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The puzzles of White Australia: 'white alien' immigration policies, 1918-25.

This article relates the story of how a chance encounter with a bizarre relic of the White Australia era--a children's board game, 'The White Australia Game'--spurred my curiosity about the meaning of whiteness. The article asks: in the development of Australian immigration policy during the first four decades of the twentieth century, was whiteness simply equated with Europeanness? It makes two arguments that complicate our understanding of the meaning of whiteness in this period. First, immigration policy makers conceived of whiteness as a racial category that contained an internal hierarchy which was organised in both racial and national terms. Second, transnational conversations, ideas and exchanges shaped the meaning of whiteness for Australian policy makers. The article draws on archival material regarding the Australian government's policy response to continental European migrants during the 1920s, and particularly draws on a case study regarding the Australian Government's interest in the American restrictive policies regarding European migrants during this period.


Sometimes the archives throw up objects that we find almost impossible to place in an imagined past. These items jolt us. We squint over them, straining, asking, 'How did this object once make sense?' While these findings offer the thrill of discovery that drives historical research, they are also unnerving. They are unnerving because they reveal to us that yawning chasm between our own world and a world that we can never fully understand. They shock us into a recognition of our own displacement, our exile from the past we wish to know.

When the 'White Australia Game' came crashing into my world, it came via the Internet catalogue of the National Archives of Australia (NAA) website. (1) The chasm was made all the more apparent by the high-tech and distancing power of the computer screen. Did it really exist, this game? Was its yellow box faded and worn? Had it really spent years in the back of someone's cupboard? Had the 'White Australia Game' been played by children? Shared with friends? Enjoyed after a birthday dinner with light chatter, a piece of cake, a cup of tea and the telling of jokes? Had the games been produced en masse? Where were they made? How?

Let me describe the game to you. It is comprised of a board and a number of dark and light 'chips'. The board is yellow with a white border; the words 'WHITE AUSTRALIA GAME--A NEW AUSTRALIAN GAME FOR NEW AND OLD AUSTRALIAN PEOPLE' run in red text across its top. On the left side of the board is a white image of the Australian continent; on the right are detailed play instructions. At the bottom of the board we learn that the game can also be used for playing the 'White Australia Puzzle' and the 'Sweet Fifteen Puzzle'. The object of the 'White Australia Game' is to 'Get the Coloured Men Out and the White Men In'. The NAA dates the game as being from 1914. (2)

I don't know much about the 'White Australia Game'. I certainly have more questions than answers. It may have been the brainchild of a lone quack. It probably was not widely distributed. It may not have been enjoyed with cake. But the game exists. This in itself is fascinating and troubling. While my experience of the National Archives website may have given me the impression that the 'White Australia Game' spontaneously appeared at the end of a trail of links, this game emerged out of a particular culture and a particular historical context. It comes to us as a echo from the past. It made it across the chasm. If nothing else, it tells us that in the world where this game came from it was worth imagining, worth creating and, for someone, worth keeping.

I had come to the Archives seeking information on the Australian Government's policy response to non-British European immigrants in the pre-Second World War period. It was a subject under-researched, (3) and one with clear boundaries and ample archival material. But when the Game came bouncing across my path somewhere on the Internet highway, it forced me to stop, think, and ask a new question of my research project. Whiteness was not something I could take for granted now. I had to ask, what did whiteness mean to Australians in the early twentieth century, and why did it matter to them?

I knew that whiteness had been a central term in the vocabulary of many of the architects of Australian federation. Among the first pieces of legislation to pass through our federal parliament in 1901 were the Immigration Restriction Act (1901), which barred non-European immigrants; and the Pacific Island Labourers Act (1901), which expelled Pacific Island labourers. Together these comprised the White Australia policy. And, as Attorney-General Alfred Deakin had declared to the parliament, at stake in securing a White Australia were 'the national manhood, the national character, and national existence'. (4) Whiteness was what you could call a high stakes issue in the first moments of Australian nationhood.

My examination of non-British European immigration, I realised, was not a bad place to start my investigation of the meaning of whiteness in the early twentieth century. After all, whiteness was often constructed as well as defended at that border space where immigrants sought entry to the nation-state. But when migration officials and other administrators of the White Australia policy created whiteness at the point of the border, what exactly did they have in mind? Whiteness was conceived broadly in immigration policy terms as Europeanness--a Europeanness that was racially inscribed and thus enjoyed by the descendants of European colonisers wherever they lived in the world. But were whiteness and Europeanness interchangeable terms?

