Friday, July 10, 2009

Arthur Calwell

Arthur Calwell.

I know a little bit about who he is.

He was involved with the White Australia Policy.

He's the guy who said Two Wongs Don't Make a White.

He was a member of the Labor Party.

That's about all I know.

Now I shall go and find out more.

Lord Wiki says that baby Arthur was born on 28 August 1896.

He's a Virgo like my mom.

He's a 6 in numerology. That's the family-oriented one. Someone else I wrote about recently was a 6.

Barry Crocker maybe?

I'm going to read a little about the 6 from that website I found recently.

It has some good things to say about the 6. You are compassionate, responsible, sacrificing and unselfish, harmonious and balanced, generous, kind, humble, charismatic and charming.
But they warn: You can be too emotional and overly sentimental. You are susceptible to flattery. You also might sacrifice yourself too much for the sake of others and suppresses your own talents.
Does any of that apply to Calwell? I'm doubting it. But I could be wrong.

If Calwell was still alive, he'd be 112. That's pretty old.

Lord Wiki says the oldest person who ever lived was a French woman named Jeanne Calment. She died in 1997 at the age of 122. She smoked. She drank. She ate chocolate.

If I die when I'm 122, my year of death will be 2094. The newspapers will say She didn't drink. She didn't smoke. But she DID eat that chocolate.

Oh yeah. Back to Calwell. I'm very distracted here.

Arthur Caldwell was born in Melbourne.

His father was an Irish police officer. His mother was Irish-American. Interesting. I wonder when she came to Australia. I guess she could have been born there. Maybe one of her parents was American.

Arthur and his daddy were involved in the Irish Community of Melbourne.

Lord Wiki says Calwell was a devout Roman Catholic.

And he was a member of the Labor Party when he was young.

Calwell couldn't get himself to University. Maybe he couldn't afford it? In lue of that he went to work for the Victorian Public Service.

Calwell was quite active in politics. In 1931 he got himself elected as president of the Victorian Labor Party. I guess he would have been about thirty-five at the time.

About nine years later he got elected into the Australian House of Representatives for the seat of Melbourne. John Curtin was Prime Minister at this time. And that time was also the time of World War II. Curtin gave Calwell the job of Minister for Information. Lord Wiki says Calwell was strict with the press and big on war time censorship.

Curtin went out. Ben Chiftley came in. Calwell became the Minister for Immigration. He pushed for Europeans to come to Australia. That might not have been too hard, because a lot of European lives were damaged by the war. Australia was advertised as a place to escape it all.

Calwell wanted to populate Australia. A promotional slogan used at the time was populate or perish.
That's....populate with WHITE people or perish.
On one hand, Calwell was pushing for white Europeans to come over. Yet at the same time Asian refugees were being kicked out of Australia.

In 1949 Labor lost to the Liberal Party.

I'm reading some confusing stuff now. It involves the Catholic Church, anti-Communism, and union group things.

Let me try to figure this all out.

First. Calwell is Roman Catholic. We knew that already.

The Catholic Church was against Communism.

The Catholic Church was involved with trade unions. They encouraged trade unions to be anti-communism. The Catholic groups that pushed this anti-communism sentiment were called Industrial Groups.

The new leader of the Labor party was a guy named H.V Evatt. Evatt began to believe the Industrial Group folks were trying to push the Labor party into being more Catholic. He stopped loving the Industrial Group while Calwell continued to love them. This created problems in their relationship. Things became rocky.

Basically Calwell ended up being torn between the Catholics and the Labor Party. Lord Wiki says things were rough for Calwell. He lost friends.

Oh...this gets kind of interesting.

The Industrial Group people were expelled from the Labor Party. Calwell could have shown his support by leaving too. But he didn't. He remained with the Labor Party.

The Catholic Church was pissed with Calwell. He was banned from taking communion at his local church.

At the same time, the Labor Party didn't embrace him with wide open arms. The left-wing faction of the group distrusted Calwell.

I can imagine Calwell was a lonely guy. I'm sad for him...even though he was racist at times.

I guess though that things slightly improved for Calwell. Maybe?

Evatt retired. Calwell became the Leader of the Opposition. Guess who his deputy was? Gough Whitlam.

Lord Wiki lists some of Calwell's stands on issues.

He was against American military bases in Australia.

He was against giving state aid to private schools.

 He was strongly against the Vietnam war.

Interesting. Lord Wiki says at this time the Vietnam war was popular in Australia. So Calwell's anti-war sentiment might have worked against him.

In 1967, Calwell resigned as Labor Leader. He let Whitlam shine in the limelight. But let's not imagine Calwell liked Whitlam. He didn't. Whitlam planned to get rid of the White Australian Policy. Was Calwell cool with that?


In 1972 Calwell retired from being in the House of Representatives.

