‘Breed out the Colour’ or the Importance of Being White

‘Breed out the Colour’ or the Importance of Being White

Australian Historical Studies
Volume 33, Issue 120 (2002)
pages 286-302
DOI: 10.1080/10314610208596220

Russell McGregor, Associate Professor of History
James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

This article examines inter-war proposals to ‘breed out the colour’ of Aborigines of mixed descent. Positioning these proposals in the context of contemporary Australian nationalism, scientific discourses and administrative practice, the article concludes with a discussion of their alleged genocidal intent.

In Australia between the wars, ‘breeding out the colour’ was propounded as a solution to the ‘half-caste problem’. It was a perverse proposition. The supposed problems deriving from miscegenation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians would be remedied by instituting still more comprehensive regimes of miscegenation. But now miscegenation would be managed. And the perversity of absorption did not end there. It was a nationalist project, aspiring to keep Australia white; but it flew in the face of commonly understood notions of White Australia as a doctrine of racial purity. Absorption was intensely racist but at the same time defied prevalent racist assumptions of ‘hybrid inferiority’ and demands for the segregation of ‘half-castes’. It was in certain respects a eugenist strategy, but in others dashed with eugenic principles, Absorption held a component of humanitarian welfarism; it also evinced a profound disdain for the subjects of its welfare interventions, a disdain that could extend to the attempted eradication of all vestiges of Aboriginality. This aticle explores these multiple and conflicting imensions of schemes to ‘breed out the colour’ in the Inter-war years.

For all its myriad inspirations and aspirations, ‘breeding out the colour’ was above all just that: a stratagem to erase ‘colour’, to bleach Australia white through programs of regulated reproduction. So committed were its proponents to the process of whitening that one could imagine that they took whiteness as an end in itself, a taken-for-granted good. Perhaps they did. Whiteness was a potent signifier: of virtue, of racial superiority, above all in this context, of national membership. Breeding the colour out of persons of Aboriginal descent was equally a process of breeding them into the community of the nation. Inter-war programs of biological absorption should be understood, I argue, in the…

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