[The problem of immigration and White Australia], by Sir John Foster Fraser [1912]

[Editor: The British travel writer Sir John Foster Fraser (1868-1936), in Australia: The Making of a Nation, gives his ideas on the future of Australia. Whilst he writes of his support for the White Australia Policy, he also puts forward his idea to populate the top half of Australia with people from India; which would seem to be an odd combination of policies, although it could be interpreted that he was operating on the basis of a kind of paternalistic racialism, whereby he viewed Indians as “loyal British subjects” who could be used to populate and defend northern Australia, but yet who would not interfere with the demographic “White Australia” of the rest of the country. One would assume that the practicalities of his idea would be problematic to say the least. The following text is taken from chapter 3 “The problem of immigration” and chapter 19 “White Australia”.]

[The problem of immigration and White Australia]

Australia is the land of problems.

The largest of all these is the peopling of the continent. In a broad generality, there is no place on the world’s surface capable of yielding so much for the benefit of the race, and where so little is being done. It is a stale commonplace that Australia needs immigrants. It is a puzzle how she is going to get them. It is a fact that a good many Australians are antagonistic to the coming of fresh settlers.

Now, it has been abundantly shown that the continent is capable of carrying a mighty duplication of the present population, which at present is only four persons to every three square miles. Even by a restrained calculation, I conclude that Australia is able to support at least 200,000,000 people.

Something is being done to attract suitable colonists. Paragraphs which occasionally appear in English newspapers about the arrival of one or two hundred “new chums” produce in the mind of the casual reader the impression that there is an encouraging flow of human life into this new land. It is encouraging as far as it goes; but it is rather like throwing a bucketful of water upon an arid plain and then thinking you are irrigating it.

Of course, the Australian people realise that their future well-being, and even existence, as part of the British family, depends upon the increase of that family in their own regions. The older countries of the earth are becoming stocked. The more determined of the younger generation find there is not elbow-room for their energies, and the fighting and the struggling is often disheartening to them. When they break away, it is usually to the American continent that they go. They cannot be said to be setting their faces in any large numbers toward Australia. It is, however, not only the non-coming of Europeans to Australia which is giving concern to thoughtful people, but the question whether another race, in the turn of time, will insist upon occupying the northern sections of the continent? For be it remembered that Asia, India, China and Japan particularly are crowded. The struggle for existence in those lands is even more severe than in western countries. Japan is packed to the bursting-point. Japan must have somewhere to send her surplus population. Japan is looking round the eastern world and marking the spots where her statesmen want that population to go.

It is well to step aside from the Australian, the British and the Imperial standpoint, and regard the matter with some aloofness of thought. All beings were placed upon this earth by Divine intention. Therefore, what right has a tiny population like that of Australia, an eastern country inhabited by men from the west, to say to the mighty hordes in the other eastern lands, “We are not developing this country, but we do not intend to allow you to come in and develop it?”

It is too much for human nature, influenced as it is by a thousand things, to regard the question dispassionately. It is, however, within the range of obligation that the Australians should consider the whole matter from the point of view of self-interest.

They know that the yellow races desire to come to Australia.

They possess sonorous Acts of Parliament prohibiting the landing of yellow people. They should know that these Acts of Parliament would amount to little more than paper declarations if behind them were not the naval power of Great Britain.

At present there exists an alliance between Great Britain and Japan — but an alliance only lasts so long as both parties find it convenient. Australian statesmen with imagination may possibly glance into the future, and contemplate the possibility of the British Navy being worsted in the western seas. It is fit that such statesmen should contemplate what would be the action of Japan under such circumstances?

Japan has a passion for colonies. Japan would undoubtedly turn her eyes to those regions in northern Australia, capable of so much, but actually and comparatively producing so little. I know the bravery of the Australians. I know they would do their utmost to resist the invaders. Let them, however, face facts with unblinking eyes and recognise that with their limited population, their scant armaments, and all their valour, they could not drive out the Japanese from the northern territories.

