit for some purposes.

At the outset of white settlement the British government claimed ownership of all land for the crown. London espoused the ethnocentric viewpoint that Aboriginal peoples who did not cultivate the land and who showed no signs of permanent homes were not accorded any legal rights to the lands. Instead … “the Aboriginals were to be treated as coming under British dominion, subject theoretically to the same laws which applied to the European settlers” (Castles and Harris, 1987:1-28). Taplin noted that just as the colonists were allowed to manage their own affairs, so the Aborigines were left to themselves to do as they like so long as they do not interfere with the colonists. If an effort was made by the government to benefit them by trying to induce them to adopt a civilised life, it is left entirely at their option whether they permitted themselves to come under the provisions made for their benefit or not.

However, as the colonies later became self-governing in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the influence of London declined, Aboriginal people were increasingly displaced, legally and physically, as a distinct people. This change was to be dramatic in the later half of the nineteenth century when the distinctive differences could be explained, classified, and sanctioned.

The year 1859 saw the publication of a rather important book: Charles Darwin’s The Origins of Species. In his book Darwin suggested that species were not permanently fixed, that they were all undergoing change by natural selection. If a species did not adapt successfully, it was liable to become extinct. Only the favoured survived and prospered in the struggle for life.

Darwin’s theories also suited the social order. Even before The Origin of Species, the idea of ‘the survival of the fittest’, a phrase coined by Herbert Spencer, was being used to justify ruthless competition between individuals, classes, nations and races. Although The Origins of Species did not relate natural selection to humanity, it seemed to give a scientific – and therefore moral – sanction to repressive social relationships. For the remainder of the century, Social Darwinism, as this misapplication of Darwin’s ideas came to be called, was used to justify the oppression and exclusion of the Aborigines. Darwin’s ideas seemed to justify what happened when the British expanded their empire, populated new lands and dispossessed indigenous peoples. White (1981:70) observes that:

Before Darwin had published The Origin of Species, the extinction of the Aborigines was being explained away as ‘the design of Providence’. Darwin’s theories gave such sentiments an aura of scientific legitimacy.

Following the publication of Darwin’s book the view of evolution was quickly applied to the study of racial groups. Herbert Spencer considered the development of society and human intellect in evolutionary terms and argued that the dominant races overrun the inferior races. Spencer’s premise that a general law of evolution could be formulated led him to apply the biologic scheme of evolution to human society. The doctrine of social structure and change, if the generalisations of his system were pertinent, must be the same as those of the universe at large. In applying evolution to human society, Spencer, and after him the Social Darwinists, was adding integrity to its origins. The ‘survival of the fittest’ was a “biological generalisation” of the cruel colonial processes at work in late nineteenth century society (Hofstadter, 1955:38). Spencer himself wrote that:

The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better. Nature is as insistent upon fitness of mental character as she is upon physical character (Spencer cited by Hofstadter, 1955:41)

Spencer, significantly, was more concerned with mental than physical evolution. This doctrine confirmed his evolutionary optimism. For if mental as well as physical characteristics could be inherited, the intellectual powers of the race would become cumulatively greater, and over several generations the ideal person would ultimately be developed.

Spencer’s theory of social selection was written out of his concern with population problems. In two articles that appeared in 1852, seven years before Darwin’s book was published, Spencer had set forth the view that the pressure of survival upon population must have a beneficent effect upon the human race. This pressure:

… had been the immediate basis of progress from the earliest human times. By placing a premium upon skill, intelligence, self-control, and the power to adapt through technical innovation, it had stimulated human advancement and selected the best of each generation for survival (Hofstadter, 1955:39).

Baker (in Cashmore and Troyna, 1990:35) observes that Darwin precipitated the development of this new perspectives on ‘race’. If the human race had evolved, it was perhaps natural to suppose that the human races might represent evolutionary stages. Social Darwinism was subsequently to become one of the leading strains in conservative thought and was used to defend racial conflict. Although Darwinism was not the primary source of the “belligerent ideology and dogmatic racism of the late nineteenth century,” it did become a new instrument in the hands of the colonial theorists of race and struggle (Goodwin, 1964:393).

Spencer’s theory had considerable influence in European social evolutionary thinking. Within a few years of the publications of Spencer’s work he was known to a considerable body of American readers and the following article from The Atlantic Monthly 1864 draws parallels to the ideologies of the colonial Australian and articulates the influence of his work:

Mr. Herbert Spencer is already a power in the world … He has already influenced the silent life of a few thinking men whose belief marks the point to which the civilisation of the age must struggle to rise … Mr. Spencer has already established principals which, however compelled for a time to compromise with prejudices and vested interests, will become the recognised basis of an improved society (Cited Hofstadter, 1955:33).

The doctrine of Social Darwinism had thus produced a set of ideas that were to be very engaging to the colonial society. Previously Europeans had been convinced of the inferiority of the Aborigines, but that did not justify their extinction, whereas Social Darwinism did. White explains that colonial Australia:

… proved an attractive spawning ground for Social Darwinist ideas since it was an area of new Anglo-Saxon settlement where racial conflict needed to be explained away. Although Darwin only gained real acceptance in Australian scientific circles towards the end of the century, at a more popular level his ideas enjoyed a very wide currency. In the first place, they provided a comforting, seemingly scientific explanation for the actual destruction of Aboriginal society. Previously Europeans had been convinced of the inferiority of the Aborigines, but that did not justify their extinction. Social Darwinism did. (White, 1981:69).

