Schooling, migration and race in settler colonial Australia: Hidden in plain (historiographical) sight

Year: 2016

Author: Proctor, Helen, Sriprakash, Arathi

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Australia is well known as a settler colonial nation, founded by the British upon violent Indigenous dispossession, with a settler population that remained at over 90 per cent British in origin until the 1960s. Following the Second World War there was a dramatic expansion of migration from non-British, non-English speaking Europe including an ambitious and successful refugee resettlement program. Immigration from non-European nations increased with the dismantling and then abandonment of the so-called ‘White Australia Policy’ from the late 1960s. Despite a national history that was not just affected, but absolutely determined by large-scale migration, however, race, ethnicity and migration have remained a sideshow in the historiography of education in many ways. There is an absence of inclusion of not-white or non-English speaking background people in the historiography of Australian schooling and a relative lack of explicit theorisation of race and immigration (despite signs of a current flourishing in the literature of exploration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander relationships with schooling). Looked at another way, however, we argue that not only the history but also the historiography of Australian education is steeped in race and migration, despite the apparent silences. Such relations have rarely been at the front and centre of analysis but are visible in many different ways in the texts and subtexts of mainstream education historiography, even those that seem least communicative. The proposed paper examines questions of migration, race and schooling by revisiting a select set of survey works in the literature, published from the 1960s to the 2000s. By survey works we mean books that propose to take a large or long view. We offer an ‘archival’ reading of these texts in order to understand them in their time and politics. Our aim is not so much to identify neglect of certain themes or topics, but to read the works, sometimes against the grain, in order to build a richer understanding of what should be already known and of how the historiography has been shaped. Our longer-term project—one that requires a sustained and collective undertaking—is to centre race and migration in the history of Australian education.