Australia formulated and put into effect the White Australia Policy in the year 1901. As obviously implicated by such an action, the newly independent Australian country was very keen on its efforts of ensuring that the nation’s populace remained predominantly, if not completely, whites of a European descent. Despite the fact that few scholars have ventured into this very interesting discovery, the past of the Australian nation is perceived as one filled with heavy racial connotations. Australian nationalism has therefore been based on the foundations of race and to be able to grasp this knowledge efficiently, it is crucial that the role of race in the formation of the Australian nation be revisited. The concept of race or whiteness emerged from the colonial days when Australia was still under the subjugation of the British. To be able to appreciate the consequence of race in the formation of the Australian nation it therefore becomes necessary to first of all trace the history of the nation and how it came to be under the subjugation of the British (Lyons and Arnold, 2001).
According to Fitzgerald (2007), the ‘White’ and ‘British’ identities were shaped in such a manner that they dictated the relations between the different cultures and races of people in the British protectorates. The occurrence of sexual relations between people of different races, a practice which was very predominant in the colonial regimes, brought about the issue of ‘half-castes’ who were perceived as an abomination by many at the time; half-castes were individuals of mixed races who were perceived to be the undesirable evidence and outcome of the adulteration of a race as ‘pure’ as the European whites.
According to Clarke (2002), many of the investigations and researches that have been conducted on the issue of whiteness and race have their genesis in the United States of America. The systems of race and whiteness continue to exist even in the 21st century despite the disapproving attitude that many possess towards them. Despite the fact that only a few individuals are eager to disclose or affirm it, the issue of white dominance and power in the modern day is still unresolved. Whiteness tends to confine individuals into cages of fixed and difficult to transform individual and national identities. In such light, many Australian scholars in the modern day are pursuing the study of ‘Whiteness’ especially in the imperialistic setting.
According to several Australian scholars, the limitations of the American scholarly ventures into the issue of Whiteness are brought about by the fact that Americans only acknowledge the issues of forced servitude and immigration, but deliberately fail to demystify the role played by imperialism and the withdrawal of indigenous Americans from their territories by the British; according to these Australian scholars, the Americans have difficulties admitting that they were once colonies of Britain (Carey and McLisky, 2009).
Due to the fact that many purely white Australians perceive the presence of black or coloured half-castes as being detrimental to their living standard, for a long time there was an urgent need by Australia to keep its territories purely white, for inhabitancy by the Europeans. Migrants into the country, especially the coloured ones, were seen as bringing about a decline in the national well being of Australia. Schwarz (2012) asserts that from the diaries and journals kept by British immigrants into the Australian country, it is concluded that many of them harboured the feelings of disillusionment on their arrival to Australia.
Many of them had perceived the Australian nation as being very pure and clean in a manner similar to that of England but on arriving found the nation polluted by the presence of black immigrants and half-castes. Being its former colonial masters, the British systems and ideologies have played a significant role in shaping the Australian policies on preservation of whiteness. As a matter of fact, some of the coloured people like Maoris and Red Indians have been sidelined for years in the Great Britain and it would therefore not a come as a surprise if the same happened in Australia. It should however be noted that, as stated by Jupp (2007), it was never the intention of the British to incite racist attitudes in Australia.
Whiteness or race in the history of Australia has been comprehended, evidenced and depicted in different manners through out the nation’s growth. Under the imperialism of the British, Australia is believed to have assigned a great significance to whiteness and its preservation to the extent that the policy of White Australia was incorporated into the constitution of the country immediately after it gained independence. It is indeed very astonishing how the racial systems that were formed in the colonial days, despite their disparaging nature in the past days, have managed to remain in existence to the modern day.
According to Schwarz (2012), Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on one of his voyages to Australia stated his commitment to ensuring that British ancestry and traditions continued to prevail in the nation. As such, he was reiterating the importance that many assigned to issues of blood and familial roots. In the year 1946, the pioneering minister in Australia’s department of migration was also put on record for stating that it was his wish that there be ten individuals from the United Kingdom to counter every single foreigner that came into Australia.
