The Burden of ‘White’ Sugar: Producing and Consuming Whiteness in Australia

Open access


This article investigates the history of the Queensland cane sugar industry and its cultural and political relations. It explores the way the sugar industry was transformed from an enterprise drawing on the traditional plantation crop cultivated by an unfree labour force and employing workers into an industry that was an important, symbolical element of ‘White Australia’ that was firmly grounded in the cultural, political, nationalist, and racist reasoning of the day. The demographic and social changes drew their incitement and legitimation from the ‘White Australia’ culture that was represented in all social strata. Australia was geographically remote but culturally close to the mother country and was assigned a special position as a lone outpost of Western culture. This was aggravated by scenarios of allegedly imminent invasions by the surrounding Asian powers, which further urged cane sugar’s transformation from a ‘black’ to a ‘white man’s industry’. As a result, during the sugar strikes of the early 20th century, the white Australian sugar workers were able to emphasize their ‘whiteness’ to press for improvements in wages and working conditions. Despite being a matter of constant discussion, the public acceptance of the ‘white sugar campaign’ was reflected by the high consumption of sugar. Moreover, the industry was lauded for its global uniqueness and its significance to the Australian nation. Eventually, the ‘burden’ of ‘white sugar’ was a monetary, but even more so moral support of an industry that was supposed to provide a solution to population politics, support the national defence, and symbolize the technological advancement and durability of the ‘white race’ in a time of crisis.

Abbott, Elizabeth. 2008. Sugar: A bittersweet history. Toronto: Penguin Canada.

Affeldt, Stefanie. 2010. A paroxysm of whiteness. ‘White’ labour, ‘white’ nation and ‘white’ sugar in Australia. In Wulf D. Hund, Jeremy Krikler & David Roediger (eds.), Wages of whiteness & racist symbolic capital, 99-131. Berlin [et al.]: Lit Verlag.

Affeldt, Stefanie. 2014. Consuming whiteness: Australian racism and the ‘white sugar’ campaign. Berlin [et al.]: Lit Verlag.

Anderson, Benedict. 1999. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. (Revised extended edn.) London: Verso.

Anderson, Warwick. 2005. The cultivation of whiteness: Science, health and racial destiny in Australia. Carlton: Melbourne University Press.

Andreoni, Helen. 2003. Olive or white? The colour of Italians in Australia. Journal of Australian Studies 27(77). 81-92. DOI: 10.1080/14443050309387853

Anon. 1851. A guide to the great exhibition: Containing a description of every principal object of interest. London: George Routledge & Co.

Argus. 1911. Sugar strike. The Argus. 3 August 1911: 7.

Argus. 1922. Mr. Hughes in Queensland. Sugar and the producers. Fanatic on white Australia. The Argus. 11 November 1922: 29.

Argus. 1923a. Cost of sugar. The Argus. 12 April 1923: 6.

Argus. 1923b. Importance of industry. Bulwark of ‘white Australia’. The Argus. 7 June 1923: 12.

Armstrong, John. 1983. The sugar strike, 1911. In Denis Murphy (ed.), The big strikes: Queensland 1899-1965, 100-116. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Aronson, Marc & Marina Budhos. 2010. Sugar changed the world: A story of spice, magic, slavery, freedom, and science. Boston: Clarion Books.

Banivanua-Mar, Tracey. 2005. Consolidating violence and colonial rule: Discipline and protection in colonial Queensland. Postcolonial Studies 8(3). 303-319. DOI: 10.1080/13688790500231053

Baxa, Jakob & Guntwin Bruhns 1967. Zucker im Leben der Völker: Eine Kultur- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte. Berlin: Bartens.

Baxa, Jakob. 1937. Die Zuckererzeugung 1600-1850. Jena: Verlag von Gustav Fischer.

Berry, Michael. 2000. Refined white. The story of how South Sea islanders came to cut sugar cane in Queensland and made history refining the white Australia policy. Innisfail: Australian Sugar Industry Museum.

Bickham, Troy. 2008. Eating the empire: Intersections of food, cookery and imperialism in eighteenth-century Britain. Past and Present 198(1). 71-109. DOI: 10.1093/pastj/gtm054

Bonnett, Alastair. 2003. From white to Western. ‘Racial decline’ and the idea of the West in Britain, 1890-1930. Journal of Historical Sociology 16(3). 320-348. DOI: 10.1111/1467-6443.00210

Bonnett, Alastair. 2005. From the crisis of whiteness to Western supremacy. Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association Journal 1. 8-20.

Brisbane Courier. 1884. An interview with the ex-prime minister of Queensland. The Brisbane Courier. 24 September 1884: 3.

Brisbane Courier. 1912. The burden of “white” sugar. The Brisbane Courier. 10 December 1912: 6.

Brown, Laurence. 2007. ‘A most irregular traffic’. The oceanic passages of the Melanesian labour trade. In Marcus Rediker, Cassandra Pybus & Emma Christopher (eds.), Many middle passages, 184-203. Berkeley: University of California Press. Bulletin. 1907. (no title). The Bulletin. 14 March 1907: 6.

