At the Border: Health, Immigration Restriction and the Imagining of Australia, 1901-2001

People Involved

Associate Professor Alison Bashford

Project overview

Historians and legal scholars have long been interested in Australia's Immigration Restriction Act, and in its popular incarnations as the ‘white Australia policy’. Yet attention has been almost exclusively focussed on the race-based nationalist culture which produced it, and the infamous ‘dictation test’, the procedure through which people of colour were excluded from entry and citizenship. My aim in this project is to redirect focus to an uninterrogated aspect of the Act, and of policies by which Australia’s population was shaped and governed in the early to mid twentieth century: the connection between health regulations and immigration restriction, the ‘loathsome diseases’ clause. I have found the connections between health and immigration/population policies to be mutual and deep. Through an analysis of the Immigration Restriction Act (1901) and the Quarantine Act (1908) I have demonstrated that governments attempted to quarantine the new nation from ‘undesirable’ immigrants, but also, in related moves, used quarantine in a literal sense: to keep Australia free from infectious diseases. In the early twentieth century, these were crucial practices through which the new island-nation was imagined as immune, pure, and not co-incidentally, ‘white’. (Bashford, 1998; 2004). This project traces these connections over the century of Federation, and enquires into their significance for the historical, geographical, cultural and legal imagining of Australia; its population, its health and its governance.


ARC Discovery Grant