The shifting attitudes of Australian evangelicals towards race in the 1960s
Australian attitudes to race and racial discrimination were changing in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Commonwealth Government’s policies of restrictive immigration (known as the ‘White Australia’ policy) had enjoyed strong support as the majority of Australians believed the country was destined to be, in the words of Prime Minister John Curtin in 1939, ‘forever 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.’ Yet the Second World War stoked fears of being overrun by Asian masses and this prompted a relaxation of the policy to enable non-British Europeans to become citizens. While this change was motivated by racist fears, over the next decade as former British colonies declared their independence and as the world reflected upon the actions of Nazi Germany, many in Australia started questioning Australia’s racial policy. In 1963, Hubert Opperman replaced Alexander Downer (Sr) as minister for immigration, signalling a shift in the Liberal party, and by 1965 Gough Whitlam had convinced the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to remove its support for White Australia. Yet, as historian Judith Brett notes, there was still significant support for the policy among older ALP members and voters, and among much of the Coalition. Paul Strangio likewise observes a division in Australia regarding the question of race.
Given the pre-eminence of the Church of England in Australia at the time, and the keen sense of Australian identity as white, British and Christian in the previous years, this paper will examine the stance of evangelical Anglicans to race during the 1960s. How did evangelicals negotiate between their belief in the equality of humanity and their legacy of social action in this sphere on the one hand, and their political conservatism and desire to maintain Australia’s Christian identity on the other? Was the majority supportive of restrictive immigration? Were they divided, like the major political parties? What did they think of assimilation policy at home and Apartheid abroad? On what basis did they argue?