Certeau, Michel de. 1988. The practice of everyday life. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Chesney, George T. 1871. The battle of Dorking. Edinburgh, London: William Blackwood & Sons.

Craigie, E. J. 1922. The sugar question. The Register. 17 June 1922: 12.

Cresciani, Gianfranco. 2003. The Italians in Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Curthoys, Ann. 1978. Conflict and consensus: The seamen’s strike of 1878. In Ann Curthoys & Andrew Markus (eds.), Who are our enemies? Racism and the working class in Australia, 48-66. Sydney: Hale & Iremonger.

Davison, Graeme. 1985. Unemployment, race and public opinion: Reflections on the Asian immigration controversy of 1888. In Andrew Markus & Merle C. Ricklefs (eds.), Surrender Australia? Essays in the study and uses of history: Geoffrey Blainey and Asian immigration, 101-111. Sydney: Allen & Unwin

Dewhirst, Catherine. 2008. Collaborating on whiteness: Representing Italians in early White Australia. Journal of Australian Studies 32(1). 33-49. DOI: 10.1080/14443050801993800

Dyer, Richard. 2010. White. (Reprinted edn.) New York, NY: Routledge.

Evans, Raymond, Kay Saunders & Kathryn Cronin. 1989. Race relations in colonial Queensland: A history of exclusion, exploitation and extermination. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Favenc, Ernest. 1893. The last of six: Tales of the Austral tropics. Sydney: The Bulletin Newspaper Company.

Figaro. 1884. Griffith’s labour scheme. Queensland Figaro. 13 September 1884: 3.

Fitzmaurice, Andrew. 2014. Sovereignty, property and Empire, 1500-2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139924306

Galloway, Jock H. 1989. The sugar cane industry: An historical geography from its origins to 1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grant, Madison. 1936. The passing of the great race: Or, the racial basis of European history. (4th edn.) New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Griffiths, Philip G. 2009. The heroic shameful role of labour: Mythology in the making of white Australia. Paper presented to the Legacies 09 conference, University of Southern Queensland.

hooks, bell. 1992. Eating the other: Desire and resistance. In bell hooks, Black looks: Race and representation, 21-39. Boston: South End Press.

Hund, Wulf D. 2013. Advertising white supremacy. Capitalism, colonialism and commodity racism In Wulf D. Hund, Michael Pickering & Anandi Ramamurthy (eds.), Colonial advertising & commodity racism, 21-68. Berlin [et al.]: Lit Verlag.

Hund, Wulf D. 2014. Negative Vergesellschaftung: Dimensionen der Rassismusanalyse. 2nd edn. Münster: Westfälisches Dampfboot.

Jensen, Lars. 2005. Unsettling Australia: Readings in Australian cultural history. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors.

Jones, Lee. 2015. Societies under siege: Exploring how international economic sanctions (do not) work. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jukes, Geoffrey. 2002. The Russo-Japanese war 1904-1905. Oxford: Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Kelen, Christopher. 2005. Hymns for and from white Australia. In Alfred J. Lopez (ed.), Postcolonial whiteness: A critical reader on race and empire, 201-231. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Kiernan, Ben. 2007. Blood and soil: A world history of genocide and extermination from Sparta to Darfur. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Kipling, Rudyard. 1899. The white man’s burden. McClure’s Magazine 12(4): 290.

Lake, Marilyn & Henry Reynolds. 2008. Drawing the global colour line: White men’s countries and the international challenge of racial equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511805363

Lake, Marilyn. 2003. White man’s country: The trans-national history of a national project. Australian Historical Studies 34(122). 346-363. DOI: 10.1080/10314610308596259

Lane, William. 1888. White or yellow? A story of the race-war of A.D. 1908. The Boomerang. 18 February 1888: 9, 25 February 1888: 8-9, 3 March 1888: 11, 10 March 1888: 9, 17 March 1888: 9, 24 March 1888: 9, 31 March 1888: 9, 7 April 1888: 10, 14 April 1888: 9, 21 April 1888: 9, 28 April 1888: 9, 5 May 1888: 6.

Macinnis, Peter. 2002. Bittersweet: The story of sugar. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.

Mackay, J. A. Kenneth. 2003 [1885]. The yellow wave. A romance of the Asiatic invasion of Australia. (Ed. by Andrew Enstice & Janeen Webb.) Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Maitland, Edward. 1888. The battle of Mordialloc: Or, how we lost Australia. Melbourne: Samuel Mullens.

Markus, Andrew. 2003. Of continuities and discontinuities: Reflections on a century of Australian immigration control. In Laksiri Jayasuriya, David Walker & Jan Gothard (eds.), The legacies of white Australia: Race, culture and nation, 175-190. Crawley: University of Western Australia Press.

Marsden, John. 1993. Tomorrow, when the war began. Chippendale: Pan Macmillan Australia.

Martin, Peter. 2012. Zucker für die Welt. Die Anfänge der Sklaverei und der Fabrikgesellschaft in Amerika. Berlin: Universitätsverlag der TU Berlin.

Matthews, Basil. 1925. The clash of colour: A study of the problem of race. London: Edinburgh Press.