Lord Wiki says Calwell is noted as being the second Australian victim of attempted assassination.

In 1966 he spoke at an anti-conscription event. A student shot him. Calwell wasn't hurt too bad. Lucky guy. What's kind of sweet is Calwell kept in touch with the student. He visited him in the mental hospital, encouraged the guy's rehabilitation, and then they kept in touch with each other.

I like stories like that.

The crazed student ended up becoming a writer. Peter Kocan, you are going on my list.

I have a huge soft spot for stories involving forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation.

Calwell died about eight months after I was born. He was given a nice Catholic Funeral. I guess they forgave him for all that Labor Party stuff.

Lord Wiki says that there's mixed feelings regarding Calwell in the Labor Party. They're not too proud of his White Australia Policy. But they do like that he was so anti-war.

All right. Now I'm going to read about the famous racist statement. Two wongs don't make a white. Calwell said it in Parliament in 1947.

It's kind of confusing. Calwell was somewhat misquoted. He wasn't saying two Wongs don't make a white (as in Caucasian person). He was trying to joke that two Wongs don't make a White. He claims the White references a member of Parliament named Thomas White.

I think it still is a bit racist, but maybe less racist than people imagine.

I don't know.

Calwell claims not to be racist. He had Asian friends. It's that same old story. I'm not anti-semitic. I had Jewish friends in high school. I'm not against gay people. I have gay friends.
My feeling is you can have friends from a particular group and still be prejudice against that group. But that's better than hating a group of people so much that you refuse to even associate with them.

Callwell never relaxed his feelings towards keeping Australia White. In his memoirs he wrote I am proud of my white skin, just as a Chinese is proud of his yellow skin, a Japanese of his brown skin, and the Indians of their various hues from black to coffee-coloured. Anybody who is not proud of his race is not a man at all. And any man who tries to stigmatize the Australian community as racist because they want to preserve this country for the white race is doing our nation great harm... I reject, in conscience, the idea that Australia should or ever can become a multi-racial society and survive.

I really don't see the point of being proud of your race. We're all human.

I do think it's racist for a country to say we want to be all White or we want to be all Asian. I think any country that is very homogeneous is racist. BUT I think they're much better than a country that kills people of a different race.

I guess what I'm saying is there are degrees of racism.

If we're going to make a scale.....

On the very edge of one end you'd have people who don't care about race and color. We're all human. Let's love everyone. I'm sort of there....not completely. I have racist thoughts sometimes. But for the most part, I believe in all the races loving each other and mixing with each other.

In the middle of the scale we have people who believe the races should be separate. They don't see themselves as necessarily superior to other races. They might even have some minor associations with people who don't share their skin color. But they believe white goes with white. Yellow goes with yellow. Black goes with black.

At the far end of the other scale you have the people who feel they ARE superior that those of other races should be murdered, abused, and enslaved.

I like the first group best. I think it's best if we can see beyond skin color.

I hate the third group.

The second group? I don't agree with them. I mean I don't share their feelings. But I don't think they're necessarily bad people. I guess it depends.

I'll look at this via interracial marriage. I like interracial marriage. I like the idea of mixed-race children. But I also think it's fine if someone wants to marry someone of their own race. I feel that's their personal choice. It might be slightly racist, but I don't think it's a really harmful type of racism. I think there's a big difference between saying I don't want you in our school because you're black and I don't want you to be my husband because you're black. They're both racist. They both discriminate. But I think it's kind of okay to be discriminative when choosing your spouse. You might be missing out on your true soul mate, but....oh well.

I can't say I'm too happy with parents who make rules about their children marrying inside the same race. It's one thing to make your own racist choices. It's another thing to force them on your offspring.

Anyway...back to Callwell.

What's interesting is he did support the Aboriginal Australians. He at least recognized that White Australia had done them wrong.

Well, I'm done with Lord Wiki.

What next?

Here's an article about Calwell and his attempted assassin.

Peter Kocan told people he had wanted to become famous for killing someone important. Yikes.

Despite all this, Calwell wrote Kocan a letter of forgiveness. Wow. Kocan was released a few years later. His writing has won awards.

I really love that story.

Here's a transcript of Gwenda Tavan historian talking about Calwell. She says that Calwell was very b.....


That site keeps freezing my computer. I didn't realize what was happening at first. But I had to restart my computer twice. I finally realized it was that site.

I'm thinking Barry Crocker made that website.

I totally blame him.

All right. I'll find another website.

Here's a blogger's view of Calwell.

Let's see what Michael Duffy has to say.

This is how Duffy describes Callwell.... a boofhead hard man with a grating voice and dour manner, who perhaps achieved his fifteen minutes of tabloid fame when he became one of the few victims of attempted political assassination in Australia.
Duffy says that Calwell's explanation of his wong joke is even more labored than the joke.
I think I agree. It might not be as racist as it sounds, but it's hard to deny that it's not racist at all.

