POST WAR AUSTRALIA - PEOPLING AUSTRALIA - REVIEW
sailors celebrated the festival of Hassan in Sydney town late in March
1806. The exceptional nature of that event makes it representative in
the peopling of Australia. That early Islamic presence reminds us that
diversity – often suppressed and denied - has been a constant, and was
not just the result of abandoning the White Australia Policy from the
In 1959, a handful of Melbourne academics
formed an Immigration Reform Group to replace the colour bar of White
Australia with a quota system for non-European immigrants. Such genteel
activism has been bureaucratised into the Research Centres funding the
250 contributors to The Australian
People, An Encyclopaedia of the Nation, Its People and Their Origins
(Cambridge University Press, $175). Editors now manage grant
applications. Intellectual adventure is confined to sniping at one’s
rivals. No one asks what all this peopling means in global terms.
To comprehend the peopling of
Australia we need to see how links back and forth to the communities of
origin operated within a world system of climatic, economic, military
and political changes. The present tome
contexts. Its 940, double-column foolscap pages contain some of the
information we need for advancing debate on population policies.
Locating those shards is frustrated by 10-pages of haphazard indexing.
At the heart of the volume are surveys of the ethnic groupings that have
peopled Australia since 1788; these 580-pages should have been a
separate volume, if not two.
shifting sources of immigrants to Australia makes sense only if placed
in world contexts. The hundreds of millions on the move at present are
continuing centuries of relocation. Those movements in world population
do not gyrate around Australia’s border watching from a breech. All we
get is the spray or the wake. A drift by Han Chinese into Annam and of
Annamites into the southern areas of Indo-China and across to Kampuchea
were the backdrop to the boat people of the 1970s.
The second determinant for the re-peopling of
Australia since 1788 have been the four phases of globalisation. Mark I
saw the start of race-based slavery from Africa to the Americas. Mark II
moved convict labour to Botany Bay, followed by free settlers. Mark III
adopted a new system of slavery, that is, indentured labour, as in the
Pacific Islanders for our cane fields, but also government-sponsored
migration to colonial possessions, such as the French to Algeria.
Two of our biggest population movements
resulted from wars, which were integral to that world system. The First
AIF emigrated 300,000 in four years. The transiting of half-a-million US
troops from 1942-4 brought the largest annual influx up to that time.
historical bases of prejudice similarly move on. For example, the
Melbourne and Sydney crowds who refused to allow Chinese to land from
the Afghan in 1888 operated in
an imperial order remote from the majorities who approved the abduction
of the Tampa in 2001.
Today’s xenophobia is taking place in a fourth era in the globalising
of capital, labour, markets and resources. Hence, nothing much is to be
learned from threading together instances of racism across the past two
From where will the next ripple of settlers
come? Few scholarly undertakings in Australia have been more amusing
than extrapolations by our demographers. Their rolling errors remind us
never to suppose that history can repeat itself. The surest mistake is
to project from the recent past. After 150 years of waiting for the
Yellow Horde, we still have only 200,000 Vietnamese, whether immigrant
or locally born. Looking due north in the late 1970s, the alarmists
missed flows from Latin America, Africa the Middle-East. From wherever
refugees will be coming ten years hence, it is unlikely to be Iraq or
has involved quality control, both by restricting arrivals and by
improving the mental, moral and physical capacities of the native-born.
These policies were known as negative and positive eugenics,
respectively. That concern for a coming national type started with the
Anti-Transportation movement in the 1830s to prevent Austral-Britons
being infected with the “hated stain” of convictism.
A related anxiety was that Australia’s less temperate climes were sapping the vitality of the British race. “Could White Women breed in the tropics?” was the theme for the 1920 Medical Congress. The answer was yes, if social conditions were improved by public health.
further eugenic issue were the deaths of 60,000 young males in the First
World War, and the maiming of almost as many again. Those casualties had
as great an effect on birth rates as the pre-1914 immigrant program. At
the time, the negative eugenicists saw the dead as our fittest because
they had possessed the courage to volunteer and then to take the risks
that cost them their lives.
By the 1920s, with restrictive immigration in place, attention could refocus on affirmative aspects of population policy in campaigns for infant and maternal welfare, linked to advice on family planning, then called Racial Hygiene. The aim was to preserve the best out of the crop, not just to boost the annual yield.
Eugenics was as much a class issue as a
racial one. Among policy makers, the eugenic impulse was both a wish to
maintain the fantasy that Australia was “98 percent British”, and to
boost the respectable component in a classless society. R. G. Menzies
absorbed this assumption into his 1943 “Forgotten People” broadcasts
when he championed the “middle class” because it “provides more
than perhaps any other the intellectual life which marks us off the
Questions of ethnicity and class merged
around the fear that the working-class Irish were out- breeding the
middle-class Protestants, whose good social breeding had taught them
sexual restraint. These fears transferred to the Italians, for whom
medical and political tests were so strict that, in 1951, only 62 out of
8,191 applicants passed muster.
Most peopling has taken place between the
sheets. The Post-War Migration Scheme aimed for 2 % annual growth, half
from natural increase. The forms of contraception that prevented or
paced births before The Pill are one part of our ethnic diversity that
the authors are too coy to explore.
the media focus on immigration in the past twenty years, it is
appropriate to ask how much “debate” there has been since the 1960s.
