White Australia [poem, 12 August 1914]

White Australia.

The shocking revelations made in the Perth Police Court the other day don’t say much for the vaunted policy of a “White Australia,” while it provides a good argument against the maunderings of the “let-’em-all-come brigade.”

We’ve fashioned ourselves a splendid song and woven ourselves a creed,
We hurl a curse at the piebald throng and an oath at the alien weed,
We blazon a blatant boast abroad for the universe wide to hear;
But the song we sing has a sad discord that jars on the listening ear,
We lilt the tune to a strong desire, and, oh, it’s a grand refrain —
But how can we set our souls afire with an empty and tuneless strain
For the Mongol rides on our railway cars and the Hindoo heaves in sight
What time we sing to the jeering stars — “Australia must be white!”

Outback where the lumbering camel drags and the Afghan walks beside,
The white men carry and curse the swags that high on their shoulders ride;
They may travel far on the quest for toil till their feet sore-blistered gall,
While the Pagan rises and takes the spoil when the men with the money call.
In the forests dense where the axes ring and the monster jarrahs crash,
There’s a contract let to a chap named Singh, who corners Australian cash
On the Golden Mile, where the “divvies” swell and the lusty Dagoes smite,
Australians hunt for a job and yell, “Australia must be white.”

There’s a slimy Chow with a saffron grin, who creeps to our clean back door,
And the housewife smiles as she gathers in the “grub” from the Chinese store;
There are plague-spots green in the city’s heart where the leprous Mongol’s hid,
And a slant-eyed squad at the auction mart, where the white man begs a bid;
In the toney club where white men go there’s a Jap to cook the “grub,”
And a pig-tailed Chow for the laundry clothes calls round to the high-class pub;
There are noisome dens in our thorough fares where the aliens crowd at night,
While Australia gathers and mildly blares — “Australia must be white.”

We may sing our songs, we may belt our drums, and howl for an all-white land,
But crowded down in the stinking slums is a foetid and filthy band;
We may pitch our tune to a boastful song while the piebald garbage sneers,
And the universe points to the colored throng that grows with the passing years.
Oh, the chorus comes with a discord strange — must ever the same note do?
Will never the false-rung ballad change to a song that is straight and true?
Will Australia rise ere the hour’s too late and stand in the open light,
And sing this song with no halting gait, “Australia shall be white?”

We’ve fashioned ourselves a noble song and woven ourselves a creed.
We heave a curse at the piebald throng and an oath at the alien weed.
But Australia sticks to its slant-eyed pal — it loveth the Chow and Jap.
And the cheap, unbeautiful, Chunder Lal crawls over out country’s map:
For sake of the gold and the dividends we build upon foreign sweat,
We grip the hands of our motley friends, but Australia must pay the debt —
Until she rises beneath the thrall and mentions in language trite,
With a true-rung note like a clarion call — “AUSTRALIA MUST BE WHITE!”

The Daily News (Perth, WA), Wednesday 12 August 1914

Previously published in:
The Daily News (Perth, WA), Thursday 11 September 1913, page 7 [which makes reference to the Sun (Sydney) newspaper, which may be the source of the poem]

Editor’s notes:
Chow = Chinese

ere = before (from the Middle English “er”, itself from the Old English “aer”, meaning early or soon)

foetid = having a heavily offensive or stale nauseating smell, like a smell of decay

jarrahs = eucalyptus hardwood trees (Eucalyptus marginata), native to western Australia

leprous Mongol = regarding the widespread belief of earlier times that many Chinese people carried the disease of leprosy

saffron = a colour that ranges from moderate or strong orange yellow to moderate orange (in a racial context, it is a reference to the Asian skin colour being described as “yellow”)

toney = having an aristocratic or “high-toned” manner or style

Speak Your Mind