Big Business vs White Australia – The tale of South Australia

1922 saw a very controversial year for South Australia; The Premier of the day Henry Barwell was proposing that the Northern Territory ( which was effectively under the control of South Australia at the time ) be developed by the use of indentured Asian labour; proposing that “ethnologists, medicalists and scientists” supported his contention that white labour are ineffective in such tropical regions, and that they are not fit for women and children.

Mr Barwell was a member of the Liberal Union and Liberal Federation- two bodies which were precursor to the contemporary liberal party of Australia.  He campaigned for the use of cheap asian labour to develop the North going to London in March 1922 to advertise to Big English businesses the potential contract to develop a railway system from Adelaide to the far North using Mongolian labour.

This subject infact had been an on-going argument between the Australian Labor movements and the Liberal Party; In 1904 in Adelaide the Labour Party passed the motion that they would rather the Northern Territory go un-developed rather than make a change to the White Australia Policy.  Nonetheless, over the decades the Liberals plotted and schemed to develop the great north using Asian Labour. This wasn’t to be the last time either. 

“Black Barwell” became a house-hold name for the Premier; made popular by local trade unions – this indicating his fantasy to the use of cheap black labour to do works. It is fortunate that by providence in 1922 just about died due to economic and engineering circumstances.

It should never be forgotten the relentless campaigning of White Australian Labor, Unions and Newspapers.

The Grafton Argus & Clarence River General Advertiser wrote: “The fact that white men, women and children can live vigorous, healthy lives in the Northern Territory and other tropical parts of Australia has been proven too often.

The introduction of Asiatics – despite all safeguards which Mr. Barwell would provide against them trekking to the southern parts of our island continent- opens up too serious a risk of racial contamination and lower standards of living to be entertained for a moment.”

On the evening of the 12th of January 1922, At the Adelaide at the Trades Hall it was spoken.

“The endeavour of the capitalist magnates to tamper with the ideal of a White Australia is a matter that should engage the attention of all workers. Black labour is admitted means cheap labour, and so soon as that is firmly established within our shores the smug contention that it can be kept ‘within the limits of the topical areas’ will soon be discarded, and the white workers of the south compelled to compete with the black hordes of the north.

A remembrance of the efforts to remove the Kanakas from the canebrakes of Queensland and the consequent beneficial results should stimulate every elector to do his duty to Australia. We recommend that the council places on record its determination to fight the present attempt to introduce coloured labour to Australia.”

Nativist Herald