The Schadenfreude of old books…

Who would get away with this today?

No branch of that large section of the human race which, whether by the colour of their skin or by some other natural or fortuitous circumstance, has received from nature, or the hand of Providence, the impress of inferiority, seems to have occupied less of the attention or research of civilization and philosophy than the portion of the sable sons of earth inhabiting the Australian continent. This, no doubt, is in a great measure owing to that physical inferiority which this people certainly exhibit in as great a degree as almost any other race of men known. Their isolated and scattered position, their roving mode of life, their unwarlike character, their rude and all but harmless weapons, the utter absence of anything like concert in their habits and operations, have ever rendered them unimportant neighbours and feeble and insignificant enemies. Incapable of creating any considerable mischief, they have never, by war or by their opposition to the progress of the white man, forced themselves on the attention either of the governments or philanthropists of Europe. Another cause, no doubt, of the unbroken obscurity in which the history of the aborigines of this territory has been permitted to remain involved, is the extreme difficulty which, from the very first, presents itself to the dispelling of the thick cloud which hangs around the primeval origin and subsequent progress of the Australian tribes. No monumental ruin, however obscure, or however feebly defined, has ever been discovered, throughout the length and breadth of the country, which might afford a clue to the civilization or barbarism of the people from whom they have descended. No form of worship, or well-defined religious belief, such as is found amongst almost all other barbarians, suggests the particular class of worshippers to which they originally belonged. No arts, however rude—none, however, in any way worthy the name—attest in the remotest degree, by their progress and condition, the period during which they might have been practised. Conjecture and analogy alone remain to guide the inquirer in any investigation touching the original inhabitants of the Australian wilds…

NOTE: “In his short life, Roderick J Flanagan (1828-1862) was a poet, journalist and historian. He was born in Ireland, but spent 22 years of his life in Australia. He founded a newspaper in Melbourne and was the author of a history of New South Wales, and a study of Aboriginal life. Among his other works was a posthumously-published volume of poetry in 1887 entitled ‘Australian and other Poems’, which appeared in 1887. One of the poems, The Vale of Manly, (composed late 1850s?) is notable for being probably the earliest literary response to the beauty of Manly, at that time sparsely populated.”


On the other hand, who said the “black armband” is a recent interpretation of our history?


The Australian settlers have not dealt as kindly with the natives as they should have done.

From the beginning the white man has thoroughly ignored any right or title to the land on the part of the aborigines.

Squatters taking up large “runs” for sheep and cattle, must have been perfectly well aware that they were usurping territory which had been the undisturbed possession of other men for centuries.

The natives found the animals upon which they and their fathers had depended for ages for food, driven out by the white man.

They dare not encroach upon the territory of a neighboring tribe for game or food of any sort without violating those sacred regulations which had always controlled the tribes in their amicable relations to each other.

To have thus transgressed their own native laws would necessarily have resulted in tribal wars.

A tribe finding itself hemmed in and pressed for food would not consent, on the one hand, to wrong their native neighbors, nor, on the other, to starve while food was so near at hand, as that which now occupied the former grazing grounds of the kangaroo and the emu, so they did that which any one of us would expect them to do, they speared the squatter’s sheep and cattle.

At once war was declared on the part of the squatter. He and his men made no conscience of shooting down the blacks as they would shoot down a dingo. Resistance with clubs and spears was of small account when it arrayed itself against the rifle.

Sometimes the Government stepped in to aid the squatter in his work of usurpation of the rightful-property of others, and his extinction of the possessors. Native mounted police were employed under the control and direction of a white " inspector."

There was no difficulty in getting these men to do their unnatural work most effectually, if only removed 200 or 300 miles away from their own tribe, and, of course, nearly as far from any tribe whom they had formerly known.

These fellows, set on by their "inspector," and thoroughly trained by him in the use of the rifle and revolver, were as eager for their work as bloodhounds.

The men of the offending tribe were shot down by the score, and the women were handed over by the worthy official to his " boys " for a fate worse than that which had befallen their husbands, their sons, and their brothers. When the bloody and wicked campaign, which could not last very long, was over, the inspector simply reported that the tribe had been " dispersed."

