Australia sometimes seems to suffer a mysterious case of multiple-amnesia over immigration.
We are a nation built on migrants, but we have forgotten that almost every new wave of immigrants has been resented and resisted by those already here, especially those who were migrants themselves. It started around the 1820s when the convicts hated the first free settlers ‘taking our jobs’. We have forgotten that, without exception, each wave of immigrants has been successfully absorbed to national and individual benefit. We have forgotten that particular groups aroused special animosity, yet integrated so completely in one generation that it would scarcely occur to them to regard themselves as being of migrant origin. Such is Australia’s perhaps unique capacity to integrate and be enriched.
Take, for example, three of the groups among the 237 we comprise – the Irish, the Chinese and the Jews.
There is no expression of fear, bigotry, suspicion and hate now directed indiscriminately against Muslims that was not used passionately with malice aforethought and intent to harm and hurt against the Irish, the Chinese and the Jews.
With the Irish, the charges included actual terrorism, when the Fenian O’Farrell attempted to assassinate Queen Victoria’s son, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a picnic at Clontarf, Sydney, in 1868.
The persons who used these expressions and who used them as powerful political weapons were not clever ratbags on the make. They included Sir Henry Parkes, five times Premier of New South Wales, the ‘Father of Federation’ who regarded Irish migrants as part of the conspiracy of the Pope to take over the world. And Parkes put the world’s harshest anti-Chinese laws on the NSW Statute books.
They included the Reverend John Dunmore Lang whose statue graces Wynyard Square, Sydney, and whose book The Fatal Mistake exposed the papal conspiracy in all its horror, dealing with the plot of his arch-enemy, Mrs Caroline Chisholm, to swamp Australia with hordes of unmarried Irish young women. For Lang, they had three irredeemable vices: they were Irish; they were Catholic; and they bred.
As late as 1937, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Lord Craigavon, asked his Australian counterpart Joe Lyons: ‘Tell me, Lyons, have you many Catholics in Orstralia?’ ‘Oh’ said Lyons ‘about 25 per cent.’ Craigavon: ‘Good God! Watch ‘em, Lyons, watch ‘em. They breed like rabbits’. Lyons forbore to mention that he was a Catholic himself, and with (Dame) Enid, had thirteen children romping around the lodge in Canberra.
As for the Chinese, they brought every known vice with them, and being all male, the ‘crime not to be named among Christians’. They took our gold and brought their opium. True, we had forced China to buy Indian opium to finance the Empire in the Opium Wars of 1840-42, but that was in the sacred name of free trade. In any case, they were all barbarians, without any civilization worthy of the name.
As for the Jews, as late as 1939 the Australian representative, Sir Thomas White, at the Evian (Switzerland) Conference, called by President Roosevelt to discuss the question of German Jewish refugees, refused to increase the Australian quota, saying proudly: ’Australia has no racial problem and does not intend to import one’. Hitler loved it, and used it to great effect in a speech to the Reichstag three months before his invasion of Poland and the killing of the European Jews began in earnest.
In 1947, with shipping at a premium, the Australian Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, made an arrangement with the Australian Jewish community that any ship specially chartered to bring Jewish refugees to Australia must carry at least 50 per cent non-Jews. ‘It would have been electoral suicide to do otherwise’, Calwell wrote frankly thirty years later, when his post-war immigration program had blossomed into the world’s most successful and creative – today’s multicultural Australia.
When I was at school in the 1940s,(Australian population: 7 million) we were taught that White Australia was not merely an important fact in our history, but one of its great positive achievements, along with the explorers, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Dame Nellie Melba and Don Bradman.
Every ethnic group except Northern Europeans was suspect. In his brilliant new biography of H.V. Evatt, Professor John Murphy quotes Evatt, then a rising star in Australian law and Labor, at an international conference on migration in London in 1926: ‘The Australian Labour movement was “bitterly opposed” to Southern European migration, especially Italian’ (p.82).
What a pity, that in the crucial post-war years, and the next 50 years, when our need for migrants forced us to look beyond Britain, even beyond dubious sources like Italy and Greece, and now under successive governments of both parties, that our poor little continent is swamped with 24 million people from God knows where, we didn’t have, until 1996, someone with the integrity and intellect of a Pauline Hanson, to expose Australian naivete in thinking ‘She’ll be right, mate’. But if history, our genuine aspirations for our economy, our security, and our reputation, in a region comprising the largest Muslim nation in the world and our largest trading partner, it may well be that she’ll be wrong mate.
The only difference in the 20 years since she first appeared on the scene and John Howard failed to repudiate her (although the Liberal party itself had done so) is that while the immigration program proceeds as successfully as ever, to our continuing benefit, it has been marred by a poisonous bigotry she helped unleash. The result is that it is now impossible to have a proper debate on the immigration levels Australia needs for the next 30 years.
With fitting symmetry, Ms Hanson first came to notoriety with her attacks on aboriginal ‘over privilege’.
Perhaps the aborigines, from their vantage point of 50,000 years of prior possession, got it right at the start, when they shouted at the polyglot mob on the First Fleet anchored in Botany Bay in 1788:
‘Go away, Go away’
As she has acknowledged, her warning may be too late. By about 228 years.