Aborigines and White Popular Culture in the 1930s in Queensland

By Robinson, Gwen | Hecate, May 31, 1989 | Go to article overview

Aborigines and White Popular Culture in the 1930s in Queensland


Robinson, Gwen, Hecate


This article is based upon interviews in 1984 with four women identified as Interviewees A-D. Interviewees A and C were interviewed together on April 10 in Brisbane. Interviewee B was interviewed in Brisbane on April 22. Interviewee D was interviewed on Stradbroke Island on May 27. Interviewee C is white, and the other three women are Black. AH tapes in the possession of the author.

The onset of the Depression in Australia led to an intensification of ideologies of paranoia and isolationism in relation to other races that had persisted since 19th Century Social Darwinism. A vision of an Aryan type of Australian race was expressed in a view of the nation as "Pure, White, Happy and Wholesome".(1) There were many objections to the assumed ill effects of mass media on Australian children. These usually emanated from persons least affected by the Depression. They were voiced by women's groups, churches, moral reformers, public organizations and the authorities. Cinema and comics, it was suggested, would encourage children to despise national and home values. Their health and education would be affected. Their moral and material values would be so eroded that it would lead to a disrespect for authority, and a break down of immutable sex roles.(2) Others objected to low wage earners and the unemployed attending cinemas. Beatrice Tildeseley stated at a women's conference: "Lately there has been a considerable increase in unemployment, but this appears not to have appreciably reduced the attendance at picture shows."(3) The Reverend Leghorne of Junee carried sandwich boards through local streets condemning cinema and its evil effect upon children. To the local paper he wrote, "Parents who permit their children to attend cinemas and other playhouses of Satan should themselves be sent to a reformatory."(4)

Moralists, reformers, and authorities from the State's departments of education and reformatories had dominated the Film Enquiry of 1927-28. Their demands for more stringent censorship, combined with the campaign of the American League of Decency and the work of Will Hays culminated in a `clean up' of general films.(5) At the same time, films made specifically for matinees were never examined. They were considered `wholesome' because they were set in a strangely sexless environment. Violence against North American Indians or `savage natives' was accepted.

Racial difference was often represented negatively: on hearing that the `genius' Dr Manyus has invented a serum that can make black men white, the hero of The Lost City comments: "This is the greatest invention in history."(6) In the British comics, apart from a few token `acceptable foreigners' all outsiders were suspect and stereotyped. George Orwell noted this of the imaginary public schools which were featured in the Gem and the Magnet.(7) The archetypal Australian larrikin Ginger Meggs not only battled the wowsers and the bully Tiger Kelly, but reflected dominant discourses when he referred to "black children as Rastus, Jews as moneylenders, and Italians and Greeks as Dagoes."(8)

Despite the stereotyping function of much mass media, right wing and racist groups still perceived the depiction of certain things as a threat to White Australia. (After all, multiple readings of the same works are possible.) One of the most vocal of these was the Cultural Defence Committee, an arm of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, with an obsessive fear of the effects of racial and cultural "impurities upon Australia". They wrote in their pamphlet, Mental Rubbish From Overseas, of the children's radio serial Tarzan as a "compound of jungle maniacal screams, groans and sobs of animals in rage and pain...a return to the primitive.(9) They considered that the American comic strip Mandrake (featured in the Women's Weekly) embodied an

Aframerican negro idea of voodoo that would leave upon the minds of young Australians a cumulative effect that would foster superstitions, credulity and emotional weakness. …

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