In a period that witnessed Aborigines being hunted like animals, dying in their thousands through imported diseases, and reportedly murdered at the hands of punitive colonials, the emergence of a law which not only justified the extermination of Aborigines but argued that it was beneficial to the human race, was gratefully accepted and enthusiastically endorsed by many sectors of Australian society.

Popular literature of the nineteenth century depicted an image of the Australian Aborigine that reinforced these colonial ideals. We are to assume that the contemporary reader of the following extract from David Blair’s History of Australasia, when published in 1879, foreshadowed, perhaps demanded, the inevitable extinction:

As a race the aborigine is a savage in the strongest sense of that term. Alike cruel and treacherous, he loses no occasion of wreaking his vengeance on an enemy, and indulges in the most bloodthirsty propensities. The practice of cannibalism is general among the natives: for a long time this was doubted, but it has been proved, beyond the reach of question, and the practice often found accompanied by the most revolting ferocity – as the sacrifice of an infant by its own mother for the mere pleasure of eating its flesh (Blair, 1879:237).

McConnochie (1998:44,48) and Stephenson (1997:2) argue that evolution and survival of the fittest, per se, supported the colonial racist ideology of white dominance and the biological inferiority of the dominated (or displaced). The laws of evolution, it was confidently assumed, were not only pushing the Aboriginal race to the brink of extinction, but there was nothing that should, or could be done about it. Such ‘demands’, debatably influenced by publications such as Blair’s as well as the dominant ideology, were being called for throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century. In colonial discussions about the Aborigines references to racial struggle and the survival of the fittest became commonplace from the 1860s onwards.

Evans and others (1993:77) suggest that a strong correlation can be seen between racist thoughts and the racialist practices that developed. A “definite inner-relationship can be drawn between the structure of a contact situation and the ideas and the theories which evolve from, and in turn, serve to strengthen that structure” (Evans et al, 1993:77). In his discussion on Aboriginal-European relations, which he titled Natural Phenomena and the Australian tribes, Rusden acknowledged that the violence and rapid population decline, especially focussing on their apparent trend towards extinction in Tasmania, confirmed the emergent ideology of Social Darwinism, proving:

… the ‘inevitable’ consequences of colonisations … Australians were told not to trouble themselves about the ‘disappearance’ of the Aborigines (Maykutenner in McGrath, 1995:363)

This doctrine conveniently helped justify colonialism and the favourable tenet that Aborigines would eventually disappear under the impact of civilisation and hence supported the ideal of white dominance and the biological inferiority of the dominated. To support this convenient doctrine it became a task to provide evidence as to whether the Aborigine was inferior to the European. This was already known. It was instead to become a task of confirmation. Chase and von Sturmer (in Kearney, 1973:13) consider that the Australian Aborigine thus became the victim of an “intellectual hiatus.” During the latter half of the century, it was increasingly to the writing of natural science that Europeans subsequently turned to find the most credible and compelling support for their racist suppositions.

Goldberg (1990:301) suggests that the data that lent themselves most readily were clearly those of biology and natural history. Extended to human affairs, the pervasive spirit of simplicity sought to reproduce for social relations the sort of simple order thought to be inherent in nature. Hence there was an application of categories of racial classification to human groups on the basis of natural characteristics. Goldberg continues this racial ordering also implied a behavioural expectation and that:

Perhaps the major assumption underlying classification was that identification of races in terms of their differentia is adequate to establish the laws of behaviour for their members (Goldberg, 1990:302).

Early applications of this theory were none-too-soon observed in the behaviour of the Aborigines. Behaviour, it was argued, that was driven by primitive instinct and “without the habits of forethought or providence” (Chase and von Sturmer, cited in Kearney, 1973:7) For example, their instinctive mating habits and the eating of raw meats – to an ethnocentric observer – clearly represented diminished intellectual development. Archaeologist Josephine Flood reports that even the absence of nets or fish-hooks in some coastal Tasmanian societies was taken as an indication that the local Aborigines had not yet evolved to the point were they needed one of the most basic of human foods. Hence terms such as ‘the childhood of humanity’ were liberally and needlessly applied and the evolutionary theory enforced.

Reynolds argues that at this time, and certainly based on observation, few Europeans in colonial Australia doubted that other races were inferior, but many felt the need to establish some scientific basis for their belief. The evolutionary notions of Aboriginal inferiority were the founded on ‘scientific’ racism. The most conclusive ‘evidence’ to support the Aborigines’ low level of intellectual development was thus obtained through scientific ‘proof’. Science found a way to satisfy the ideology that primitive intellect was confirmed through recognisable primitive characteristics. One such conclusion was derived through the study of craniology: the examination and measurement of crania.

The crania of the Aborigines supplied “fertile ground” (Evans et al, 1993:74) for evidence of their primitiveness: long heads with a sharp, sloping brow; prominent ridges and heavy bone structure; and significantly, a smaller, lighter (and presumably less complex) brain than that of a European. These structural features were considered ape-like, to which other physical similarities were unduly drawn (Reynolds, 1987:118). Such conclusions served to support the view that the Australian Aborigines are a “relic of the oldest type of mankind [sic]” (Chase and von Sturmer, cited in Kearney (1973:11), or indeed, even “living fossils” (Kingston, 1988:60).

