Ambiguities of Race: Science on the Reproductive Frontier of Australia and the Pacific Between the Wars

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, History, Media Archive, Oceania on 2011-08-15 02:14Z by Steven

Ambiguities of Race: Science on the Reproductive Frontier of Australia and the Pacific Between the Wars

Australian Historical Studies
Volume 40, Issue 2, 2009
pages 143-160
DOI: 10.1080/10314610902849302

Warwick Anderson, Professor of History
University of Sydney

The attitudes of Australian biologists, anthropologists, and historians toward race mixing in the early-twentieth century should be viewed in relation to the investigations of Indigenous depopulation and miscegenation taking place in the Pacific. Those Australian scientists committed to national or continental racial ideals–Cecil Cook and Norman B. Tindale among them–remained resistant to the lessons of the Pacific, favouring ‘half-caste’ absorption. Other scholars such as Stephen Roberts and A. P. Elkin took the oceanic approach, coming to value and harness racial hybridity. This essay shows how much of Australian racial thought drifted in from the Pacific.

In 1925, as he shuttled between Townsville and Rabaul, Raphael Cilento wrote to extol the new tropical white man evolving in North Queensland. A fierce advocate of white racial purity, the director of the Townsville Institute of Tropical Medicine was convinced the peculiar Australian combination of selected European stock, restriction of intercourse with other races, a tropical environment and modern preventive medicine was producing a more virile white man north of Capricorn, not another degenerate type. ‘He is tall and rangy, with somewhat sharp features, and long legs and arms’, Cilento wrote. ‘Inclined to be sparely built, he is not, however, lacking in muscular strength, while his endurance is equal in his own circumstances to that of the temperate dweller in his. This North Queenslander moves slowly, and conserves muscular heat-producing energy in every possible way’. It was as though the Townsville racial visionary was channelling Marcus Clarke, only the Melbourne novelist’s sardonic 1877 prophecy of the coming man now spawned rhapsodies in the tropical heat. The race is in a transition stage’, Cilento continued, ‘and it is very apparent that there is being evolved precisely what one would hope for, namely a distinctive tropical type, adapted to life in the tropical environment in which it
is set’. Cilento was certainly not crying in the wilderness. Ronald Hamlyn-Harris, director of the Queensland Museum and scourge of the mosquito, joined him in trying to cultivate ‘in the rising generation year after year a vision of…

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