Race cards: Labour’s advance on Henry Lawson

Posted: July 24, 2015 by daphna in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,
by Don Franks
Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson

The nineteenth century search for gold always fascinated me when I was a kid. Gold fever and gold rushes were something we had in New Zealand history too, something we shared with America’s magical old west. 

I pointlessly sluiced in Butterfly creek with an old frying pan and dreamed of shanty towns. Around that time I discovered bush ballads, poems in word easily understood, poems written about exciting actions, like gold prospecting.  Henry Lawson’s rhythms pleased me, until the day his wagon went off the road, via the Cambaroora Star.

The Cambaroora Star is for those sentimental about small newspapers. The operator sets up his press on the gold field, advocates for the miners, struggles to make a living and eventually goes the way of all little battlers. Lawson’s poem chugs along nicely until the reader is asked to stomach verses nine and ten:

Diggers then had little mercy for the loafer and the scamp —
If there wasn’t law and order, there was justice in the camp;
And the manly independence that is found where diggers are
Had a sentinel to guard it in the Camboora Star.
There was strife about the Chinamen, who came in days of old
Like a swarm of thieves and loafers when the diggers found the gold —
Like the sneaking fortune-hunters who are always found behind,
And who only shepherd diggers till they track them to the `find’.
Charlie wrote a slinging leader, calling on his digger mates,
And he said: `We think that Chinkies are as bad as syndicates.
What’s the good of holding meetings where you only talk and swear?
Get a move upon the Chinkies when you’ve got an hour to spare.’
It was nine o’clock next morning when the Chows began to swarm,
But they weren’t so long in going, for the diggers’ blood was warm.
Then the diggers held a meeting, and they shouted: `Hip hoorar!
Give three ringing cheers, my hearties, for the CAMBAROORA STAR.’

The Star‘s editor was, of course, just one of many down under racist agitators seeking an audience from working folks. These single operators striving to become rich are easily inflamed. Here they were working away, trying to make something from their little claims and what happens?

Some Chinese come along, yes, ok, basically competing with them on the same terms, but ..but ..they’re Different. Not the same as us, Chinese. Any gold available should surely be for, you know – Ordinary men.

Well, Henry Lawson still sits on shelves in shops and is probably still reprinted, Cambaroora Star and all. Some literary people excuse Lawson’s racism as something that went with the times. Unfortunately the times have not changed. Some important people in society today take Lawson’s road.

Like Labour party leader Andrew Little.  His party claims that first home buyers in Auckland can’t get a look in because houses are being bought up by speculators with Chinese names. Not just “speculators”. That must be ok, because Labour is just fine with market forces. Labour don’t “think that Chinkies are as bad as syndicates”. Labour are just worried about buyers from one particular race.

At the time of writing this, Andrew Little continues to defend his sickening racist policy. Some disgusted Labour party members have quit, others are keeping very quiet. Where Labour’s attack on Chinese people will end up remains to be seen, rejection  of Labour at the next election can only be seen as a vote for civilisation.

  1. daphna says:

    The Listener has an editorial which is highly critical of Labour’s attack on people with Chinese-sounding-names. The editors ask “…how real is the threat supposedly posed by rich Chinese investors? It would come as a surprise to most New Zealanders to learn that the median income for New Zealanders of Chinese ethnicity in 2013 was a very modest $16,000, and that it was higher for Chinese born in New Zealand than for those born overseas. This runs counter to the prevailing narrative that New Zealand is being overrun by wealthy Chinese seeking a haven for their money as China’s economy contracts. In any case, are ethnic minorities less deserving of respect if some happen to be rich? That’s worryingly reminiscent of the rationale used by Nazis against the Jews.”

    A couple of days ago Andrew Little became enraged when Patrick Gower asked him if Labour had spoken to any of the people on their list of ‘Chinese-sounding-names’? Labour clearly hadn’t.

    They didn’t concern themselves with finding out the real economic status of Chinese in NZ because they were playing the race card for what they hope will be political gain. Principles and facts were not required .

  2. Phil F says:

    And I’d guess that rich Chinese in China who wanted to invest money elsewhere would find rather more profitable outlets that buying a couple of vastly over-priced houses in Auckland to rent out.

    It’s interesting that the Listener notes the suggestion that NZ is being over-run. A hundred years ago, Labour was scaremongering about the “teeming millions” of Asia. Racists back then, not just Labour but other racists as well, typically described ‘Asiatics’, especially the Chinese, as not merely going from point A to point B, but teeming wherever they went.

    The verbs, nouns and adjectives used to describe the very small movement of ‘Asiatics’ from one part of the globe to another were as colourful and evocative of things like vermin and ants etc as they were paranoid and racist.

    It’s interesting that the National Party, the descendant of the Liberal and Reform parties (which were certainly as racist against the Chinese as the early Labour Party), has shifted away from anti-Asian racism while so many Labourites just can’t stop playing the anti-Asian race card.