What the rifle failed to do, intoxicants and diseases, some of them of the most loathsome kind, all unknown previously to the blacks, have done—destroyed these poor creatures by thousands. With these destructive forces at work for the last half century or more, the native population has been in all the settled portions of Victoria, New South Wales, and South Australia, largely swept off. With the mere fraction which remains, the Government and people of the present day are dealing more kindly. A part of the remnant are gathered upon " reservations." They have schools and churches, and domestic comforts, of which their fathers knew not.

All this, however, does not atone for the wicked treatment which has been shown multitudes of their race, by a people who should have had more honor and humanity.

Little good can come, perhaps, from berating those on whom now devolve the responsibilities of government for the sins committed by those who went before them.

Let those, however, who feel an interest in the honor and fair fame of their country (and Australians have many things of which they may justly be proud), put forth a greater effort to educate and save the remnant of these native people. Some of them may be very low, and offer little encouragement for effort, but others are brighter, especially among the children, as I can testify from personal observation in some of the schools I visited. I hold that they all have a just claim upon the humane and philanthropic efforts of the stronger race which has displaced them…


An Australian Native

Image and quote above from Australia and Homeward by D V Lucas. Toronto 1888.

And how about THE WHITE AUSTRALIA POLICY by the Rev. Dr. Andrew Harper of St Andrew’s College, University of Sydney? It’s in Australia; Economic and Political Studies ed Meredith Atkinson. Macmillan 1920.

In the first year of the Commonwealth of Australia the first general Immigration Restriction Act was passed, and when it was being discussed Sir William McMillan expressed in a memorable way the feeling of many in Australia, and of practically all Britain regarding the object we were seeking to secure. H6 said: "" Every one of us must feel that in attempting to shut out any human beings from our shores, and from the privileges of British freedom, we are doing a very extreme act." That was inevitably the prima facie view which anyone approaching the subject from the old liberal point of view would take, and it probably is the view still held by English Liberals and by many modern Conservatives in Britain. America, Canada and Australia had been for a long time competing for immigrants from Europe; and the emigrants had so greatly bettered their condition that emigration had come to be regarded as the panacea for all the ills of the working classes. Looking at the question entirely from the British point of view,  the point of view of a country which desired emigration in order to keep up the standard of living among its own people, unlimited immigration into all sparsely populated countries was regarded as one of the great hopes for the world. Hence arose the feeling that it would be cruel to shut out " any human being” from its bounty. Careful inquiry has convinced the present writer that this is a one-sided ‘ and mistaken view, and this Essay will be mainly an attempt to show that from the point of view of the countries to which immigrants come, any such principle as Sir William McMillan lays down cannot be, and has never has been, accepted by any nation that deserved to survive, [corrupt text]  the standard of living, and a constant danger of war would Inevitably be the result of accepting it in Australia.

But in the face of this economic prejudice among Liberals, which has allied itself in a vague way with the recognition of our common humanity, it is necessary to be precise in our statements. The first thing, consequently, to be done is to define what the White Australia policy is, and what the means proposed for carrying it out are.

I.—Definition of Policy and Means of Carrying it Out.

In general terms, then, the “White Australia " policy is the policy which seeks to prevent the free influx into Australia of labourers and artisans belonging to races whose traditions, and whose political, social and religious ideals differ so much from ours, that it would be very difficult in any reasonable time to assimilate them, and if they came in masses, impossible. And the foundation of that policy is the conviction that such an influx always produces grave evils for both races, and that it cannot really be desired by either, unless as a cover for designs of conquest, either economic or territorial.

The means for carrying it out are simple, and such as should give offence to no people, if once the policy is accepted. Power is given to the immigration officers to compel each immigrant to write out fifty words in any language he chooses. Virtually, therefore, the Government can make any man’s rejection sure, but no special nation is named as objectionable…

III.—True Object of Policy Is to ward off National Danger.

