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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).



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

Link to Part 3

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  1. Michael Taylor

    Why should I let one person spoil all the fun?

  2. BB

    Absolutely not Michael.
    An old saying about ducks..
    While they look serene above water,
    under water they are paddling like shit…

  3. New England Cocky

    @ Michael Taylor: A bit of ”where angels fear to tread” after just reading the discussion after Part 3. I am happy that you are completing this series drawn from your thesis.

    However, I too think that this approach is ”not a real approach to history”. At UNE we had a History professor practicing historiography, ”history the way I wanted it to occur”, who was a crawling sycophant for John Macarthur, of Rum Rebellion fame, banished to England for his treasonous exploits and only saved from hanging by the personal intervention of the Duke of Norfolk.

    I find it difficult to discuss ”Nationhood and Pure Race” without the background knowledge of the Proceedings of the Australasian Constitution Conventions 1891,1893,1895,1897, the previously reported & mentioned role of Isaac Isaacs plus the Castles discussion of the English difficulty of applying English legal assumptions to Aboriginals who spoke no English and so did not understand English legal practice.

    Isaacs was both an initiator and enforcer of the White Australia policy and the suppression of Aborigines by government sponsored policies fo genocide and in places exploitation. Naturally politicians as the elected leaders of the dominant majority, extolled the virtues of the populist racism against both Aborigines and Chinese.

    As for the Chinese threat after the 1851 discovery of gold; the Anglo-Saxons did not work as hard as the Chinese on the gold-fields and were jealous of their hard earned success. Therefore, the Chinese became the necessary scapegoats because they were a visibly different minority.

  4. Michael Taylor

    It’s a pity, BB, because DrakeN has always been a valued contributor here. I’m saddened that he was soaked in bias, but such things eventually bubble to the surface.

    Despite being unfairly attacked – as were those who felt they have learnt something from this series – I will miss him. But I will move on.

  5. Michael Taylor

    NEC, on a series I’ve been watching on TV a history lecturer told his uni class that it wasn’t Paul Revere who is credited for his heroic act in the War of Independence but a fellow who is now forgotten in history (and whose name I’ve also forgotten).

    The lecturer asked the class if they knew why Revere is given all the credit. “Because he had a better publicist.”

    Witty, but true.

  6. Michael Taylor

    However, I too think that this approach is ”not a real approach to history”.

    NEC, what should be the real approach?

    As I have mentioned elsewhere, at uni we took a different approach to the norm. The focus was not on what happened, but rather, what was in the head of the historical players.

    To know what was in the head of Cook, for one example, we had to go back to the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the age of discovery.

    Even you, I, or anybody reading this will change the course of history for someone.

    As an example, over thirty years ago I went on a lousy date. I blame Rasputin. The Russian Tsar had a son who had what is now known as the Royal Disease (they bled a lot). Frustrated that medicine could do nothing about this disease, the Tsarina turned to the mystical Rasputin who eventually wielded much power over the Tsarina, who eventually wielded much power over the Tsar, which – keeping this brief – was the precursor to the Russian Revolution.

    Forty years later communist Russia invaded Hungary. A particularly wealthy family, foreseeing the invasion, fled the country hoping to get to the United States, but instead found themselves headed for Australia where they later had a daughter.

    Thirty years later I took that daughter on a date. It turned out a disaster. I blame Rasputin.

  7. Kate Ahearne

    Hi, Michael.

    So glad we got over that little bump in the road. I, too, am sorry about DrakeN.

    Anyhow, great to see the series back on track. I hadn’t realised that the Immigration Restriction Act was actually the first act of the new government. Extraordinary to think that there wasn’t anything else more urgent or important to them. That fact so powerfully underlines how massive an idea White Australia was.

  8. BB

    Well Michael, win some, lose some, life, a series of ups and downs, swings and roundabouts eh.. There are few guarantees.
    When you’ve had enough of merry go rounds, then It’s Time for bumper cars or even maybe the ghost train….😱

    National identity was enshrined in the White Australia Policy, the sentiments of which are still very much with us today.
    Nothing much changes, today we have a duplicitous PM, Morrison, trying to pick a fight with our Chinese neighbours.
    For no real reason than attempting to hide his total incompetence and big note himself for the coming Federal elections.
    I’m certain he and his (elitist) philistine peers hate the fact that Australia has and is developing into a multicultural society.