In this article, I examine the Australian Government's response to continental European immigration in the years following the end of the First World War, in light of my encounter with the 'White Australia Game' and the new questions it raised for me about the meaning of whiteness. I put forward two arguments about the construction of whiteness within immigration policy circles in this period. First, the category was internally differentiated: policy makers were influenced by notions of different white or European 'races' possessing different racial characteristics. Second, in forming their understanding of whiteness, Australian policy makers both participated in and were influenced by transnational conversations about racial difference, and by the immigration policies of what were perceived as other 'white' societies. Indeed, whiteness was a deeply transnational identity because it had emerged out of a transnational European colonial identity. I show that whiteness was both internally differentiated and constructed within a transnational frame by way of reference to the Australian Government's investigations into the United States' restriction of continental European immigration in the early 1920s.

In the wake of the First World War, the Australian Government sought to significantly bolster the size of the population, and several schemes were established in order to encourage British migrants to come to Australia in order to develop the land and industry. Encouragement of continental Europeans and especially those of Southern and Eastern Europe, both during and after the War, was less forthcoming. During the War, controversy over the entry of continental Europeans erupted in July 1915, with the arrival of 220 mainly continental European immigrants from Patagonia, and in September and October 1916, with the arrival of some 310 Maltese across these months. (5) As Michele Langfield and Barry York have shown, the questionable 'white' status of Maltese and Greek immigrants in the minds of some policy makers, and indeed of Prime Minister Hughes, led to restrictions on the entry of members of these nationalities during the War, and restrictions on Maltese and Greeks were in place until 1920. (6) The Enemy Aliens Act (1920) also prohibited, for a period of five years, the migration of people who were subjects of countries who had been enemies of the Allies, including Germans, Austrians, Bulgarians and Hungarians. These restrictions, however, only applied to certain European nationalities, and when the Commonwealth Government took over the regulation of immigration from the States in 1921, a systematic policy regarding 'white aliens' was required. The shifting meanings of whiteness in 'White Australia' would be revealed in the development of this policy in the early 1920s.

The State policy in terms of assistance for continental European migrants had been to accept as nominees 'certain specified nationals of foreign countries' who were close relatives of family resident in Australia, and who, after making their own way to London, were then 'accepted on the same basis as British nominees'. In 1921 the Commonwealth Government approved the continuation of this practice of assistance to foreign nationals and decided to extend the nominated passage system to close relatives of Australian residents who were resident in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, France, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland and Italy. (7) For these nationals, the Commonwealth Government would contribute towards the cost of their fare to Australia. Part of the rationale behind this extension of assistance to some continental Europeans was that in the future 'it might be thought desirable to recruit immigrants from selected foreign countries and that it was considered good policy to keep alive the flow of people.' (8)

In the months following this announcement, officials from a number of other European countries requested the provision of assistance to their nationals. The British Commissioner for the Baltic Provinces, for instance, contacted the Colonial Office in London to enquire as to 'the possibility of arranging for the emigration of "Balts" from the Baltic States of Esthonia, Latvia and possibly Lithuania to a British Dominion'. The Commissioner emphasised that the Balts' 'characteristics seem to be closer to those of the Anglo-Saxon races than those of any other Continental type known to me'. (9) However, while the Home and Territories Department considered that 'the "Balts", many of whom were on the verge of destitution, would make good citizens in the British Dominions', and offered 'no objection' to the admission into Australia of 'Balts' from Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, the Prime Minister's Department made clear its position that 'the Commonwealth Government is not favourable to the immigration of this class of immigrant to Australia.' (10)

And when Consul-General for Greece Mr Christy Freelegus pleaded with the Australian Government to include Greece among the countries from which nominated immigrants were accepted, he was told by the Secretary for the Prime Minister's Department that the immigration activities of the Government 'are at present being mainly confined to the introduction of suitable persons from Great Britain' and that 'it is not proposed ... to engage in any active canvass for new settlers in foreign countries, and ... the whole question of permitting foreign residents of Australia to nominate their relatives abroad for assisted passages to this country is now under review.' (11) This argument contradicted, of course, the Government's policy of offering assistance to residents of nine Northern and Western European countries.

