This timeline traces how prejudice has affected who we are, how we govern and what we believe. For centuries science and politics have influenced how we think and feel about those who have been considered different, inferior, or threatening. Consider whether you think these attitudes continue to resonate today.

  1. 1500 – 1850s

  2. 1850s – 1900

  3. 1901 – 1945

  4. 1946 – 1980

  5. 1981 – today

Scientists continue to debate racial hierarchies, always with white men at the top. The theory of eugenics develops, emphasising racial purity and controlled breeding. In Australia this theory underpins the removal of Aboriginal children from their families. Segregation, restrictive immigration policies and massacres of Indigenous peoples contribute to the maintaining of a white racial and economic pecking order.

  1. 1848-55

    Californian gold rush attracts tens of thousands of people from Europe, Latin America, Australia and China. In 1850 California introduces a new tax on alien gold miners, targeting the Chinese.

  2. 1851

    Gold is discovered in New South Wales and Victoria, followed by other colonies until 1890s. The gold rushes result in mass migration from the British Isles, Europe, America and China.

    Satirical depiction of female immigrants
    Satirical depiction of female immigrants arriving in England from Pacific, Caribbean and African countries, highlighting common racial caricaturing in the popular media of the time, 1851.
    Image: George Cruikshank
    Source: Museum Victoria
  3. 1855

    Victoria introduces the first Immigration Restriction Act in Australia aimed at limiting Chinese immigration. Other Australian colonies soon follow.

  4. 1857

    Chinese miners outnumber European miners by at least three to one at the Buckland River goldfields in Victoria. This sparks racial tensions culminating in a violent anti-Chinese riot in which at least three Chinese miners are killed.

    Anti Chinese protests, 1861
    Anti Chinese protests, 1861
    Source: National Archives of Australia
  5. 1860s

    Local Indigenous populations continue to resist settlers and immigrants. Killings of local Aboriginal populations continue across Australia until the early 1900s.

    'Conflict on the Rufus', South Australia, 1866.
    'Conflict on the Rufus', South Australia, 1866.
    Image: Samuel Calvert
    Source: State Library of Victoria
  6. 1860s

    Queensland sugar plantation owners commence forcible labour recruitment of Pacific Islanders. About 62,000 'kanakas' are 'blackbirded' (kidnapped) before the practice ceases in 1901.

    Kidnapped Pacific Islanders en route to Australian sugar plantations, about 1890.
    Kidnapped Pacific Islanders en route to Australian sugar plantations, about 1890.
    Source: National Library of Australia
  7. 1868

    A close relationship between the 'worst' of the human races and the 'best' of the apes is claimed by German scientist Ernst Haeckel in Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte.

    Illustration from Ernst Haeckel’s 1868 Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte demonstrating links between 'inferior' races and apes.
    Illustration from Ernst Haeckel’s 1868 Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte demonstrating links between 'inferior' races and apes.
    Source: www.strangescience.net
  8. 1871

    Charles Darwin's Descent of Man is published which would fundamentally influence political and social theories about the origins, evolution and hierarchies of human races. 'Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, etc, yet if their whole organisation be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other in a multitude of points.'

  9. 1880s

    Melbourne entrepreneur Edward Cole begins producing pamphlets, essays and medals promoting world peace and arguing against racially-based immigration policies. His medal offers a positive interpretation of Darwin's theory of the origins of the human species.

    E.W. Cole, The White Australia Question
    Diagram demonstrating the relationship between skin colour and environment, E.W. Cole, The White Australia Question, 1903
    Source: Museum Victoria
  10. 1883

    The term 'eugenics' is coined by British anthropologist Francis Galton, a belief in human improvement through selective breeding: 'What is termed in Greek, 'eugenes' namely, good in stock, hereditarily endowed with noble qualities.'

  11. 1886

    Aboriginal people are believed to be a dying race, requiring children of mixed descent to be absorbed into the 'white' community. The Aborigines Act officially commences the removal of Aboriginal children in Victoria.

    'The Old Race and the New', 1875
    'The Old Race and the New', 1875
    Source: State Library of Victoria
  12. 1886

    William Barak, head man for the Woirurrung at Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve near Healesville petitions the Victorian Government for better rights and land on behalf of the residents. 'We Blacks of Aboriginal Blood, wish to have now freedom for all our life time.'

  13. 1888

    The phrase 'White Australia policy' first appears in William Lane's publication The Boomerang in Brisbane.

    'The Yellow Trash Question', The Bulletin, 1895
    'The Yellow Trash Question', The Bulletin, 1895
    Source: State Library of Victoria
  14. 1893

    Charles Pearson, Australian historian, educationist, politician and journalist,
    publishes National Life and Character. A Forecast, in which he predicts that the 'higher races of men' would within a few decades find themselves 'elbowed and hustled and perhaps even thrust aside' by people whom they had assumed to be innately servile. The ideas would be taken up by future prime ministers Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin to defend the White Australia policy.

I love Australia’s diversity because it provides a unique oppotunities

Rachel, Melbourne, 35More quotes

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