The science of phrenology was credited with to further advancing consistencies of primitiveness in that the ‘astute’ European could now – through even more elaborate scientific reasoning – develop a model for character analysis also drawn from cranial properties. Popular in the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century, phrenology was a pseudo-science based on the:

Twin assumptions that specific areas of the brain were responsible for particular moral and intellectual characteristics and that the shape of the skull reflected the inner structure of the brain.

Phrenologists professed to discover an individual’s mental faculties from identifiable peculiarities of skull formation (Girling, 1983:307). With racist suppositions the colonial scientists elaborated Aboriginal inferiority based on phrenological ‘evidence’. Their prominent bumps or ridges on the skull – as an example – were a signature of depravity or other abstract qualities; and the smallness of their brain (or internal capacity of the skull – as compared with an average European) was the cause of ‘miserable manifestations of mind’; and even the mere thickness of the skull alone was a sure indicator of low mental ability, moral character, benevolence and conscientiousness. The conclusion was drawn, that based on the evidence of phrenological interpretation, the Aborigines possessed only a few of the intellectual faculties so evident in white Australians.

The colonisers therefore had no compunction in applying erroneous scientific theories as justification for extermination. Science had confirmed the inevitable: that the Aborigines as primitives faced extinction and “every assessment of their situation, every evaluation of policy, took place in the shadow of that certainty” (Reynolds, 1987:122)

McConnochie and others (1993:49) conclude that the relationship between the colonisers and the Aborigines was fundamentally based on the social evolutionary theory. Goodwin (1964:398) had earlier wrote that this theory justified European colonialism, summarising that “Destruction of the weak was the only way to assure success for the strong.” Subsequently, government policy making in Australia embraced these racial beliefs. These government policies took on a short-term palliative nature to ‘protect’ Aborigines by isolating them on state regulated reserves (away from European contact and abuse in wait of their demise) and by removing most of the rights they had enjoyed as citizens. The policies of Protection, Segregation (and Assimilation which was sanctioned in the twentieth century) reflected this ideology.

Protection was influenced by the theory that Aborigines were certain to die out as a result of the European contact. Subsequently, all that could be done for them was to protect them until this inevitable demise. However nature had not yet selected Aborigines for extinction – only the colonisers had – and the policy of protection underwent a subtle change to Segregation. Their differences are difficult to identify although their purposes are not: Aborigines were a dying race so they were protected from the wider community; the Aboriginal race had failed to die off, so they were segregated from the wider community.

Whilst the Aboriginal ‘race’ had survived, government policies reflected the attitude that, nonetheless, by the twentieth century they had still failed to progress since European contact. Sentiment thus ruled that continued segregation of the Aborigines from the wider community would ensure white purity. Such practices would not only expedite the demise of the Aborigines, but would hasten the emergence of the Australian national.

The Australian type was believed to be a new product of the multiplying British stock, the ‘race’ which, in the heyday of British imperialism and legitimated by the now immensely influential ideology of Social Darwinism, saw itself as superior to all other ‘races’ and therefore possessing the duty and destiny to populate and ‘civilise’ the rest of the world.

Interest subsequently increased in using evolution theory for justification of a strong state in Australia. It is this racialist concern with a distinctively Australian type that undergirded the White Australia Policy, which was sanctioned by the adoption of the Immigration Restriction Bill in 1901. Pettman comments that the:

Imperialist and racist ideology drew on generations of conquest, slavery and exploitation, and on a whole language of black inferiority and white superiority, bolstered in the nineteenth century by the new sciences. This ideology proved useful and flexible in rationalising the bloody violence, dispossession and incarceration of Aboriginal people, necessary to clear the way for the white nation (Pettman, 1988:2).

Jan Pettman notes that the Darwinist explanations of evolution asserted that given equal competition, the fittest societies would survive and the inferior would die out, and links the attempted and hastened destruction of Aboriginal societies based on this theory. The British, being industrious and capital driven, accepted themselves as superior to the ‘improvident’ Aborigines and accepted that as racially doomed and undesirable were destined to die out, or as Pettman suggests, provided encouragement to hurry on the inevitable result of colonial contact. Such acts, it was argued, sidestepped issues of morality by assertions that such conflict was “beyond the reach of normal moral or social concern, being driven by irresistible forces of species survival” (Hollinsworth, 1998:38). Destruction of the weak was the only way to assure success for the strong. (See Reynolds [1987]) regarding the destructive acts that were practiced to hasten the demise).

 

References

Beckett, J. (1988), editor Aborigines and the state in Australia, The University of Adelaide, South Australia.

Blair, D. (1879), The history of Australasia, McGready, Thomson and Niven, Glasgow.

Cashmore, E; and Troyna, B. (1990), Introduction to race relations, 2nd edition, The Falmer Press, London.

Castles, Alex; and Harris, Michael (1987), Lawmakers and wayward wigs: government and law in South Australia, Wakefield Press, Adelaide.

Donaldson, Ian; and Donaldson, Tamsin (1985), editors Seeing the first Australians, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Edwards, W.H. (1988). An introduction to Aboriginal societies. Social Science Press, Wentworth Falls, NSW.

Evans, Raymond; Saunders, Kay; and Cronin, Kathryn (1993), Race relations in colonial Queensland: a history of exclusion, exploitation and extermination, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia.

Flood, J. (1995). Archaeology of the Dreamtime. Collins, Sydney.

Girling, D. (1983). Editor New age encyclopedia. Volume 22. Bay Books, Sydney.

Goldberg, David (1990), editor Anatomy of racism, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.

