Writing the Empire: Scribblings from Below
An international & interdisciplinary conference
Phillipe de Vigors, ‘Convicts letter writing at Cockatoo Island, New South Wales, 1849’
Reproduced by kind permission of the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Event Dates: 25 June 2010
Fiona Paisley, (Griffiths University)
Britain’s Gun Bragging: Aboriginal and Black on the Streets of Interwar London
In 1929 and 1930, the South Asian-Aboriginal advocate of international intervention into Aboriginal rights in Australia, Anthony Martin Fernando kept a diary of his daily life on the streets of London. In three tiny notebooks he wrote (in sometimes staccato form) of local and global matters that shaped his existence, from the daily brutality of racism in East London markets to what he saw as Britain’s criminal influence as an imperial power in the twentieth century. Although Fernando was not unique among Aboriginal activists in placing Aboriginal rights within a global context in the interwar period, he does appear to have been the first to do so from the streets of Europe and London. Since the first years of the century, Fernando had protested the treatment of Aborigines when in Western Australia: having assumed the role of witness to injustices towards Aboriginal people living on the outskirts of a small mining town in that state, he found it impossible to remain in his country of birth, and in middle age left Australia forever. Over the next forty years, Fernando worked in Europe and England, as a metalworker then hawker and trader before being interned during WWI in Austria. After the war, he was employed as a clerk/servant for barristers in central London from where he escaped periodically to Europe to call upon the Swiss people in one instance and the Vatican in another to intervene in Aboriginal affairs. Later in the 1920s, Fernando picketed Australia House, advising passers-by of their implication in genocidal practices in the distant colony, and took up the soapbox at Hyde Park Corner as a passionate speaker against the failure of the Church to defend the colonized. It is from the perspective of these latter protests that this paper focuses on Fernando’s notebooks as a remarkable window onto working class race politics in interwar London as well as a performative literature given their evident use by Fernando to rehearse his public discourse on the limits of modernity. The notebooks are powerfully imbued with the psychological and physiological stresses experienced by Fernando as ‘exile’ and ‘witness’, and express not simply the rational foundations of political protest but also their psychological and embodied wellsprings.
Fiona Paisley, Griffiths University, email
Fiona Paisley teaches cultural history at Griffith University. She is the author of Glamour in the Pacific: Cultural Internationalism and Race Politics in the Women’s Pan-Pacific (2009), Loving Protection? Australian Feminism and Aboriginal Women’s Rights, 1919-1939 (2000), co-edited Uncommon Ground: White Women in Aboriginal History (2005), and has written numerous articles and chapters concerning gender, social justice, and settler colonial history in the first half of the twentieth century. She edited a special issue of the Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History on settler colonialism in 2003.