    Had the experiment worked in making Australia completely British, then we would now be a very sorry place to live in.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Btw, NEC, I do appreciate this:

    However, I too think that this approach is ”not a real approach to history”.

    You are expressing an opinion, which you are entitled and encouraged to do.

    It’s when people say: “Wrong, wrong wrong. You’re doing it all wrong. You have no idea what you’re doing because you’re an idiot and full of shit. Grow a fcking brain. You know Jack shit blah blah blah” that gets me a bit worked up.

    Such people aren’t expressing an opinion (even though they might think they are). Instead, they are attacking the author. This site prefers it if the message is disputed. We’ve never tolerated attacks on the author, no matter who the author is, and whether I agree with the author or not. An attack on the author crosses the line.

  10. Kate Ahearne

    NEC, You say that ‘However, I too think that this approach is ”not a real approach to history”’ But you don’t explain yourself.

  11. leefe


    The problem with history (as a field of study) is that it relies on records, and records are inevitably incomplete and subjective.

    We all have biases and gaps in our knowledge. For anything approaching truth to be exposed, we must constantly challenge those biases and seek to fill in the gaps.

  12. Michael Taylor

    leefe, despite what I learned in my BA in Aboriginal Affairs, my BA (Honours) in Aboriginal Studies, my ten years at ATSIC and other departments associated with Indigenous policy, I probably learned more about Aboriginal cultures and history from my six years working with Aboriginal communities in the Flinders Ranges, the far north of SA, and the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands.

    The latter has been a stumbling block: people are only interested in what’s in a book. Try mentioning that knowledge was gained from Aboriginal Elders and it’s met with; “That’s only hearsay.”

    But wasn’t the court system originally established on what was hearsay?

    In the Middle Ages a pig was put on trial by a French court for practicing witchcraft. The pig was found guilty and sentenced to death. Wow, what a precedent.

    And speaking of records being incomplete and subjective, incidences of Aboriginal murders didn’t often appear on police records, but they are recorded in the stories of Aboriginal communities.

    Stories can be uncannily accurate. One case in point is the date of occupation of one of the Torres Strait islands. Elders spoke of the number of generations that had been on the island and it was calculated that it covered a period of 11,000 years. Some time later archaeologists determined – from the archaeological record – that the island had been occupied for 11,000 years.

  13. BB

    “Stories can be uncannily accurate.” indeed Michael, and invariably are in the context of Aboriginal memories.
    That some people reject such is incredibly arrogant and ignorant of other beliefs. Narrow minded and blinkered. Philistines.

    Not all cultures have used writing as such to record events and their histories. There are other methods and ideas.

    A quipu was a method used by the Incas and other ancient Andean cultures to keep records and communicate information using string and knots. In the absence of an alphabetic writing system, this simple and highly portable device achieved a surprising degree of precision and flexibility. Quipu could record dates, statistics, accounts, and even abstract ideas. Quipu are still used today across South America.

    Aboriginals use dance, stories told through the generations, rock art, country, their dreamtime.. This is their form of “writing”!
    In essence Aboriginal methods to recall events are not that much different from Quipu, or writing, but just a different format.
    They use the country, the landscape as their page, their strings, their way to remember with dance exact details.
    Which is why Aboriginals become so distressed when their country is desecrated, blown up and stolen from them.

    Imagine someone tearing up, shitting, pissing on the Magna Carta document, or the Declaration of Independence manuscript.

    Michael, you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink…

  14. Tim B

    “… what was in the head of the historical players.”

    This is a much more useful approach to the study of history than an acceptance of recorded ‘facts’. The textbook would tell us that the British colonised Australia because their jails were full, a crime & punishment remedy. I refused to teach this in isolation and instead back-tracked to age of exploration and the subsequent competition among European states. So what was in the heads of these players? Accumulation of resources and strategic advantage. Context is everything.

    Michael’s work shines a light on the imperitive to justify grand theft and how discourses of the day were manipulated to that end. One must also acknowledge that the bible commanded ‘replenish the earth’ ‘dominion over fowl & beast (paraphrasing here), so not having any recognisable agriculture also denied Aboriginal people property rights, according to god himself.

