IT's ALL ABOUT BRIDGES
(remembering them, imagining them, maintaining them and building them)
- By Dr. Richard Johnson, Deakin University - Melbourne, Australia
Everything old is new again
We'll order now what they ordered then
Don't throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
This story is about one strand in the travels of an Anglo-Indian's identities. It represents cultures on the move in these globalised times. The process of building bridges or finding links is I think, an effort to redraw the map to include spaces that I can lay "some claim to".
In these globalised times with the help of technology it is not very difficult to make contact with like minds or cultures. This conference is an example of that. However, in times past, while it may have been more difficult, the process of "bridge building" did occur. It is a matter of searching to find evidence of those bridges which I claim would give more context to my sense of identity in my adopted homeland.
However, the search needs to include the exclusions. We know that exclusions lead to distortions. For example, a recent distortion that I was made aware of was the Mecator world map that I had long accepted as "the truth".
The question that this begs is "WHY?"
This paper is about an Anglo-Indian's search for historical links with India to show that India had a footprint in Australia from the early days of white settlement. Most white accounts of Australian history have chosen not to give due recognition to the Indian contribution. This has resulted in the white cultures of England and Scotland for example laying claim to Australia at the exclusion or non-whites. In globalised times it is important to see the past and present not in terms of a "whitewash" but rather acknowledge the rich contributions made by a range of peoples and cultures.
To use the notion of a positioned speaker may be to invoke essentialist assumptions of identity, or it may involve locating a discursively and institutionally situated subject; many recent projects historicise subjectivity, politicise representation, and trace the emergence and development of discursive and cultural formations. All of which is to say that various positions may be adopted in relation to the term speaking positions, (van Toorn & English, 1995, p.1)
The 30 years that have lapsed since Canberra abandoned the White Australia Policy is barely a generation. Societies do not easily abandon views on race, repugnant now but which only a short time ago represented an unremarkable orthodoxy, passed from government to government and family to family. While the official line has certainly changed readily in Australia in favour of non-discrimination, it doesn't follow that the latent racial views of ordinary people have been speedily transformed along the way (From: McGregor, R. (1999) Silencing the immigrant song: Closed doors or open minds? In M. Wladren ed, Future Tense: Australia Beyond Election 1998. Allen and Unwin, St. Leonards (NSW) pp. 164-165. Quoted in Singh, M.G. (2000) Review Essay: Changing Uses of Multiculturalism: Asian-Australian Engagement with White Australian Politics, pp.115-130.)
While the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) has been replaced, there are traces of the problems of abandoning the White Australia Policy.
I immigrated to Australia in 1969 and I soon felt the urge to learn more about the history of the country I was to call home for the foreseeable future. So far, everything had been a significant contrast. All I could observe were differences. Positive as they were, they still called for adjustment and change. The most recent "conversion" I had undergone was as the result of being taken to see a game of Australian Rules Football. I had been brought up on a strict diet of hockey, soccer and cricket in India, but my first look had made another adoption. I got to the stage where I was looking for a footprint of India in Australia. I found the first where it was not expected.
Geoffrey Blainey's reference to India in The Tyranny of Distance initiated my interest in researching the bridge between India and Australia in the nineteenth century. While Blainey made several references to India in the early development of colonial Australia, other historians have not developed that issue. I started my research with Blainey's lead that there were some years in the nineteenth century when Australia seemed to be a satellite of India as well as a colony of England and that cargoes from Bengal fed and equipped the colony and also gave it a hangover. It seemed so obvious that the two 'neighbouring' British colonies have contact with each other and as Blainey pointed out, Australia was so far from England, and communication between the two was so irregular, that Sydney slowly drifted into Asia's net of commerce.
I soon discovered that Australia's relationship with India in the nineteenth century was an area relatively neglected by historians of both countries. My objective was then to explore the relationship between the two countries. I started by investigating the early trade links between India and Australia using the well documented source of Cumpston's Shipping Arrivals and Departures, Sydney, 1788-1825. I organised the information in the shipping lists into a computer database which when accessed would reveal interesting patterns and trends. The Australia/India Trade 1788-1820 database is appendix A of this thesis. In the first two chapters I discuss early trade links, when Australia was a satellite to India and then the years of speculation and lost opportunities when the trade links were not encouraged to develop.
