Jordana Silverstein, “Refugee children, boats and drownings: a history of an Australian ‘humanitarian’ discourse”, History Australia 17:4 (2020): 728-742
This powerfully argued article explains the background and context behind one of Australia’s most trenchant stories about itself: that its government needs to stop the boats of asylum seekers so that children don’t drown. Silverstein explores the history of humanitarian discourse in Australia in order to make sense of this pervasive narrative – its emotional mechanics, its racializing effects, and its enduring hold on the Australian psyche. The article mobilises new thinking in the study of development, settler colonialism, nationalism, and the child. Well-told, well-paced, ambitious, and urgent, it is an exemplar of contemporary history.
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.
Frances Steel, ‘Servant mobilities between Fiji and New Zealand: the transcolonial politics of domestic work and immigration restriction, c 1870-1920’, History Australia Volume 15, issue 3 (2018).
From the abstract: In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Europeans travelling beyond Fiji were often accompanied by Melanesian, Indian or Indigenous Fijian servants. Occasionally, families resident in the Australasian settler colonies also hired servants, mostly men, from Fiji. This article traces such patterns of transcolonial domestic labour mobility, and highlights instances of servants challenging employer controls and seeking out more autonomous futures. Viewed together, these fragmentary histories suggest possibilities for juxtaposing and integrating temporary, short-term and circular transcolonial mobilities that tend to be overlooked in nation-centred histories of immigration and colonial domesticity.
Ben Silverstein, “Possibly they did not know themselves”: the ambivalent government of sex and work in the Northern Territory Aboriginals Ordinance 1918′, History Australia, vol. 14, no. 3 (2017): 344-360.
In crisp prose, Silverstein’s article wove a theoretically informed line of argument around new empirical material to explore the regulation of Indigenous life in the service of the health of the settler population. Demonstrating ‘the malleability of racial categorisations’, it is an innovative article that will push the field forward in coming years.
Laura Rademaker, ‘Only Cuppa Tea Christians’: Colonisation, Authentic Indigeneity and the Missionary Linguist’ History Australia, 13:2 (2016): 228–42.
The article provides a nuanced understanding of the changing views of CMS missionaries on the use of English or Aboriginal languages as tools for conversion and the development of true belief. The setting is the Angurugu mission on Groote Eylandt but the well-structured and beautifully written article locates Groote Eylandt in the wider historiography of colonial missionary endeavour. One of its strengths is the way it explores the different ways the Angurugu people and the white missionaries understood the relationship between linguistics and belief and between Indigenous spirituality and evangelical Protestantism.