Five acts of racial discrimination in Australia's history

Gabrielle Easter The Vine 2 Apr 2014

Bigotry, lying somewhere between 'bigmouth' and 'big shot' in the dictionary and filled with definitions of intolerance and obstinacy, is something we can now sidle into Australia's identity along with mateship and having a fair go. In light of the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act by Attorney-General George 'people have the right to be bigots' Brandis, here's the top five acts of racial discrimination in Australian history that we all can reflect on with pride, in chronological order no less.

The Black Wars

Hark back to the days when the first boats arrived, well, not the first but the ones we now see as the first. From the early 1820s to mid-1830s, more than 1000 Indigenous Tasmanians were massacred by colonialists on what was then called Van Dieman's land and by the mid-1830s the surviving Aboriginal Tasmanians were relocated and officially declared 'extinct' by the Tasmanian Government in 1876 with the death of Trugernanner. The result? One of the earliest recorded acts of genocide, still yet to be formally recognised with naught a memorial in sight to commemorate the victims.

The Black War

The best bit? This was just the start of what would become a series of massacres not just of Indigenous Australians but a bunch of other non-whities including the 1861 anti-Chinese Lambing Flat Riots.

The White Australia Policy

Not really an act but a blanket for all the racist acts during this time, the White Australia Policy cemented itself in national history with the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901, and held steady well into the 20th century. From picking and choosing which immigrants to let into that ol' doozy of Yellow Peril fear, if there's anything to learn from this white period, it's how easily Australians forget their past. Remember the days when Jewish immigrants weren't crash hot and everybody hated those pesky Italians? Fear not all those Afghani and Sri Lankan asylum seekers, in a few years Aussies will be targeting another minority.

Officially being put to rest with the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975, the White Australia Policy wasn't the only act of racial discrimination during this time.

The Stolen Generation

From early 1900s up until the '70s, policy was to remove Indigenous Australian children from their families in a move that could be argued as an arm of genocide. While K.Rudd's parliamentary speech of apology was a formal step towards recognition of the Stolen Generations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still aren't given much of a mention in the Australia Constitution (though fingers crossed this all kicks off soon).

Cronulla Riots

The Cronulla Riots on December 11, 2005, will go down as an act of international embarrassment for Australians, followed by retaliation riots in the following days. Five thousand bogans and co turned up to riot against "Middle Eastern grubs," largely egged on by yet another media shit-stirrer Alan Jones, who's families have probably been in Australia for just as long as all those white folk with Irish and English parents who claim to be so much more Aussie because of the colour of their skin.

Think things have changed in this sunburnt country? Nope. Australia is still considered unfriendly and racist according to the Mapping Social Cohesion Monash Report released in March this year. Still unable to wipe its shores clean, Cronulla is now synonymous with racism in Australia, conjuring those quintessentially Aussie images of Southern Cross tattoos and Chesty Bonds singlets.

Bolt's 2009 column

The Federal Court found Andrew 'Purveyor of Skin Colour Trends' Bolt's articles 'It's So Hip To Be Black,' and 'White Fellas In The Black,' breached the sections of the Racial Discrimination Act in 2011.

Fellow white, middle-aged male, Attorney-General Brandis, has come to his defence, proposing changes to the Racial Discrimination Act including section 18C, which was originally put in place following recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Australian Law Reform Commission and the National Inquiry into Racist Violence in 1995. Yep, that's three separate inquiries and commissions that suggested our anti-discrimination laws weren't adequate.

But wait a second! One white, middle-aged male had his feelings hurt. As much as I hate to give this man a breath of attention, the fact that one man can incite so much as the A-G and PM of this country coming to his defence because he got his feels hurt, only to repeal the sections that might "hurt the feelings of others" (logic: who needs it?) is a little bit of a cause for concern.

Thank God for the Institute of Public Affairs' Simon Brehany who sums up this whole kerfuffle aptly in a media release saying, "the governments proposal goes 95 per cent of the way towards ensuring what happened to Andrew Bolt won't happen again."