The way in which the Government granted assistance to some European nationals and not others was a haphazard approach and one essentially grounded in dubious assumptions about the relative desirability of different nationalities. By 1922 the Superintendent for Immigration, H S Gullett, began making investigations into alternative policy approaches. The investigations made by Gullett and his colleagues in that year reveal both the internal hierarchy that was seen to exist within 'whiteness' and the influence of transnational discourses, events and exchanges on Australian constructions of whiteness.

In 1921 the United States had adopted a quota system, restricting the number of admissible immigrants to three percent of the different nationalities who were resident in the United States as shown in the Census of 1910. (12) This change of policy did not go unnoticed in Australia. In January 1922 Gullett wrote to Percy Hunter, Esq, the Director of Migration and Settlement at Australia House, London. He stated that 'this question of the relative desirability of Continental peoples [sic] needs, I think, our immediate attention,' and described how, following the decision 'to grant nominated concessions to the close relatives of people of ... France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Poland and Finland', he had been 'frequently called upon to extend the list to include people of other nationalities'. Gullett lamented:
 It is extremely difficult to draw a definite line without mistake
 or injustice ... I feel that the whole question of Australian
 immigration through the Commonwealth should be immediately taken in
 hand, and at the outset we should decide upon a definite policy as
 to the people to be encouraged. My own feeling is that we should
 have as little as possible to do with Central and South-Eastern
 Europeans, but I am not sufficiently informed on the subject to
 give in all cases sound reasons for my attitude. (13)

The Superintendent was particularly aware of the need to look to the example of other 'white nations' in managing Continental European migration, adding that 'I think the experience of America, and the decision reached in their new policy of immigration restriction, will prove a valuable guide to us ... Canada's experience would also be helpful ... [and] help on the subject could be gathered from the British Foreign Office.' Gullett was himself in favour of the adoption of a restrictive policy in line with that adopted in America, asserting that: 'Personally, I think the Commonwealth should, as a definite policy, lay down that the inflow of foreigners should not, at least for the next 25 years, exceed more than a specified ration of the total flow (English speaking peoples, such as the Americans, would not be classed as foreigners).' Indeed, it was 'just as well to look ahead':
 It is obvious in this matter that we must consider both Australia's
 extremely sensitive sentiment on the subject of the foreigner
 comprehensively referred to as the 'Dago', and also that we must go
 further and recognise that a great flood of Europeans into the
 Commonwealth is inevitable in the near future. This latter
 conclusion makes it necessary that we must consider the position
 very gravely, and realise that conclusions we reach may have
 far-reaching effects upon the quality of our future population. (14)

The Australian Commissioner in New York was thus dispatched to 'learn from the Authorities their views as to the relative desirability or undesirability of the different peoples [of Europe], together with their reasons for the views held.' (15) Six weeks later, in March 1922, the Official Secretary to the Commissioner for Australia in the United States D B Edward submitted his report, 'Relative Desirability of Peoples of European Nationalities-As Immigrants', which drew on an interview that he had conducted in Washington with W W Husband, Commissioner General of Immigration. Husband, who was 'regarded as one of the best authorities on the subject of American immigration', disclosed to Edward that:
 For obvious reasons the immigrant from Great Britain, Ireland, and
 the Dominions is considered the most desirable, mainly because he
 speaks the English language. Of the non-English speaking peoples
 the Commissioner-General regards those from the Northern European
 countries and from the Baltic provinces of Russia as the best
 types. These include people from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany,
 Austria, if of German stock (but not Hungary), Holland, Belgium
 (especially the Flemish element), France, Switzerland, Bohemia,
 Moravia (but not including Slovaks), Italy (from the northern
 provinces), and the Baltic provinces of Russia. (16)

Edward added that 'Mr Husband also thinks ... the much less desirable classes include Southern Italians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Servians, Poles, Portugese, Spaniards, Roumanians, and Montenegrans.' When asked why these different peoples had been classified as desirable or undesirable, Husband explained to Edward that 'to one who had had any wide experience of the matter, [it was] comparatively simple to make a broad generalization, but difficult to furnish reasons in detail'. He had said that 'the persons belonging to the races before mentioned classified as desirable, were as a rule law abiding citizens, industrious and generally proficient in their callings--were anxious to better their condition in this country, and to become permanent residents.' (17)

