I have to do some study for tomorrow’s exam – yes, I know, I know, but fucking hell, it’s not been a good fucking week, alright? – and I figure the best way to reinforce ideas in my head is to provide some description of them to others. You, dear reader, can be my study buddy by reading along for this slice of Australian history in the 20th Century.
First things first, in 1788, Australia was subjected to the arrival of the First Fleet, who were not the first people there, nor were they very fleet, having taken over seven months. This sort of misnamed optimism happens all the time in our history, though, as we’ll see later on. What transpired for the next hundred and twelve years was considered relatively unimportant but can be summarised with the three elements of genocide, racism and a lack of governmental oversight. What was founded in this period was a powerful sense of guilt and deep-rooted longing for England amongst the upper class, a sense that will show up a lot. Key date, 1788.
Then we jumped in class straight ahead to 1901, which was the point of Federation, at which Australia stopped being a ragtag fistful of not-quite-states which kept sending notes back to England to double check they had permission for everything. This system was notoriously shit, and so, we federated into a Working Class Paradise, which promised to avoid the class system of England (which we did, for the most part), and allow for economic advancement of the individual. Well, and this is where it got tricky, the advancement of the individual white person. We let women vote, mind you! But with a cultural outlook inherited from the most imperialistic outlook of England, we figured that equality and rights were things that would create a great culture – for white people only.
Our first Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, argued vociferously with Billy Hughes, the leader of the opposition, about the nature of our White Australia policy – a policy that was never encoded by name in Australian law. That, no no no, that would be too obvious. See, we liked England, and we wanted our Federation to be part of nestling in against England like we imagined Scotland was doing. Scotland, by the awy, no fan. Anyway, because of this, what we wanted to do was avoid causing England problems, and England at that point owned India. India was full of people who weren’t white, and we wanted make a policy that would tell them to fuck off.
Billy Hughes figured that, as a plain spoken, bare-knuckled union leading working class man, they should just go for a flat, obvious law: Whites only! Alfred Deakin disagreed, vehemently – not because he wasn’t a racist, let’s make that clear. No, he argued that they needed a mechanism to exclude black and brown and yellow people that didn’t explictly say that, because if it said that, India would, quite rightfully, want to know what kind of Empire Britain was running. In historical hindsight, chances are India wouldn’t even notice, because we are always far less important than we think we are, but anyway! The point is, we wanted some method to say ‘No furners,’ without saying it out loud. The solution was the Dictation Test.
The Dictation Test, which was included as part of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, was a short list of thirty words which an official would read aloud to the prospective immigrant in any European language, chosen to be the most difficult and awkward one possible. If they got any part of this test wrong, and that includes punctuation, and they included words like ‘protestation’ and ‘mucelage,’ then bam, sorry, you can’t come here, because clearly there’s a problem with your ability to integrate into our society, where we mostly communicate through a series of spits and ‘cunts.’ Then, for some reason, we only ever applied this test to people who were conspicuously not white. Strange, no? What’s weird is that unlike every other culture of racist assholes, we were fine with the Irish and the French… because they were white.
Following Federation, Australia moved on to a growing economy, now that we could do things to keep those filthy coloureds from sneaking in. We encouraged immigration – offering the poor underclass of white England, Scotland and Ireland all sorts of lovely promises of free fields of wonderful working conditions where they didn’t have to die in The Mines.
When they got here they didn’t have any such malarkey, their ‘farms’ were in fact nothing but empty wastelands and outback piles of nothing and gum trees that hated them as much as they hated the axe. Essentially, we got them out here by lying to them, and they started the task of turning Australia into a primary production nation. We mined, we refined, we grew, and we exported, exported, exported. Exports were massively biased towards England, who we sold our primary goods to, nice and cheap; England reciprocated that relationship by selling us things they had made with our primary goods for the top-of-the-shelf prices, because when you’re a global superpower, you get to treat everyone like an asshole would (because you’re an asshole).
So that’s part one!