A to Z

This section explores an A-Z of the themes that reoccur throughout the images that we gathered for this project. 

N is for Nation

While science fiction writers imagined encountering Martians, dystopian writers at the turn of the century feared not extra-terrestrial life but human aliens: the foreigner. Near-future invasion literature documented anxieties of the Other that reflected back current political concerns over national military power, cultural cohesion and the strength of the white race at  home.  For example, the 1870s-80s British ‘invasion tale’ was a direct response to German success in the Franco-Prussian War. George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (1871) sees an efficient German war machine invading a vulnerable Britain whose military have travelled overseas to fight global crises. In the following two decades, ‘at least 18 short stories or novels of invasion published, with the invading army being German, French, or Russian, depending who was seen as Britain’s major threat’ (Danny Laurie-Fletcher, 2019). 

In Australia, invasion texts gravitated towards fears of Chinese or Japanese domination, playing on orientalist stereotypes of cunning, violent, and sexually threatening Asian men. This ‘yellow peril’ literature focuses on a near-future white Australian suffering from racial replacement. For example, William Lane’s White or Yellow? (1887) depicts Chinese-Australian intermarriage, leading to a race war in 1908. James McKay’s The Yellow Wave (1895) white women must be protected from ‘this fate worse than death’ – seduction by Asian immigrants. Law makers reacted to these growing cultural fears by enacting xenophobic and racist ‘White Australia’ policies designed to exclude non-white immigrants. Acts such as the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) rejected non-European migrants via language tests in order to protect white jobs, maintain ‘British character’ and ensure an ongoing whiteness.

Against these acts, the White Australia Postcard (1907) speculates on how the white settler population will change through both immigration and environmental pressures. Change is inevitable – with a confrontational yet resigned tone, the designer asks ‘can the overflow of Asia’s millions be kept out of Australia?’, but they ask the recipient to ‘reflect’ on their Sinophobic sentiments. Drawing the recipient’s attention to population density and physiognomy in Asia and Australia, the illustrator argues that Australia ‘should not, and will not remain an uninhabited desert’ and that Asian immigrants will help to populate the tropical North, implicitly boosting the nation’s economy. The postcard maker suggests that population change is unstoppable through environmental factors – even if only white Australians move to the tropical North, ‘the tropical heat will darken the skin’ as it does across the equator. Eventually, the postcard designer gestures, future White Australians will become the foreigner themselves.

The White Australia Postcard (1907), National Library of Australia.