Goodwin, Craufurd (1964), ‘Evolution theory in Australian social thought’ in the Journal of the history of ideas, Volume 25, pp 393-416, in Knowledge, Ideology and Social Science (Level 1) Readings, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Hollinsworth, D. (1998), Race and racism in Australia, 2nd edition, Social Science Press, Katoomba, NSW.

Hofstadter, Richard (1955), Social Darwinism in American thought, Beacon Press, Boston.

Kalantzis, Mary (1998a), ‘Reconsidering the meaning of our Commonwealth (part 2)’ on the Women’s constitutional convention website (Online, accessed 9 Apr. 2001). URL:http://www.womensconv.dynamite.com.au/kalantz2.htm

Kearney, G. (1973), editor The psychology of Aboriginal Australians, John Wiley and Sons, Sydney.

Kingston, Beverley. (1988), The Oxford history of Australia volume 3: glad, confident morning 1860-1900, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Kociumbas, J. (1992), The Oxford history of Australia volume 2: possessions 1770-1860, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Kohen, J. (1993). The Darug and their neighbours: the traditional Aboriginal owners of the Sydney region. Darug Link: Blacktown and District Historical Society, NSW.

McConnochie, K; Hollinsworth, D; and Pettman, J. (1993), Race and racism in Australia, Social Science Press, Australia.

McGrath, Ann (1995), editor Contested ground: Australian Aborigines under the British crown, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards.

Peterson, Nicolas; and Sanders, Will (1998), editors Citizenship and Indigenous Australians, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Pettman, Jan (1988), ‘Whose country is it anyway?: cultural politics, racism and the construction of being Australian’, Journal of intercultural studies, Volume 9(1), Pages 1-24, in Race Relations in Australia: Theory and History Readings Part 2, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Reay, M. (1964), editor Aborigines now, Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Reynolds, Henry (1987), Frontier: Aborigines, settlers and land, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Stephenson, P. (1997), ‘Race’, ‘whiteness’ and the Australian context, (Online accessed 28 Sep. 2001). URL:http://www.arts.uwa.edu.au/MotsPluriels/MP297ps.html

Stratton, John; and Ang, Ien (1994), ‘Multicultural imagined communities: cultural difference and national identity in Australia and the USA’ in Continuum: the Australian journal of media and culture, Volume 8, Number 2, pages 1-20.

Taplin, G (1879) 1997 Extracts from ‘The Native tribes of South Australia’ facsimile edition, The Friends of the State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, pp xli-xlii, 6-9, 98, 102-103, 118-122, 136-137 and 145-150 in Australian Ethnography Readings Part 1, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

White, R. (1981), Inventing Australia, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Continued tomorrow: The Other Threat

Link to Part 2

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Nationhood and the ‘Pure’ Race (part 2)

The Early Thought

Many historians argue that the celebrations of our centenary of Federation masked several truths about why the colonies chose to federate. Among a variety of reasons, these historians declare that one of the prime motives behind federation was the emerging sense of nationhood. Or rather, that the need to maintain and consolidate a sense of ethnic identity was possibly more of a factor. This thesis explores the level of significance accorded to ethnic identity in Federation.

The Australian colonies were always unequivocally a part of the British Empire, but it is well documented that they did not share the Imperial Government’s views about ‘race’. The position of Aborigines is herein important. Whereas Aborigines were considered to be subjects of the British Empire, and as such free to claim the same privileges that this citizenship availed, to the colonial Australians the Aborigines were a doomed people who were to hold no place in a landscape of an emerging Australia.

The then British Governments had made a serious effort to ensure that Aborigines – as British subjects – enjoyed certain rights. Conversely, this imperial framework of rights was discarded in the era of Federation. This thesis considers arguments that identify the competing ‘racial’ discourse between the British Government and the colonists related ‘racist’ ideology, and that the ideology held by the colonies become dominant within Australian political and intellectual life.

Whilst the British endeavours are indeed pertinent, this thesis does not give this issue much coverage. Preferably, this paper considers the ideological issues – both popular and perceived – held by the colonial Australians. Subsequently, it is recognised that Federation offered the opportunity to categorically doom Aboriginal people.

Many historians have demonstrated that the popular media of the day endeavoured to exhibit that the Chinese were a threat comparable to that the Indigenous people posed to the heredity succession of the emerging Australian type. ‘White Australia’ as a national ideal reflected public consciousness and echoed the sentiments of the popular press. This thesis only briefly comments on this position. Nonetheless, the attempts to prevent or restrict non-European immigration to Australia can be seen as a parallel process to the construction of the various colonies’ racially motivated political and social systems that were applied to Aborigines in the latter half of the 19th century. It was argued that both movements sought to secure a White Australia, and this thesis examines this argument.

As indicated (in Part 1), one of the moves behind federation was the emerging sense of nationhood, or rather; the need to maintain and consolidate a sense of ethnic identity was conceivably more of a factor. As it were, towards the end of the 19th century racism and nationalism had become almost synonymous, and the fundamental reason for the adoption of the subsequent White Australia policy, tellingly, was the preservation of a British-Australian nationality.

Notions of ‘race’ and the mythology of white supremacy had helped shape early constructions of nationhood. “Central to the move towards Federation of 1901 was a class accord around race and nation” (Mary Kalantzis, 1998b:2). Kalantzis does not doubt that the ideologies held in colonial Australia were based upon an indulgence of racial superiority. The ebullient, nationalistic rhetoric of the 1890s and the period of Federation clearly established national unity on the basis of race, defined as essentially white and British. To define their unity as a nation, Australians had to define themselves against others of lesser races. The Australian of 1901 was reportedly a racist construction.

