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).
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Continued tomorrow: Conclusion
Link to Part 3
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