What the Camera Tells: Indian Hawkers and White Australians in the early Twentieth Century’

When:4 Mar 2014, 12:30pm - 1:45pm
Venue:Morven Brown 310 (map ref C20)
Who:Associate Professor Kama Maclean, History, UNSW Australia
A/Prof Kama Maclean

History Seminar Series

Abstract: There were concerted attempts in the early 1900s to establish a discourse about Indian Hawkers that conformed to the framework of the White Australia Policy. Numerable editorials and feature articles complained of the Indian hawker in the Australian landscape as a redundant nuisance pushing shoddy goods, or as a pernicious threat to the fabric of rural society, harassing Australian women in their homes. It is surprising, therefore, that hawkers feature in so many photographs of the period, and yet they do. Many images of the hawker signal his difference, as a lone and somewhat alienated figure in the Australian landscape, often mis-captioned, stereotyped and misunderstood. More significant, however, are the photographs which give us a glimpse of the hawker in the company of white Australians. These images, in concert with oral history testimonies, demonstrate that the hawker was a familiar and much-anticipated figure in rural Australia, an important link between remote communities and the metropolis, delivering much-desired news, commodities and services. Is it possible to discern a politics of friendship, rather than of racial difference, from these images, taken largely in New South Wales and Victoria between 1910 and 1940? This paper utilises visual methodologies to read a social history that overwrites the story that early federation politics attempted to construct.

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