Identification as British and as a part of the British Empire was obviously a convenient basis upon which to define the identity of Australians at the time of Federation. The colonists, being principally British Australians, wanted it kept that way (Markus, 1979:xiii). Federation was the vehicle. Subsequently, “… 1901 was a moment of nationalism, and with that came racism, isolationism, and the exclusion of Aboriginal peoples” (Mary Kalantzis, 1998b:2).

‘Race’ and nation – and racism and nationalism – were theorised in their modern forms, significantly, around the period leading up to Australia’s Federation. Racism was interpreted – which fits the construct of this thesis – as the doctrine that the world’s population is divisible into categories based on physical differences which can be transmitted genetically. Invariably, this leads to the conception that the categories are ordered hierarchically so that some elements of the world’s population are superior to others. David Goldberg (1990:295) fittingly identified that: “The link between racism and race is generally considered to be discrimination against others in virtue of their putatively different racial membership.” Such an ideology justified the Australian colonial situation.

It is also pertinent that the emergence of racism was prevalent in the age of European expansion. As the indigenous peoples of other continents were encountered, Europeans categorised them into racial groups and sought to explain the diversity of relative social or industrious achievements of humankind. In its most strident form, Australian racism argued that Aborigines (and other non-Europeans) were genetically inferior; less advanced, and would only debase the British-Australian population.

The publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 had a further profound impact on European thought. Darwin suggested that all species were not permanently fixed: they were under-going change by natural selection. Darwin argued that if a species did not adapt successfully it was doomed to extinction. Only the favoured survived and prospered in the struggle for life. Herbert Spencer’s theory of evolution in the social sciences – Social Darwinism – indoctrinated that the principles of biological evolution should also be applied to human society. Spencer, a laissez-faire liberal argued that societies evolve from simple to more complex forms based on Darwin’s concept of natural selection – survival of the fittest and suggested that the nineteenth century perceptions of Aboriginal intellect and active powers was ‘remarkably consistent’ with this theory and provided powerful rationalisation for European supremacy.

 

Image from slideshare.net

 

The ideology of Social Darwinism subsequently caught the imagination of the public and entered the discourse (in particularly through the popular media) of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Intellectual fashions in Social Darwinism and eugenics, it was argued, sought to purify and secure a white Australia. The Indigenous population was perceived as a threat to this ‘purity’ and thus considered dangerous to the colonial society and an emerging Australian identity. The Indigenous Australians, who nature had supposedly chosen for extinction, inspired the doctrine of Social Darwinism.

Contemporary scientific techniques were also adopted to classify the physical characteristics of the Indigenous Australians: skull shape, bodily proportions, and other variables. Not surprisingly, researchers who were convinced of the superiority of the European type found data to authenticate their assumptions.

It is important that in Australia, as in other colonial contexts, Europeans imagined the indigenes as the Other, those fashioned or constructed which is outside and opposite, and a collective identity was forged through a discourse that set them apart from Europeans. White (1981:64) suggests that the idea that it was possible to isolate national types was one of the most important mainstays supporting the colonial ideas about national character that developed in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Similarly, Pettman (1988:3) argues that:

Aborigines were constructed as ‘the Other’ in ideologies of race and nation … they were not only placed outside of the nation, but also outside humanity, by virtue of their supposed primitiveness, and the inevitability of their demise … in accordance with Social Darwinism.

It is pertinent that European institutionalisation of scientific research and methods took place at a time when rapid and aggressive imperial expansion necessitated a devaluation of Indigenous cultures. Not surprising, much European knowledge of Indigenous people was hence dependent on representations that construct the Aborigines or the ‘first natives’ in their absence. Attwood and Arnold (1992) pursued the idea of discourses, drawing on Said’s Orientalism as the basis of discussion. Said’s study examined the way in which Europeans constructed a range of essential ‘truths’ or stereotypes about the East (Orientalism); Attwood and Arnold applied a similar analysis to Western constructions of knowledge about Aborigines (Aboriginalism). They defined a number of different Aboriginalisms and also proposed to subject Aboriginalism to a Foucaldian discourse analysis so that the value of the knowledge it produces can be critically assessed and the relationships of power in which this is embedded can be revealed. In introducing their book Power, Knowledge and Aborigines Attwood and Arnold write that their book was indeed:

… concerned with European Australians and our ways of knowing the Aborigines. In particular it considers both Aboriginalism as a mode of discourse which, like Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’, produces authoritative and essentialist ‘truths’ about indigenes, and which is characterised by a mutually supporting relationship between power and knowledge (Attwood and Arnold, 1992:i).

They suggested that knowledge is acquired for a purpose, contingent, and constructed by relationships of power and that we need to consider who has produced this knowledge, when and where, for what purpose, in whose interests, how and in what form. This is pertinent when looking at the reasons behind Australia’s Federation. As a parallel, in his study of how Europe constructed an archetypical image of the Orient, Edward Said argued that, far from reflecting what the countries of the Near East were like, ‘Orientalism’ was the discourse by which Europeans were was able produce the Orient sociologically, ideologically, scientifically and imaginatively. Within the framework of western hegemony over the Orient, Hall argued that there emerged a new object of knowledge, a:

… complex Orient suitable for study in the academy, for display in the museum, for reconstruction in the colonial office, for theoretical illustration in anthropological, biological, linguistic, racial and historical theses about mankind (Hall, 1997:259).

