So, we tackled the economic side of things, and how France saved Australia by being snooty towards the British, and America somewhat misunderstood the relationship between Japan and China. In this deal, Australia’s market opened up to Japan. Thing is, we hadn’t been magically cured of Racism in the 1940s, at least, the white population hadn’t been. And at that point, our population was 99.98% (!!!) white. So how the shit did we pull that one off?
There are two forces in Australian politics that came together to break the steady whiteification of the population: Embarassment, and desperation. First things first, the dictation test was overwhelmingly applied to non-white immigrants coming to Australia, but not absolutely. There were two significant exceptions where the test was used as a government tool to kick someone specific out, for specific, personal reasons. The second case of this was where a woman – a white woman – came from the Indian continent with her lover, after divorcing her husband and fleeing to Australia for a new life.
We gave her the dictation test. No immigration reason. She was white, her lover was white, her husband was white. We gave her the dictation test, because we weren’t just racist, the government at the time was super interventionalist and dickish. No, we gave her the test because we didn’t approve of her moral decisions – we were using our government, at the time, to make individual moral judgments about her. This was not seen at the time as horrible, but rather as a sort of general purpose okay move – until she started to kick up a stink about it. She spoke English just fine, so when she was issued the test in Italian, she put her hands over her ears and refused to participate. Now, this sounds like schoolyard nonsense, but you have to remember that at this point in history, we were very reactive to schoolyard nonsense since we’d built a whole country around the bold political ideology of ‘No blacks allowed,’ because they might smell the place up.
The other case was the strange situation of Mr Egon Kisch, who was a Czechoslovakian Jew, which some didn’t consider white enough, and also a communist who was attending rallies and distributing information about Russia that didn’t fit with the Empire’s stance on it. That had to be stopped, and so we sent him through the dictation test, too. What makes it really embarassing for us, though, is that Mr Kisch was a journalist who lived in Europe for most of his life – that is, he spoke every damn language under the sun, better than anyone involved in administering the test. We wound up giving it to him in a dialect of Scottish spoken by fewer than a hundred people at the time, and would you believe he failed that? The problem then was that it gave him grounds to challenge the test itself, fundamentally, because there was no reasonable way to claim that the test represented a European language.
Those two incidents struck a major blow against the Dictation test, particularly because even though they happened seven years apart and with different prime ministers, the minister for immigration was the same dude – so he looked ineffectual, stupid, and petty.
Then there was the other side of the coin, where post World War 2, there was immigration incentive out the yin-yang in Europe. Governments were being offered money to take people out of the refugee camps, and there was an honest-to-god bidding war going on for the trained, the skilled and the education refugees. There were no homes in Rotterdam or Dresden – but there were homes in Sydney and Perth. The problem is most of these refugees were damnably foreign. Claiming scientific analysis, but really just guessing, the Foreign minister (different dude to the immigration minister) claimed that Australia was scooping up the best and brightest and those that would not diminish Australia’s whiteness by any measure. The best tidbit in all of this mess was that the minister in question was giving orders to put the (large number of) Finnish immigrants on the outsides of the immigrants when they were grouped up, so that the whole crowd looked more white.
Effectively, for purely pragmatic reasons, the post-WW2 era policy of immigration was one where we grabbed what we could, when it gave us an advantage. When the White Australia policy was revised in 1952, it was quietly repealed without fanfare, and the Dictation test specifically was removed from law with a totally unanimous vote.
This is what set the stage for modern Australia. A country of racists, very comfortable in their racism, but completely blind to the race of their friends. There are people who will decry ‘the Turks’ even as they ignore two of their best friends being Turkish and speaking Turkish. There are old grudges from old countries (our Danes and Germans get very antsy around Fifa cup season). We still haven’t got it right, and we can still see politicians making hay out of exploiting class fears… but no matter how racist a law seems now, we have to look back to 1901, when the country was new, and admit: We’ve done a lot worse.