    The cards were certainly stacked! Looking forward to part 5.

  15. New England Cocky

    @Michael Taylor et al.:
    !). Historical oversights. Have occurred too regularly throughout history because authors were of the middle class or upper classes who could afford the time (and money) to write histories of whatever took their fancy. Marcus Clarke is credited as ”the first historian of Australian history” but there were others before him as shown by the inclusion of their work in Clarke’s seven volume opus, often without acknowledgement.
    2). The real approach. History is a series of facts recalled by those who were present, or believed that they knew what happened at a particular event in time. Military history is always written by the victors, usually because the vanquished are dead. So, to me the real approach is to assemble ALL the known facts and attempt to make sense of them, follow the logic of the players if you like, but as much as possible within the heads of the players. The difficulty as always becomes discovering ALL THE FACTS which naturally depends upon the research skills of the author and the availability of particular information.

    For example, a primary school kid today looking for facts about the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company in the Northern Territory would seem futile because there is unlikely to be any information so far from the TSNC operations in the 19th century. Google and Wikipedia are reducing this problem.
    3) Changing History Story About 10 years ago there was an international Conference of Plant Pathology held in Melbourne Victoria. One of the speakers was the Chief Plant Pathologist from NZ which at that time was trying to get NZ apples into the Australian market. The International Trade Organisation had ruled that preventing the entry of the fungus disease Apple Blight into Australia was not a valid excuse for stopping the NZ apple trade.
    At a post-conference visit to the Melbourne Botanic Gardens the NZ Chief Plant Pathologist ”discovered” a tree infected with the conspicuous Apple Blight. An Australian former post-graduate plant pathologist heard the announcement and wrote a note to the ABC Rural Department stating that his research demonstrated that it was impossible for Apple Blight to be blown from NZ to Australia because all the weather systems at the latitude of Melbourne moved from west to east as the Roaring Forties.
    Rather, it was likely that some person unknown had infected the tree in time for Apple Blight symptoms to be expressed during the Conference tour, and given the then current trade dispute, it was likely to be somebody with NZ best interests at heart.
    The Chief Plant Pathologist confessed his dirty deeds at the press conference he called to announce the infection.
    4) Support the authors and argue about the article. Excellent and only sensible policy.
    5) @Kate Ahearne: See above.
    6) @leefe: Agreed. Discovering fresh material after publication may be frustrating but recognising it and successfully incorporating it into the thesis is essential, or the work remains incomplete.
    For example; Prof NCW Beadle at UNE spent about 15 years determining the origin of the Australian flora during the 60s. About three months before going to publication some fresh paleontological evidence emerged that appeared to compromise his whole work.
    ”Bother!! Now I will have to rework the entire study.” This was done in the next six months and the fresh material confirmed his original hypothesis.

  16. Michael Taylor

    NEC, I think the best course of action to dispute anything I’ve written in this series is to dispute all the books and journals I’ve referenced. It took me a year to write this series, and it might take you a year to read all those works.

    The great Isaac Newton didn’t take credit for all his discoveries. He said that all he did was stand on the shoulders of those who went before him. Marx said much the same thing.

    I’m not comparing myself to those two. All I’m suggesting is that I’ve not ignored the works of people before me.

    Again, you might need to read my references before disputing my conclusion. If you disagree, I would encourage you to take your complaint to the University of South Australia and advise them that they’ve got it all wrong and provide them with a list of all the books and journals they should be recommending.

    PS: A large amount of my research included readings that were not part of our recommended books and journals. That’s one of the things I liked about UniSA – they encouraged independent thought. But I do think you should start with the uni if you have any complaints.

  17. Michael Taylor

    The difficulty as always becomes discovering ALL THE FACTS which naturally depends upon the research skills of the author and the availability of particular information.

    PS: Not only did I top the class but I was runner-up for the University Medal. I also received the Golden Key Award for finishing in the top ten in all of Australia, not to mention taking out the Dean’s Merit Award and the Chancellors Merit Award. Hint – I know how to research.

    PPS: And that’s just for my first degree.

