The White Australia policy is a sad thing in Australian history.

In the 1850's, Australian was in some measure, a gold rush nation, with major alluvial deposits in Victoria and Western Australia. During this period, there was a large amount of migration from overseas, including Chinese miners, following the same pattern as the California Gold Rush.

Chinese miners were known to be industrious. Often, although not owning a mining license themselves, the took the discarded tailings of other miners and sifted them for gold, and were often very successful, since Victorian methods of gold retreival were comparatively primitive.

After resulting violence at Buckland River in Victoria and other places, the government of the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales instituted restrictions on migration, particularly Chinese immigration.

It is known that several officials of the Qing dynasty of China made entreaties to the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States to reconsider their attitudes towards coolies and labourers, but this went unheeded.

The White Australia policy was associated with the Federalist sentiment that allowed the Commonwealth of Australia to be declared on the 1st of January, 1901. It should be noted that the Anti-Chinese League was quite prominent in the eastern States until long after the Second World War.

It was the belief that the cheap labour introduced by the Chinese and poor immigrants from Mediterranean nations undermined the standard of living, and the wage in Australia.

Added to this, was the tendency of employers early on to use ethnic Chinese and Italians, already impoverished by the formal and informal employment restrictions placed on them, as strike-breakers. Australia has a history of strong union membership, and the Chinese, although desparate, were despised for their part.

In 1901, the Immigration Restriction Act passed through the Federal houses of Parliament, and received Royal Assent on the 23rd of December. It was "to place certain restrictions on immigration and to provide for the removal from the Commonwealth of prohibited immigrants".

The practical means by which this was done, was through the administration of a dictation test, by which the Act prescribed that a migrant could be prohibited entry through the administration of a dictation test in a European language, later amended to a "prescribed" language.

There are recorded instances of Italian immigrants being given a test in Swahili, and Chinese immigrants given a test in Danish.

The Prime Minister in 1919, William Hughes, called it "the greatest thing we have achieved". During the second world war, PM John Curtin said: "this country shall remain for ever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race".

After the war, Arthur Calwell, Immigration Minister (not Prime Minister), made the comment quoted above by DMan, and tried to deport all war refugees, including war brides, and aroused the first few anti-racist movements in Australia.

The dictation test was abolished in 1957, and the first non-Europeans given citizenship, and the White Australian Policy was completely removed in only 1973, after the Whitlam Government legislated that all migrants were to be considered, no matter their origin.