Husband related to Edward the story of how the 'old immigrants'--those who came from Northern and Western Europe in the migrations of the mid-nineteenth century--had progressed from agricultural workers to landowners, and had pioneered much of the territory of the West. They 'mingled freely with the native Americans (18) and were quickly assimilated, although a large proportion of them, particularly in later years, belonged to non-English-speaking races. This natural bar to assimilation, however, was soon overcome by them, while the racial identity of their children was almost entirely lost and forgotten'. This mythology surrounding the racial characteristics of 'old stock' Northern and Western European migrants was reflected in the provisions of the 1924 Johnson Act, which tied immigrant quotas to the 1890, rather than the 1910, census figures in order to enable higher quotas for Northern and Western European immigrants. (19) In an echo of Husband's remarks in 1922, the Eugenics Committee of the United States Committee on Selective Immigration, in justifying their recommendation of the 1890 census formula for restriction, had asserted that North and West Europeans were of 'higher intelligence' and provided 'the best material for American citizenship'. (20)

The story of the 'new immigrants', who had arrived after 1900 and tended to be of Southern or Eastern European origin, was not a heartening story for Husband. He lamented that: '[i]n cities and industrial communities [they] have congregated together in sections apart from native Americans and the older immigrants to such an extent that assimilation has been slow as compared to that of the earlier non-English speaking races.' The 'new immigrants' also exhibited undesirable racial characteristics:
 The new immigration as a class is far less intelligent than the
 old, approximately one-third of all those over 14 years of age when
 admitted being illiterate. Racially they are for the most part
 essentially unlike the British, German, and other peoples who came
 during the period prior to 1880, and generally speaking they are
 actuated in coming by different ideals, for the old immigration
 came to be a part of the country, while the new, in a large
 measure, comes with the intention of profiting, in a pecuniary way,
 by the superior advantages of the new world and then returning to
 the old-country. (21)

Implicit in Husband's narrative is the conviction that whiteness is the fundamental prerequisite for belonging in America. The whiteness of the 'native Americans' is the primary quality into which all who follow must assimilate. It bears stressing that for Husband, 'the racial identity of [the "old immigrants"] children was almost entirely lost and forgotten'. (22) In this account, racial assimilation precedes and enables cultural assimilation. In addition, in Husband's account the 'good migrant' is positioned as nation-builder, who not only assimilates racially and culturally with 'native' white Americans, but who understands his or her place in relation to the contract of citizenship: the 'good migrant' is the grateful new citizen, who gives something back in return for the gift of citizenship.

Indeed, these two qualities--whiteness and loyal citizenship--are linked in this account. Northern or Western European 'racial origin' is depicted by Husband as the determinant of loyal and committed citizenship. As Edward observes:
 In this country an immigrant is considered desirable primarily not
 according to whether he is capable of following this or that
 occupation, or to the degree of his proficiency in his calling, but
 according to whether he will readily become an '100 per cent
 American citizen'. The authorities consider him in the 'desirable'
 class if he exhibits a willingness to become naturalized at the
 earliest possible moment, to remain in the country permanently, to
 develop a loyalty to the institutions and laws of the Republic, and
 rear his children as good American citizens. (23)

In his Report, Edward notes that this question of becoming a '100 percent citizen ... is important also to Australia' and that 'Mr Husband presents it as his experience that of the non-English speaking peoples those that readily become loyal and law abiding citizens are Scandinavians, Germans, the people of the Netherlands, and Belgians. Those most difficult to deal with from this point of view are the Southern Italians, Poles, the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula and the Jew from Southern and Eastern Europe'. (24)

While Husband worried about the ability of Southern and Eastern Europeans to 'become loyal and law abiding citizens', it was the questionable 'loyalties' of Southern and Eastern European Jews that most concerned him. These migrants were perceived as possessing the dangerous combination of both having resided at the 'dark' edges of Europe and expressing loyalties above and beyond the nation-state. Edward reported that 'Mr Husband told me confidentially ... that recent movements in the United States Congress in the matter of restricting immigration into this country revolved round the question of the Jewish immigrant--more particularly, those from Russia, Poland and Roumania'. Edward stated:
 The major object of the recently enacted Immigration Restriction
 Act is to curtail the number of Jewish arrivals. The Immigration
 Bureau would, if such a course were practicable, exclude the
 Southern and Eastern European Jew ... There is a strong feeling
 among many classes in this country against these people. As Mr
 Husband pointed out, the cause of this feeling is difficult to
 state, but it would seem these people who have been so long without
 a country, have no love of country. They are actuated by motives of
 intense self interest, their standard of living for the most part
 is low, and they have not, in the slightest degree, patriotism or
 any public spiritedness. (25)

