Colour not civilisation

contesting boundaries of citizenship and rights in inter-war Australia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contribution

Abstract

In 1938, Aboriginal rights advocate and critic of Aboriginal policy, Mary Bennett, accused the Western Australian administration of making ‘colour’ and not ‘civilisation’ the basis of Aboriginal citizenship. This statement followed the enactment of extensive amendments to the Aboriginal protection legislation in that State which massively increased the native commissioner’s power over Aboriginal people’s lives and denied them citizen rights. It was a curious statement, which assumed a distinction between colour and civilisation. It seems that in Bennett’s mind colour meant race, blackness, part-blackness or, more precisely, Aboriginality. Civilisation was somehow colourless. It certainly did not seem to connote whiteness but, rather, humanness. At the same time Indigenous activists across the south of the country invoked notions of civilisation and humanity in their demands for citizenship. This paper explores the discourses on citizenship that circulated during inter-war Australia and, in particular, the developing political language of Indigenous equality. It contends that Aboriginal peoples’ demands for citizenship in these years were confounded by an ideal of citizenship which entrenched colour (whiteness) as ‘the’ category of inclusion and promoted assimilation as the end result. Indigenous activists repudiated the former and sought an equality, which was not necessarily one and the same as assimilation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHistoricising whiteness
Subtitle of host publicationtransnational perspectives on the construction of an identity
EditorsLeigh Boucher, Jane Carey, Katherine Ellinghaus
Place of PublicationMelbourne
PublisherRMIT Publishing in association with the School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne
Pages89-97
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9781921166808
Publication statusPublished - 2007
EventHistoricising Whiteness Conference (2006) - Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 22 Nov 200624 Nov 2006

Publication series

NameMelbourne University conference and seminar series
PublisherRMIT Publishing in association with the School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne
Volume16
ISSN (Print)1875-1920

Conference

ConferenceHistoricising Whiteness Conference (2006)
CountryAustralia
CityMelbourne
Period22/11/0624/11/06

Keywords

  • citizenship
  • Indigenous Australians
  • rights
  • civilisation
  • equality
  • assimilation

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  • Cite this

    Holland, A. (2007). Colour not civilisation: contesting boundaries of citizenship and rights in inter-war Australia. In L. Boucher, J. Carey, & K. Ellinghaus (Eds.), Historicising whiteness: transnational perspectives on the construction of an identity (pp. 89-97). (Melbourne University conference and seminar series; Vol. 16). Melbourne: RMIT Publishing in association with the School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne.