2020 Marian Quartly Prize

Winner: Jeremy Martens, ‘The Mrs Freer case revisited: marriage, morality and the state in interwar Australia,’ History Australia 16.3 (2019) 

Jeremy Martens’ article is a masterclass in how the examination of a particular ‘case’ can open up significant questions about the entanglement of race, gender, sexuality and class in the management of settler national borders. Martens’ article reconstructs a now forgotten public sensation in 1936 when the dictation test was deployed to deny Mabel Freer entry to Australia. Freer was a white British woman whose personal and sexual history was deemed of a dubious character by Australia’s Minister for the Interior, and thus provoked the application of this technology of racial exclusion. Martens’ beautifully written article explores the case, the media sensation and public outcry that followed (often in support of Freer). Postcolonial histories have long demonstrated how colonial and settler states policed sexuality in order to maintain white racial membership, and Martens’ article incisively demonstrates how ideas about propriety inflected the operation of the white Australia policy. Importantly, though, Martens’ research reveals how the course of racial thinking never ran smooth: feminist outrage reworked and challenged the government to secure Freer’s admission even as it upheld the racial thinking that justified her exclusion. Martens’ article is a timely reminder that Australian borders have been continually remade and reworked not only by the state but also by other groups pushing against its determinations. This is a compelling history of the dynamic intersections between race, gender and sexuality at the Australian border and the ways in which that border was produced through those intersections. 

Judges: Michelle Arrow, Leigh Boucher and Kate Fullagar, editors (all MQ)