“Breaking through” against Terrorism?: The Government’s Counter-Narrative and a Matter of Transparency

International Relations, Media & Communications, National politics, Society & Culture

Last week I received, among the usual array of unsolicited online communications, something from a researcher from the London-based social communications company, Breakthrough Media. The pro forma email said that BM (my abbreviation, not theirs) was casting a new online TV series and were on the lookout for people aged over 50 (that’s me!) to be in the show…apparently they were particularly interested in folk in that demographic “who love to chat, have a laugh and would like to know how to Email, Skype, Facebook, Online Shop, Online Bank, or use the Internet” (capitalisation all hers!).

The message went on to say that they were “also looking for tech savvy friends, family members, or colleagues, who could team up with the Over 50 candidates to be their teaching buddy, during filming” (in August). What they specifically wanted from me was leads on “great potential candidates” for the program. Now, taken on face value, this all sounded innocent, admirable even, very community minded.

Elizabeth House: BM’s ‘anonymous’ London location
I had never heard of “Breakthrough Media”…just another of the new media start-ups in the ever mushrooming world of social networking I supposed, and usually I ignore such online pitches. But somewhat intrigued I decided to try to find out a bit about them. Their website would be a good place to start, I thought❈. It was however unsurprisingly jargon-laden and disappointingly short on substance…the website’s description of what BM was about, went “we design and build award-winning campaigns that tackle some of the world’s toughest social issues, helping our clients counter misinformation, prevent violent extremism, promote democracy and protect the environment”. Full of jargony generalities such as “our strategic thinking and our creativity are joined-up and informed by real-time audience engagement…(and) inspiring positive social change” (www.breakthroughmedia.org). In its job advertisements the company describes itself thus: “Breakthrough is a communications agency and production company. We specialise in conflict resolution, society building and countering violent extremism”. Again, the message resonates with progressive, international goals and desirable outcomes.

I turned to other, independent, commentators and observers of Breakthrough Media…frankly there wasn’t much on the web about the media company, but one fairly thorough dissection of BM’s role and its background was contained in a 2016 report by The Guardian on Britain’s RICU (the Research Information and Communications Unit) [‘Inside Ricu, the shadowy propaganda unit inspired by the cold war’, The Guardian, 03-May-2016, (Ian Cobain, Alice Ross, Rob Evans & Mona Mahmood)]. RICU was created in 2007 as an arm of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OCST) and funded by the Home Office. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue defines RICU’s function as “coordinating government-wide communication activities to counter the appeal of violent extremism while promoting stronger grass-roots inter-community relations [www.counter-extremism.com]. RICU’s work is a key part of Westminster’s anti-radicalisation program, ‘Prevent’.

The relationship between RICU and Breakthrough Media
Where does BM fit into the picture of RICU and its fight against extreme fundamentalism, terrorism and ISIS? The two have a contractual arrangement: RICU pays BM to produce digital materials, films, Twitter feeds, Facebook profiles, YouTube clips, and the like, which promote the UK government’s anti-terrorism policies. The propaganda, emanating from BM on behalf of the Home Office (BM unsurprisingly prefers the term “strategic communications”) is aimed at Muslim communities, the desired outcome being “a reconciled British Muslim identity”. As The Guardian report revealed, BM’s stratagem is to “influence online conversations by being embedded within target communities via a network of moderate organisations that are supportive of its [sic] goals”.

An uncomfortable and problematic relationship?
BM is well remunerated by OCST for its counter-terrorism work (earning a reported £11.8M during 2012-2016), but its role as a conduit for RICU has some disquieting aspects. BM’s contacts with Islamic communities, either directly or through its PR team Horizon Public Relations, is not transparent. BM represents its work to the public without disclosure of its connection to the British government. At least one former government minister has conceded (to The Guardian) that deception in the dissemination of the messages could damage trust between the government and Muslim citizens. Other outspoken critics of this practice include human rights lawyer Imran Khan and the vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations Frances Webber who saw it as giving an appearance that Muslim groups had been co-opted to a government agenda [‘Revealed: UK’s covert propaganda bid to stop Muslims joining Isis’, The Guardian, 03-May-2016, (Ian Cobain et al)].

