Publication Details

Carey, J. L. (2009). White anxieties . In J. L. Carey and C. Mclisky (Eds.), Creating White Australia (pp. 195-213). Sydney: Sydney University Press.

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Creating White Australia - Sydney University

Additional Publication Information

ISBN: 9781920899424


This chapter examines the racial anxieties at work in the Australian women’s movement in the early 1900s, focussing on campaigns and organisations aimed at increasing and ‘improving’ the white population on the one hand and discussions of the ‘Aboriginal problem’ on the other. It particularly examines the activities of the National Council of Women, the largest women’s group of this period, and the Australian Federation of Women Voters, a smaller but highly influential organisation, as well as local groups which emerged to further these causes. Specifically, it explores efforts to promote immigration from Britain, which went alongside eugenic measures to exclude ‘unfit’ white migrants as well, and various schemes aimed at producing ‘well born’ white children. As I hope to show, these seemingly disparate activities were informed by a single racial imperative. The racial interests of the movement coalesced around anxieties about the need for a large and healthy white population to secure the nation’s future. Indeed, their racially based reforming campaigns revolved almost entirely around anxieties internal to whiteness. While the women’s movement showed remarkably little interest in the ‘Aboriginal problem’, or the ‘peril’ of Asian immigration, their vigorous campaigns around improving the quality and quantity of the white population reveal how racialised thinking in fact permeated the movement and animated many of its endeavours. And women’s work was presented as essential to implementing these vital racial programs.