Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Burden of 'White' Sugar: Producing and Consuming Whiteness in Australia

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

The Burden of 'White' Sugar: Producing and Consuming Whiteness in Australia

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The Brisbane Courier was rather adamant in its position: though it is "not unnatural" that the Australian public is distressed by the financial strain the heightened sugar price put on them, it must be realised that what is at stake is not just any industry but the "white man's industry". In view of the overpopulated Asian neighbourhood, the defence against the "land-hungry myriads of the East", who consider the landscapes "a most tempting prize", and against the "black or brown men, millions of whom swarm at our very doors", is imperative. Therefore, the question of 'white sugar' concerns more than its mere "economic side", which is "not the only side, nor necessarily the most important one". What is at stake is "[t]he very existence of Australia as a nation", and this, in turn, is dependent on "the effective protection of sugar". The survival of the cane sugar industry concerns the whole Australian Commonwealth: it is every member's duty to bear their "burden of 'white'sugar" (Brisbane Courier 1912: 6).

There are three strands of discourse addressed in the Brisbane Courier that are representative of the societal atmosphere at the time of Federation. They are programmatic for this article, which aims to investigate the relationship between 'White Australia' and cane sugar, which was eventually 'refined white' and 'produced white'. Accordingly, taking the allusion to the 'white man's burden' as a thread, the present article divides into three parts. Firstly, the white man's industry looks at how the historical socio-political burden of sugar cane as a plantation crop cultivated by an unfree labour force influenced the establishment of the Queensland sugar industry and affected the drastic demographic and social changes at the end of the 19th century. Secondly, the land-hungry myriads of the East sheds light on the racial burden the retaining of the southern continent put on its European occupiers. Against the backdrop of the 'White Australia' culture, this section identifies ostensible external enemies and internal foes, i.e., an alleged danger from the outside and social tensions from within. It describes the anticipated potential of 'white sugar' in the defence of the thinly populated northern parts of Australia against the allegedly imminent hostile land occupation by foreign forces. Thirdly, the white consumers' burden examines how the monetary strain generated by the high prices of Australian sugar was counterbalanced by accentuating the consumers' moral duty to the country. The concomitant consumerist strategies translated racism and nationalism into everyday activities and encouraged a wide-spread participation by the white population.

Furthermore, today's historical hindsight allows us to follow the strands of discourse beyond the temporal (rather than theoretical) scope of the Brisbane Courier article into the 1920s and 1930s, when Australian consumerism reached a peak in campaigns for nationalist consumption that were spearheaded by 'white sugar'.

Taking into account the existing literature on cane sugar and its discriminative power, this discourse-analytical examination of Australian 'white sugar' aims toread the debates of the time (in particular in the newspapers) in parallel with discussion in the secondary literature. Admittedly, there is an extensive body of literature dealing with 'White Australia' at the political level, addressing aspects such as the assumed invasion by Asian powers and the South Sea Islanders as cane workers. Historiographies of the sugar industry delineate the successes and failures of the industry in terms of the cultivation processes and the expansion of the industry, as well as detailed historical studies of the varying cane districts. However, despite its political and societal significance around the turn of the 20th century, and the then nationwide discussion about its relation to 'White Australia', literature investigating the Queensland sugar industry and its socio-political connections remains sparse (Affeldt 2014: 32-38). …

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