Edward's investigation and Husband's comments must be situated in terms of the wider context of racial thought regarding European 'races' during this period. The meaning of 'whiteness' was complicated by shifting ideas about the racial composition of different European nationalities. In 1916 Madison Grant's The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis of European History was published. (26) It was highly influential, both in Australia as well as the United States and elsewhere. Indeed, Grant's authority is reflected in his appointment as chair of the aforementioned Eugenics Committee of the United States Committee on Selective Immigration, (27) and Husband recommended to Edward that he read The Passing of the Great Race. (28) Grant attempted to explain European history in terms of the shifting fortunes of 'three primary races' or 'subspecies' of the 'white race': the 'Nordic or Baltic subspecies' of Northern Europe, the 'dark Mediterranean or Iberian subspecies' of Southern Europe and the 'Alpine subspecies' of central Europe. (29)

Grant's book was followed in 1924 by Lothrop Stoddard's Racial Realities in Europe, which similarly gained international influence. Stoddard also wrote of the composition of the Nordic, Mediterranean and Alpine races. He emphasised the great capabilities of those residing in the North and the West, 'while in Eastern Europe ... we find a perceptible admixture of Asiatic elements ... in Southern Europe we discover certain infusions of negroid African blood'. (30) For Stoddard, 'These three races differ markedly from one another, not merely in physical appearance but also in intellectual and emotional qualities ... they have never really fused and remain essentially distinct to-day'. (31)

These conceptions of racial difference amongst the 'white' inhabitants of Europe were significant in shaping Australian ideas about whiteness as well as the Australian Government's policy response to non-British European migrants. The conversation about the 'races of Europe' was a transnational one, engaging Australian authors among others. In 1927 University of Melbourne scholar Jens Lyng cited Stoddard's work in his study of 'the racial composition of the Australian people'. Like Stoddard and Grant, Lyng's racial hierarchy was structured in terms of geographical distance from the north-western 'centre' of Europe: in Europe, he wrote, 'it was western, northern, and in a less degree central Europe that led, and eastern and southern Europe which stood still. Amongst the causes to which this undeniable fact must be ascribed, racial composition cannot be omitted'. (32) And the Australian geographer Griffith Taylor argued that environment, not 'race', underpinned the differences between Northern, Southern and Central Europeans. For Taylor, the lines of nationality were arbitrary, but environmentally-grounded distinctions could be made between the 'races' of Europe: 'If we examine anthropometric charts of France and Germany, we find that the racial cleavage runs east and west; while the national boundary (which is the boundary of cultures and of man-made prejudices) runs north and south. In other words northern Frenchmen are Nordic and are not racially different from north Germans; and the south Frenchmen are Alpine, and are akin to south Germans'. (33)

Whether the differences were depicted as grounded in blood or in environment, notions of racial difference among 'white' Europeans certainly influenced immigration policy makers in the 1920s. Following Edward's return, the Australian Government abandoned the idea of a US-style quota but devised a more underhanded approach for achieving the objective of excluding certain kinds of European whites. The fixing of quotas was viewed as unwarranted 'in view of the relatively small numbers of foreign immigrants entering the Commonwealth' (34) and in view of the offence it may cause some European governments. The Government did want to discourage immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, but it could not afford to alienate their governments completely. As P E Deane, Secretary of The Prime Minister's Department, noted: 'It is admitted that Southern Europeans, especially Greeks, are not to be compared with the Nordic type of immigrant, but having Australia's empty spaces in mind, the necessity of safeguarding the White Australia policy, the present small percentage of alien population here, the special difficulties of carrying out a quota system in Australia, it is considered that the time is not yet ripe for the introduction of such a system in the Commonwealth'. (35)

