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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Cultural Studies »

Michele Langfield about White Aliens and the disincentives to non-British European immigration

Michele Langfield.

Historian Michele Langfield talks about White Aliens and the disincentives to non-British European immigration



Date Added:

26 March 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

9.9 MB






The way that the population was to be orchestrated was about ¾ British and about ¼ white European was what the government was trying to do so that there were incentives for the British to come and disincentives for white aliens and this is throughout the period of – when you have no non-European immigration being allowed in at all. I think it’s to do with appearance but it’s also to do with culture, it’s to do with European western ideas of superiority, it’s self-defined, obviously. There’s an upsurge at the moment of ideas about whiteness and in a historiography at the moment, you know what it means to be white and the whole problem of having an education test to allow people into Australia and using English often meant that you had people who were British who were non-white, like Indians and throughout the First World War there were lots of problems about not allowing in people who’d actually fought beside us to defend the empire.


And problems of people who were like the Japanese who sometimes spoke English very well and regarded themselves as much more sophisticated than the barbarians of the West. So I think for Australia, “white” simply meant British. The people that Australia was particularly worried about in the period of 1901 to 1939, were generally Italians, Poles, Greeks, Yugoslavs. And in fact, in some of the archival records, there was an acronym, which was a capital, PIGS – for Poles, Italians, Greeks and Slavs. But you know, when you read it, you didn’t read it like that.


They were very strictly controlled in terms of numbers. Those that I’ve written about, Greeks, Italians, Maltese, Patagonians, were all under strict numerical restrictions during the 1920s and this is something that’s fairly little- known that the White Australia Policy acted in a number of ways: of direct prohibition of some people but limited numbers of others. So that the Maltese were restricted to 1200 in the early 1920s. The Greeks were restricted to similar numbers. In 1923 there was an agreement with the Italian authorities to restrict numbers to 3000 a year. This is also a period when you had the enemy aliens act, where subjects of countries that we’d fought against were prohibited from entry to Australia from 1920 to 1925. So for the whole of that period, Germans, Austrians, Yugoslavs, Turks were not allowed to come to Australia. And when that was lifted in 1925, the Turks were not able to come for a longer period until 1930.


So those people who were non-British, who were white alien during the 1920s, were allowed to come but in limited numbers. And all the disincentives were imposed upon them that were greater than those imposed upon the British. 250 pounds landing money, they had to have a nominator, someone who would guarantee that they wouldn’t become a charge on the state. And so there were not only numerical restrictions but there were also other disincentives so that the numbers would be kept much lower. They were wanting to come but not in large numbers. They wanted to keep that proportion of mostly British immigrants and just a small proportion of European because they were wanting, at this stage to create a white British state in Australia – a British bastion in the pacific.


End transcript