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The Search for a New National Identity

The Rise of Multiculturalism in Canada and Australia, 1890s–1970s


Jatinder Mann

This book explores the profound social, cultural, and political changes that affected the way in which Canadians and Australians defined themselves as a «people» from the late nineteenth century to the 1970s. Taking as its central theme the way each country responded to the introduction of new migrants, the book asks a key historical question: why and how did multiculturalism replace Britishness as the defining idea of community for English-speaking Canada and Australia, and what does this say about their respective experiences of nationalism in the twentieth century? The book begins from a simple premise – namely, that the path towards the adoption of multiculturalism as the orthodox way of defining national community in English-speaking Canada and Australia in the latter half of the twentieth century was both uncertain and unsteady. It followed a period in which both nations had looked first and foremost to Britain to define their national self-image. In both nations, however, following the breakdown of their more formal and institutional ties to the ‘mother-country’ in the post-war period there was a crisis of national meaning, and policy makers and politicians moved quickly to fill the void with a new idea of the nation, one that was the very antithesis to the White, monolithic idea of Britishness. This book will be useful for both history and politics courses in Australia and Canada, as well as internationally.
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4 Assimilation Policy in Australia, 1890s–1962


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Assimilation Policy in Australia, 1890s–1962

In the post–Second World War period the Australian government adopted a mass migration programme, which brought large numbers of non-British settlers to its shore for the first time in its history. The “Australia” these migrants encountered when they arrived was very much a British society and an integral part of a wider British world. The White Australia policy was also a crucial capillary of this British race patriotism. Consequently, these new non-British migrants were expected to assimilate into this white, British society immediately and become near identical to Anglo-Celtic Australians. However, in the early 1960s the first signs that Australia’s Britishness and whiteness were beginning to wane started to emerge. This led to subtle changes in the assimilation policy adopted towards non-British migrants.

Britishness and Whiteness during the 1890s and 1950s

Accepting the special importance of British civilisation and stock, British race patriotism emphasised the familial ties between Britons and Australians. Literature, language, history, heritage, and common ancestry were employed to reinforce the shared character of the British people.1 In the 1870s, the Australian ← 117 | 118 → colonies like other Western nations were experiencing modernisation, which involved the introduction of new communication, transportation, and long work hours. During the social upheavals that this caused, the colonists, like those in other Western societies, were looking for emotional safety through redefining a sense of community in more exclusive, intense terms. At...

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