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Andrew Markus looks at the struggles in Victoria over ending of White Australia

Andrew Markus.

Historian Andrew Markus looks at the struggles in Victoria over ending of White Australia



Date Added:

13 February 2009


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... and after they decide that – you know, to be an end to immigration from Asia and Melanesia, they then start to think, “Well what about the southern Europeans? Are they really acceptable or not acceptable?” And then there are debates which go on for probably four decades in attempt to resolve that issue. And that leads to restrictions on for example Italian immigrants and another facet of that is the restrictions on Jewish immigration. It resolves around a whole range of different factors.


One factor is national identity. When people think about the future, when people think, well what’s this country going to be like in 10 years and 50 years? What will it be like? Can we actually envisage useful coexistence with people who we deem to be very different from us? And the Australian colonials had a sense, which I don’t think people have got so strongly today, a sense that Australia was setting an example for the world. In what way? Well we were going to be like the leaders, the best, the best in terms of democracy, the best in terms of living standards for the working class. The best in terms of a classless society, a society which would not be divided by religious differences and class differences and differences in race.


So this notion of equality I think is very important in that regard. And the sense then that groups of people who they came to call, “races” could not actually be admitted into this mix because they would not be able to usefully coalesce and contribute. So this is the idea that becomes dominant and then a lot of time is spent on actually trying to define where the boundaries are drawn and the boundaries are constantly changing and shifting.


With regard to the Chinese, first the issue becomes one of restriction. So it’s not – the issue isn’t really, we don’t want any Chinese coming to Australia, the issue is one of limits. And there was a sense that Australia might be swamped, they were – I think this was pretty strong in the colonial mentality that here was this European outpost as they liked to think, so far away from Europe, on the edge of Asia and they like to talk about the “teeming hoards” and so on. So this sense that the whole of Australia could be swamped by just a small fraction of the Chinese population. So that the first issue then is one of how do we restrict it? How do we keep it in balance? And then they developed policies in the 1980s.


The next step becomes, one of total restriction, total exclusion. So there shall be not more – not one more Chinese person allowed into Australia as permanent settlers. Now that total restriction characterises Australian policy from 1900 roughly, until about 1965. Australians talk, particularly in the immigration department and government of the established immigration policy. And the established immigration policy was, no permanent settlement. Not for one person. Temporary entry for students and cooks and other occupations but not permanent settlement. And then the next step becomes, well okay, we’ve dealt with the so-called coloured peoples, now what about the Europeans? What about European stock? Is there better European stock that we should be seeking to allow into this country?


And are there elements of the European populations that we should be excluding? And so then for particularly in the inter-war period, they develop restrictions to control southern and eastern European immigrants and Jewish immigrants. It was the same issue, the same issue of whether they would contribute to this great democratic egalitarian ideal society that was being built in Australia.


In this period of the high point of racial thought within European cultures and Australia’s part of that European culture, the dominant idea is that what essentially determines the sort of person you are, is your racial stock, your genetic character determines what your capable of, your potential as a human being. And basically that if you don’t measure up, you can’t usefully be admitted. What’s your racial stock? Now the situation with the southern Europeans was that there was thinking that they actually represented some sort of poor variant of the European stock. Other people thought in terms of a mixture of black populations or African populations.


So for example, with regard to Italians, there was this notion that if you came from northern Italy you were okay but if you came from southern Italy you were suspect. And that’s a policy after the Second World War. It’s a policy in the 1950s. That they’re much more ready to give assisted passages to people in northern Europe, whereas they’re very suspicious about anyone from southern Europe.


End transcript