Bibliographic data

Mason, James K.: Experience of nationhood, Modern Australia since 1901. McGraw-Hill Book Co., 4th ed. [4. Aufl.], 2002, 35–36.

"White Australia"

[p. 35]



Why did Australia restrict non-white immigration?

One feature of Australian nationalism was the belief that the white race that made up the new nation was superior to other races. After creating a united Australia in 1901, Australians now set out to create a white Australia.

This racist element in our early history was hardly questioned at the time. It was an idea shared by the leading politicians and all the political parties, by the newspapers and even by those more radical Australians who would have liked a republican Australia. In 1907 the Bulletin that had championed the cause of an Australian republic, changed its banner slogan from ‘Australia for the Australians’ to ‘Australia for the White Man’. The factor that united all levels of Australian society was a fear of Asia and of non-white races, and the determination to keep Australia white.


There were a number of reasons why Australians believed in a White Australia policy after federation. Australia was a new nation of mainly white people of British origin in a region of the world where there were very few other white races. There was a real sense of isolation and a fear of the larger numbers of Asian peoples to the north. This fear of Asia was to become one of the constant themes of Australia's relationship with the outside world until well after World War Il.

[A young man sitting on a wooden box which is swimming in the ocean. There a some waves and the sky is not clear. On the box there is a text “Australia for the Australians”, An Asiatic looking Man with long nails tries to climb the box and looks at the young man.]

SOURCE 1.41 ´Towards a White Australia´. The Bulletin makes the point very clearly in this cartoon published in August 1895

[p. 35]

Australians not only had a distrust of other races but also a belief that they were in some way superior to them. There was a belief that the white races, particularly the British and the Europeans who carved out the great world empires, were superior to non-Europeans and that some races were, in fact, inferior. Many felt that it was Britain’s destiny to rule over these so-called inferior races and to lift their level of civilisation. The noted British author and poet Rudyard Kipling called it the ‘white man’s burden’.

There were also economic reasons why Australia adopted a White Australia policy. Australian workers feared that non-white people coming from Asia would work for less money and accept poorer working conditions. As the Labor movement and the trade unions fought to improve the conditions of the working class in the years after federation, they supported all attempts to restrict the entry into Australia of people who could in any way undermine the interests of Australian workers.


What were the main features of the White Australia policy?

How did the White Australia policy reflect Australia's views towards its indigenous people and Asians.

White Australia came into being with two laws, the Immigration Restriction Act and the Pacific Island Labourers Act, which were both passed by the new federal parliament in 1901. The Immigration Restriction Act was put in place to keep non-white people out of Australia. The method used was the dictation test. Under the law, people seeking to enter the country could be required to do a 50-word written dictation test in ‘a European language directed by the officer’. The concept had been borrowed from the British in South Africa. White immigrants seeking to enter Australia were generally not required to take the 50-word dictation test, but non-whites were.

The Pacific Island Labourers Act was brought into being in an aim to rid Australia of the Pacific islanders, or kanakas, who had been brought to Australia to work on the sugar farms of northern Queensland. Under this law, no more islanders were allowed into Australia from 1904 and all islanders not actually born in Australia were to be deported by 1906.

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