The policy adopted was one suggested to the Prime Minister's Department by the Deputy Director of the Commonwealth Immigration Office in September 1923. He suggested that, in order to avoid offence, nominations may be accepted from nationals of any European country (other than an ex-enemy country); however, 'all such applications [are] to be submitted to the Commonwealth Immigration Office, Melbourne, for approval,' and that 'Exception may be made in special cases subject of the decision of the Commonwealth Immigration Office, Melbourne.' (36) It was significant that the nominations be processed through the central Melbourne Office. As the Deputy Director wrote, 'It is felt that by arranging for all applications to be submitted to this office, a suitable check will be enforced on the migration of foreign migrants'. The Deputy Director made explicit what he meant by such a check:
 For instance, a nomination might be submitted through a particular
 State Immigration Office in favor [sic] of, say, some Jew refugees.
 In the ordinary course it might be considered offensive to intimate
 that nominations would not be accepted in favor of Jews, whilst
 such nomination could be accepted in favor of Italians or Poles.
 Under the policy which it is suggested should now be laid down, I
 think we will be able to satisfactorily deal with all such cases
 without causing offence to any particular national. (37)

The Deputy Director added, somewhat wryly, that: '[t]here are certain races which it will not be desirable to encourage as migrants, such as Greeks and Palestinians. I think, however, that in actual practice, it will be found that any persons in those countries on whose behalf applications might be made will not be agriculturalists'. The new policy, he emphasised, 'if adopted, will prevent giving offence to any particular country or to the nationals of that country'. (38)

However, in spite of the exclusionary objectives of the policy, the message received by many sections of the public was that the Government had 'opened the floodgates' to European migrants. In the months that followed the introduction of the new policy, a spate of attacks were made on the policy by state premiers, trade union leaders and pro-British immigration organisations. (39) The alarm felt by some members of the community at the 'permitting of foreign hordes into this country' was conveyed in a letter from the proprietor of Newton's Electrical Stores, who wrote to the Government following the arrival in Melbourne of the Regina d'Italia in September 1924. 'If the White Australia policy is worth anything then it should be enforced against these undesirable foreigners who are unable to speak the English language and who are no benefit to any country', Newton protested. 'Surely with the results of America in front of us with her cosmopolitan nationality, care should be taken to only permit emigrants into Australia who are of British origin. The Greeks in particular I would debar as they neither produce nor toil; they simply hang about the cities monopolizing certain classes of trade, benefiting themselves only; the money they make they do not spend in the country, but take it away. The Chinaman in my opinion is a far better colonist, as he does produce. There are certain towns in Australia where the English language is unspoken. I lost a son at the War, and therefore feel acutely the permitting of foreign hordes into this country to the detriment of good Australians'. (40) Newton's argument reveals the way in which racial, cultural and economic discourses were often bound up in one another, and also the influence of the American 'model' on popular responses to the Australian Government's immigration policy.

The Government began to take steps toward curtailing the migration of some nationalities. On 3 September 1924, L F Cussen, Deputy of the Governor-General's Office in Melbourne, wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, rejecting a proposal for the agreement abolishing visa requirements between Great Britain and Spain to be extended to Australia. Cussen informed the Secretary of State that:

The Prime Minister desires me to mention, for your confidential information, that some apprehension is being felt in Australia at the increasing influx of foreign immigrants, particularly Southern Europeans, and that the Commonwealth Government is being repeatedly urged to place restrictions on such immigration. The objections raised to the Southern Europeans are chiefly due to

(a) their illiteracy and ignorance of English

(b) their tendency to gather into communities

(c) their standard of living being lower than that of Australians, and

(d) the effect of their admission on the unemployment problem, which is somewhat acute at the present time. (41)

He continued that, in relation to Spaniards, 'applicants should be discouraged as far as possible, excepting those who, besides having the usual qualifications, were in possession of capital to the amount of at least 50p'. (42) A month later, on 3 October, the Governor-General wrote to the Secretary of State, explaining that:
 It would be appreciated if His Majesty's Consular Officers in
 Greece, and at Port Said, Alexandria, Smyrna, and other principal
 Mediterranean ports, could be confidentially requested to refrain,
 as a general rule, from granting passport facilities to intending
 Greek migrants for Australia unless such persons, in addition to
 the usual qualifications as to sound health and good character, can
 show that they possess capital of at least 50p, or have relatives
 in Australia who will look after them and assist them to obtain
 employment on arrival in the Commonwealth. (43)

The Governor-General was here exercising exactly the kind of 'discretion' as had been envisaged when the government decided not to limit its assistance to any particular nationalities. However, the cost of avoiding offence toward other nations was a domestic backlash in Australia.

