Race around Cairns: representations, perceptions and realities of race in the Trinity Bay district 1876-1908
Richards, Matthew Daniel McCormack (2010) Race around Cairns: representations, perceptions and realities of race in the Trinity Bay district 1876-1908. PhD thesis, James Cook University.
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With the colonisation of the Trinity Bay district in the late nineteenth century, people arrived from many points of the compass. Not only Europeans, but also Pacific Islanders and East and South-east Asians imposed themselves on the numerous Aboriginal groups who inhabited Cairns and its vicinity. European Cairnsites perceived their world in strongly racialised terms, in which innate biological and cultural inequalities were assumed to exist between and among the diverse peoples of the area. They built a society based on racial hierarchy with themselves – white Australians – at the apex, the other races ranging down through varying degrees of inferiority. Despite the racial stratification and despite the significant – sometimes murderous – intercultural tensions, this was an interdependent colonial society characterised, to a large extent, by peaceable accommodations and productive inter-racial relationships. Europeans understood themselves to be out of place in the tropics, so when they imagined the district's future they typically saw non-whites continuing to play an important part – a vision not shared by the Australian mainstream around the time of federation. This thesis scrutinises words and images from early Cairns, to recover the ways in which racial representions were used across a range of social and cultural contexts and how they were transformed over time. It shows that European Cairnsites constructed a local racial vernacular, in some ways discordant with the white Australia ideal, in other ways consistent with it, but always serving the interests of white dominance.
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