J. McWhae and Opposition to the Maltese

Not all the Australians Casolani spoke with were in favour of encouraging Maltese emigration to Australia. Mr. John McWhae was the Agent General for the State of Victoria. He had represented Melbourne in the State parliament for twelve years and had been a prominent figure in Victorian Politics for a number of years. McWhae not only upheld vigorously the White Australia Policy but he also believed that White meant British and British meant exactly what it said: a person born in Great Britain of parents who were of British stock.

McWhae told Casolani that the Maltese were not British and since they were of alien and foreign origin their entry into Australia should be stopped. McWhae reminded Casolani that he had left a very comfortable home in Victoria to go to London to insist on keeping Australia British in the full sense of the term and to do all he could to bar the entry of foreigners. McWhae told Casolani that the present population of Australia was either Australian-bom or else made up of immigrants who had been born in the British Isles. Men and women of British stock made up 96% of Australia's population and McWhae intended to keep the complexion of Australia as British as possible.

In 1925 Mr. McWhae was back in Australia more determined than ever in his opposition to foreign immigration. In that same year Casolani complained about xenophobic bigots who were waging a campaign in Australia to keep the Maltese out and send home those who had managed to enter under the pretext that they were British. The anti-Maltese campaign was most strident in the Melbourne press.

Casolani noticed that since Mr. John McWhae had returned to Victoria from London there had been in that State "a recrudescence in a most virulent form of the protests against the advent of the Maltese". Casolani did not say that McWhae was actually conducting the campaign against the Maltese but he did note that such adverse propaganda was being stimulated by McWhae's presence and by his comments and speeches and by those of others who spoke like him.

Casolani also suspected that the anti-Maltese propaganda was being controlled and financed by what he called "astute agents" who maintained a high level of hostility against the Maltese in order to keep the Australian labour market free from those who were not of Anglo-Saxon origin.

McWhae was an outspoken politician whose exclusive views on future demographic development were shared by many Australians in all States, particularly among those close to the feelings of the working classes. Foreign workers were not liked for many reasons, especially because foreigners tended to be more hardworking, more disciplined and could survive under harsh conditions and low wages. Foreigners tended to be careful with their money. They bought their houses and in some suburbs the presence of those who had immigrated from foreign parts of the world was made obvious by the high standards shown in the quality of their houses.

During his mission in London in 1922 Casolani tried to establish useful contacts. His failure to convince McWhae did not deter him from trying to win friends for the cause of the Maltese immigrant in Australia. Casolani obtained interviews with Mr. A.H. Ashbolt of Tasmania, Sir Edward Lucas of South Australia, Sir Timothy Coghlan of New South Wales and Mr. J.A. Filhelly of Queensland.

Mr. Edmund jowett of the Country Party received Mr. Casolani on May 19, 1922. Casolani described jowett as an Australian magnate and a very influential politician who represented Queensland in the Federal Parliament. In one of' his speeches Mr. jowett had expressed forceful views on immigration which did not greatly differ from those held by McWhae.

Jowett had declared that he was only in favour of those immigrants who were of British blood and that he opposed the admission of any foreigners. However jowett had been to Malta and he was a friend of the Maltese politician Sir Gerald Strickland. Strickland had held important positions and had been Governor of the Leeward Islands, Tasmania, Western Australia and New South Wales. In 1927 he was to become Prime Minister of Malta.

Casolani left a good impression on Jowett who admitted that he was inclined to consider the Maltese not as foreigners. Jowett thought that the people of the Maltese Islands were similar to those of the Channel Islands whose speech was different from that of mainland Britain but who were British all the same. Maltese had settled in Queensland since the nineteenth century and Jowett felt that they had given a solid contribution to his State.

Casolani had carried out his mission in London single-handed. His island had gained self-government the year before and he showed that Maltese civil servants were capable of working for the good of their people. The Maltese Government was seriously hampered in working for the good of the Maltese people because of the thousands of workers who had been laid off during the previous three years. At that time the only possible solution to ease the pressure of over-population and unemployment was emigration. Entry into the U.S.A. had been seriously hindered since 1921 and Canada remained distant and aloof. Casolani was historically right when he felt that the best overseas outlet for the Maltese migrant was Australia.

The Mission to London conducted by Casolani was an important breakthrough in the history of Maltese emigration. The Superintendent of Emigration spoke and pleaded not only with Australians, but with anybody he considered as potentially capable of helping to absorb the unemployed people of Malta. Casolani spoke in the name of a colony whose only importance at the time was its strategic position in the centre of the Mediterranean. The civil needs of the Maltese could only be considered as subordinate to those of the British Fleet.

Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.

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