“White Australia”, by Chris Watson

[An article by Chris Watson (past Prime Minister of Australia) on the reasons and necessity for a White Australia policy, being an extract from his essay “The labour movement”, published in 1914.]

“White Australia.”

To those unacquainted with local conditions the cry for a “White Australia,” may seem somewhat hysterical, but there is no question upon which Labourites are more united and determined. The objection to coloured immigration originally arose through the influx of Chinese in the gold-digging days. After the first rush of adventurers (in the best sense) had demonstrated the richness of the fields, thousands of Chinese were attracted by the same golden magnet, and in many places secured rich areas claimed by the whites as theirs by right of discovery. Much rancour was engendered, and in some places riots occurred sufficiently serious to call for military intervention. The antagonism was for a time confined to the gold-seekers, but as the Chinese increased in numbers and extended their activities to trading and other occupations the classes affected joined in a general complaint. Then proposals were made to exclude Chinese immigrants, and after considerable negotiation with the Imperial Government, became law, though not until the Chinese numbered many thousands. Since Federation the laws have been consolidated and extended to prevent the immigration of Asiatics generally, though travellers, students and merchants are allowed to land for limited periods under regulation.

It will be seen that the original objection to coloured immigrants was a purely economic one, but as experience was gained of their habits and standards of living, it was realised that they could not be absorbed into the community without risk of serious deterioration socially. The abhorrence of racial admixture added force to the original objection, and to-day we find practically a unanimous demand for a “White Australia.” It may appear somewhat selfish for a mere handful of people, who cannot themselves adequately develop the immense resources of the continent, to object to the immigration of anyone desirous of exploiting the unused areas; but, when outsiders appreciate the menace involved in the proximity to our empty north of hundreds of millions of land-hungry Asiatics, they will perhaps sympathise with the view now commonly held in Australia. Asiatic settlement in our Northern Territory (which is sometimes advocated by would-be exploiters) would, as no “Dixie’s Line” could be maintained, involve a steady drift to the South, and with free ingress the preliminary trickle would soon become a resistless tide. The people are determined, to the utmost of their resources, to preserve Australia as a heritage for the white races. The aboriginal natives are numerically a negligible quantity, so there is every opportunity for the building up of a great white democracy if the community can maintain possession against the natural desire of the brown and yellow races to participate in the good things to be found in the Commonwealth. That the Asiatic will for ever tamely submit to be excluded from a country which, while presenting golden opportunities, is yet comparatively unpeopled, can hardly be expected. Therefore Australians are realising that to maintain their ideals they must fill their waste spaces and prepare for effective defence.

J. C. Watson, “The labour movement”, in: Handbook for New South Wales, Sydney: British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1914, pp. 128-138 (see section entitled “White Australia”, pp. 133-134)