Jumping Ship: Indians, Aborigines and Australians Across the Indian Ocean

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Heather Goodall
Devleena Ghosh
Lindi Renier Todd


Relationships between South Asians and Australians during the colonial period have been little investigated. Closer attention to the dramatically expanded sea trade after 1850 and the relatively uncontrolled movement of people, ideas and goods which occurred on them, despite claims of imperial regulation, suggests that significant numbers of Indians among others entered Australia outside the immigration restrictions of empire or settlers. Given that many of them entered or remained in Australia without official sanction, their histories will not be found in the official immigration records, but rather in the memories and momentos of the communities into which they might have moved. Exploring the histories of Aboriginal communities and of maritime working class networks does allow a previously unwritten history to emerge: not only of Indian individuals with complex personal and working histories, but often as activists in the campaigns against racial discrimination and in support of decolonization. Yet their heritage has been obscured. The polarizing conflict between settlers and Aboriginal Australians has invariably meant that Aboriginal people of mixed background had to ‘choose sides’ to be counted simplistically as either ‘black’ or ‘white’. The need to defend the community’s rights has meant that Aboriginal people had to be unequivocal in their identification and this simplification has had to take precedence over the assertion of a diverse heritage. In working class histories, the mobilization of selective ethnic stereotyping has meant that the history of Indians as workers, as unionists and as activists has been distorted and ignored.

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