These misconceptions being removed, we have now to ask what was the object of the policy? ^It was an effort to ward off a great national danger which may any day become pressing, but which Australian political leaders first clearly saw and tried to meet at the Colonial Conference of 1897. That danger is the revival, under hew names and different conditions, of that migration of the peoples which overwhelmed the Roman Empire. The great difficulty in dealing with opponents of the " White Australia " policy is that they entirely fail to see how new in modern times, and how portentously great the evil to be fought against is. It is not, as they for the most part conceive it to be, merely natural infiltration of wandering labourers from one similarly civilised country into another, like the influx of Germans into England, or of Italians into France. In such cases the immigrants, having similar social, moral and political ideals, their descendants imperceptibly merge into the population of the country they have migrated to. Nor is it even a case like the immigration of Russian and other Eastern Jews into England, though that is so much more serious than the other cases that it has compelled England to pass an Immigration Restriction Act.

The special features that render that more serious are of the same kind as those which render the immigration of coloured labour into Australia dangerous. The ”immigrants” are  not at the same  stage of civilisation as the English people; their "standard of living is much lower; their education is greatly inferior; and they tend to cling to their own tongue and to cohere in masses in the strange land to which they have come. All this makes them difficult to assimilate, and because of that even Britain has had to face an agitation for their total exclusion. Yet the greater elements of danger in the Australian case are absent here. After all, the alien immigration into England of all kinds is only 12,400 a year, and the people among whom they come to live are 40,000,000. The aliens are, consequently, not nearly numerous enough to alter the type of civilisation which prevails. Moreover, they are mainly exiles driven from their homes by persecution, and they neither could nor would form the advance guard of an armed invasion. Lastly, their religion is, in all its higher aspects, related to English religion, and there is a large community of English Jews thoroughly assimilated to their environment, who are eager to help in the education and assimilation of the backward members of their race.

Consequently, even this immigration is a harmless thing compared with the immigration of Asiatic labourers and artisans into Australia. To find a fitting parallel to that, we have to go back, as we have said, to the great migrations of the peoples of Europe and Asia in the fourth and fifth centuries….

Paranoia then and now wears much the same clothing, eh!

See The Australian Dictionary of Biography on Harper, who was an interesting character.

… Harper’s critical approach to Scripture made him a controversial figure in British church circles, his impact spreading to the Melbourne press by 1890. Public addresses on ‘the Higher Criticism’ drew fierce clerical attacks thereafter, and some critics explicitly compared his stance to that of Charles Strong; supported by John Rentoul, Harper maintained his position. His insistence that the religious revelation of Scripture and Christian faith were not dependent upon the historical infallibility of biblical statements became acceptable: his staunchly evangelical teaching and practice, and overseas standing, overpowered his critics. In 1895 the Presbyterian Church appointed him editor of the Messenger, whose columns had previously carried many attacks on his ideas.

Convinced that a nation without religious belief was doomed to disintegration, Harper argued strongly for religious teaching in schools. He also led Protestant agitation for a ‘Godly contribution’ during the Federation debate. He was deeply influenced by nationalistic German theologians and, though he denied ‘racist’ attitudes, his spirited defence of the White Australia policy and his attitude to Aboriginals were based on rigid notions of European cultural superiority, as well as desire to maintain living standards for Australian workers of any colour. Genuine concern at human suffering was tempered by conviction of the inevitability of the labourer’s hard lot, but he dreamed the Australian dream of a southern paradise sharing its common wealth.

In 1902 Harper resigned his Ormond chair and took up duties as principal of St Andrew’s College within the University of Sydney. At the same time he was appointed to the college’s Hunter Baillie professorship of Oriental and Polynesian languages and to its theological faculty’s chair of Hebrew and exegetical theology of the Old Testament. He moved his large family to Sydney but retained his seaside home at Lorne…

These are just some of the treasures to come my way via The Open Library and The Internet Archive. Be aware though that many of the million and more texts available are not clean copies – that is the scans haven’t been proofread and they can be a bit weird, unlike sites such as Project Gutenberg. But even so – it’s rather like burrowing around in the book stacks at Fisher Library – something I did far too often as a student in the 1960s… Amazing what you may find.

And I have downloaded Mein Kampf and Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, among other things… And even more Australiana.


From Herbert Pitts, Children of Wild Australia, Edinburgh 1914