ALIENS & SAVAGES
The Voice in Australia
by Janeen Webb and Andrew Enstice
ALIENS & SAVAGES is a hands-on historical record of the racism that underpins Australia’s growth as a nation. First published twenty-five years ago, this new and revised edition asks: what has changed?
As we approach the referendum on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament, ALIENS & SAVAGES is still the only publication of its kind – a survey of racism and xenophobia in Australian popular writings before the advent of social media. It is a collection of fiction and non-fiction, of personal narratives and official reports, of diaries and media misinformation. In it, you can hear the unguarded voices of the colonists, the squatters, the politicians; you can see the close relationship between the popular press and the prejudices of its readers.
ALIENS & SAVAGES tells the story of race relations in Australia, from William Dampier in 1697 to the Voice in 2023. The story of Australia was the first great media event of the modern industrial world: the officers of the First Fleet pre-sold their eyewitness accounts. They left England in 1787 with publishing contracts in their pockets, and as later explorers would discover, sensational stories about cannibals sold better than tales of noble savages.
Imagine an Australia where the colour of your skin, the shape of your eyes or even your Asian name can condemn you to death. Imagine an Australia ruled by its own Nazi party. An Australia where Asian businesses are looted and burned, their sympathisers hanged in the streets. This is just one of the horrific fictions imagined and written by our own founding fathers – the very political figures who in 1901 helped to shape a newly independent and Federated Australia.
ALIENS & SAVAGES lets the reader experience at first hand the often terrifying racism and prejudice that have dominated our past. It reveals the relationship between politics and literature. It reveals the voices of the political demagogues through their writings for the popular press. It tells the story of popular prejudice in Australia, through the lost and censored voices of mainstream white Australia. And some of these voices are truly shocking in what they reveal about writers and readers alike. ALIENS & SAVAGES reminds us of what we would prefer to forget.
Never has this been more relevant than in today’s debate about the Voice: it’s compulsory reading for anyone who really wants to understand the issues of race relations in Australia.
Aliens & Savages was published 21 August 2023 ARP: $39.99 and has now been released in both paperback and ebook editions.
If you want a copy, they are available at Readings
or online at Booktopia
If you would like to request an interview with Janeen Webb and Andrew Enstice or to receive a review copy of Aliens & Savages, please contact: Rob Gerrand 0411 134 904 or [email protected]
HOW THE BOOK WAS WRITTEN
ALIENS & SAVAGES is the result of six years of collaborative research between Dr Webb, who is an expert in speculative fiction, and Dr Enstice, who is a nineteenth-century expert.
“We started out researching a book on early Australian gothic writing. This meant spending a lot of time in library stacks, blowing dust off the papers and books, digging through often uncatalogued items.
We spent six years poring over archival material to get a picture of what early Australians recorded in their diaries and journals, what they wrote in their letters to the papers, what they read in popular fiction. The results were extraordinary.
It soon became clear that much of the writing we were uncovering was unashamedly racist.
We followed the trail. In 1996 it finally led us to Pauline Hanson: The Truth.
Twenty-five years later, it has brought us to the campaign of disinformation, misinformation and confusion swirling around the Voice referendum.
When The Truth was published, it was immediately apparent that much of the racist rhetoric came straight from scaremongering popular fiction of the nineteenth century.
Twenty-five years later, political figures are again seeking to sway popular opinion by playing on the worst prejudices and fears of ordinary people through mainstream and social media.
The only effective counter to such disinformation is wider public access to genuine knowledge of our past. And with one of the most important political debates of recent times under way, ALIENS & SAVAGES places the scaremongers in their true context, so every reader can see the arguments for what they really are.”
ALIENS & SAVAGES tells the story of 300 years of racism in Australia, from pirate captain William Dampier in 1697 to the present. For much of our history, Australian political figures have tested their most controversial ideas in print. Genocide, mass deportation, interracial warfare – all manner of horrors are revealed in the fictions of respected figures who thought that the end could justify the means.
ALIENS & SAVAGES aligns extracts from the popular press and fiction with political events of the time, so that readers can see for themselves how popular publishing shapes the ideas of our culture.
Back in 1856, J.D. Lang thundered that: God in making the earth never intended it should be occupied by men so incapable of appreciating its resources as the Aborigines of Australia. The white man had indeed, only carried out the intentions of the Creator in coming and settling down in the territory of the natives. (Moreton Bay Courier, 19 Jan 1856)
These sentiments are still with us. When property is at stake, it is more convenient to see ‘savages’ than legitimate alternative cultures. Part One of ALIENS & SAVAGES, “Noble or Savage”, traces the ways in which popular press representations of indigenous people have influenced how they were treated. They were quickly dispossessed in print, sliding from ‘noble children of nature’ to ‘cannibals’. With the advent of social Darwinism, they were relegated to the very bottom of the evolutionary scale, in ‘missing link’ stories that describe Aboriginal races ‘with tails’, and even as a race still able to mate with animals such as kangaroos! This degrading process helped to reduce popular sympathy, and encouraged white settlers to see themselves as ‘agents of evolution’, justifiably accelerating a natural process in which the ‘inferior races’ would inevitably die out.
If Aboriginal ‘savages’ could be dehumanised in the interests of the settlers, this was harder to do with alien immigrants from established Asian cultures. They were, instead, denigrated as unethical economic competitors – first on the goldfields, and then in all areas of business.
They were demonised in lurid stories of ‘ravening Mongol hordes’. Part Two of ALIENS & SAVAGES, “White or Yellow?”, charts the ‘Asian Invasion’ and ‘Yellow Peril’ stories that proliferated in the popular press. It shows how these stories contributed to the widespread perception that Asian immigrants were stealing white jobs, infiltrating the Australian economy, and subverting white Australian culture.
Part Three, “Towards Reconciliation?”, charts the shifting ground of modern Australian racism, from Federation and the White Australia policy to multiculturalism and Native Title.
The forms might have changed, but the political battle for our hearts and minds is still being fought out in the popular press and social media.
ALIENS & SAVAGES exposes the inflammatory arguments of modern demagogues by locating them in their true context.