Advocacy groups and critics of the Home Office policy have complained that RICU/OCST uses the Muslim Civil Society Organisations (MCSO) as mouthpieces for their government counter-narratives, irrespective of whether the MSCO are aware of it or not [‘The Home Office is Creating Mistrust within Muslim Civil Society’, (CAGE, 16-May-2016), www.cage.ngo

The Guardian also showed how RICU (as the paymasters) have an editing role in the finished work of Breakthrough…RICU’s head Richard Chalk is an occasional visitor to BM’s Lambeth office – Chalk can be found at times sitting in the edit suites and monitoring the BM productions. One source of the newspaper indicated whilst Breakthrough projects are not strictly scripted by RICU, they’ll “make it clear that they want a particular form of words to be used at a particular point in a film”⚀.

RICU and BM are also linked in a veil of secrecy in regard to the media, as The Guardian discovered. Neither parties allow their staff to talk to the newspapers about their roles in counter-terrorism. BM cited reasons of ‘confidentiality’ and ‘NFP’ to the The Guardian for its reticence. The paper’s investigative team did unearth the fact that even some of the freelancers employed by Breakthrough to do RICU’s clandestine bidding were unaware of BM’s (covert) connection with the British government.

Given the scale of the threat posed, the majority of Britons would have few qualms about the Home Office using its agencies to engage in “industrial scale propaganda” in a bid to counter ISIS’s propaganda machine and its success in poisoning the minds of some young Muslim Britons [B Hayes & A Qureshi, ‘Going global: the UK’s government’s “CVE” agenda, counter-radicalisation and covert propaganda’, (Open Democracy UK, 04-May-2016), www.opendemocracy.net]. BM have undeniably produced some good work in getting the message across, but where it becomes ethically questionable is when contractors like Breakthrough Media and co-opted NGOs present their counter propaganda whilst in the guise of being “independent, community-based campaigns”, when the reality is that the information they are disseminating to schools, university ‘freshers’ and the like is backed (and guided in most cases) by the government.
❈ a number of the links on the website menu were broken at the time I accessed it…that internet know-how training they were talking about might have come in handy in the BM IT department!
OCST itself was the successor to IRD (Information Research Department), a top-secret body set up by Britain’s Foreign Office in 1948, during the early dawn of the Cold War, and wound up the same year Elvis died (1977).The Independent has drawn attention to IRD’s questionable record during its existence of disseminating anti-Communist propaganda routinely exaggerating stories of Soviet atrocities and anti-British plots, S Lucas, ‘REAR WINDOW : COLD WAR :The British Ministry of Propaganda’, The Independent, 26-Feb-1995, www.theindependent.co.uk
The Guardian also disclosed that BM’s founding directors have pre-existing links to the governing Conservative Party

Back to the Future: 1946 – a Vintage Year for Presidents

Futurism, National politics, Political History

Donald John Trump, TRUMP – the name most uttered or tweeted about in the world during the last twelve months, was born in 1946. Three of the last four US presidents in fact were born in 1946 … it was a good year for future president procreation!

In chronological order they are Bill Clinton (elected 1992) George W Bush (elected 2000) and Donald Trump (elected 2016)❈. Wedged between these last two septuagenarians is the almost ‘obscenely’ young (by comparison) Barack Obama (born 1961).

In the post-war period the sequence of resident presidents of the White House has gone Truman (born 1880s), Eisenhower (born 1890s), Kennedy (born 1910s), Johnson (born 1900s), Nixon then Ford (1910s again), Carter (1920s), Reagan (1910s again), Bush I (1920s again), Clinton then Bush II (1940s), Obama (1960’s) and back to the 1940s for the present incumbent, “The Donald”.

The 1930s – a decennium devoid of presidential origins
No president has ever been born in the 1930s … barring some extraordinary event (President Trump was an extraordinary event!) it is probably safe to say that there will be no US commander-in-chief born in the 1930s⊛. Putting aside the thorny notion of impeachment for a moment, the next president will be elected in November 2020 … it is highly, highly improbable that America (unlike say India) will unearth from obscurity some 80-plus-year-old (I was going to say ‘politician’ but of course you no longer need to be a politician to become president of the United States, so maybe, media celebrity, ex-B-grade film actor, etc) who gets him or herself elected to the Oval Office.

All this means that the 1930s (together with the equally un-fecund 1810s) are destined to be the only decades in the history of the Republic without a (future) presidential birth. Every decades between the 1730s (when the first two presidents Washington and Adams I were born) and the 1800s witnessed the birth of one or more American presidents. The same goes for the decades from the 1820s to the 1870s inclusive.


