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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Cultural Studies »

John Lack sees the Victorian colony as a "cockpit" of diversity

John Lack and Mara Moustafine.

Historian John Lack sees the Victorian colony as a "cockpit" of diversity



Date Added:

02 February 2009


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mov (Quicktime);

File size:

11.5 MB






Well actually Victoria is the cockpit of it all, I mean it – it’s where that huge gold rush migration happens and becomes semi-permanent, it’s where you get loosely speaking a type of multicultural society in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s where the first major confrontation occurs between Europeans and the Chinese. It’s the colony I think that solves the problem earliest with its fairly draconian legislation. It’s the colony that becomes the – a key state of course in the federation and where the federal parliament is from 1901 to1927 and Deacon is the great Victorian who goes in and becomes a major leader- federal leader.


The Chinese in Victoria were – and probably elsewhere in the mid-19th Century were a group of migrants who couldn’t win. They wouldn’t settle down, they simply wanted the gold and go home, or they were going to settle down and dilute our wonderful British European colony and they were either sodomites or they had designs on our women. I mean, you know, the litany of errors is so contradictory it’s amazing. But Victoria does pioneer a lot of legislation against the Chinese. It’s the great lot on the great story of the wonderful democratic tradition that flowers out of Eureka and trying to reconcile the pride that one feels in a group of people who championed individual and collective liberty and democracy has to be tempered by this other side of the coin which was this terrible prejudice and mistreatment.


What were the key things? Well I think you know, after the gold rushes the key thing again is the rise of –the rise of Chinese immigration and a couple of key points in the ‘70s and then in the ’80s and it’s very hard to fully comprehend the hysteria of that period because by the ‘80s there’s – well there’s not – if not full employment, there’s a lot of employment, there is a lot of work going and yet the Chinese in a couple of areas inspire a lot of venom. One overlooked period is the ‘90s actually. When there is a virulent anti-Chinese campaign in Melbourne and an attempt to even further tighten up the shops and factories’ laws against them is quite hard to understand.


It’s a running – anti- Chinese racism is a running sore through Victoria right up to the’90s and then with federation the numbers dramatically decline with the federal restrictions so that by the Second World War, we have largely an ageing group of male Chinese who are regarded as fairly inoffensive figures in the Melbourne business and social scene.


End transcript