Category: Advocacy

What Australia’s convict past reveals about women, men, marriage and work

Reading time: 5 minutes
It is not the presence of convicts that matters, but the drastic distortion in the ratio of men to women that came with it. Convict men outnumbered convict women by roughly six to one. These numbers were even more skewed at the start of settlement. Convicts were joined by free migrants, especially in the second half of the 19th century, whose numbers also skewed heavily male. The ratio of men to women was consistently skewed in favour of males in Australia until the start of the first world war.

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‘Habits of civilised life’: how one Australian State forced Indigenous people to meet onerous conditions to obtain citizenship

Reading time: 7 minutes
In the breakthrough High Court case Love and Thoms vs Commonwealth in 2020, the court ruled that First Nations people could not be considered aliens in Australia. As Justice James Edelman noted in the decision, whatever the other manners in which they were treated […] Aboriginal people were not ‘considered as foreigners in a kingdom which is their own’.

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Forget ‘Man the Hunter’ – physiological and archaeological evidence rewrites assumptions about a gendered division of labor in prehistoric times

Reading time: 8 minutes
Prehistoric men hunted; prehistoric women gathered. At least this is the standard narrative written by and about men to the exclusion of women. The idea of “Man the Hunter” runs deep within anthropology, convincing people that hunting made us human, only men did the hunting, and therefore evolutionary forces must only have acted upon men. Such depictions are found not only in media, but in museums and introductory anthropology textbooks, too.

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“Homosexuals Are Not Cowards”: The Legacy of Willem Arondeus

Reading time: 6 minutes
Dutch artist and author Willem Arondeus’ life had always been fraught with insecurity. Despite the modest success of his artwork, he lived in poverty, and friend Frieda Belinfante remembered him first for his timidity. ‘He was very shy,’ she said, ‘and kind of an inferiority complex. He didn’t think he was good enough for this or that.’

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How unearthing Queensland’s ‘native police’ camps gives us a window onto colonial violence

Reading time: 7 minutes
This government-funded paramilitary force operated from 1849 (prior to Queensland’s separation from New South Wales) until 1904. It grew to have an expansive reach throughout the state, with camps established in strategic locations along the ever-expanding frontier, first in the southeast and then west and north. While staffed with non-Indigenous senior officers, the bulk of the force was made up of Aboriginal men and, sometimes, boys.

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Black GIs arrive in Britain

Reading time: 13 minutes
In this blog post I’m going to draw on the Cabinet Papers to explore the British Government’s response to the arrival of Black GIs in Britain during the Second World War. I refer to government records and other primary sources of the time which use terminology which we now consider offensive, for example, ‘coloured troops’ and ‘negroes’.

Several years ago I recall hearing a story about villagers in the West Country during the Second World War refusing to go along with a local US Army segregation order that Black GIs were excluded from the local pub and that only white American troops could use it – the villagers protested and effectively overturned this order. I’m pretty certain that it was the singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg that related this story to me, when I had the pleasure to meet him some years back. The story made a big impression on me and I thought, one day, I must follow this thread up. Now I have, and here are the fruits of my research so far.

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Women, Parliament and Political Space

Reading time: 10 minutes
This blog post marks the anniversary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, which passed on 21 November 1918, and enabled women over the age 21 to stand for Parliament. While an often overlooked act, this change in the law represents an important milestone for women’s rights. For the first time in history, women were able to directly influence Parliamentary debates and the passing of laws.

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Shapurji Saklatvala – British MP and agitator for change

Reading time: 4 minutes
Shapurji Saklatvala was born in India in 1874, the son of a merchant. His maternal uncle founded what is today the Tata group – a multinational conglomerate. Saklatvala worked for the company for part of his career, and first moved to England to run the Manchester office. After moving to England, he married Sarah Marsh, who came from a Derbyshire family, and they went on to have five children.

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Black soldiers and the Red Ball Express during World War II

Reading time: 6 minutes
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had a problem. In June 1944, Allied forces had landed on Normandy Beach in France and were moving east toward Nazi Germany at a clip of sometimes 75 miles (121 kilometers) per day.
With most of the French rail system in ruins, the Allies had to find a way to transport supplies to the advancing soldiers. “Our spearheads … were moving swiftly,” Eisenhower later recalled. “The supply service had to catch these with loaded trucks. Every mile doubled the difficulty because the supply truck had always to make a two-way run to the beaches and back, in order to deliver another load to the marching troops.”

The solution to this logistics problem was the creation of the Red Ball Express, a massive fleet of nearly 6,000 2½-ton General Motors cargo trucks. The term Red Ball came from a railway tradition whereby railmen marked priority cars with a red dot.

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A slave state – how blackbirding in colonial Australia created a legacy of racism

Reading time: 46 minutes
The French historian Ernest Renan described forgetting as “an essential factor in the creation of a nation”, since patriots do not want to remember the “deeds of violence” at the origin of all political formations. In the Australian context, a strange contradiction contributes to the ongoing amnesia about slavery and its consequences. From the very beginning, enslavement shaped white settlement in Australia – and so, too, did abolitionism. That paradox, a peculiar entwinement of two ostensibly antagonistic impulses, makes for a complicated narrative, one that cannot be grasped simply as a local version of the better-known American story.

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