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Eric Richards, Destination Australia: Migration to Australia since 1901.

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Eric Richards, Destination Australia: Migration to Australia since1901, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2008. pp...

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Eric Richards, Destination Australia: Migration to Australia since 1901.

  1. 1. Eric Richards, Destination Australia: Migration to Australia since 1901. 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
  2. 2. 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 international community. 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
  3. 3. 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. CATRIONA ELDER University of Sydney COPYRIGHT 2009 Australian Society for the Study of Labour History No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder. Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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