Yesterday, the barrier; to-morrow — what? [13 February 1913]

[Editor: This article by Mary Gilmore was published in the “Our Women’s Page” column (“Conducted by Mary Gilmore”), in The Worker (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 13 February 1913.]

Yesterday, the barrier; to-morrow — what?


Sitting in the Kiosk in Hyde Park the other day and idly watching the pigeons as they flew up and down to the fountain near by drinking, bathing, cooing, or rising in flights to the Cathedral opposite, many thoughts drifted through the mind.

* * *

Most of the pigeons were blue, one or two were white and speckled, one was fawn.

Man is white, and yellow, and brown, and black.

* * *

Man takes the pigeons, and, selecting and separating them, breeds white, or blue, fawn, or dove or grey as he chooses. He sets the barrier between kinds, and fixes species by intensifying variation from a common stock. If he breaks the barriers, he destroys the varieties, the colors go, the pouter ceases to pout, the homer to home, the tumbler to tumble, and the fan-tail to spread his fan.

* * *

When the world was young a few white men lived in the north, shut in by seas and mountains; a few black surrounded elsewhere by desert; while seas and mountains stood between brown and yellow and their kind.

Each group, separated as to family, but nationally in-bred, developed its characteristics. Each became a mighty people, and, in its own way, great. Those who most lived in houses and made towns, and as groups (but not as families) in-bred most, developed the more marked characteristics. The wanderer left his characteristics otherwhere and was lost.

* * *

But man built ships and swept away the barrier of the sea; spun a wire and cut through the mountain; lit a fire (creating steam and all its following), and annihilated time and distance.

There is no mountain now can keep anyone’s race pure; no sea divide between him and the stranger. Each people floods out of its own land into the next; trade takes the white to the brown and brings the brown to the white. On a little round coin the pride of Europe floats to destruction — because no war, or series of wars, can destroy a people like intermixture with other races. The black and the brown peoples have been the rock on which the proudest white nations have broken to pieces.

Now that the barriers are down, what is before the white man?

* * *


And what of us?

There was a time when Britain protected us, in the day when no one wanted our land; it being a terra incognita set in distant seas, to which ships came slowly and seldom.

But we grew as a people; we set wheat-fields, grew wool, dug coal and gold, built cities, and made railways and ships.

The world began to hear of us, because we as a people made ourselves worth thinking of.

Other nations, too, grew, stretched themselves, and looked abroad. They began to say, “Here is a Continent in the South; here is a land growing daily more important as a people, as a power, and a marketing competitor of older nations.” Even, they began to say, “Let us look at her!”

* * *

Then Britain stretched her hand to Japan, and removed her Australia-protecting bases from the Pacific as she had earlier, removed them from the Mediterranean.

* * *

We in Australia are a white people hoping to stay white. We look to Europe and America for interest in us as a white people.

Our fear is not of admixture with other white races, but of conquest by Asia. And in this conjunction we find Britain linked with Turkey in Asia, India in Asia, Japan in Asia.

With the removal of the ships of the Pacific bases, where does Australia come in in all this?

* * *

The nearest “white” country to us on the Asiatic side is Russia. But Japan stands between us and Russia in two ways.

First, as to locality, and secondly, as the country to which Britain gave her hand — for there is a treaty of offence and defence with Japan, but only an “entente” with France.

In this connection (that of white countries as opposed to non-white) a military officer who served under British control tells us, in a contemporary, that Russia is an all-white people — that “white Siberia” is as much so in being, and in intent, as “white Australia,” that war between Russia and Japan is inevitable in the future, and that we had better pray that the Anglo-Japanese Treaty be at an end in that day, so that, as part of an Empire the ally of Japan, Australia be not called upon to fight for Japan.

* * *

As part (and the nearest part) of the hand that Britain gave to Japan, what choice would Australia have?

* * *

And supposing Russian and Japan remain friends and the Anglo-Japanese alliance cease, the following clipping from the “Tokio Eastern Review” becomes interesting:— “The population of our country has increased so rapidly that she is now compelled to send her surplus population abroad. In answer to the question whether there is any suitable place wide enough to vent this surplus, we have come to the conclusion that there would be no other way, though it might appear rather bold to affirm, except to have recourse to the partition of the British Empire. … The climate of Australia is tolerable with the Japanese people. It abounds in natural wealth. This is the most desirable place for the emigrants from Japan. Where could we find a more suitable land for the establishment of a new Japan? Then we should naturally come to the question how we should take possession of Australia. The partition of the British Empire among the other Powers would be a ready answer.”

Seemingly, the people who attach most importance to the menace which Maoriland derides are the Japanese themselves. And they ought to know.

The “Dreadnoughters” are becoming conspicuously silent; the leading articles in the daily press have ceased to be spasms of horror that Australia should have a fleet of her own in her own waters; the derision of the “mosquito fleet” and the expressed contempt towards Australians for daring to say Australia’s defence is Australia’s First (not Last) business is found only in occasional places where commonsense is slow to penetrate. Canada, with her Dreadnought fever, is no longer the darling daughter, while the Empire is only important where washed by the North Sea, and of no consequence the length of the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Indian Oceans! The possibilities of “Empire” as opposed to “English” begins to be seen.

The English Policy was everything centred in and round England, from Home Rule to Pacific fleets. The Empire Policy is government of the Empire by the Empire, and defence of the white people wherever needed.

And either the Empire is a white empire with white interests to be kept white, or it is one in which the influence of Turkey, India, and Japan are paramount and the white element to be lost as the white pigeon is lost when outnumbered by the blue.

* * *

Initiated by Australia, maintained by Australia, and, it may be, continued by Australia (if she have any chance at all), the “white people” policy will stand to our credit in history as one of the world’s great ideals.

It may fail through the odds being too strong against it, but it will have been something worth fighting for, something to have lived for.

The Worker (Wagga Wagga, NSW), 13 February 1913, p. 11

[Editor: Changed “Japan is Asia” to “Japan in Asia”.]

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