McClintock, Anne. 1995. Imperial leather: Race, gender and sexuality in the Colonial contest. New York: Routledge.

McGregor, Russell. 2016. Environment, race, and nationhood in Australia: Revisiting the empty north. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

McMullin, Ross. 1991. The light on the hill. The Australian labor party 1891-1991. Melbourne: Oxford.

Mintz, Sidney W. 1986. Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Moraes-Gorecki, Vanda. 1994. ‘Black Italians’ in the sugar fields of North Queensland: A reflection on labour inclusion and cultural exclusion in tropical Australia. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 5(1-2). 306-319. DOI: 10.1111/j.1835-9310.1994.tb00183.x

Nichol, William. 1986. Ideology and the convict system in New South Wales, 1788-1820. Historical Studies 22(86). 1-20. DOI: 10.1080/10314618608595733

Pearson, Charles H. 1893. National life and character: A forecast. London, New York: Macmillan & Co. of Australia.

Phillips, Lawrence. 2000. British slavery after abolition. The Pacific trade. Race & Class 41(3). 13-27. DOI: 10.1177/0306396800413002

Pybus, Cassandra. 2006. Black founders: The unknown story of Australia’s first black settlers. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.

Queensland Sugar Corporation. 1997. Sugar Notes. Brisbane: Queensland Sugar Corporation.

Qui Vive. 1904. Bystander’s notebook. Figures of misery. The Worker, 24 December 1904: 3. Ranken, George (under the nom-de-plume W. H. Walker). 1877. The invasion. Sydney: Turner & Henderson.

Richards, Thomas. 1990. The commodity culture of Victorian England: Advertising and spectacle, 1851-1914. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Roediger, David. 2007. The wages of whiteness. Race and the making of the American working class. (3rd revised edn.) London, New York: Verso.

Ross, Catriona. 2006. Prolonged symptoms of cultural anxiety: The persistence of narratives of Asian invasion within multicultural Australia. Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature 5. 86-99.

Saunders, Kay. 1982. Workers in bondage: The origins and bases of unfree labour in Queensland, 1824-1916. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Schwartz, Stuart B. 1992. Slaves, peasants, and rebels. Reconsidering Brazilian slavery. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Smith, Adam. 1976 [1759]. The theory of moral sentiments. In David D. Raphael & Alexander L. Macfie (eds.), The Glasgow edition of the works and correspondences of Adam Smith (vol. 1.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Smith, Adam. 1978 [1763]a. Early draft of part of The wealth of nations. In David D. Raphael & Alexander L. Macfie (eds.), The Glasgow edition of the works and correspondences of Adam Smith (vol. 5.), 562-581. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Smith, Adam. 1978 [1763]b. Lectures on jurisprudence. In David D. Raphael & Alexander L. Macfie (eds.), The Glasgow edition of the works and correspondences of Adam Smith (vol. 5.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Stoddard, Lothrop. 1920. The rising tide of color against white world-supremacy. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Sydney Morning Herald. 1876. Legislative assembly. The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 August 1876: 3.

Sydney Morning Herald. 1927. Housewives oppose the sugar embargo. The Sydney Morning Herald. 22 September 1927: 11.

Symons, Michael. 2007. One continuous picnic: A gastronomic history of Australia. Carlton: Melbourne University Press.

Tatz, Colin. 1999. Genocide in Australia. (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Research Discussion Paper No. 8.) Canberra: Australian National University.

Thompson, Leonard M. 1960. The unification of South Africa, 1902-1910. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Tocsin. 1901. Topical echoes. The Tocsin. 28 March 1901: 1.

Tweed Daily. 1925. Sugar industry. Bruce will safeguard. The Tweed Daily, 15 October 1925: 2.

Walker, David. 2005. Shooting Mabel: Warrior masculinity and Asian invasion. History Australia 2(3), 89.1-89.11. DOI: 10.2104/ha050089

Weiß, Anja. 2010. Racist symbolic capital: A Bourdieuian approach to the analysis of racism. In Wulf D. Hund, Jeremy Krikler & David Roediger (eds.), Wages of whiteness & racist symbolic capital, 37-56. Berlin [et al.]: Lit Verlag.

Wolff, David, Steven G. Marks, Bruce W. Menning, David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, John W. Steinberg & Yokote Shinki (eds.). 2007. The Russo-Japanese war in global perspective. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV.

Worker. 1890. The editorial mill. The Worker. 13 December 1890: 1-2.

Worker. 1901. A white Australia. The Worker. 30 March 1901: 2.

Worker. 1904. The white man’s burden. The Worker. 24 December 1904: 1.

Worker. 1905. Some new year reflections. The Worker. 30 December 1905: 2.

Wright, Johnson K. 2002. Historical thought in the era of the Enlightenment. In Lloyd Kramer & Sarah Maza (eds.), A companion to Western historical thought, 123-142. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. DOI: 10.1002/9780470998748.ch7

Studia Anglica Posnaniensia

The Journal of Adam Mickiewicz University

Journal Information

Cite Score 2018: 0.08

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.1
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.095


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 603 419 17
PDF Downloads 294 252 20