❈ Three presidents born in the same year: another presidential oddity is the frequency of left-handers among the recent incumbents – Obama, Clinton, George HW Bush, Reagan … that’s four of the last six prezs having been of a sinistral bent! Yes mollydookers of the world, you too can become president
⊛ Not to overlook that also no president has been born in the 1950s either, thus far … but during the last presidential election season, Trump turned 70, Hillary Rodham Clinton turned 69 and Bernie Sanders 75, so there’s still plenty of time for the 1950’s crop of White House wannabes to elbow their way to the top!

The Eugenics Movement in Australasia V: The Fate of the Social Movement after World War II

National politics, Racial politics, Regional History, Social History, Society & Culture

BMA building, Sydney
BMA building, Sydney
Decline of eugenics in Australasia
Unlike the US the eugenics movements in Australasia failed to even make legislative inroads, let alone implement their theories with any measure of success. Mandatory sterilisation did have genuine community support – from eugenicists, the medical profession, the health bureaucracy, racial hygiene and feminist organisations – but its extreme agenda did not secure the acquiescence of the general public behind it. Moreover, Claudia Thame concluded in her 1974 paper that only a “small minority of zealots” in Australia (some members of the BMA – British Medical Association) held an extreme position on sterilisation[1]. Most practitioners of eugenics in the country tended towards the segregation approach.

Eugenics ideas continued to have some credence after World War II – although not legislated by state authorities, sterilisations continued to be performed on the disabled, especially those with an intellectual disability. Commonly in rural Australia this was done without proper consent (or only with the consent of a third party). Girls from impoverished backgrounds unfortunate enough to be chosen for sterilisation often were told they were having appendectomies. In an era of deinstitutionalisation the eugenic motive for sterilisation tended to be overridden by that of contraception. It was an easier alternative for medical authorities to resort to hysterectomies and tubal ligations than to spend money on educating disadvantaged parents on how to handle their children’s sexuality[2]. There remains a continuity with present practices❃.

1928 Mental Defectives Bill: New Zealand
1928 Mental Defectives Bill: New Zealand
In New Zealand the 1928 Mental Defectives Amendment Bill was the eugenicists’ best legislative hope for Aeotearoa. It provided for the establishment of a national eugenics board and its sterilisation clauses came close to being law but failed to pass due to a combination of government doubts about the public support for sterilisation and the concerted political opposition to it from Peter Fraser and the Labour Party and intellectuals like university professors Thomas Hunter and Arthur Fitt[3]. Subsequently, the Act’s provision for the registration of mental ‘defectives’ was pursued by the state “without enthusiasm or notable result”[4].

As with Australia and other western countries the lack of legislative support for sterilisation did not prevent its continued ad hoc practice in NZ. Data on involuntary sterilisations of the disabled in postwar New Zealand is sketchy but the numbers of women involved are thought to be significant … like elsewhere, the eugenic motives of the prewar period have a diminished importance, in their place the demand for sterilisation is driven by the priority of managing the sexuality and reproductive capacity of disabled girls and women (also as “an adjunct to the management of bodily hygiene”)[5].

Many churches went along with the eugenics orthodoxy and some Protestant clergymen actually advocated eugenics✥. The Catholic Church however, with its large Irish-Catholic working class following in Australia as well as New Zealand, staunchly opposed eugenics on theological (moral) grounds (the Vatican condemned artificial methods of birth control which interfered with “natural reproduction”)✦. Another formidable institution with class-based objections to the goals of eugenics was the trade union movement. Although not operating as a unified opposition against the spread of eugenics, there were significant sections of organised labour who were concerned that laws affecting mental defectives would heavily target working class children and withheld their support for it[6]. There was considerable skepticism within the Australian and New Zealand working classes about eugenics, many on the left saw it as espousing “elitist definitions of unfitness”[7].

IQ tests continued to be fashionable in the 1950s & beyond: giving ‘scientific’ credence to the stigmatising of those in society labelled as “less intelligent”
By the 1950s in Australasia eugenics had become unfashionable and had fallen out of favour with the public at large … biologists and other scientists, distancing themselves from the discredited eugenics tag, were shifting their focus and energies to working in the dynamic and burgeoning field of human genetics.

