Complete autonomy in the waging of war is a proud attribute of countries like Australia. It has been so ever since the imperial crown finally got around to delegating this aspect of the royal prerogative to peripheral nations of the British Commonwealth in the wake of World War II. But with power comes responsibility, so the old adage goes, otherwise complacency is allowed to set in, blurring history and politics in the vindication of bellicosity abroad. If this trend cannot be countered with expressions of criticism, then history suggests that we might well have surrendered, for the time being at least, all expectations we might have for pacific reforms of any kind.
Chris Masters, a prominent Australian investigative journalist, has just published a book, No Front Line (2017), which provides a glimpse into the lives of that country’s special forces serving in Afghanistan. Eyebrows have been raised at the description it carries of an incident in June 2006, which saw an unarmed Afghani man gunned down by Australian soldiers fearful of revealing their secret location.
Sadly an affray like this is unexceptional in the scope of any war featuring foreign troops placed into a region and given objectives to defend their positions against elements of the population hemming them in. And its coverage in the book is even-handed, one of many incidents catalogued by the author in a mostly bland way, rescued only by the occasional quotation of soldiers accounting for the performances of their ‘mates’ with unflinching manliness.
What makes the incident noteworthy is Australia’s remarkable inability to separate the politics of war from the commemoration of its victims. Unhelpful here are the apparent aversions, more generally, of senior public servants, journalists, and returned soldiers to articulate with any nuance some of the problems associated with the politicisation and memorialisation of Australian participation in foreign wars. These might be the symptoms of a deficiency of criticism in popular discourse. They might rather suggest an intolerance to history. In any case, here is an ailment that can be treated by insisting upon an observation of war not just as a policy but, more importantly, as an idea plenty quarrelled over, across empires and epochs, and through time and space. Continue reading “War heroes, armchair lawyers, and imperial legacies”→
Protection, conciliation and coercion: creating Aboriginal subjects of the Crown in colonial Australia
Centre for Imperial and Global History Seminar Series
When: Wed. May 3, 4:30pm
Where: Amory 115, University of Exeter
Amanda Nettelbeck University of Adelaide
Recent scholarship has seen a spike of interest in the politics of colonial humanitarianism and its various expressions around the British Empire from the late 18th century onwards. In particular, the project of Aboriginal ‘protection’ that had its formal heyday between the mid-1830s and the mid-1850s has received renewed focus as one of the most important means through which nineteenth-century strategies of humane governance were put into operation. Once conventionally regarded as a relatively short-lived Colonial Office agenda to extend justice and rights to indigenous people, the mid nineteenth-century project of protection has more recently been reconsidered in terms of its role to help secure the Crown’s practical jurisdiction in unruly colonies, and its motivations to create indigenous people’s colonial subjectivity. Continue reading “Amanda Nettelbeck (Adelaide) on creating Aboriginal subjects of the Crown in colonial Australia – this Wed., May 3”→
I recently came across a photograph I can’t stop thinking about. Captured in 1905, it shows a Bangalore-trained masseur, Teepoo Hall, in the middle of a Melbourne Hospital room. One woman and twenty some men have clustered around Hall to watch him massage the bare shoulders of a reclining woman. Many of the students display bemusement in half-smiles. One of the men is positioned very close to Hall’s left shoulder and looks forthrightly at the camera, as if ready to learn from Hall; ready, even, to take Hall’s place.
The photo shows the transfer of Indian knowledge in process in the medical heart of Melbourne. It does so four years after the institution of the racially exclusive federal 1901 Immigration Restriction Act (IRA), which was effectively reducing the numbers of Indians in Australia. And yet, as the picture shows, in the early 20th century Hall continued to promote the ‘art of massage’. Indeed, Hall had recently become a founding member of the Australian Massage Association, and on this basis he features in histories of physiotherapy in Australia.
The image thus tells an intriguing story, but not a typical one. Probing further, we can understand that the picture also reflects a tension of nation-building and empire. In Hall’s centrality and power, an inversion is at play. Most white-made representations of the day consigned Indians to the ‘slum’ margins of ‘Little Lon’, and showed them as an ‘undesirable nuisance’. But in this Melbourne Hospital room, Hall literally had the upper hand. Continue reading “‘The Indian masseur’: How Teepoo Hall Kneaded Early ‘White’ Melbourne”→
‘Our world mission is the maintenance and development of the heritage of Empire,’ the leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), Sir Oswald Mosley, declared in the BUF’s journal, Fascist Quarterly, in 1936. Although often overlooked by scholars of British fascism, this pro-imperial sentiment was central to the ideology of the BUF. For the BUF, the maintenance of the British Empire was imperative – key to keeping Britain’s place within the world and ensuring living standards in the domestic sphere. Continue reading “Australia & the Fascist Idea of Greater Britain”→
As the blade of the guillotine slowed in the aftermath of the Terror, Napoleon took up the reigns as First Consul and French explorer Nicolas Baudin proposed an ambitious voyage to “interest the whole of Europe” . It is also where Nicole Starbuck begins Baudin, Napoleon and the Exploration of Australia (2013). A commoner by birth, Baudin made his name as a member of the French merchant marine and French East India Company, eventually captaining a scientific voyage to the Caribbean. However, his 1802 Australian voyage was unique in its narrow scope of exploration, and its unprecedented twenty-two participating naturalists and scientists. This voyage was the first to emphasize specialized knowledge acquisition and scientific detail, a shift from earlier Enlightenment explorations, when natural history was seen as “a sweeping and largely philosophical study of the natural environment…implicated in questions about rationality” . Continue reading “Empires in Perspective: Baudin, Napoleon and the Exploration of Australia”→
This autumn I spoke at several universities in Australia and New Zealand on the subject of the various shopping weeks that were launched to promote Empire trade during the 1920s and 1930s. The story of the Empire Marketing Board’s efforts to develop the idea of ‘Buying Empire’ in inter-war Britain is well known, and its posters still appear regularly on the covers of books written about imperial culture (and also currently featured as the background to this blog!). What is less well known is that the same cause was taken up with enthusiasm by a variety of organisations in the Dominions, and arguably achieved greater and more lasting prominence there than it did in Britain.
At the same time, it quickly became clear to me that the archives in England and Australasia were telling different stories. Politicians and businessmen in Wellington and Melbourne may have conceived themselves to be members of a ‘British’ trade community, but their understanding of what the future of the Empire as an economic unit should be often differed from their counterparts in London. Continue reading “Buying British Across the World”→