Here's a whole blog about Calwell. I guess the blogger is a fan because the blog says it is Revisiting the life and times of Australia's most underrated Labor leader and Parliamentarian.

The blogger says Calwell grew up in a family with seven kids. He was the eldest.

When Calwell was six he almost died from diptheria. I've heard of that but am not sure what it is. I'll go look it up.

It's a contagious disease.

It's mostly gone now thanks to vaccinations.

It sounds like a bad disease.

It's not always fatal, but it doesn't sound like something that's fun to deal with.

Calwell went to Christian Brother's College. I think that is this school here.

Calwell was married twice--first to Margaret Mary Murphy, and then to Elizabeth Marren. I wonder what went wrong with the first wife. Did she die? Catholics can't get divorced, can they? I guess they could have had one of those annulment things.

The blogger talks about Calwell's rift with the Catholic Church. The good friend he lost was the archbishop of Melbourne...Daniel Mannix.

Calwell's son died of Leukemia. When Calwell died he was buried next to his son.

When Calwell brought in white Europeans to Australia after World War II, he did include Jews. But he insisted that half of the ship accommodations be used for people who weren't Jewish. He worried too many Jews would be a problem. He worried too many Jews would bring about anti-antisemitism. And he worried too many Jews would cause problems for the Labor Party in the next election. I guess in other words....his decision wasn't based on his own personal anti-semitism, but was more about trying to please other people who might be anti-semitic.

That doesn't work too well with me. I think it's a lousy excuse.

I'm trying to think of an analogy.

How about a birthday party one. What if a mother tells another mother that her Indigenous child is not going to be invited to the upcoming birthday party. I'm not racist. It's just Sally's friends don't like Aboriginals. They might do mean things. I think we'd all be better off if your daughter stayed home. We wouldn't want her getting hurt, would we?

No. That just doesn't work for me. What Sally should do is stop having such racist friends.

If Calwell brought too many Jewish people in could it have cost the Labor Party an election? Maybe. But I don't think political parties should make decisions based on what's popular. I think they should make decisions based on what they feel is right.

I'm thinking though that Calwell probably DID feel that limiting Jewish immigration was right.

In one of his memoirs Calwell said it wasn't skin color or culture that made Calwell reject nonwhite immigrants. He said, What is wrong with most coloured migrants is that they form hard-core, anti-white, ‘black power’ pressure groups in every country that accepts them.

I totally agree with that. There ARE groups like that. But they develop in response to hatred and discrimination! They develop in response to countries who want to kick them out. I'm sure if people of color were welcomed into a country with open arms there would be less of these groups.

The blogger of the site says History has unfairly portrayed him as a symbol of the White Australia Policy. He should be remembered as the very person who made the end of White Australia possible.
I think what is being referred to here is that Calwell helped to expand immigration beyond people from the UK. He was prejudice--it seems especially against Asians. Although there's evidence he didn't hate Asians. He had Asian friends, blah, blah, blah. That doesn't say much. He did know some Mandarin though. He actually learned the language a bit. That might be meaningful in a way. Maybe? I guess he could have secretly hated the Chinese and learned their language so he could spy on them.

Anyway, maybe by expanding immigration to a VARIETY of white people, this eventually opened up immigration to people who are not white.

I can kind of see how that might work.

The blog includes a letter from Calwell's daughter to ABC regarding a documentary called 100 Years: The Australian Story.
She says, Calwell’s rebuttals of the racist statements of Lang, Gullett, Francis and others were ignored while no effort was made to explain that ALP policy was intended to protect working conditions from imported cheap labour and avoid racist strife and discrimination against Eurasian children, which divided other countries at that time.

Does limiting immigration prevent racism?

I don't know.

You know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of something the teachers would say at the NYC preschool I worked at. They would encourage parents to stop certain behaviors or habits in their children because it might get them teased. I hated that. Children are going to tease each other no matter what. There ARE valid reasons to end certain behaviors and habits. I don't think the threat of being teased should be one of them.

I can't remember any examples. I'll make one up.

Let's say a boy chooses to have long hair. He looks like a girl. We could tell him to cut his hair because kids are going to tease him. But if he cuts his hair kids will just find another reason to tease him. That's how life works. Human beings are sometimes very mean. They will find something about you to ridicule.

I say it's better that we stop trying to change the victims of bulling...molding them into something that is more easily accepted. I think instead we should work on changing the bullies. That makes much more sense to me.

I think having too many people of a certain race MIGHT increase racism. But instead of preventing them from coming to the country, why can't we work on reducing racism?