At present the natural increase of the population of Japan is 700,000 a year. The natural increase of Australia is 65,000 a year. Instead of resisting the coming of Asiatics by fighting, the sane policy is to turn all available parts of Australia to productiveness and to draw millions of capable workers to the land so that no Power could say to the Commonwealth: “You have no right as a nation, unable to develop this land to its full powers, to lock the doors against the rest of the world. You claim as justification in taking Australia from the blackfellows, the aborigines, that they were not utilising it for the benefit of mankind. Neither are you.”

Not only the most immediate, but the greatest of all problems facing the people of the Commonwealth, is how they are going to populate the continent which they now possess.

It should be remembered that there are various Immigration Eestriction Acts on the statute book of the Commonwealth. For instance, there is a dictation test, which is really intended to act as a bar against Asiatic and other coloured labour.

The vision of the Australian continent peopled entirely with a white race is magnificent. The turning of the vision into a reality is the ambition of all Australians. True, they are far removed from those parts of the world where the white races originated, and are next door to races which are yellow, brown, and black. Therefore we have the striking phenomenon of a race from the west being implanted in the east. Time and distance are considerably obliterated in these days of telegraphs and fast steamers. Geographically, however, Australia is an oriental country.

In some other parts of the world I have encountered splashes of racial antipathy amongst the whites against the blacks. Nowhere, however, have I remarked so much as in Australia how practically the entire population is pledged to resist people from Asia becoming settlers in Australia. The objections are quite plain, and are frankly stated. There is the racial prejudice, the fear that the whites would deteriorate if there were intermarriage. Chiefly the resistance is economic. The democracy of Australia have quite definite opinions on this matter. They have been drawn from European countries, and have in the main come from a class ill-rewarded in the matter of wages. They have settled chiefly along the southern fringe of the continent, and principally in the south-east comer, where the climatic conditions are favourable. Life is pleasant; the future is regarded with hopefulness. There are tariff walls erected to hinder the cheaply produced goods of Europe having free access into the Commonwealth to under-sell articles of Australian manufacture, and so, by the force of competition, pull down prices.

Having taken this action against the lesser-paid whites of Europe, the Australian feels he would be committing industrial suicide if his ports were thrown open to the Chinese, Japanese, the Hindus, and the races of the Pacific. The Asiatic will work longer hours than the white man, and he will be content with a reward which, to the white, would be below the line of decent living. The Australian, accordingly, holds tight to the intention to resist by every means in his power any part of his country passing into the possession of Asiatics.

But the possibility of an invasion of dusky peoples is something like a nightmare in the minds of Australian statesmen. They are animated by the fine ideal of making Australia a new white-man’s land like North America. They know that the teeming millions of China are streaming into every part of the world that is open to them, and that the Japanese, with islands already too crowded with population, are looking for outlets. They know quite well that avaricious eyes are cast upon northern Australia. Restrictive legislation in regard to immigrants is severe, in order to prevent Asiatics entering the country. Yet at the back of most minds is the recognition that the day may come when one of these races, say the Japanese, so well equipped in military power, possessing so expert and well manned a navy, may make a giant endeavour to secure the northern portion of the Commonwealth.

Let us look the situation straight in the face. The older countries of the world, including Japan and China, are overcrowded. Just as England is sending its sons to settle in other parts of the world, and so extending and strengthening the Empire, the Japanese with their new-born ambitions, with the desire to become a colonial power in the East, are undoubtedly determined, one of these days and before long, to find possessions elsewhere.

Now, Australia has but a drop of the population of the world. It is possible to travel hundreds of miles and never encounter a white man. The great northern stretch of the country, uninhabited, is but waiting for labour to burst into fruitfulness. What will the Australian people say when the question is put to them, “As you are not developing this region, what right have you to prohibit other people from developing it? It was not your land in the first instance. You obtained it by conquest that was peaceful. What can you do to resist conquest by force of arms? Who are you to say to the world, “Let other peoples crowd together and be hungry owing to congestion of population, live cramped and struggling lives, but we, although doing practically nothing to develop our own resources, do not want anybody else to come in and develop the resources of a part of the world not given to us but given to the human race?”

