Why critique of a past Australian event such as the White Australia Policy?

Race for race, during the heydays of the White Australia Policy, Qing China was no less xenophobic when it came to acceptance of non-Chinese domiciled in its dominion. If the White Australia Policy had solely to do with the protection and the maintenance of an Anglo-Celtic Volksgemeinschaft on the Australian continent, one that would ensure a perpetual loyalty to the British Empire and its far-flung national interests in the world, then the architect of White Australia such as the New South Wales Premier Henry Parkes, who counted a prominent Chinese Australian such as Quong Tart among his friends, can be understood, or even forgiven, as a mere ardent advocate of the cultural conservatism of the global Stimmung and Weltanschauung. But was Parkes only following the racialised Zeitgeist of the late 19th century and the early 20th century? Was race all there was to it?

The answer is a resounding no. The White Australia Policy obscured the exploitation and oppression of “coloured” people such as Aboriginal Australians, Chinese, Japanese and Pacific Islanders in the mass construction of the economy of the Colony and subsequently of the Federation. White Australia ensured that these people would be used up to the maximum with their labour but not be allowed to become fully empowered members of Australian society. In the case of widespread indentured labour during the 19th century, the economic arrangements were founded upon bondage. The non-European, non-Aboriginal flotsam and jetsam who somehow managed to stay behind in Australia and eke out a living had to endure invisibility, humiliation, ostracisation and if not violence, when being an Australian was synonymous with being “white”. Work did not make one free; instead it made one “useless” and “unwanted” once one’s labour – the kinetic energy of muscles – was exhausted.

In retrospect, these masses of “coloured” people, faceless, nameless and voiceless in the annals of Australian history, should be remembered and honoured for the massive contributions they had made to the modernisation of Australia as a nation. In the case of quarantine history, given that the Quarters for Asiatics at Australian quarantine stations served as the institutional starting points in public health for these historic mass movements of “coloured” people to contribute to the national economy, these sites, today lying silent and unnamed, are fit places of memorialisation of non-European labour.

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