For a long time, bi-partisanship kept controversial issues out of sight.
When Geoffrey Blainey raised his doubts in 1984, the outcome was an
outpouring of pent-up resentment, not even a good argument.
“Conversation” is in fashion today but it often means talking
without disagreeing about the divisive issues. National identity is a
topic on which rationality is difficult, so that small-l liberals are
victims of their own assumptions about logic check-mating emotion.
Hansonism on talk-back radio is not a debate
along the lines of those in the 1960s over White Australia and
Aboriginal rights. Those protracted discussions aimed at specific and
limited changes, whether to establish a tiny quota of non-European
immigrants, or to delete 34 words from the Constitution. Since then,
population policy has become hydra-headed. Bi-partisanship in
Conference-ville could never keep pace with the sprouting of new
problems and possibilities in the suburbs.
To judge the success of the 1960s conversion
we need to recognise what had been overcome. By 1920, the phrase
“White Australia” had become ideological shorthand for far more than
a restrictive immigration policy. “White Australia” invoked
democracy, trade unionism, a welfare system built on a basic-wage,
protection for manufacturers, and national development exemplified by
the 1920s slogan of “Men, Money and Markets”. Multi-culturalism has
yet to attach itself to a comparable shared ideal beyond its own belief
in the value of diversity. The switch from lauding a single type to
praising a multitude of ways of living suggests that a return to
unanimity is excluded by definition.
By tracking fifty years of opinion polls,
Murray Goot shows that that the securing of a majority in favour of
softening the White Australia Policy was tardy and tenuous. The
emergence of a majority for a single tactical change did not bring any
comparable agreement on a replacement strategy. We continue to grapple
with the consequences of that partial achievement. After 1970,
policy-makers proceeded as if the fracturing of the old consensus was a
warrant to erect multi-cultural mansions on the ruins of the White
Australia Policy. The architects of these edifices were as concerned to
win bureaucratic tussles between themselves as to keep the public
Then, as now, Australians were being
invited to adapt because of what the rest of the world would think of
us. The point surely is to work out what we think of each other, and of
ourselves. Disapproval from the United Nations is worth no more than its
reiterated resolutions on peace-keeping.
Discussion of the economic consequences of immigration lingers but is tied to concerns about the environment. NSW premier, Bob Carr, for instance, bemoans that too many newcomers head for Sydney. No socially or legally acceptable way has been devised to stop people moving there, unless the Howard government excises Sydney from Australia’s immigration zone.
In the early-1960s, the Menzies government planned to moved the entire population of Nauru to Curtis island, off Rockhampton. Canberra would not grant the Nauruans the autonomy to maintain their culture. The islanders instead secured the independence that has led them beyond a trade in birdshit and on o money laundering and the processing of current victims of Australia’s Assimilationist ideal.
1947 to 1966, the official policy was that “New Australians” would
clone themselves into Austral-Britons, also known as Assimilation. By
the 1960s, rising rates of return among every category of arrival
provoked a reconsideration, which the editor of The
Australian People, James Jupp, documented in Arrivals and Departures (1966). Debate about the efficacy of
Assimilation arose because its failure in practice, not out of any
conceptual or ethical flaws. The reality was that a “Balt” could
never become an Anglo-Celtic Australian, and was not allowed to be a
Baltic one. After 1966, the government replaced Assimilation with
Integration, in which the goal would be unity, rather than the
imposition of uniformity. Jupp observed that the ending of Victoria’s
six o’clock closing in 1966 was the most effective, if unintended,
assimilationist move in the policy’s 18-year history.
gave way to multi-culturalism before its worth could be tested. As a
label, multi-culturalism came via Canada. Attributing the policy to
Whitlam’s Immigration Minister, Al Grassby, is misleading since he had
promoted “the family of the nation”, and found himself delivering a
multi-cultural manifesto in August 1973, largely because the Immigration
Department had chosen one of its rare multi-culturalists as his
speechwriter, “for his ability to meet a deadline”. Whitlam
remembered the majority of the Department’s personnel as racists. The
Coalition endorsed multiculturalism at the 1974 election, whereas
Whitlam brushed past it in
his 1985 opus on his government.
Anglo-Celts have benefited from criticising
our prejudices. Other communities spurn such self-criticism as an attack
on their heritage. For instance, on SBS-TV, an advertisement for a Greek
bank, begins by confronting a customer with a run of different
coloured banks before the colour of the customer and the bank coincide.
The voice-over then announces: “Why
not bank with some one like yourself?” Imagine the outrage if the
Commonwealth Bank were to market itself as being like
“Anglo-Saxons”, down to the same colour.
is an analysis of the interplay of movement and immobility,
opportunities and obstacles, of dynamics within structures. Sensitivity
towards those contrary forces requires more than the citing of
precedents, or the drawing of analogies. However, should you feel in
need of a stray fact from Australia’s past to light you through the
dismal present, the response of the crowd watching the devotees of
Hassan in 1806 may serve. When a couple of old lags “presumed by
impudent interference to insult their prejudices”, the disrupters were
“properly treated by other inhabitants and compelled to leave the