That is the problem which Australia has to solve. It is no good for the Australian, be he never so patriotic, to talk about the advantages of a “white Australia” unless he makes it a white Australia. A combination of war and economic circumstances will force him, perhaps sooner than he anticipates, to cease playing the part which is described by many as that of the dog in the manger.

I do not so describe his attitude. I recognise his ambition, and I appreciate his difficulties. Yet the nut has to be cracked, and unless he cracks it, it will be cracked for him. A “white Australia” is magnificent. At present there is no white Australia. What is to be done?

Of course, I recognise that, if an endeavour were made by an Asiatic power to annex a portion of the northern territory, Australia would have the full force of the British fleet to resist the invaders. Let us not be unconscious, however, of the possibility that at some time Great Britain may have serious trouble in another part of the world. What will Australia do in that dread day if an Asiatic power took advantage of England’s troubles elsewhere to take possession of part of Australia? I know how brave the Australians are, and I know what is being done for coast defence. Conceive, however, Japan’s warships arriving in the north and guarding the way for Japanese emigrant boats bringing thousands upon thousands of Japanese into the north. How could Australia turn them out? It is no good blinking facts. Australia would be absolutely helpless to eject the new-comers. The only thing that could be done would be to draw an artificial line through sections of the continent, and declare that they would fight to the last drop of their blood to prevent these parts being taken. They would do that assuredly. But the white Australia would have gone, part of the continent would have passed into the hands of Asiatics. The Asiatics would develop it, which the Australians had not been doing. Their action would be to the economic advantage of the world. The nations of Europe would not be likely to come to the assistance of Australia.

Now, I am a whole-hearted advocate of a white Australia. I am fully at one with the noble ambition to keep it a white man’s land. Talk, however, is not sufficient. Action must be taken. How?

It is my opinion that the Australians do not always appreciate the enormous extent of the country which they possess. Speaking generally, the Australian lives in the most temperate part of the continent, and is disposed to forget that an enormous part of the country lies within tropical regions. I am not one of those who say that the Briton cannot live or work in the tropics. He is doing so in many parts, but the tropics are not suitable to the rearing of British people. The virile Briton, with the stored-up energy of his ancestors, can do and is doing wonders. The virility, however, does not last. The tropics are bad places for the breeding of white children; the conditions of nature are altogether against them; they grow up lanky, weedy, and without stamina. On the high, bracing dry uplands of Queensland healthy families can be reared; but in the low-lying, tropical, damp, soggy enervating atmosphere of the lowlands there is an undoubted falling away in the energy of the people who are being born out there and who are bringing fresh families into the world. The politicians and the mass of the electors live in the south. What I think they will have to realise is that conditions of life, suitable enough for their part of Australia, are not suitable for those portions which lie within the area of the tropics.

So, looking at the question from a practical point of view, it has to be decided, if Australia is to be white, what shall be done in the immediate future. The Commonwealth authorities are saying to the people of Great Britain: “If you want to emigrate, come to us, and we will give you welcome.” That is excellent. Even, however, if Australia drew every emigrant in her direction, it would be long before the people, most of them drawn from the agricultural classes, would go and live in the torrid zone if they could find employment where the heat was not so severe. Australia must look elsewhere.

