History of Australia before World War I

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During 1788 Australia, there was not equality between convicts, free settlers and aborigines. There were different levels of inequality between the groups. The Aborigines were treated the worst, being slaughtered and removed from their homes after the arrival of the British. Life in London during the 18th century was tough. Farmers moved to the big hustle and bustle of the city to find work, as farming was becoming increasingly difficult. Many people could not find work so they turned to crime to keep them well.

This caused the British Government to crack down on the behavior, meaning gaols were becoming increasingly crowded. As Britain recently lost the American Revolution, there was no place for convicts to serve hard labour. Australia was the solution. As a new colony, it needed to be populated. Convicts were sent to Australia to serve seven years of hard labour. Afterwards, they were given 100 acres of farmland and were classed as a free settler, not a convict. They were treated equal because they served their punishment and were given compensation to help them start a new life. Free Settlers, on the other hand, had to pay to come to Australia and had to buy land yet they could bring all their possessions.

The free settlers landed in South Australia, far away from convicts. Life on the boat were difficult for convicts and free settlers alike. The boats were putrid and overcrowded. The journey went for the good part of a year and food was scarce. The Aborigines were treated the worst of all. Although the Aborigines have lived in Australia for 40,000 to 100,000 years before the English. Their land was overtaken and they were injured and often killed. They infected with European diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis and measles.

I stand there, watching my home and the home of many other of the over 40,000 Chinese miner’s burn to the ground. I hear screams and the sound of guns shooting. It all started when my family moved from Guangdong, in China, with many other people wanting to find their riches. We moved because of the civil war there. The Taiping Rebellion lasted from 1850 to 1864, so, many people moved to escape death. Our welcome to Australia was cold, many white miners scowled and spat at us.

A guard was set out the front of our camp, to protect us. The Europeans hated us. Thought we were all infected, sex-working, drug smuggling thieves. They let us be here though, until Eureka. A bunch of men grouped together to fight the government for their rights. They wanted to get rid of the miner’s license, which was 1 pound and 10 shillings a month. I heard the battle was short, less than three hours. The Eureka Stockade was a fail. Although, they got rid of the miners license, replacing with a tax if you find gold. Fast forward three years, 1857, my camp in Buckland River is under siege. 750 tents, burnt. 30 stores, burnt. £50,000, stolen. The road back to normal life will be difficult.

During the nineteenth century, Australia was seen as a “working man’s paradise”. Gold, plenty of jobs and many opportunities for upcoming businesses. This all came to an end during the 1890’s. An economic depression affected the east coast of Australia. Unemployment was high, and there was no support for the unemployed. Employers started exploiting their workers, as there was always another man willing to take the job. They worked for 14 hours a day, six days a week, with no sick leave or holiday leave. This was caused by a mass migration to Melbourne after the gold rush. The amount of workers wanting change was growing rapidly. They wanted to improve their wages, working conditions and working hours.

The start of this movement is when the workers held a public meeting, with their employers at the Queen’s Theatre on March 26, 1858. The workers declared, “the time has arrived when the system of eight hours should be introduced into all building trades.” They stated that after April the 21st, they will “work eight hours and no longer.” On the day of the planned strike’ April 21, a group of stonemasons walked off the job at Melbourne University. While picking up other stonemasons along the way, they marched to the Belvedere Hotel in Fitzroy to enjoy a feast and recreation time. The political and public recreation was greatly in favour of the workers. It sparked a debate in parliament for change and new laws were passed weeks later.

There was another march on the 12th of May, 1856. This was to celebrate their success. The march included all workers, and they marched from Carlton Gardens to Cremorne Gardens, in Richmond. The march was followed by dinner, speeches, games, festivities and fireworks. Workers had succeeded with reasonable hours and the same wage as they were paid for the 10-16 hours they use to work. The success of this movement was commemorated with the creation of Labour Day, a paid public holiday introduced in 1879. This holiday is still celebrated today, showing the success of our ancestors and their fight for equality.