This form of power is closely connected with knowledge, or with the practices of what Foucault called ‘power/knowledge’. For Foucault power is productive of knowledge. Power forms knowledge and produces discourse. Edward Said’s discussion of Orientalism closely parallels Foucault’s power/knowledge argument: a discourse produces, through different practices of representation a form of racialised knowledge of the Other deeply implicated in the operations of power. Identifying the power/knowledge relationship to Said’s argument, Stuart Hall summarises that power:

… produces new discourse, new kinds of knowledge (ie Orientalism), new objects of knowledge (the Orient), it shapes new practices (colonisation) and institutions (colonial government). Power is to be found everywhere. Power circulates (Hall, 1997:261).

Even before colonisation, the construct of the Aborigine – the Other – was seen as positioned in the landscape as a savage: a subsequent depiction that evolved in the minds of European imagination. The English, especially, considered themselves well credentialed. As the first Englishman to encounter Aborigines, William Dampier instilled in other Englishmen’s minds the preconceptions about these people when he wrote that they were “the miserablest [sic] people in the world” (Donaldson and Donaldson, 1985:37). And the image of the Aborigine was to leave no impression of excitement or significance on Cook, a later visitor, merely accepting the Aborigines as Dampier had earlier reported. Cook had also brought with him images of indigenous peoples as ‘noble savages’, largely the antithesis of Europeans. Cook was probably influenced by the writings of Rousseau, whose saw ‘native’ peoples as unadulterated by the evils of civilisation. These idealistic views were modified after 1788. However, these early explorers saw no, and reported no:

… positive attributes among the Aboriginal people and believed in their own superiority. The land was declared terra nullius … and the various Aboriginal nations declared uncivilised. (Bourke et al, 1994:4)

Historians suggest that such reports simply confirmed prejudices based on doctrines of evolutionary and intellectual difference. These reports were to lend support to the European scientific discourse of the Great Chain of Being, which arranged all living things in a hierarchy, beginning with the simplest creatures, ascending through the primates and to humans. It was also practice to distinguish between different types of humans. Through the hierarchical chain the various human types could be ranked in order of intellect and active powers. The Europeans – being ‘intelligent and God-fearing’ – were invariably placed on the top, whilst the Aborigines – as perceived savages – occupied the lowest scale of humanity, slightly above the position held by the ape. Such ideas were carried to and widely circulated in the Australian colonies and helped shape attitudes towards the Aborigines. So dominant was the concept that it helped … “develop pre-conceived attitudes towards – and arguably the fate of – the Aborigines even before the colonisation” (Henry Reynolds, 1987:108). Reynolds argues that the image of the Aborigine simply confirmed prejudices based on doctrines of evolutionary difference and intellectual inferiority. These prejudices, he endeavours to suggest, were based on a construction of Aborigines where the Europeans were more credited with knowing more about the Aborigines than the Aborigines knew about themselves.

 

References

Attwood, B; and Arnold, J. (1992), editors Power, knowledge and Aborigines, La Trobe University Press, Bundoora, Victoria.

Bourke, C; Bourke, E; and Edwards, B. (1994). Editors Aboriginal Australians. University of South Australia.

Bourke, E; and Edwards, B. (1994), editors Aboriginal Australia: an introductory reader in Aboriginal studies, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Queensland.

Cashmore, E; and Troyna, B. (1990), Introduction to race relations, 2nd edition, The Falmer Press, London.

Castles, Alex; and Harris, Michael (1987), Lawmakers and wayward wigs: government and law in South Australia, Wakefield Press, Adelaide.

Donaldson, Ian; and Donaldson, Tamsin (1985), editors Seeing the first Australians, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Evans, Raymond; Saunders, Kay; and Cronin, Kathryn (1993), Race relations in colonial Queensland: a history of exclusion, exploitation and extermination, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia.

Evans, R; Moore, C; Saunders, K; and Jamison, B. (1997), editors 1901 our future’s past; documenting Australia’s federation, Pan Macmillan, Sydney.

Gibb, D. (1973), The making of ‘white Australia’, Victorian Historical Association, West Melbourne.

Goldberg, David (1990), editor Anatomy of racism, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.

Hall, Stuart (1997), editor Representation: cultural representations and signifying practices, Sage Publications, London.

Hollinsworth, D. (1998), Race and racism in Australia, 2nd edition, Social Science Press, Katoomba, NSW.

Hofstadter, Richard (1955), Social Darwinism in American thought, Beacon Press, Boston.

Jupp, James (1991), Immigration, Sydney University Press, NSW.

Kalantzis, Mary (1998a), ‘Reconsidering the meaning of our Commonwealth (part 2)’ on the Women’s constitutional convention website (Online, accessed 9 Apr. 2001). URL:http://www.womensconv.dynamite.com.au/kalantz2.htm

Kalantzis, Mary (September, 1998b), ‘Working to our cultural advantage’ in hotTYPE, volume 2, (Online, accessed 8 Aug. 2001). URL:http://www.rmit.edu.au/About/hotTYPEv2/

Kearney, G. (1973), editor The psychology of Aboriginal Australians, John Wiley and Sons, Sydney.

Markus, A. (1979), Fear and hatred: purifying Australia and California 1850-1901, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney.

Markus, A; and Rasmussen, R. (1987), editors Prejudice and the public arena: racism, Monash University, Melbourne.

McConnochie, K; Hollinsworth, D; and Pettman, J. (1993), Race and racism in Australia, Social Science Press, Australia.

McGrath, Ann (1995), editor Contested ground: Australian Aborigines under the British crown, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards.

Pettman, Jan (1988), ‘Whose country is it anyway?: cultural politics, racism and the construction of being Australian’, Journal of intercultural studies, Volume 9(1), Pages 1-24, in Race Relations in Australia: Theory and History Readings Part 2, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Reynolds, Henry (1987), Frontier: Aborigines, settlers and land, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Russell, P; and White, R. (1994). editors Pastiche 1: reflections on nineteenth century Australia. Allen and Unwin, St Leonards, NSW.

Stephenson, P. (1997), ‘Race’, ‘whiteness’ and the Australian context, (Online accessed 28 Sep. 2001). URL:http://www.arts.uwa.edu.au/MotsPluriels/MP297ps.html

van Toorn, Penny (1995, July), ‘Mudrooroo and the power of the post alternative inscriptions of Aboriginalist discourse in a post-Aboriginalist age’ in the Southern review, Volume 28, Number 2, pages 121-139.

White, R. (1981), Inventing Australia, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Willard, M. (1967), History of the white Australia policy to 1920, 2nd edition, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

Yengoyan, Aram (1999), Racism, cultural diversity and the Australian Aborigine, University of California, Davis.

Continued tomorrow: Ideology and the Indigenous Australians

Link to Part 1

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Nationhood and the ‘Pure’ Race (part 1)

Over twenty years ago I submitted my Honours thesis in Aboriginal Studies, that had the (academically proper but) gangling title of:

A review of the racist ideologies of Social Darwinism and eugenics in colonial Australia in the formative years of Federation, and how these ideologies were applied to purify and secure a White Australia.

When reading it recently I couldn’t help but ponder that there is so much of our colonial history that remains unknown, especially the cruel effects colonialism had on the First Australians.

Australia is, sadly, considered a racist country. But that’s how the country was born. My thesis – which was researched for twelve months – indicated strong evidence of this.

Over the next five days I will be publishing a shortened (and a less academic) version of my thesis, and of course, with a shortened title.

Here we begin:

White Australia and Federation

There has been much debate surrounding Federation over the past year. Recently, Mary Kalantzis in the Barton Lectures (The Australian, 21/2/01) introduced a concept that is indeed timely in the context of this thesis. For her, the timing is also critical (having just passed our centenary of Federation celebrations), asking her readers to face the racist origins of our nationhood. Kalantzis also noted the British position in the colonies’ desire federate. Namely, British colonial rule had made a serious effort to ensure that Aborigines – as British subjects – enjoyed certain rights. Bearing this, subsequent research sought to identify the British position (and its ineffectuality) in the frontier nation. She comments that as we approached Federation in the late 1890s:

Australia was ethnic-British by consciousness now, less than it was Colonial-Imperial and this changed the character of government fundamentally. Whereas an open Empire promoted unrestricted immigration and allowed no explicit discrimination between its subjects, the emerging Australian nation moved towards a white Australia Policy – in deliberate defiance of the edicts from London. Whereas the Empire had established fundamental rights for indigenes, [Federation] removed these (Kalantzis, 1998b).

The desire to remain one people without the admixture of other races was arguably one of the most powerful forces that impelled the colonists towards Federation. The thesis reviews key writers in Aboriginal Studies who have argued that the ethnic distinctiveness of colonial Australia could be ‘purified’ though a unified Australia, and that the Indigenous population was perceived as a threat to this ‘purity’. The discourse of this racist ideology included a set of hypothetical premises about human kinds (eg, the Great Chain of Being and the evolutionary theory of Social Darwinism), and about the differences between them (both mental and physical). In the formative years of Federation the racist ideology of social evolutionary theory was used as justification of a strong ‘white’ state in Australia. Colonists proclaimed that:

… human improvement had occurred in the past through beneficial struggle wherein the fittest alone had survived. Intervention by the state with the natural growth process of the economy, they concluded, could lead only to stagnation and race deterioration (Goodwin, 1964:415).

Emergent scientific thoughts in Social Darwinism and eugenics ultimately sought to purify and secure a White Australia. The Indigenous population, and the hordes of Chinese entering the colony, were a perceived as a threat to this ‘purity’. Unlike the Indigenous Australians, who nature had supposedly chosen for extinction, the Chinese threat came not only from the racial conflicts that inspired the doctrine of Social Darwinism, but from a media inspired regime of propaganda that exposed Chinese social habits as immoral, and more importantly, dangerous to the colonial society.

The research has purposely been directed to a review of the secondary sources. Secondary sources are seen as a valuable source of both data and analyses of theoretical contexts. Whereas the primary data can describe ‘what happened’ and as it happened, the secondary sources can provide some valuable analyses and interpretation of ‘why it happened’. The use of secondary sources is also pertinent as one endeavours to identify the knowledge and ideas that have already been established in the field of research.

Many historians provide works with a representative sample of literature (and opinion), as well as a broad ambit of material from popular journals of the late nineteenth century. In particular, the Sydney Bulletin – one of the most influential journals of the period – is a widely cited journal. It is proclaimed that the adaptation of evolutionary theory to the defence of radicalism was illustrated well from the middle of the 1880s in contributions to the Bulletin.