❃ incapacity for parenthood is still used as a valid justification by the Australian judiciary to authorise sterilisations – eg, the ‘burden’ of parents having to deal with the menstrual management of their disabled daughters, even in some cases where the girl was pre-menstrual!, ‘Fact Sheet: Forced Sterilisation – People With Disabilities Australia’, (C Frohmader, Women With Disabilities Australia, submission, 53rd Session of the Committee Against Torture, Geneva, Nov 2014)
✥ non-Catholic church support for eugenic aims in Australia and New Zealand was not as powerfully concentrated as it was in the United States
✦ practicing Catholics as a block tended to oppose eugenics, including writers of the faith such as G K Chesterton, Graham Greene and James Joyce

[1] C Thame, ‘Health and the State: the Development of Collective Responsibility for Health Care in Australia in the first half of the Twentieth Century’, (PhD dissertation, ANU, 1974)
[2] J Goldhar, ‘The Sterilisation of Women with an intellectual disability’, ‘Law and Society Conference’ (Brisbane, December 1990), www.austlit.edu.au
[3] T Taylor, ‘Thomas Hunter and the Campaign Against Eugenics, NZJH, 39(2) 2005
[4] M Finnane, ‘From dangerous lunatic to human rights?: the law and mental illness in Australian history’ in C Coleborne [Ed.], Madness in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum
[5] C Hamilton, ‘Sterilisation and intellectual disabled people in New Zealand – still on the agenda’, Kōtuitui: the New Zealand Journal Social Sciences Online, 7(2), Nov 2012
[6] S Garton, ‘Eugenics in Australia and New Zealand: Laboratories of Racial Science’, in A Bashford & P Levine [Eds.], The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics
[7] ibid.

The International Climate for Eugenics after 1945: Decline? Transformation? Redux?

National politics, Regional History, Social History, Society & Culture

As bad as the atrocities committed by the German National Socialists under the guise of “eugenics science” were, it would surprise some to learn that it did not put a death knoll on the practice and advocacy of eugenics in western countries. After the war governments and some eugenicists tended to be a bit more circumspect in talking about the subject but in countries like Great Britain and the United States, rather than disappearing, eugenic ideas and (especially in the US) programs continued to flourish.

The British Welfare State and National “Social Efficiency”
Comparatively, Britain never remotely matched that the eugenics legislative zeal of the US, after WWII however UK policy-makers’ enthusiasm for and belief in eugenics remained high. In 1946 influential English macroeconomics guru John Maynard Keynes was still proclaiming that eugenics was “the most important and significant branch of sociology”[1].

The British Eugenics Society (BES) adopted a manoeuvrable position in the wake of the widespread discrediting of eugenics after the war. BES directed its efforts towards the “rebrand(ing) of race … by arguing that it remained a valuable concept for study” and dismissing the Nazi experience as an aberration which distorted and abused the concept of eugenics. The restrained, liberal stance taken by BES in the United Kingdom ensured the continued support for the Society of progressive and respected scientists like Julian Huxley and J B S Haldane[2].

imageClare Hanson characterises eugenics as less a science than a social and cultural movement, drawing its power from its “dissemination across a range of discursive fields”[3]. Hanson notes that eugenics played a key role in post-war British reconstruction, its ideas sustained and incorporated into the development of the country after 1945. The national efficacy goals of eugenics were visible in the Attlee Labour government’s endorsement of the ‘meritocratic’ ideal. Postwar education reform in the UK illustrates this: the division of secondary education into three strands – grammar, technical and modern – was a philosophical approach geared to the needs of social efficiency, not social justice. A further connexion with pre-WWII’s eugenics was the seminal roles in public policy in the postwar reconstruction and foundation of the welfare state played by eugenics advocates William Beveridge and Richard Titmuss[4].

America: controlling the reproduction of minorities
Across the Atlantic in the US there seems to have been broad support for sterilisation prior to WWII. This was inferred by two polls taken in 1937 … one by Fortune magazine found that 66% supported the existing sterilisation laws, the second, a Gallup poll found 84% in favour of sterilising the chronically mentally ill[5]. Eugenics programs continued to have a vitality after the war. Moreover in a number of states of the US there was a continuance (albeit a reduction in numbers) of forced sterilisations (over 64,000 American people were sterilised under eugenics legislation between 1907 and 1963[6]. The word ‘eugenics’ was removed or downplayed but eugenics ideas still circulated in public discourse (as in Britain) – in the 1950s it manifested in the emphasis placed on family values and child rearing (ie, concerns about the quality of the population). US eugenicists who had flourished in the 1930s reinvented themselves postwar as “genetic scientists” and “marriage counsellors”, some using the term “genetic counselling” to explain what they did[7].

