Boat People

William Bradley's 1781 Sirius, Supply & Convoy...Hyaena in Company, 1787. English ships bringing some of the first boat pe0ple to these fair shores. (Thanks to the National Library for this one.)


For some of the recent decades here in Oz there was a sort of unwritten rule in politics that you didn't play the race card. Although in fact that rule didn't apply for most of our history, and then when it did apply it didn't tend to apply in the bash-the-blacks north, where it's a sport between as well as at election times.
Rivalling the crocs for the front page.

Of course John Howard's copy of the Marquess of Queensberry was missing a few pages. And that was probably a gaffe from some staffer, who didn't tell anyone. So we had a juicy old time between about 2001 right up to him losing the last election where the deep vein of xenophobic ugliness in Australians got a mighty workout, sometimes in dog whistling subtlety and sometimes in stunning plain view, like his "we will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come." (Nobody seemed to mention at the time or since that this was in fact almost word-for-word a slogan of the East German communists back when Berlin had a wall.)

Now that a few more boats have arrived the Liberals are almost beyond themselves with joy that they can have a door-stop which people don't mistake for smokers out for a puff. Malcolm Turnbull to be fair looks like he's gargling cod liver oil when he fans the race flames, but the party apparatchiks from the golden days of national muslim and black bashing still remember too well this rich vein of voter engagement.

The sometimes noted irony of it all is that we're a nation of boat people. It's how we came to be. None of the histories describe aborigines standing on the shore as the fleets sailed in, yabbering about deciding who will come to the country and the circumstances in which they should come.

That's because they were savages, obviously.

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