European racial ideals and preoccupations are indeed well exemplified by editorials, staff and correspondent’s features in a number of other journals as well, both influencing and reflecting public opinion. These publications harangued the public with sensational articles and cartoons warning of the threat to the social and moral well being of – and in particular – an emerging Australian type. These journals, they wrote, being:

Filled with articles of substance and lively debate on provocative issues provided their readers with a wealth of illustrative material which both popularised scientific racist theories and provided plenty of local examples to bear these theories out (Evans et al, 1993:15).

Most writers examined conclude that the ideology of Social Darwinism subsequently caught the imagination of the public and entered the discourse through the popular media, and that the ideology shaped the White Australia Policy. In summary:

  • The doctrine of Social Darwinism produced a set of ideas that were very engaging to the colonial society.
  • Popular literature of the nineteenth century depicted an image of the Australian Aborigine that reinforced these colonial ideals.
  • Australia was determined to maintain what it believed was its racial homogeneity. If the indigenous peoples continued their perceived decline towards extinction (and other migrant races were excluded or expelled), a ‘pure race’ could logically result (Cited in Evans et al, 1997:26).

White Australia, it is inferred, was designed to serve as ‘an ideological function in reinforcing the concept of an all-white nation’. It composed a policy of the most persuasive and effective journal in the country: “to preserve the White Breed pure” (Evans et al, 1993:358). With Federation, an immigration policy gained in salience and the logical sequel to the thinking of the fathers of Federation was the passing of racial exclusion legislation – The Immigration Restriction Act (1901). This Act came to be known as the ‘White Australia Policy’. Literature is examined that contends that this policy confirmed the racist ideology based on white supremacy and was used to deny citizenship to the Aboriginal people.

 

References

Evans, Raymond; Saunders, Kay; and Cronin, Kathryn (1993), Race relations in colonial Queensland: a history of exclusion, exploitation and extermination, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia.

Evans, R; Moore, C; Saunders, K; and Jamison, B. (1997), editors 1901 our future’s past; documenting Australia’s federation, Pan Macmillan, Sydney.

Gibb, D. (1973), The making of ‘white Australia’, Victorian Historical Association, West Melbourne.

Goldberg, David (1990), editor Anatomy of racism, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.

Goodwin, Craufurd (1964), ‘Evolution theory in Australian social thought’ in the Journal of the history of ideas, Volume 25, pp 393-416, in Knowledge, Ideology and Social Science (Level 1) Readings, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Hollinsworth, D. (1998), Race and racism in Australia, 2nd edition, Social Science Press, Katoomba, NSW.

Kalantzis, Mary (September, 1998b), ‘Working to our cultural advantage’ in hotTYPE, volume 2, (Online, accessed 8 Aug. 2001). URL:http://www.rmit.edu.au/About/hotTYPEv2/

Markus, A. (1979), Fear and hatred: purifying Australia and California 1850-1901, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney.

McConnochie, K; Hollinsworth, D; and Pettman, J. (1993), Race and racism in Australia, Social Science Press, Australia.

McGrath, Ann (1995), editor Contested ground: Australian Aborigines under the British crown, Allen and Unwin, St Leonards.

Pettman, Jan (1988), ‘Whose country is it anyway?: cultural politics, racism and the construction of being Australian’, Journal of intercultural studies, Volume 9(1), Pages 1-24, in Race Relations in Australia: Theory and History Readings Part 2, University of South Australia, Adelaide.

Continued tomorrow: The Early Thought

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Sometimes you wonder if the government gives a damn

I’m in the middle of a dilemma. A very worrying one, actually.

My rural Victorian city has been lucky – full credit to our townsfolk and the tough measures from our state government – in that COVID-19 has not yet pierced our invisible walls. Nonetheless, I am very keen to be vaccinated.

But there was a problem. AstraZeneca, which you have probably read, has been related to clotting deaths. The chances of dying from AZ clotting is infinitely small, but unfortunately, because of a hereditary condition (which I won’t go into), my doctor said that I’m one of that infinitely small number who is definitely at risk.

Naturally she wants me to be vaccinated, so her advice was to stay safe until Pfizer became available (which at that point, was not far away).

When Pfizer was available, I was in that age group – the wrong side of 60 – that could not have access to it.

Concerned, I wrote to Minister Hunt asking for an explanation of why – based on my condition and my doctor’s advice – I could not have access to Pfizer.

A few weeks later I received a polite two-page reply from the Department of Health telling me of the wonderful job the Federal Government was doing in response to the pandemic, and concluded that whilst they could not comment on my own condition, that if I had any concerns then I should consult my GP.

That last bit was rather odd, I thought, as I had consulted my GP… which was the reason I contacted Minister Hunt in the first place.

To satisfy myself about AstraZeneca – ie, whether it was safe for me – I sought a second opinion (same clinic, different doctor). After looking at my medical records, her advice was the same: AstraZeneca was too great a risk and she would be seeking approval for me to have Pfizer, as of course, she wanted me vaccinated.

She was unable to get that approval.

Nobody, it seems, gives a damn.

You can imagine how distressing this is; the constant government appeal to go get vaccinated yet I am not allowed to obtain the only vaccine currently available that has been recommended as suitable for me. Surely a mechanism might be available for those whose GPs do not recommend AstraZeneca in order that I might be vaccinated.

 

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