Lydon (2009) states that the Australian Aboriginal people make up roughly a quarter of the nation’s population; they mostly occupy the northern and south eastern parts of the country. Those who dwell in the southeast, commonly referred to as Koories have been by far the most affected victims of the process to make Australia a white man’s land. This is due to the numerous endeavours aimed at forcibly transforming their customs and way of life as well as being driven out of their habitations.
The concept of ‘Whiteness’ in the formation of the Australian nation is directly linked to that of race. At every distinct stage in the historical formation of the Australian nation, there have existed different perceptions of what the term ‘white’ means. It is indeed true that race receives most, if not all, of the credit for the topographical and chronological Australia. The debates about race gained pre-eminence in the past days after European explorers discovered other species of human beings who looked different from themselves; this brought to task the assumption that all human beings had originated from the same family of man. Despite several attempts by both religion and science to explain race the issue still continues to brew mixed opinions and reactions even in the modern day.
4.0 White Australian Policy
The White Australian Policy was a collection of principles and guidelines that were aimed at restricting the influx of non-European immigrants into the newly formed Australian confederation. The perceived nationalism of Australia as well as competition for hire and service conflicts were some of the factor that led to the promulgation of the White Australian Policy in the year 1901. Apart from erecting frontiers for the entry of non- European immigrants into the Australian nation, this policy was also aimed at dispossessing and deportation of those classified as illegal migrants. Immediately after the attainment of independence, many Australian citizens were apprehensive of the continued influx of immigrants who were of non-European ancestry into the nation; according to them, this would adversely affect the defence and confederacy processes that were still very young in Australia.
Despite the fact that foreigners from other parts of Europe were put up with, emigrants of a British ancestry were encouraged so as to increase the young nation’s populace and solidify its sovereignty. The official in the federation association of the new country were convinced of the urgency of the need to ‘whiten’ Australia. The coloured and non- European people such as the Chinese and Pacific Islanders underwent a lot of prejudice and discrimination at the hands of the white Europeans. In the newly formed Australian nation, they were paid less wages in comparison to whites who did the same work.
The was also the practice of black-birding in which the coloured people were kidnapped and recruited into sugar plantations where they worked in forced servitude terms. Nevertheless, in the year 1975 the Racial Discrimination Act was passed that made unlawful racially biased techniques in the selection of migrants into the country.
5.0 History of Australia’s Colonization by Britain
As already stated, in order to understand the concept of race and ‘Whiteness’ in the Australian history it is fundamental to trace the process of its colonization by the British. According to Douglas et al (2009) one of the world incidents believed to have played a significant role in the shaping of Australia is the American Revolution that took place in the period lasting 1776-1781. At this time many of the European nations were still under the subjugation of the British; after the revolution, however, Britain was defeated by the American nation. In the year 1782 the Americans offered their assistance to the Irish people and this brought an end to British imperialism in Ireland. It should be noted that at this point in time, most of the British colonies were revolting and fighting for independence from their imperialists; the French, Spanish and Dutch people had formed an alliance through which they were causing a lot of trouble for the Britons.
According to Lydon (2009) the foundations on which the Australian country was formed are closely related to the Pacific theatre and the First World War in which the British were involved against the French From 1756-63. This war took place across most of the continents of the world from India, to the North of America and athwart Europe. After defeating and driving out the French people from India and Canada, the Britons successfully set up very strong economic structures and the city of London became the kingdom’s financial nucleus. Of great interest is the fact that these financial systems were not made up of Briton
s alone; a majority of the key economic operators were people from Greece and Deutschland who had moved into the cities of England and Holland during the 16th century. After establishing the financial systems the British then embarked on a series of expeditions especially in the areas around the Pacific and Atlantic regions; these expeditions were aimed at exploring the unknown areas so as to find raw materials for the British industries, search out the empires of adversaries such as the Spanish people as well as establishing new pedestal for the ground and navy armed forces of the Britons. In the year 1766 Captain Samuel Wallis was vested with the responsibility to explore the region known as ‘Terra Australis’ or ‘New Holland’. Several other expeditions followed this one and in the year 1768 Sir Joseph Banks was directed to plant the British flag on Terra Australis and claim it as part of Britain’s vast empire. In the events that followed the breaking free of the American colony from their British subjugators, Douglas et al (2009) assert that the Britons seemed to develop and heightened interest in the Pacific maybe to try and recover their losses at the Atlantic. Joseph Banks had on his earlier voyages declared Terra Australis unfit for human inhabitancy; nevertheless, in the late 18th century he began to lobby for the British government to establish a protectorate there.
