The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism

Living Edition
| Editors: Immanuel Ness, Zak Cope

Australia’s Colonisation and Racial Policies

Living reference work entry



From the earliest contact, Britain’s view of Australia was underpinned by economic motives: extension of the Empire through possession, possibilities of trade and investment, as well as the protection of property, reduction of overcrowding in jails, and the relief of poverty at home. But more insidious than these explicit economic motivations was the way in which economic progress was understood in relation to different races or human types. The known peoples of the world were ranked within a hierarchy of civilisation, with the British race and its advanced industrial economy at the apex and the Aborigines said to lack precisely those attributes and capacities which explained Britain’s economic success. From this perspective, they were always a problem to be managed in one way or another by government authorities. From an indigenous perspective, Australia remains a colonising power, and...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Aborigines Protection Society. (1837). Report of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Aboriginal Tribes (British Settlements). Reprinted with comments. London: William Ball, Aldine Chambers, Paternoster Row, and Hatchard & Son, Piccadilly.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, K., & Perrin, C. (2008). How race became everything: Australia and polygenism. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31(5), 962–990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Attwood, B. (2000). Space and time at Ramahyuck, Victoria, 1863–85. In P. Read (Ed.), Settlement: A history of Australian indigenous housing (pp. 41–54). Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.Google Scholar
  4. Australian Government. (1928). The call of the stars to British men and women. National Archives of Australia. Available at: Accessed 18 Mar 2012.
  5. Christie, M. F. (1979). Aborigines in Colonial Victoria 1835–86. Sydney: Sydney University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Commonwealth of Australia. (1901). Parliamentary debates, 25 September. Government of the Commonwealth of Australia: J. Kemp.Google Scholar
  7. Commonwealth of Australia. (1937). Aboriginal Welfare. Initial Conference of Commonwealth and State Aboriginal Authorities. Canberra: L.F. Johnston, Commonwealth Government Printer.Google Scholar
  8. Commonwealth of Australia. (1961). Parliamentary debates (Hansard), House of Representatives, 20 April, p. 1051.Google Scholar
  9. Commonwealth of Australia. (1997). Bringing them home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families. Available at Accessed 26 Feb 2014.
  10. Cooke, M., Mitrou, F., Lawrence, D., Guimond, E., & Beavon, D. (2007). Indigenous well-being in four countries: an application of the UNDP’S Human Development Index to Indigenous Peoples in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. International Health and Human Rights, 7, 9. Available at: Accessed 26 Feb 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dunn, M. (1984). Australia and the Empire. Sydney: Fontana Books.Google Scholar
  12. Fletcher, J. J. (1989). Documents in the history of Aboriginal education in New South Wales. Carlton: J. Fletcher. Printed by Southwood Press.Google Scholar
  13. Foxcroft, E. J. B. (1941). Australian Native Policy. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Goodwin, C. D. W. (1966). Economic enquiry in Australia. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Haines, R. (1994). Indigent misfits or shrewd operators? Government-assisted emigrants from the United Kingdom to Australia, 1831–1860. Population Studies, 48(2), 223–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Harris, M. (Ed.). (2012). A decision to discriminate: Aboriginal disempowerment in the Northern Territory. East Melbourne: Concerned Australians.Google Scholar
  17. Hearn, W. E. (1863). Plutology: Or the theory of the efforts to satisfy human wants. Melbourne: George Robertson.Google Scholar
  18. Hearn, W. E. (1883). The theory of legal duties and rights. Melbourne: John Ferris, Government Printer.Google Scholar
  19. Hewitson, G. (2013). Economics and the family: a postcolonial perspective. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 37, 91–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Higgins, H. B. (1907). Ex parte HV McKay (Harvester Case), 2 CAR 1. Law Internet Resources. Parliament of Australia, Parliamentary Library. Available at: Accessed 10 Aug 2011.
  21. Indigenous Law Resources. (n.d.) Timeline: Legal developments affecting indigenous people. Available at: Accessed 18 July 2012.
