Equal Subjects, Unequal Rights: Indigenous Peoples in British Settler Colonies, 1830-1910

By Julie Evans; Patricia Grimshaw et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Australasia:
'Australia for the White Man'

In 1908 the prominent Australian magazine Bulletin took as its masthead the phrase 'Australia for the White Man'. It would prove a brief and pithy indication of the place that any man or woman of colour, including Aborigines, the first people of the land, would find in the newly federated Commonwealth of Australia. From the 1870s to the first decade of the twentieth century, settler governments in the Australasian colonies built on their foundation years in their treatment of Indigenous political rights in their political systems. The seven colonies – united by the Pacific region's proximity to numerous non-European societies, and apprehensive of in particular Chinese immigration and the imperialisms of non-British European powers – contemplated federating into one nation state. There were also causes for sharp divisions among them. Colonists in Western Australia among others felt that their interests differed in many respects from the south-eastern group, by whom they feared they would be dominated in a federation. This would come to the fore, as in Canada, when the issue of a uniform national franchise arose. New Zealand settlers, given their particular history, worried in particular about loss of control of Maori affairs. But they shared with the Australian colonies the conviction that men of European origin should remain in the driver's seat – aided by the admission of White women to the body politic.

In 1870, Earl Grey, who as secretary of state for the colonies from 1846 to 1852 had presided over the preparation of a number of Australasian constitutions, wrote in pessimistic vein to a friend then resident in New Zealand. He feared, he wrote, that the strong desire of settlers for manhood suffrage would work to the disadvantage of the colony. This rush to 'an ultra-democratic government in which the Maoris cannot be allowed their fair share of power, will not long abstain from giving them cause for discontent'.1 New Zealand politicians had bought time by the temporary measure of creating dedicated Maori seats; but

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