Ingeborg van Teeseling

About Ingeborg van Teeseling

After migrating from Holland fifteen years ago and being warned by the Immigration Department against doing her job as a journalist, Ingeborg van Teeseling became a historian instead. She endeavours to explain Australia to migrants new and old at her website, and runs, telling people's life stories.

“Putting Australians first” – our shameful lifetime sentence

Approx Reading Time-11Malcolm Turnbull has gut the 457 visa system to “put Australians first”. As a nation, we have an awkward history with that particular sentence.




Oops, we did it again. “Australians first”, he sang, our beloved leader, quoting from the Great Australian Songbook. So let me give you some more verses, randomly taken from the best source of historical shame, TROVE, the database of the National Library of Australia. Let’s start with the Port Pirie Recorder and North Western Mail of Saturday 12 October 1912. Under the heading “Australians first”, the editor lashes out at farmers “who fondly believed that immigration was going to give them a class of labourers very much superior to the local article”. Instead they are “learning a useful lesson by sad experience … the native-born may want a little more money but, as a rule, they earn it. They may be more resentful of bossing, but, in most cases they have less need of it. The immigrant is often a rather slovenly sort of a worker and always he needs bossing.”

Next, we’ve got the Armidale Chronicle, writing on Saturday 19 January 1924 that “Dame Nellie Melba has struck trouble because she prefers an imported male chorus to Australians. The Australian Theatrical Alliance has taken a serious view of the matter, and has deputationised the Minister for Customs, asking that the provisions of the Immigration Act be applied to prevent the introduction of ‘choristers at night’ and ‘knights of the napkin’ in the day.” Not a clue what that means, but still: “it would seem that there is every justification for the action… good Australians will be thrown out of work and their places taken by foreigners.” Shame on you, Melba! “To read in the cables that , with tears streaming down her cheeks, sang ‘Home, Sweet Home’ would think that she loved Australia and the Australians, and would do everything possible to help them.” But no, there is another side to you, vixen, “a side that is distinctly unpleasant and at variance with all that true Australians love.” This is a matter that “concerns all good Australians. We want Australia for Australians and British stock, and as we have sufficient talent in this island continent to amuse and interest us, we should be satisfied.”

Then, in the next decade, the Sydney Truth of Sunday 15 April 1934 flies the flag for Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Mr Charles Ulm, aviators, of course, or men who “keep hopping backwards and forwards across the Tasman Sea as though it meant nothing.” The newspaper is afraid that we will lose them if the government does not pay them enough: “our airmen have received little encouragement in commercial aviation fields in Australia” and that is dangerous and wrong. “Any air plums that are going should be for our own kith and kin, and this inferiority complex that appears to sway government against anything Australian must be eradicated.”

Also on The Big Smoke

In the 1940s it is the Americans that Australians need to be protected against. On Friday, September 30, 1949, The Southern Mail from Bowral gives voice to the “campaign commenced by the Australian Journalists Association in an endeavour to obtain some protection for Australian black and white artists”. This does not mean black and white people, but men (and maybe sometimes women) who draw pictures for the newspapers. They are “unable to obtain a reasonable living while the country is flooded with comic strips and books drawn by American artists… Their publication means that the Australian artist is afforded no opportunity of using his talent.” Of course, the government is called upon to “protect the Australian artist who has proved himself capable of producing work of a standard equal to any in the world.” Australians first.

In the 1950s, large groups of migrants arrive in a scheme to “populate or perish”. Of course, real Australians are having none of it. The Sydney Sun publishes a letter from IE Roby, ex-RAAF, from Woy Woy, on Wednesday February 1st, 1950. He is angry that British migrants have been given homes at Rooty Hill. What about me, he writes. “I am at present paying $35 per week for two rooms, with no water laid on, and lucky to have that. If some of the money used to bring migrants to Australia were used to build homes for some dinky-di Aussies, there would be plenty of our own little migrants. We have one child, but that will be all until such time as we have a home to give them.”

I could go on, but you get my drift. Oh well, just one more, for luck. The decade is the 1990s, the paper The Canberra Times, the date Tuesday August 4, 1992. A letter from DG Boote from Barton about “aid programs improving the lot of children, especially the children of Africa.” Go, Boote! “Why should we give money to these countries? After all, all the bludgers do is waste it on funding armed forces whose sizes are all out of proportion… to prop up corrupt, power-crazy dictators and their lackeys… I think it’s about time we started getting our priorities in order and we started putting our own needs ahead of those of other people. Therefore, if some kid in Africa has to suffer so that an Australian kid gets all the breaks, then that’s fine by me – at least I’ll know that my hard-earned taxes are being spent where they should be spent and not being wasted on propping up some grubby little Third World junta.”

Aren’t you proud, enormously proud, of the country you live in? And the open-hearted, sharing, caring Prime Minister who leads us with a firm hand? Don’t you agree that Australians should always come first?


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