In December 1924, restrictions on Greeks, Jugoslavs, Albanians and Maltese were further tightened; and in June 1925, a provision was inserted into the Immigration Act that enabled the Governor-General to issue a Proclamation prohibiting:
 aliens of any specified nationality, race, class or occupation, in
 any case where he deemed it desirable so to do ... on account of the
 economic, industrial or other conditions existing in the
 Commonwealth; because the persons specified in the Proclamation are
 in his opinion unsuitable for admission ... or because they are
 deemed unlikely to become readily assimilated or to assume the
 duties and responsibilities of Australian citizenship within a
 reasonable time after their entry. (44)

On 6 July 1925, one year after opening the assisted passage scheme to all European nationalities, the Commonwealth government abandoned it completely. Now, assistance towards passages for nominated migrants would be limited to nominations of British subjects by British subjects. (45) Non-British European migrants would receive no assistance at all. It seemed that not all whites were equally desirable in 'White Australia'.

My bizarre and disturbing encounter with the 'White Australia Game' had led me to question the meaning of whiteness, and to resist taking for granted this concept or the political and cultural context in which it emerged and became so powerful.

The game suggests, perversely but significantly, that the projects of colonisation and immigration, of 'getting the white men in', were linked directly to aboriginal dispossession, to 'getting the black men out'. Certainly, the form of racism experienced by peoples considered 'non-white', and especially Australia's indigenous people, is not comparable to the racism--and I maintain here that it was racism--experienced, at both the institutional and popular level, by the members of what were perceived as different 'white races' during the 1920s. (46)

Yet, the racial hierarchies that existed 'within' whiteness and that were made explicit in the development of Australia's 'white alien' policies during the first half of the 1920s had real effects for Southern and European immigrants. And recognition of the complex interplay of racial categories in this period helps us to break open a monolithic and uncomplicated understanding of 'whiteness' that is often taken for granted in discussion of the White Australia Policy. Whiteness, it seems, was not the same thing as Europeanness, although the borderlines of Europe were the endpoint of tolerance so far as the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) was concerned. Depending on the social and political operation of power at any one time, the borderlines could be expanded to include or contracted to exclude. Whiteness was unstable: the seemingly endless capacity to create further racial categories within whiteness, and the relationship between conceptions of whiteness and wider transnational discourses, reminds us of the essential constructedness of all racial categories.

And yet the messiness of whiteness is no reason to let the concept off the hook. Whiteness was charged with power. It was an idea that could be harnessed to do much of the work in hurting, excluding and expelling. It was also an idea that was bound up in beliefs about security, pride and hope. All of this--all of the circulating notions of whiteness--jostled and interacted with other categories of nationality, race and ethnicity in the world out of which the 'White Australia Game' emerged.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the two anonymous referees for their helpful and generous feedback on this article.

Georgia Shiells

School of Historical Studies/The Australian Centre


(1) See, last accessed 31 July 2007. The item can be accessed at the National Archives of Australia (NAA) A1336 3368.

(2) Francis James Shaw registered the copyright for this item on 30 April 1914.

(3) While most studies of the White Australia Policy and project do not address racialised perceptions of European immigrants or the policy response to non-British European immigrants in the first decades of the twentieth century, there are a few notable exceptions to this focus in the literature. Michele Langfield has written most extensively on the subject; she has authored a number of excellent articles regarding the policy response to non-British European immigrants, and the Australian Government's immigration policies between 1901 and the Second World War more generally. See: Langfield, 'Attitudes to European immigration to Australia in the early twentieth century', Journal of Intercultural Studies, vol.12, no.1, 1991, 1-15; '"White aliens": The control of European immigration to Australia 1920-30', Journal of Intercultural Studies, vol.12, no.2, 1991, 1-14; 'To restore British migration: Australian population debates in the 1930s', Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol.41, no.3, 1995, 408-19; and 'Recruiting immigrants: The First World War and Australian immigration', Journal of Australian Studies, no. 60, 1999, 55-65. David Dutton also discusses shifting racial conceptions of Europeans amongst immigration policy makers in his book, One of Us? A Century of Australian Citizenship, University of NSW Press, Sydney, 2002. He examines the role of the Commonwealth Investigation Branch in the development of repressive immigration and naturalisation policies between the wars in his article, 'The Commonwealth Investigation Branch and the political construction of the Australian citizenry, 1920-40', Labour History, no. 75, 1998, 155-174. Barry York addresses the political and policy response to Maltese immigrants in his Empire and Race: The Maltese in Australia, 1881-1949, University of NSW Press, Kensington, 1990. For an examination of the relevant legislation and a statistical analysis of the number of non-British European people settling in Australia between the 1860s and 1947, see Chapters Three and Four in W D Borrie, Italians and Germans in Australia: A Study of Assimilation, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1954. For responses to the members of particular European nationalities see the Australian Ethnic Heritage Series, published in Melbourne by AE Press during the 1980s.

