Many wanted the emerging country of Australia to become a “white worker’s paradise.” They feared the large populous countries to the north in Asia proper. The politicians fanned this fear and told the white workers that their democratic equality required racial exclusion. The Australian Labor Party embraced this philosophy.
They believed that the “servile races” (predominantly Asians and Africans) should not to be allowed to participate in the newly forming government, and their entry into Australia should be restricted or eliminated. Many saw the native aborigines as nothing more than relics of an early form of human development that only existed because they were isolated. Their race was dying. The Chinese too (30,000 strong in 1900) were undesirable, even though some had been in Australia for over 40 years.
The Immigration Restriction Act.
At that time, the passage of this law by the Australian Federal Parliament also required the approval of Great Britain, which it received after references to specific nationalities were removed. The British government was concerned that non-white citizens of their empire, such as Indians, would be barred entry.
Not all Australians supported the new law. Liberals, reformers, plantation owners, and the Catholic Church voiced their opposition but were unsuccessful in stopping the wave of white-based nationalism.
The "Dictation Test" and deportations.
The Act also authorized and imposed written language tests for entry into the country. From the beginning, these tests were applied in a very discriminatory way. Great Britain would not agree to a dictation test that targeted a specific race, so the provision was rephrased as a literacy test, “Any person who when asked to do so by an officer fails to write out at dictation, and sign in the presence of the officer, a passage of fifty words in length in a European language directed by the officer (will not be admitted).” The language specified by the government officer could be any European language he chooses, which was usually one the potential immigrant could not speak.
Initially the test was going to require proficiency in English, but it was thought this would give an advantage to some Japanese and to African Americans. Later, the law was amended to include ANY language.
Between 1902 and 1909, only 52 people passed the test out of 1359 who took it. No one passed the test after 1909.
Some non-whites were exempted from the new laws and deportation. If a non-white was a resident before the country was formalized, they were not subject to the immigration laws. But, their families located outside of Australia became prohibited immigrants, there were no exceptions. As these generations aged and could not increase their numbers by bringing in additional family, the non-white population decreased rapidly.
Australia enters the international community.
Until World War I there was a ban on all non-white immigration, but then the “White Australia” policies drew international attention at the Paris Peace Treaty Conference.
Prime Minister Billy Hughes (Australia) knew that this would run counter to the White Australia movement, and objects. P.M. Lloyd George (Britain) and President Woodrow Wilson (U.S.) also opposed the racial equality provision requested by Japan, but remained quite. Instead they tell the Japanese that they must deal with Australia directly, which they attempt but with no progress.
Australia stands firm against racial equality.
A vote of all nations present is taken and Japan’s racial equality provision is approved. President Wilson intercedes, however, and says that it must be a unanimous decision (a direct violation of the principles of the League of Nations). So Japan’s proposal is not accepted.
Australia and Japan becomes bitter and mortal enemies.
Increased British immigration and the Depression.
The economic depression of the 1930’s affects white Australians more than the remaining small non-white population. There is a brief revival of non-white Australians because these people will accept the low paying agricultural jobs available. The 22,000 farms planned to be developed for white British immigrants yields only 500 farms.
A challenge to the "Dictation Test."
The Immigration Restriction Act and the Dictation Test remained in force. It was challenged by a white citizen of Czechoslovakia named Egon Erwin Kisch, who was exiled from Germany for opposing Nazism. The Australian Government went to extreme lengths to bar Kisch from entering the country as they believed him to be a political activist. They administered the Dictation Test and Kisch, fluent in several European languages, past repeated testing.
Finally, he failed to correctly pass a test in Scottish Gaelic. His testing officer, a native of Scotland, did not have a working knowledge of this language either. In a subsequent court case, the judgment was made that Scottish Gaelic was “not within the fair meaning of the Act” and Kisch was cleared of being an illegal immigrant. The Dictation Test suffered wide public ridicule.
WWII - What goes around comes around.
By 1940, Australia’s population is 99% white, after 40 years of social engineering through exclusion.
Australia’s ardent enemy, the Empire of Japan, becomes the dominant military force in Asia. They invade China and turn an eye toward Australia. In 1942 Japan bombs Darwin and other cities, inflicting a serious psychological blow. For two years the Japanese Navy conducted 100 air raids against northern Australia, and a Japanese invasion force was turned back at the Battle of the Coral Sea.
As Japanese forces advanced southward, refugees fled to Australia. These included non-white Filipinos, Malaysians, Indonesians, as well as Dutch. They couldn’t be refused entry in all human decency.
More than this, the Aborigines, New Guineans, and Indonesians/Timorese served to defend Australia, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the white Australians, who began to question their exclusionist policies.
Post war changes.
After World War II, Australia still faced the problem of being a large country with a small population while the growing threat of Chinese expansion became a reality during the 1950’s. If the country was to survive and grow it needed to embrace other cultures, and immigrants.
From 1950 to 2010, Australia’s population tripled.
Today, Australia has 22 million people originating from almost 200 different countries. Migration has contributed to Australia’s strong economic and social growth. Almost half of Australians are migrants or the children of migrants and account for two-thirds of the population growth.
To learn more about the White Australia Movement, you can link to the three videos listed below. They are parts 2, 3, and 4 that follow the video featured above in this article. We urge you to watch them.
“Immigration Nation Ep1: White Australia Policy - Part 2/4”
“Immigration Nation Ep1: White Australia Policy - Part 3/4”
“Immigration Nation Ep1: White Australia Policy - Part 4/4”