The Reappraisal of the White Australia Policy against the Background of a Changing Asia, 1945–67*


  • *

    This article is based on the author's PhD thesis, “The Reappraisal of the ‘White Australia’ Policy Against the Background of a Changing Asia, 1945–66” (University of Sydney, 2001). I would like to thank the following people for their helpful comments during the preparation of this article: Neville Meaney, Alan Atkinson, James Curran, Peter Phelps and Stuart Ward.


This paper is concerned with the way in which Australian policy-makers approached the problem of “White Australia” in the years 1945–67. It makes extensive use of original archival material to show how Australia's increasing engagement with Asia in the 1950s and 1960s exercised a direct influence on officials within the Department of Immigration. In response to Australia's changing geopolitical circumstances and the international community's increasing hostility towards racism during this period, Immigration Department officials persuaded the government to introduce a series of piecemeal adjustments which were specifically designed to placate Asian and world opinion. Although cautious, these changes nevertheless involved a corresponding reassessment of the policy's racial assumptions. By accepting in the late 1960s that certain Asians were capable of being integrated into the Australian community, policymakers had discarded the previously inviolable belief that all non-Europeans were unassimilable by virtue of their race. The White Australia Policy, though not entirely defunct by the end of the decade, was nevertheless crumbling under the weight of Australia's new circumstances.