One of the great right-wing myths is that Australia was some sort of Anglo-Celtic homogenous country prior to Calwell’s post-war immigration programme. Not true. Simply false. Ask the descendants in Queensland of South Sea Islanders, the Chinese diaspora, the Jewish community, and the Germans.
Perhaps some clarification is in order. It depends on how you define “homogenous” which as I suggested implicitly, is a very loaded and politically charged term. Certainly in some states there was more ethnic diversity than others. And at different times – the White Australia Policy was itself a response to a growing Asian and South Sea Islander population – and as importantly to fear of its further increase. I think the politically salient nostalgia often overlooks this – as if there was never concern about the outpost of Empire under the Southern Skies maintaining its purported “homogeneity”. Ethnicity is not something purely defined by descent – it’s as much to do with culture and perhaps most importantly identification. Concepts of ethnicity and the social cleavages it creates are highly historically variable (and often very quickly so). In Nineteenth Century Australia, for instance, much conflict existed between British born people (the majority for many decades) and “native born” Australians – often simply referred to as “Australians”. Hence the Australian Nativist League and similar organisations which complained about domination of the professions and politics by Britishers. Mostly, this is forgotten now and the Australian minority vs. British majority distinction makes no sense in our society. Similarly, as I’ve argued here and earlier at Troppo, the term “Anglo-Celtic”, just like “Judaeo-Christian”, is of recent coinage and only started to have meaning after the sectarian conflicts between Irish Catholics and British Protestants lost salience – perhaps partly in the face of large scale non-British immigration, which produced another outgroup of “New Australians”. There may well be those who identify as Anglo-Celtic now but there would have been very few 50 years ago given the social and class cleavages reinforced by the Church’s ban on mixed marriages. And the identity itself didn’t exist.
I remain convinced that discussion of an “Anglo-Celtic” ethnicity and culture, whether consciously or not, is motivated largely by a conservative desire to protect the homogeneity that is wrongly identified with an Australian identity.
Elsewhere: More on imperialism, ethnicity and power at m c gregg’s place.