In 1787, May 13th the first fleet made up of eleven vessels voyaged ahead of the French to Terra Australis at Botany Bay. Despite the fact that the Britons had established their authority on the Eastern Parts of Terra Australis, there were aware of the fact that Port Jackson on the Northern side was more advanced and they therefore wasted no time in sailing towards it despite the perils that voyaging in the present weather would expose the fleets and troops to. The fleets got to Port Jackson on January the 26th and immediately transformed its name to Sydney cove who was the home secretary between 1782 and 1783. By the time the French got to Terra Australis the British had already sent a part of his troop to take over the Norfolk Island and its naval bases; this brings to light the significance of Australia as a strategic locale.
From this newly acquired base in Terra Australis, Taddeo and Dvorak (2010) claim that the British had achieved what they had been dreaming of for decades; they were now in the best position to launch attacks on the protectorates of Spain as well as claim authority of the northern parts of America. With the South Wales corps which had been set up in Australia the British felt confident enough to face the Spanish, Dutch and Fresh armed forces if need be. From Australia it was also very easy to reach South Africa and India; journeys that previously took more than half a year were now covered in a period of approximately one month. The British also had the habit of transporting prisoners to Australia. In the period lasting between 1788 and 1868, approximately one hundred and sixty thousand detainees were transported to Australia with more than a quarter of this figure being political prisoners of Irish descent. This is probably the reason why a third of the populace in Australia has Irish ancestry (Pinder, 2011).
6.0 Aboriginal Identity and Half-Caste System
Carey and McLisky (2009) assert that there are diverse descriptions of the Aboriginal identity as well as the preservation and continuation of culture, especially the white culture. For many Australians who prided themselves in their ability to maintain racial purity the existence of half-caste was a constant reminder of the corruption of their pure race. Due to this fact, the individuals of mixed races, simply referred to as half-castes were rejected and discriminated upon by the purely white society. These pure whites, or ‘full bloods’ as they were also commonly referred to, vehemently refused to accept those of mixed races and considered them unfit to carry on the white culture.
Schwarz (2012) states that there are those whites in Australia who were, and still are, convinced of the fact that it is almost impossible for the purely white Australians to live a standard kind of life in with the existence of black or coloured emigrants. For these half-castes to be redeemed the practice of biological absorption was introduced. The pure whites ignored and even rebuffed the fact that the half-castes contained any drop of the Aboriginal blood or any aspect of the Aboriginal way of life. The biological absorption entailed the safeguarding of the whiteness of Australia through the assimilation of half-castes by the pure whites; with the passage of time, it was believed that all the colour and tint that polluted the white race would eventually be eradicated.
In conclusion, the debate about the issue of race and its significance in the formation of Australian History continues to rage even in the modern day. This may be attributed to the fact that most of the current leadership in the country is still those that lived in the days when the White Australia Policy was in effect. It therefore becomes difficult for them to undergo a transformation of the attitudes and mindsets that they grew up inclined towards. To counter the adverse effects of racism in the nation of Australia, education becomes crucial. The objectives of the educational system as well as the content of the Australian curricula should be framed in a manner that supports reconciliation between the different races that co-exist in modern day Australia.
The non-aboriginal populace that has for a long time swam in the belief of their racial superiority supported by the policies of supremacy and control that had been in operation in Australia for a long time need to learn to accept the Aboriginal masses and appreciate them for their different contributions towards the common good of the Australian country. Despite the fact that such a suggestion is easier in theory than when applied in the everyday lives of those affected, Australians-with the support and guidance of their government and the national policies- should be able to entrench reconciliation into its social construct at both the personal and national levels. There should be a renewed commitment by all to reconcile the Aboriginals through the transformation of education, medical services, standards of living as well as self worth and esteem.