Visiting the Neighbours

Visiting the Neighbours

Visiting the Neighbours: Australians in Asia

by Agnieszka Sobocinska

NewSouth, $34.99 pb, 264 pp, 9781742233895

Stephen Atkinson

Stephen Atkinson is a freelance writer, researcher, editor, and occasional musician. He has a PhD in Indonesian media and politics and is...

By this contributor

It was timely that halfway through reading this book, I glanced up to see Clive Palmer on Q&A vowing to stand up to ‘the Chinese mongrels’. It was as if a columnist from the Bulletin circa 1895 had risen from the grave to thump a battered tub and warn us about the monster intent on destroying ‘our Australian way of life’. Images like these still lurk in the bedrock of White Australian consciousness, and Palmer’s outburst was a reminder of how readily they can be summoned.

As Agnieszka Sobocinska notes in her introduction, in the absence of a ‘Declaration of Independence’ or a ‘Bill of Rights’ independent Australia’s founding document and expression of its core values took the form of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, the first legislation to be passed by the new parliament, which positioned the nation as an enclave of White civilisation adrift in an Asian sea. While the Act was progressively dismantled through the second half of the twentieth century, the nervous world view that spawned it has continued to trouble conceptions of national identity and the nation’s place in the wider region. And, like Palmer’s outburst and his backtracking in the days that followed, the Act, stiffened with resolve about sovereignty, the national economy, wages, and the labour market, was animated by reference to race, the moral superiority of White Australians, and anxieties about the threats allegedly posed by the Asian hordes to our north.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in October 2014 no. 365