To many, the history of White Australia is about little more than convicts, bushrangers and Anzacs at Gallipoli; others see it solely in the context of the British Empire and interpret its history largely in terms of metropolis and periphery. Yet there is much more to Australia’s past than the narrative of specific groups or being footnoted in imperial discourses; revision and re-revision of interpretations has shaped and challenged our understanding and assumptions of the nation’s history and generated lively debates with which scholars can engage.
The narrative of Australia’s advance from a starving penal colony to a prosperous free nation is one that sheds light on a range of tensions within colonial and post-colonial society. It is also the story of human resilience and resistance and of creative adaptability and innovation to changing circumstances. The study of White Australia offers a rich vein for historical inquiry from the motives for establishing a British colony at Botany Bay, through the problems of establishing the Australian colonies, European-Indigenous relations, convict society and the legacy of the ‘convict stain’, migration, gender relations, the significance of religion, the gold rushes, nation-building, Federation, the experience of war and myths of nationhood, to post-World War II Australia. The complexities and contradictions within these topics offer students the opportunity for stimulating and challenging discussion in seminars and encourage independent thinking in written work.