  18. Michael Taylor

    Tim, thanks, mate. I needed that boost in morale.

    I’m guilty of letting the attacks of the last few days get the better of me.

  19. Kate Ahearne


    Yes, things are imperfect. Time unveils new information and new ideas, so I’m coming around to your point of view (even though I’m not quite clear about what that point of view is).

    Michael should tear up this work, or at least write it again. And when he’s finished writing it again, he should check for new info/ideas and write it again. So on and so forth, until that final light-bulb moment when he realises, as he surely will, that there is no justification at all for the writing of history or for writing about it.

    OK. In his defence, he does have all that glittering stuff on his resume, but that’s just glitz and baubles awarded by equally deluded historians. What would they know, enclosed as they are in their hermetically sealed bubble of ignorance of what history is all about?

  20. Michael Taylor

    Kate, yes things are interpreted in all types of ways, and you’ve reminded me of something I wrote on the old Cafe Whispers blog eons ago:

    In 1969, erosion exposed the skeletal remains of a young Aboriginal lady at Lake Mungo, NSW. She is known as the Mungo Lady and her remains have been dated about 20,000 years before the present time. Excavation of the site offers archaeologists an interpretation of many of the facets of Mungo Lady’s society as well as facts about Mungo Lady herself. It is relevant to mention these (scientific) findings before discussing the Aboriginal (or The Dreaming) interpretation of Mungo Lady.

    Science tells us the Mungo Lady was cremated, and that her bones were placed in a bark cylinder for burial. She was gracile, that is, not of robust build. We are told that in her time Lake Mungo was water filled therefore she belonged to a lacustrine society. We are told that her people caught fish from the lake, and how they caught and cooked the fish. Her people had a social order, were religious, hunted mega fauna and had implements to grind seeds. The list could go on.

    Aboriginal interpretation of Mungo Lady was more concise (or perhaps more complex): She had been buried according to law, and that her appearance on the land surface was not a result of erosion, but rather she had emerged at a critical time in the history of her people to tell her story.

    Whose interpretation is correct? Not the archeologist’s, according to the Aborigines. And certainly not the Aborigines’, according to the archaeologists.

  21. Roswell

    Michael, I have an idea.

    Why don’t you write more posts about Aborigines so you can really piss people off?

  22. Mark

    Never THE History but always A History and therefore expect any history to change over time as new perspectives are brought to bear.

    As E H Carr argued all those years ago in “What is History” (now somewhat dated) – History is about interpretation and interpretations are made by different individuals with different backgrounds, living different lives, in different times, with different socializations, etc. etc.

    Hence, it’s subjective. Not about TRUTH.

    In Australia we have witnessed the history wars (still ongoing – as the Australian curriculum is being reworked – as it must). Defined as –

    an ongoing public debate over the interpretation of the history of the British colonisation of Australia and development of contemporary Australian society (particularly with regard to the impact on Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders).

    Often traced back to the Howard years. Now being labelled as the (education Minister) Tudge Fudge in progressive circles.

  23. Kate Ahearne


    What a terrific little piece about Mungo Lady!

    All these millennia, people who have descended through/from my ancestry group have lived the either/or sort of life, thought their thoughts and lived their lives by the either/or philosophies. I think we are learning now that the binary approach is only relevant sometimes. We are now coming to accept that there are not simply 2 genders, for instance. What’s more, we are now living in a world where we can begin to see that mutually exclusive things can, and do exist at the same time.

    As the great physicist, Niels Bohr once put it: ‘The opposite of a fact is falsehood. But the opposite of one profound truth may well be another profound truth.’ (There are various versions of this quote. It was obviously something that meant a great deal to him. It’s one of my favourite quotes. I often have occasion to think about it.)

  24. wam

    Another great read: For most of our ‘purity’ history a mixed married was wasp/wasc. I am sorry for upsetting some here with my memory of Aboriginal people being invisible in melbourne till the shiny black arrived. However, I did not make it up and the invisibility is the basis for our brand of racism. The fact that some Aborigines have chosen not to remain invisible, causes such ire in white society and feeds the tlobs of our mainstream media and the supremists of social media. ps I have taught Aboriginal students whose fathers went to gaol for the love of their mothers. These students declared themselves non-Aborigines to access normal life. With jobs, sport and a beer. In the the early 60s menzies’ made the marriage act(the one the lying rodent changed) that allowed such marriages.
    Oh, Kate,
    I love you for Bohr.
    Truth is not the province of once.
    My truth is not your truth

  25. Michael Taylor

    wam, you certainly didn’t upset me. Or anybody else, from what I know.

  26. Tim B


    Views many non-Indigenous people can have of Aboriginal people can also exist in a binary sense. Over time a general view has morphed from and essentialist stereotypical ‘other’ (they are all the same) to a colour-blind view that denies a cultural identity (we are all individuals).

    This either/or way of thinking is unhelpful and increasingly difficult to counter. This is where I think the more reflexive position is required. Yes we are all individuals but it is also possible (at the same time) to have a shared cultural or historical heritage.

    I guess some of the difficulty for non-Indigenous (myself included) is the idea of having a group identity. Michael’s research reveals that it was acceptible in the past to have a group white identity (privilege/supremacy) but in our rejection of that are left with just being individuals?

  27. Phil Pryor

    Plenty of swings and swipes here.., but, Mark mentioned the old history wars and Jack Howard; I shared some classes with Howard, a dullard but capable of memory learning, rote like, and he knew nothing much, was not in the top history group, and needed to assert some fixed prejudicial outlooks while trimming anything into shape as supporting “evidence.” He is still incapable of a useful or sensible utterance. It has become worse, with murderous Morrison, the Lazy Lying Loudmouth, the failure at procuring, organising, ordering, obtaining… Every morning now is sad and poor, waking up to the futility and deviousness of it all, liars, salespeople, riggers, rorters, exploiters…a mediaeval follower of the odious Clarke as NSW premier, and needing plenty to fund future family superstitious indoctrination at private schools for the brood, a primitive in today’s world, reshaping things to fit a Savonarola outlook. The Crooked and Bent lie, pretend to be our straight indispensable leaders, all so they can gouge, pose, preen, and continue the lying and devious strutting. It needs to be changed, improved, by direct citizen input, contribution, and not left to political and media and corporate filth to filch away…

  28. New England Cocky

    @MIchael Taylor: I am not questioning the credibility of your thesis when it was written about 20 years ago, merely observing that my reading of the disenfranchisement of SA Aborigines at Federation in 1901 has elements that you have not/did not include in your work.

    My academic background is obviously different from yours, science usually requires hard evidence, whereas historiography appears to rely upon retrospective personal speculation. Regardless, I have actually read many of your references at other times as part of my personal studies of Aboriginal history.

    I am not here to compare academic paper, that is a futile exercise. Rather, I have sought to make a contribution to this discussion from my differing knowledge.

    As Roswell says above. “Why don’t you write more posts about Aborigines so you can really piss people off”?

    This would publicise the continuing political neglect of Aboriginal issues of slum housing, inadequate health services, poor individual personal health, inadequate education staffing & facilities, and lack of public infrastructure servicing Aboriginal communities across Australia.

    Thank you for this stimulating series that hopefully will make more people aware of the Australian history that the politicians would prefer Australians voters did not know.

  29. Michael Taylor

    NEC, it’s just a guess, but I think Roswell might was cheekily referring to a post I wrote early last year during the fires about what is called ‘Firestick farming’, ie the Aboriginal method of controlled burning to prevent bushfires.

    I’d never written an article that attracted so much racist hostility than that one, not so much on this site but on Facebook.

  30. GL


    “Race” is invariably a contentious and polarising subject and brings out the best and worst in people. That’s all I wanted to say.

  31. Graeme Taylor

    As a youngster on Melbourne trains I would see ads for ANA, the Australian Natives Association.
    I guessed it had something to do with the “Aborigines” (sic)
    Then I learnt it was a Health Benefit Fund,and Aboriginal People were excluded from becoming members. How strange.
    It was for Non Aboriginal People born on these lands only, as if the only “true natives”. It was very much part of supposed unique Australian racial identity and was very much pushing for a Federation. Worth checking them out.

  32. Michael Taylor

    Thank you, Graeme. I most definitely will.

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