It is sweet to see a daughter so strongly defending her father. She points out that a lot of information was neglected in the program. I can see how that would be very frustrating for her.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about Calwell. I don't think he's as heroic as his daughter paints him out to be. But I also don't think he's a complete evil villain. I think he was racist.  And no.... the fact that he spoke a little Chinese and had some supporters in the Asian community doesn't change my mind about that.

This weekend I spent some time with some people who told a story that I felt had racist overtones. It was one of those stories that are a bit on the fence. I listened feeling a bit uncomfortable. I watched everyone else listening. They didn't look uncomfortable. They looked very amused.

I did speak up once. There was stuff said about these black people being gang members. I asked how they knew they were gang members. The person imitated stuff he had heard the black people say. From what he said...yeah. It did sound like they were gang members. Everyone laughed. I even chuckled a bit. But later I started thinking maybe there WERE a few gang members there. But were all the black people encountered part of a gang? Why was that assumed? And why was the story accepted and laughed at?

My gut instinct is that it was a racist story.

My gut instinct is that the amused response was racist as well.

Now if I declared that the people with me were racist, would they admit it? Would they say Yeah. I'm a little racist sometimes. Sorry.
I doubt it. I am betting they would say something like I am not racist at all. My best friend growing up was black. OR I've been invited to speak at black schools. The African American Community presented me with an award once. How can you say I'm racist?
If they did say something like that, I guess I could respond by asking.... if that childhood best friend was in the room, would they feel comfortable telling that exact same story?

I guess all I'm trying to say is having friends or relations with people of a certain group doesn't prove that we're not prejudice. Why? Because sometimes we're nice to those people to their face. Then behind their back we say nasty things. Sometimes it's hard to know what is nasty, what is funny, and what is just frank honesty. I guess the test again would be. If your friend from that ethnic group was in the room, would you feel comfortable saying what you said. And you might. That still might not mean you're free from prejudice. You might be a racist with a friend who is self-hating or tolerant of prejudices directed at him. I think a better question would be....would you feel comfortable saying it in front of a whole group of people targeted in the joke or story?

Yeah, but then if you have a whole big group.....No matter what you say, you're going to find SOMEONE who is offended. There are people who are a bit hypersensitive.

I guess there really is no good test for racism.

I think that's one of the reasons we should just all admit we are each at least a little bit racist. We should stop denying it. We should stop trying to imagine ourselves as perfect. Instead we should recognize the racism within us and do what we can to overcome as much of it as possible.


  1. Australia was generally quite overtly racist in the sixties. I think Calwell is probably misjudged from our present historical perspective. You say he encouraged European immigration, but at the same time was kicking out Asian refugees. He may well have been kicking out Asians, but did we have Asian refugees in the sixties?

    Maybe in the early part of the Vietnam war it was popular, but I never recall it being so. If it was at all popular, then it was sheer government propaganda that made it so. We saw maps of all the Asian countries to our north and after communism won in Vietnam, it spread to other Asian countries and all these arrows were pointing down to Australia, ready to invade us and impose communism. It is a laugh now, but many believed in it.

    Calwell was an interesting bloke though. I should learn more about him.

  2. Andrew,

    Goodness. I never thought of the Asian-communist connection. Is that pathetic? But it makes sense. I mean it would explain why Asians were targeted.

    I really wished I lived in Australia so I could spend hours at the library and learn more about all these people. I'd love to read all the biographies and autobiographies.

    Really. I'd move to Australia for the libraries alone.

  3. The story (which could be checked from Hansard) is that Calwell was being questioned by an MP named White about a fellow named Wong and that the famous wisecrack was simply a pun on the spur of the moment. In itself it proves nothing.

    As for racism, I'd say that Australia has a strange place in history as the most famous officially racist place on Earth (after South Africa) with the least actual racism. I don't mean by this that racism wasn't/isn't significant in Australia, simply that most other nations have more of it without admitting to it.

    Penny Wong told in a recent interview with the Weekend Australian magazine of her family being racially abused back in the 70s/80s and it greatly saddened me to read it. There are geographical pockets in Australia where that's more likely to happen than in others. I believe/hope that they are withering away.

  4. Retarius,

    I agree.

    I think Australia may have been more upfront with their racism, but I don't think they have ever been more racist than most other countries.

    I haven't done any huge studies of this, but I'm guessing most countries ARE racist.

    Sad about Penny Wong, but not surprising. I think Australia is a lot like the United States. There are places where racism is more likely to happen...or at least be more overt. Some places might not SEEM racist, but if you were a fly on the wall, you might get a different story.

  5. My parents went on a cruise in the late 60's and their fellow travelers set up a petition to ask the Captain to ask Calwell to have his meals in his cabin, as his eating / habits / manners were so poor that they were upsetting his fellow travelers.......and he did.