  22. Lord Commissioners. (1768). Secret instructions to Lieutenant Cook, 30 July 1768. Available at:
  23. May, D. (1983). From bush to station. Townsville: James Cook University of North Queensland.Google Scholar
  24. McGrath, A. (Ed.). (1995). Contested ground. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  25. McGregor, R. (1997). Imagined destinies: Aboriginal Australians and the Doomed Race Theory, 1880–1939. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Moore, C. (1984). “The guiding hand”: the case of Aboriginal welfare films. In P. Bosman & R. Harley (Eds.), Sex, politics and representation (pp. 26–54). Sydney: Local Consumption Publications.Google Scholar
  27. Moore, C. (1988). Used and abused: the Melanesian labour trade. In V. Burgman & J. Lee (Eds.), A most valuable acquisition (pp. 154–169). Ringwood: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  28. New Protection, Explanatory Memorandum. (1907–8). Papers presented to the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.Google Scholar
  29. Parliamentary Debates. (1901). Immigration Restriction Bill Second Reading, 12 September. Available at:;query=Id%3A%22hansard80%2Fhansardr80%2F1901-09-12%2F0022%22.
  30. Perkins, A. (1936). Bathurst Island and Palm Island missions. In J. M. Murphy & F. Moynihan (Eds.), The National Eucharistic Congress (pp. 190–200). Melbourne: The Advocate Press, 2–9 December 1934Google Scholar
  31. Reece, R. H. W. (1974). Aborigines and Colonists. Sydney: Sydney University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Reid, G. (1990). A picnic with the natives. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Reynolds, H. (1987). Frontier. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  34. Rowse, T. (2005a). The certainties of assimilation. In T. Rowse (Ed.), Contesting assimilation (pp. 237–249). Perth: API Network.Google Scholar
  35. Rowse, T. (Ed.). (2005b). Contesting assimilation. Perth: API Network.Google Scholar
  36. Royal Commission on the Decline of the Birth-Rate and the Mortality of Infants in New South Wales. (1904). Report (Vol. 1). Sydney: William Applegate Gullick, Government Printer.Google Scholar
  37. Sydney Morning Herald. (1838). Editorial. 27 December.Google Scholar
  38. Thornton, M., & Luker, T. (2009). The wages of sin: compensation for indigenous workers. UNSW Law Journal, 32(3), 647–673.Google Scholar
  39. Vivian, A. (2010). Some human rights are worth more than others: the Northern Territory intervention and the Alice Springs town camps. Alternative Law Journal, 35(1), 13–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wakefield, E. (1829). Sketch of a Proposal for Colonizing Australasia, &c. &c. &c. London. Available at
  41. Walker, D. (1999). Anxious Nation. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.Google Scholar
  42. Wentworth, W. C. (1820). Statistical, historical, and political description of the colony of New South Wales and its dependent settlements in Van Diemen’s Land (2nd ed.). London: G. and W.B. Whittaker.Google Scholar
  43. Western Australian Government. (1944). Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act, 1944. Available at Accessed 9 Mar 2015.
  44. Woolmington, J. (1988). Aborigines in colonial society 1788–1850: A sourcebook (2nd ed.). Armidale: University of New England. Selected works.Google Scholar

Selected Works

  1. Attwood, B., & Markus, A. (1999). The struggle for aboriginal rights: A documentary history. Crow’s Nest: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  2. Australian Colonial Waste Lands Act. (1842). Available at: Accessed 14 Oct 2013.
  3. Brock, P. (1995). Pastoral stations and reserves in south and central Australia, 1850s–1950s. Labour History, 69, 102–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Collier, J. (1911). The Pastoral Age in Australasia. London: Whitcombe & Tombs.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hearn, M. (2006). Securing the man: narratives of gender and nation in the verdicts of Henry Bourne Higgins. Australian Historical Studies, 127, 1–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Kidd, R. (1997). The way we civilise. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.Google Scholar
  7. Lake, M. (2004). The white man under siege: new histories of race in the nineteenth century and the advent of White Australia. History Workshop Journal, 58, 41–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Spencer, H. (1852). A theory of population, deduced from the general law of animal fertility. Westminster Review, n.s., 1(2), 468–501.Google Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political EconomyUniversity of SydneyCamperdownAustralia