Every year thousands of emigrants leave Italy for the American continent. They work in the tropical parts of America, and, whatever may be said to the contrary in particular instances, they are an excellent type of immigrant, industrious and sober. They stand heat much better than do those of British race, and their labour can be secured at a cheaper price than that of Englishmen or native-born Australians. “Ah, but,” the Australian working man will say in answer to this observation, “the introduction of cheap Italian labour would mean the lowering of wages throughout the whole of the Commonwealth.” The man who argues like that speaks without knowledge of what is being done elsewhere in the world. The taking of Italians into the north, to develop it under the supervision of Australians, would mean an increase in the value of the production of the continent. It would mean an increased demand for the manufactures of the south, and, as the north progressed, the south would reap an advantage. Again and again in Australia I ran across the fallacious argument that the coming of new people lowers wages. The coming of new people — if they go on the land instead of going into the industrial centres, which is a very different thing — would provide an increasing market for the workshops of New South Wales and Victoria. High wages mean that the manufactures of Australia cannot compete with the manufactures of other lands where wages are lower. The only development can be in Australia itself, and the development can only come with an increase of population. I believe that in time, with Italian settlers no doubt intermarrying with those of British race, there might grow up a people acclimatised to the conditions of the north.

Meanwhile, however, much more is to be done. The people of Australia have to justify their possession of the north. The best justification is by developing it. Even though there were a continuous stream of ships bringing Italian immigrants to Australia, the continent is so vast that, for a generation at least, comparatively little would be done. Much happens in a generation. Before Japan could say, in circumstances which I have indicated, “We have a right to this land because you are making no use of it,” a great deal should be endeavoured in the direction of making those enormous and fruitful tracts of the world’s surface productive.

After careful and most serious consideration of all the great issues involved, I believe that the only way out will be by the utilisation — for a time, at any rate, until the white population has grown up — of coloured labour. I cannot too strenuously press that it is an economic question as well as one of sentiment. The Australians are unable to let industrious Japanese in, because Japan, as one of the world Powers, would do its utmost to see that once in they held their grip. The remedy lies in the utilisation of Indian native labour.

The Australian, like the rest of us, must not lose sight of the fact that the Indian is a British subject. As the Australian himself has claimed the right to go throughout the Empire where he thinks well, he cannot logically say to other people in the Empire: “We shall not let you into our country.”

The situation is not of the calmest in India, and in the hour of stress the native Indians, recalling that the door is shut against them in Australia, might contribute to that disaster which many men fear, namely, a native uprising. A strain being thus put upon British arms, other Powers might seize the opportunity of Britain’s troubles to extend their own bounds, and thus place Australia within the range of possibility of having to deal either with the desire of Germany to extend her colonies, or of Japan to widen her area. A zone line could be drawn through certain sections of the continent, below which coloured labour would be excluded. Within the prescribed northern districts, Indian labour could be employed under contract to do purely agricultural work suitable to the tropics, but which no white man of British race can do if he is to be paid a wage which will allow the results of his labour to be sold on level terms with the productions of other parts of the world where wages are cheap. All the time the drafts of Indian coolies were doing the purely laborious work, Italians and other south Europeans could be engaged in better work, whilst over all would be the managers of British race. As the white people became acclimatised and their numbers increased, the time would arrive when fewer Indian coolies need be brought in. Anyway, by this means an answer would be given to the question which is being put in many parts: “What right has Australia to hold land which the Australians are taking no effective steps to develop ?”

I am well aware of the prejudice against coloured labour, and I appreciate the reasons. The fear, however, in good Christian minds that it would lead to viciousness and degradation can be dismissed. There have been those troubles in other parts of the world, but they arose in times when conditions of life were very different from what they are at the present time, and they are not likely to grow up in Australia. I am seriously convinced — quite apart from other points which I have developed in previous chapters — that the Australians will some day be called upon to give good reason why they lay claim to the greatest island in the world. The best answer they can give, whilst never losing sight of the goal towards which they are striving — an Australia full of white people — is to utilise the instruments which lie to their hand, and which will carry all classes of the community to even a greater prosperity than they at present enjoy.

John Foster Fraser, Australia: The Making of a Nation, London: Cassell and Company, 1912, 7th edition (the extracts are from chapter 3, “The problem of immigration” (pp.21-24, 32), and chapter 19, “White Australia” (pp.214-223); the 7th edition was published in 1912)

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