Growing Lawless Hair in White Australia.

AuthorLawless, Ann
PositionHuman Hair: Intrigues and Complications - Personal account


The White Australia policy was a set of policies and cultural practices which made an indelible mark on the history and lived realities of race relations in Australia. While referred to as though it was one policy, it was in fact a set of legislation, institutional and cultural practices. It started in the overt actions of the first national Parliament of Australia which formed in 1901 to quickly enact the first legislation to restrict immigration into the lands of Australia (Burritt, Walker and Carter 2009, p.12).Prior to this development, Chinese workers had migrated to Australia in significant numbers in the 1850s and 1860s as part of the gold rushes of that period, reaching and then maintaining a significant population of 50, 000 (Burritt, Walker and Carter 2009, p.15) with migration of Chinese workers continuing freely until 1901. The newly formed parliament debated the voting rights of Indigenous Australians, and of Chinese, Indian and other non-white permanent residents in the new Commonwealth: resulting in their exclusion from suffrage unless already entitled by state rights to vote (Australian Electoral Commission 2010). The Commonwealth of Australia formed from the federation of former British Crown colonies and its founding launched the nation-building of Australia. But it was predicated on racism and the constraint of the rights of non-whites - migrants from Asia and Indigenous Australians.

The Australian Electoral Commission (2010) has noted that the 1901 Australian parliament excluded the voting rights of Indigenous Australians, Chinese, Indian and other non-white permanent residents unless already entitled by state rights to vote. It did this through the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Commonwealth) which excluded non-European immigrants. It used discretionary powers to prohibit 'undesirable' immigrants. Its steering mechanisms were a dictation test and fines on shipping carriers that brought 'undesirables' into Australia, the latter of which became a very effective mechanism to exclude non-Europeans (Jupp 1995, p. 208). Jupp has argued that it was a deliberate isolation of Australia from its Asian neighbours and based on notions of white racial superiority (Jupp 1995, p. 207). The creation of White Australia was the prime intention of the White Australia Policy (Jupp 1995; Singh 2000) which was supported by both sides of politics in the emerging white nationhood of Australia (Jupp 1995), one which celebrated nation-forming of an Anglo-Celtic identity.

Lawless (2012, p. 36) has argued in a study of race relations in the twentieth century in Australia that:

The White Australia policy successfully created a white Australia yet it did so in the presence of Indigenous Australians and other non-whites such as Chinese Australians who as Shen has shown in her study of Chinese-Australian autobiographies, yearned to be invisible in this period (Shen 2001, p. 67). Rendered invisible, whiteness is the dominant norm in these narratives of the first fifty years of the century (Kendall 2008, p. 9). As Singh has argued White Australia politics have a limited view of Whiteness as a racial dynamic. White cultural identity, Whites as a racialised group and White racism are fuzzy topics (Singh 2000, p. 124). Whiteness studies theorises about race from the perspective that whiteness deserves scrutiny as a form of racial and ethnic identity, and is a relatively new academic discipline in Australia (Carey and McLisky 2009, p. ix). The White Australia policy would not be finally dismantled until 1975 with the advent of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Commonwealth). A newly elected progressive government used this Act to remove race discrimination from immigration selection (Curthoys 2003, p. 62). Australian governments had already progressively dismantled some components of the White Australia policy, with perhaps the first significant policy shift bringing the introduction of the Columbo Plan in the 1950's. This was a British Commonwealth aid programme to third world countries which had been proposed by an Australian diplomat in 1950 and included bringing Asian students into Australian universities. Another influence was a cultural shift, slow to develop perhaps, seen in the cultural influence of political activity such as protests by university students about immigration policies as early as 1961 (Curthoys 2002, p...

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