A search through the volumes of the Australian Dictionary of Biography showed that many notable Australian settlers had spent several years in India before coming to Australia. Chapter three focuses on the Anglo-Indians who settled in Australia and the efforts made by interested parties to establish settlements of Anglo-Indians in Australia.
FAR FROM THE HEAT AND DUST: AUSTRALIA, A HOME FOR ANGLO-INDIANS
Most Anglo-Indians regarded India as a foreign land with an alien environment and tended to return `home' to England after their Indian service. However, a number looked further afield. Australia was the new frontier of the British Empire in the nineteenth century and it held the promise of a further adventure. Moreover, it offered some of the comforts of India without the `heat and dust'.
Andrew Crawford chose north-west Tasmania which was significantly cooler than most places in India and it held the promise of a new challenge for him. Crawford planned to establish a community of Anglo-Indians in north-west Tasmania in a place he named Castra.
The Anglo-Indians were made very welcome by the people and government of Tasmania which in 1867 amended the Immigration Act of 1855 to accommodate people arriving from India. However, Crawford's scheme was not a success because, although the Anglo-Indians had a lot to offer in the form of social and administrative skills, they were not able to apply themselves to the hard physical work involved in settling in north-west Tasmania. They missed their Indian labourers. Nevertheless, the Anglo-Indians made their presence felt in Tasmania.
THEY CAME WITH THEIR SAHIBS: INDIAN LABOUR IN AUSTRALIA IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
After the abolition of slavery in British colonies in 1833, the demand for plantation labour led to the commencement of emigration from India to the West Indies and Mauritius. The coolie traffic increased with the progress of emancipation, and Indian labourers took the place of the slaves on colonial plantations. The new `free' labourers were substitutes for slaves and were units of labour, rather than real emigrants. They were `exported' from India on appalling terms and in very large numbers. Some came to Australia.
In Australia the convicts were expected to perform the tasks otherwise carried out by coolies, although anyone with any experience in India had a preference for the `docile, tractable, servile' Indian coolie. As early as 1799 a scheme was proposed by an agent of the Bengal government for the transportation of `Bengalee convicts' to the colony. Even earlier, Sir Joseph Banks held out the certainty of being able to obtain abundant and cheap labour from Asia as one of the inducements for the formation of a new settlement. Myra Willard argues that `nothing was further from the thoughts of those who urged the British government to form a settlement in New South Wales than the idea of a White Australia Policy'. However, that is how the nineteenth century era of Indian labour in Australia concluded. In this chapter I have traced the Indian labour debate, mainly through contemporary newspaper reports.
A TOUCH OF INDIA: INDIAN INFLUENCE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
The Anglo-Indians who came to Australia in the nineteenth century usually enjoyed a high social status in India and brought to Australia tastes and interests acquired there. Small communities were set up, such as Castra in north-west Tasmania where they were able to maintain and pursue the camaraderie and pastimes they had grown accustomed to in India. Badminton for example, was a popular sport. It is interesting to note that on her voyage to Tasmania from Calcutta Mrs Bessie Fenton reminiscences about Indian servants hovering around her while shortly after she missed them and compared them favourably with the local servants. She also brought with her a keen taste for Indian curry.
Captain Patrick Wood, a retired officer of the East India Company, landed at Hobart aboard the Castle Forbes in 1822. He came well prepared with a retinue of Indian servants, male and female and an agricultural adviser, Phillip Russell. He received a grant of 2,000 acres on the Clyde, where he built temporary huts of turf, thatched roofs and earthern floors for use until a sandstone house was built.
The Anglo-Indians who were used to having servants, were not noted for their work on the land as Edward Braddon reported in one of his letters to India.
I suppose the local wiseacres laugh at our work. They have rather a way of scoffing at the Anglo-Indians' efforts on farm and garden. They were very joyous over one gentleman from India who planted cabbages with the roots uppermost (I suppose he thought that was the correct method for the antipodes, and they have other tales of that sort).
McGregor, R. (1999) Silencing the immigrant song: Closed doors or open minds? In M. Wladren ed, Future Tense: Australia Beyond Election 1998. Allen and Unwin, St. Leonards (NSW) pp. 164-165. Quoted in Singh, M.G. (2000) Review Essay: Changing Uses of Multiculturalism: Asian-Australian Engagement with White Australian Politics, pp.115-130.)
Van Toorn, P. & English, D. (1995) Speaking Positions: Aboriginality, gender and ethnicity in Australian cultural studies (Melbourne, Department of Humanities, Victoria University of Technology).