Trump’s election is an equivocal ‘victory for white supremacy’, and justified cause for fear to circulate among people of Colour living in Anglo-dominated nations. Yet history has seen other global upsurges in nationalist white supremacism, other times when fear and hope have made strange but productive bedfellows.
The 19th Century was the trans-imperial ‘age of mobility’. And it saw Melbourne become home to heterogeneous populations. By the time the Australian colonies united as a ‘white nation’ in 1901, a long history of migration connected Melbourne with global locales, from Punjab to Karachi, Canton to Hong Kong, Leicester to Oslo.
Not only did Chinese migrants spread from southern provinces of Canton across the Pacific Rim, but so too did Indians, Afghans and Syrians migrate across borders internal to what is today known as South Asia. This included those highly permeable borders that demarcated Syria (part of the Ottoman Empire), the Emirate of Afghanistan (a buffer between the Russian and British Empires) and India (part of the British Empire). Many also ended up in Melbourne, the capital city of the Australian colony of Victoria. Continue reading “The Contradictions of White Nationalism in a Global Age: Lessons from Early 20th Century Melbourne”→
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”→