Eric Richards, Destination Australia: Migration to Australia since 1901.
Eric Richards, Destination Australia: Migration to Australia
Eric Richards, Destination Australia: Migration to Australia since
1901, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2008. pp. xiii + 448. $39.95 paper.
So great is Australia's need for population that it cannot afford
to be too exclusive as to categories to be regarded as eligible for
admission (p. 161).
This cane cuttin', oh, it's something incredible ... The cane, it
cuts you, cuts your skin like a razor ... the first week you feel
all broken (pp. 86-87).
There were many familiar voices in Eric Richards' history of
immigration to Australia. The opening quote of this review--taken from
an immigration report circulated in 1944--illustrates this familiar
rhetoric. It is a bureaucratic voice patiently setting out the economic
basis for pursuing immigration, framed here, as it so commonly was, in
terms of ethnicity, point of origin, hierarchies of desirability and
fears about the reception awaiting new arrivals. Any history of
Australian migration necessarily includes these voices--known in short
hand as the white Australia policy. Richards' history also includes
many new or unfamiliar voices--those of the migrants who came to
Australia. Sam Contarino--a Sicilian man arriving in Australia in 1922
to work in the cane fields of Mourilyan--evokes for the reader a sense
of what it meant to be a sugar worker at this time: 'You had to cut
it, load it, move the rail ... Oh we worked' (p. 87).
Destination Australia traces the history of immigration through the
entwining of the governmental story of arrivals and the individual
stories of migrants. The approach of governments changed over time--for
example in the 1920s the idea of attracting rural migrants to populate
the parts of Australia unoccupied by non-Indigenous peoples
dominated--and accompanying these different discourses are different
policies but also different imaginings of the ideal migrant. Richards
patiently sets out 'new policy' after 'new policy'
as they emerged across the decades, tracing for the reader both
significant shifts but also constancies. One thread in policy that is
carefully followed is the place of Britain as a source of migrants, a
bellwether on policy, a source of irritation and an idealised template
for a nation. Another thread is the United States. As the pre-eminent
destination for so many migrants, but also as another settler colonial
nation, the fortunes and approaches of this state are often used as a
contrast to the Australian experience. Richards' history also sets
Australian immigration in the broader context of the regional and
Popular understandings of immigration can often work on a premise
that a wealthy or emerging nation simply opens its doors and the
'downtrodden' of the world pour in. Given the broad
understanding of the long existence of policies to restrict non-white
migration, Australian migration history is more complex and ambivalent
than this. Mindful of this racist underpinning in Australian migration
policy and general attitudes, this book makes clear what a massive
undertaking populating a nation is. Richards' book develops a
concept of control as the 'spinal column' of immigration
history and uses it to explain the many reasons that Australia as a
'polyglot nation' (p. 108) has been understood as both a
problem and an aim. Bringing together the voices of the individual
migrant--through memoirs, letters and oral histories--and the policies
of the government, which are set in the context of the social and
economic circumstances of different periods, Destination Australia
deepens understandings of the Australian immigration experience.
Further, Eric Richards adds to the important project of writing
migration history not just as a one-way story from nowhere to somewhere,
but as scholarship that seeks to understand this mobility in terms of
origin and destination.
University of Sydney
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