Chinese-Australian history was well covered at the Australian Historical Association Conference but when I reviewed my conference notes I realised that a number of the sessions I attended were about the relationship between India and Australia. I have only dabbled in this history during a seminar in my honours year, but increasingly I feel drawn to learn more. Indians have lived in Australian since colonial times and the two countries have a strong historical association due to being fellow members of the British Empire. Aside from these specific associations, my interest in secularism draws me to Indian history. Leading researchers in this area recommend attention be given to the manner in which India has dealt with religion and state.
It was fitting that the keynote presentation was delivered by an authority in Indian colonial era history, Professor Sir Christopher Bayly of the University of Cambridge. He gave a comparative overview of the two countries, titled ‘India and Australia: Distant Connections’. He noted that the original peoples of both countries were subjugated and land appropriated by the colonial conquerors and that both countries experienced violence – between settlers and Aboriginal people in Australia and in India, the Rebellion of 1857. The English legal system used in both countries had difficulty accommodating the native peoples because evidence under oath was traditionally only accepted from Christian witnesses.
Bayly commented that Australian self-government became an ‘icon’ for Indians agitating for independence. However, Australia was a flawed icon in Indian eyes as they read about Australia’s treatment of Aborigines. In questions afterwards, Bayly noted that the colonial era Calcutta newspapers had a significant amount of news about Australia, more so than another significant member of the empire – Canada. Why was this? There were significant shipping connections between Australia and India. Continue reading