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White Australia




The Zoological Gardens on Wednesday afternoon wore an unusually animated appearance, when Mr. Quong Tart gave a tea to a number of aborigines from the camps in and around Sydney. About 40 sat on the grass under an impromptu tent, where, upon a long strip of oilcloth, good things were served. A substantial meal was eaten by each black, gin, and piccaninny, all of whom greatly relished it, if appearances were anything to judge by. When the meal was over, Charlie Murray, an aboriginal, evidently above the average class, made a pleasant speech, in which on behalf of his countrymen and women, he heartily thanked Mr. Tart for the very kind and liberal manner in which he had treated them. The latter suitably responded, and said that it was his intention to make the affair an annual one. Cheers were given for Mr. Tart and Mr. D. Matthews, the latter having taken a great interest in matters concerning the aboriginals. Cheers for the Queen were also lustily given. The company then dispersed over the grounds.

Sourced 2008 Mitchell Library. The “News”, 27 November 1890
(Quong Tart’s newscuttings and papers)


Useful as the Chinaman is in many ways, with horses he is a poor hand, nor does. any amount of teaching seem to have the effect of remedying this constitutional failing, which is found an almost insuperable bar to his employment upon a station in any capacity except that of cook or gardener. The aboriginal, on the other hand, is quite at home with horses, even small black children riding the most vicious brutes without a shade of fear. Indeed, for rough riders, the black man is far better than the white; you can safely put him on the worst buck-jumper, knowing that his skull is so thick that a dozen falls will not crack it, and even if anything does happen—well to put it mildly—from a colonial point of view, a black more or less is not of much vital consequence.

A, W. Stirling, “The Never Never Land: A Ride in North
Queensland”, London, 1884


As shown in the diagram (right), the whole of Africa, called the “Darkest Continent”, lies in the tropics or semi-tropics. In the centre, where it is the hottest place on earth, the people are black. In the extreme north and south of the continent, where it is cooler, the people are brown, except in case of immigrants. Australia lies in the tropics and semi-tropics, and, consequently, all her people must become more or less coloured. Therefore, a permanent White Australia is a physical impossibility.

E. W. Cole,
“A White Australia Impossible”, 1903


Sir Edmund Barton and the Rt. Hon. George Houston Reid, as the two leaders of the Commonwealth, both argue strongly for a “White Australia”. Sir Edmund Barton affirms the doctrine on every important occasion, and Mr. Reid went so far in a public speech, in Western Australia, as to say that he would rather see tropical Australia remain a desert, than to have it occupied by coloured people. But I hold that to selfishly and forcibly keep people from a country who require it
as a means of subsistence, and, with malice afore- thought, to deliberately allow it to remain a desert, is a crime against humanity, whether coloured or otherwise. But another question arises—Is it not presumptuous, insulting, wrong, and foolish of us few millions in number not one fifth of the population of little Java, to warn off all comers from this island-continent, containing 3 million square miles or one seventeenth of the entire globe? …

Now, although I, as a simple citizen, would allow any human being to settle in Australia who chooses to come, yet I hold that fair and reasonable regulations should be made and carried out to control such immigration. I would exclude no man on account of his colour, or his creed, or his race, but I would not do my own country the wrong of inviting or allowing a lot of undesirables to come. In a previous edition I wrote:—

“Respecting the restrictive immigration of aliens, America, a few years ago, found that she was being made the dumping ground of the paupers, the incapables, the ne’er-do-wells, the ignorant, the criminals, and the general undesirables of Europe, her nearest neighbour, and she very properly passed restrictive immigration laws to check the evil and the wrong; and our Commonwealth has the same right to pass similar laws to prevent being flooded by similar undesirables  from Asia, her nearest neighbour; but she has no right in a general way to prevent respectable mankind from spreading over the earth in pursuit of necessary sustenance.

I would make it a condition that any respectable immigrants should come, that they should come gradually in small numbers, that they should learn the language of their adopted country as soon as possible, that their children should receive the common education of the country, that they should become in every respect genuine citizens of the country, and that there should be no secret governments, or secret societies, among them adverse to the public welfare. Subject to
these conditions I would invite the Javanese in, and any other respectable human beings who liked to come.

E. W. Cole, ”A White Australia Impossible”, 1903

This section contains racist and offensive material.
As a folklore collector I have an obligation to record such material and, hopefully, it will provide opportunities for others to understand how such material is created and transmitted. Of course, most of the items come from Australia’s early days and that needs to be taken into account.