During the start of the twentieth century, right after federation, racism and prejudice were very prevalent in Australia’s laws and society. This was from a fear of change and new cultures. One of these new laws were the Immigration Restriction Act, introduced on the 23rd of December, 1901. This act was implemented to limit the migration of non-British or “alien coloured” migrants to Australia. “Alien coloured” people were frowned upon in Australia’s society, seen as stealing employment opportunities and undermining the stability of white Australians.

The Act gave the immigration officers the right to make an “undesirable citizen” complete a 50 word dictation test in any European language they choose, and the right to give them more test until they fail. White migrants did not have to take the test. The test was taken 1359 times before 1909, with only 52 people passing. After 1909, not one person passed the test. The Immigration Restriction Act, also known as the White Australia Policy, dramatically changed the percentage of Australian and Asian citizens, with only 0.21% of Australians being Asian. The White Australia Policy was eventually phased out, with it being dismantled in 1966 by Harold Holt and it being totally removed from Australian laws in the 1970s by Gough Whitlam.

Another act introduced was the Aborigines Protection Act 1915. This Act gave the NSW government to remove any aboriginal child from their parents at any time for any reason. This Act soon became widespread across Australia. Tens of thousands aboriginal children were removed from their families and raised in orphanages, with white guardians and Christian teachings. This was to remove the traditional indigenous culture from the now seen as “dying race.” This was implemented until 1969 and is now known as the Stolen Generation. The Rudd government finally made an apology for this period of time on February the 13th, 2008. Aboriginal voting rights changed a lot over the course of Australian history. South Australia passed a law allowing all adults to vote. This included women and aboriginal citizens.

Yet, after federation, the different colonies had to agree on different policies. As South Australia was the only country allowing aboriginals to vote, they were overruled and aboriginals did not have voting rights in Australia. 61 years after federation, in 1962, Aboriginals were given the right to vote in all federal elections. The state governments followed suit. By 1970, all states allowed aboriginals a vote, and in 1971, Neville Bonner was the first Aboriginal man to hold a seat in parliament, which he held for 12 years. These government policies slowed the progression of an egalitarian society for Australia. The prejudice against these people were seen as a way to keep Australia safe and it halted the development of the newly established colony.

The unity of Australia was a mostly positive move, which help the progression of Australia as they were under one flag. Before 1901, the six states were each self-governing British colonies. They had different laws and policies. Some were more wealthy and they even had different-sized train tracks. Federation had been talked about since the 1850’s, yet there was never enough support for it to become a reality. However, a speech from a man called Sir Henry Parkes changed this. Politicians started to campaign for a united Australia.

There were many perks to support federation, such as all colonies were British and we mostly white, many people needed to cross the borders for trade purposes and a war was expected and a united country could repel any invaders to Australia. Some of the wealthier states, such as Victoria and New South Wales, were reluctant to federate as they would lose their wealth and had to help the poorer states. Also, Western Australia wanted more power in government as they had more land, but NSW and Victoria thought they should. Although, putting these points aside, the colonies decided to become one country known as Australia.

When Australia federated, South Australia and Western Australia were the only colonies that allowed women to vote, and women did not have the right to vote in federal elections. After petitions and negotiations from the suffragettes, women over 21 were given the right to vote and stand in parliament. Although, states could still choose whether to allow women to vote in state matters. The suffragettes who fought for their rights in Australia were asked to assist the women in the UK and US. They gave public speeches and organized marches. In conclusion, I believe Australia was not an egalitarian society by 1914.

Factors such as the White Australia Policy and Aboriginal Protection Act being in place is why I believe it was not equal. However, I don’t think any society will be fully unprejudiced. Everyone has their own opinions about race, genders and equal right and I think we should not fight it, as it is a losing battle. While laws may be changed too become more equal, the real change needs to come from us.

Cite this paper

History of Australia before World War I. (2020, Dec 16). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/history-of-australia-before-world-war-i/

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