'White Australia Policy' badge
This badge documents a shameful period in Australia's history when exclusionary and racist practices were openly supported in public policy and government legislation. The development of the 'white Australia' policy can be traced to growing resentment against Chinese miners arriving in Australia during the gold rushes in the last half of the 19th century. The extreme outcome of this attitude culminated in riots at Lambing Flat (Young) in New South Wales and Buckland River in Victoria that ultimately led to formal limitations on Chinese immigration.
Indentured workers from Melanesia (Kanakas) employed in Northern Queensland produced a similar racist response. The resultant fears of competition from Kanakas and loss of employment for descendants of British stock ensured legislation was devised to restrict immigration by the time of Federation of the colonies in 1901. Perhaps the most infamous method of restricting access was the dictation test of 50 words in any European language not necessarily (and usually unlikely to be) known by the applicant - including Irish Gaelic. If the applicant failed, they were refused entry to the country. By 1919 the then Prime Minister William (Billy) Hughes hailed the White Australia policy as 'the greatest thing we have achieved'. The badge dates to around the time of this comment. Implicit in the context of a 'white Australia' was that the Indigenous Aboriginal population would eventually become extinct. In fact, after 150 years of decline, population numbers increased from the 1930s.
The beginning of the end of racist policy occurred in 1949 with the entry of 800 non-European refugees and Japanese war brides. However, it wasn't until 1973 under the Whitlam Labor Government that the last vestiges of references to race were removed from immigration policy, and Australia today prides itself on fostering a multicultural citizenry.
This badge is a rare non-textual example of the attitudes sustaining a White Australia Policy. As an item to be worn it demonstrates the willingness and community acceptance with which people once advertised their racist beliefs during what is now rightly considered a shameful episode in Australia's history. Nevertheless this is an episode that should be acknowledged and the badge contributes to our understanding and interpretation of the policy and its historical context.
Department of Immigration www.immi.gov.au
Aplin, G., Foster, S.G, and McKernan, M., 'Australians: Events and Places', Sydney, 1988: 117
Aplin, G., Foster, S.G, and McKernan, M., 'Australians: A Historical Dictionary, Sydney', 1988: 436-37
Jupp, J., 'The Australian People: an encyclopaedia of the nation', Angus and Robertson, North Ryde, 2001: 44-49