Minority Cultures in an Anglo-Australian Society

The word culture seen through a magnifying glass.

People of Asian and Pacific Island descent constituted no more than a few percent of Australia’s total population in the late 1800s. Nevertheless, their presence upset large parts of the Anglo-Australian community. A reason for this was the fact that workers of Asian and Pacific Island descent tended to accept lower wages than Anglo-Australians, which was perceived as a threat to white people’s job security.

Foreign cultures

Another grievance Anglo-Australians had with foreign people had to do with culture. Asians and Pacific Islanders bringing disparate cultures and customs from their home countries, it was said, destabilized a homogeneous and harmonious British culture. Not surprisingly, therefore, clusters of non-Europeans, such as the Chinese in Melbourne’s China Town and the community of Japanese pearl divers in Broome, were singled out as symbols of a divided society. Likewise singled out for not fitting in, though coming from Australia, were Aboriginal Australians, whose traditional ways were seen as archaic.

Appreciated for their work

Somewhat in contrast to Anglo-Australians’ opposition to cultural and racial diversity at a general level, locally, indigenous Australians, Pacific Islanders and Asians were often appreciated and respected for their hard work and for providing inexpensive services. Still, as explained in the next chapter, Anglo-Australians’ overall apprehension for their country’s non-European population led to a strengthened determination to keep Australia British.