(4) Alfred Deakin, Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives 1901, vol. HR4, 4804.

(5) The group who arrived from Patagonia had been represented by the Commonwealth Government as of Welsh background; however, they were predominantly Spaniards, Russians and Italians, with only twenty-eight Welsh migrants in the group; Langfield describes their arrival as an embarrassment for the Government ('Recruiting immigrants'). In the midst of the national debate over conscription in 1916, there was considerable controversy surrounding the arrival of Maltese immigrants on the Arabia in September and the Gange in October that year. The 214 Maltese passengers on the Gange, for instance, were portrayed by union representatives as 'colored labourers' who would rob jobs from Australian conscripts. Prime Minister Hughes, concerned about a popular backlash on the eve of the conscription referendum, approved the use of the dictation test in order to prevent the Maltese immigrants' entry. Once classified as prohibited immigrants, the passengers were deported to New Caledonia for four months before all but six of them were returned to Australia in March 1917. See Langfield, 'Attitudes to European immigration', 10. For a full account of the Gange incident, see also Barry York, 'The Maltese, white Australia, and conscription: Il-Tfal Ta Billy Hughes', Labour History, no. 57, 1989, 1-15 and Chapter Five in Empire and Race: the Maltese in Australia, 1881-1949.

(6) Langfield, 'Attitudes to European immigration', 12.

(7) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(8) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(9) NAA A 457 B401/2.

(10) NAA A 457 B401/2.

(11) NAA A 457 B401/2.

(12) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(13) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(14) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(15) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(16) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(17) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(18) In this context, the term 'native American' refers to white Americans.

(19) Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1998, 83.

(20) Jacobson, 83.

(21) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(22) NAA A1 1936/13639; my italics.

(23) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(24) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(25) NAA A1 1936/13639; my italics.

(26) Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race, or The Racial Basis of European History, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1916.

(27) Jacobson, 83.

(28) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(29) Grant, 19-20.

(30) Lothrop Stoddard, Racial Realities in Europe, Charles Scribner's Sons, London, 1924, 5-6.

(31) Stoddard, 6.

(32) Jens Lyng, Non-Britishers in Australia: Influence on Population and Progress, Melbourne University Press in association with Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1927, 4-5.

(33) Griffith Taylor, European Migrations: Past, Present and Future, The Livingstone Lectures, Camden College, Sydney, 1928, 14.

(34) NAA A1 1936/13639

(35) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(36) NAA A1 1936/13639; my italics.

(37) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(38) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(39) See Dutton, and Geoffrey Sherington, Australia's Immigrants 1788-1988, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1990, 117-126.

(40) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(41) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(42) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(43) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(44) NAA A 981 MIG55.

(45) NAA A1 1936/13639.

(46) For an important analysis of the particular structural position of indigenous people in relation to the Australian nation-state, see Patrick Wolfe, 'Nation and miscegeNation: Discursive continuity in the post Mabo era', Social Analysis, no.36, 1994, 93-152. For an analysis of the different structural position of immigrants in relation to the nation-state, see Toula Nicolacopoulos and George Vassilacopoulos, 'Racism, foreigner communities and the onto-pathology of white Australian subjectivity', in Aileen Moreton-Robinson (ed.), Whitening Race: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, 2004, 32-47.
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Title Annotation:social constructionism of The White Australia Game
Author:Shiells, Georgia
Publication:Traffic (Parkville)
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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