Nth Carolina's sterilisation record
Nth Carolina’s sterilisation record
One of the leading American eugenics propagandists was Dr Clarence Gamble (heir to the Procter and Gamble “Ivory Soap’ fortune). Gamble funded ‘Birthright’, a birth control organisation, and embarked on a sterilisation drive through the South and Midwest in the 1940s, having most success in North Carolina where he established a ‘showcase’ sterilisation program. Gamble had an intense personal involvement (and financial investment) in the compulsory sterilisation cause, spearheading a saturation campaign of national television ads. Significantly, eugenics activities in postwar America, in a shift from prewar, targeted minorities for remedial action (ie, sterilisations). Enforced sterilisation programs in California were directed primarily at Asians and Mexicans whilst the southern states’ preoccupation was with controlling the African-American population[8].

The end of eugenics? … or a new, ‘better’ form of eugenics by a different name?
As indicated above, revelations of the horrors of Nazi eugenics during the Third Reich and the news of the worse excesses of sterilisation in the US and elsewhere did not put an end to belief in the supposed efficacy of eugenics or to the practice itself. The term was in the main quietly sidelined but the thing itself is like Ulysses’ “bag of winds” or Pandora’s Box – once opened, it is virtually impossible to stop. The desirability of breeding better humans has continued to exercise the minds of the scientifically curious. Eugenics may have passed out of the lexicon (in any positive sense at least)❈ but interest in genetic arguments and ideas remain✥. Many in the scientific community agree with evolutionary theorist R A Fisher that “technically advanced civilisation is unsustainable without eugenics” (The genetical theory of natural selection. A complete variorum edition, 1930)[9].

Public opinion in Britain and America after the war, influenced by a growing recognition of civil and human rights of citizens, became increasingly disaffected with the illiberal idea of coerced sterilisation. Consequently the practice largely came to a halt in the US around the early to mid 1960s[10]. However isolated calls for ad hoc voluntary sterilisation continue to be voiced (often under the guise of “social protection”) regarding people labelled as “low IQ”, “mentally defective” or with large welfare-dependent families[11].

PostScript: A comparative look at the exceptionalism of Scandinavian eugenics
The pattern of legislation on eugenics in the Nordic countries was quite different to the experience of politicians in other western countries. At the height of the eugenics phenomena in the twenties and thirties, sterilisation and marriage bills had an easy passage into law in Scandinavia, with surprisingly little opposition. In the case of Sweden especially, the 1934 Act was not repealed until 1975, by which time there had been upward of 63,000 sterilisations performed on citizens deemed ‘unfit’ by the state to procreate (the great majority on women)回. Scandinavian historians have tended to attribute this to a combination of factors many of which were peculiar to the pheripheral region of North-eastern Europe. These include the rapid industrialisation and modernisation of towns from the late 19th century … the emerging secular and scientific nature of life in Scandinavia contributed to this easy acceptance. Other factors in the explanation for why there was general consensus with the eugenic objectives was the commonality of the Lutheran faith and culture and the relatively egalitarian character of the Scandinavian social structure[12].

Sweden’s eugenic practices stretched from the mid 1930s to the 1970s, with the targeted groups of people coming from the poor, of mixed racial quality or of non-Nordic stock. Often the victims were labelled as educationally ‘inferior’, their sin being that they had learning difficulties such as poor eyesight preventing them from reading the class blackboard[13].

Nils Roll-Hansen has pointed out that Scandinavian society was quick to reject the excesses and unscientific attitudes of eugenics (eg, in Nazi Germany), whilst not rejecting the basic ideas and beliefs of eugenics. The political structure inherent in the Nordic countries was considered conducive to the success achieved by proponents of eugenics. The dominant labour parties (especially the Swedish Social Democratic Party) elicited effectively co-operation from the labour organisations in implementing social policy (as part of the country’s “social contract”). Roll-Hansen has contended that the region’s liberal-democratic tradition with its stress on the rights of the individual ensured that the eugenic practices that were put in place were moderate only[14]. The unearthing of Roll-Hansen and Broberg’s ‘bombshell’ had a big effect on Scandinavians, especially the Swedes … in 1999 Sweden agreed to compensate victims of forced sterilisations, offering each individual affected up to 175,000 kronors[15].

❈ to be replaced with terms like “human genetic science” or “human genetic engineering”
✥ eradicating disease, lengthening the human lifespan, the human genome project, genetic enhancement, environmental and food applications, etc.
回 Sweden was the only one of the Nordic states with a national eugenics society

[1] V Brignall, ‘The eugenics movement Britain wants to forget’, New Statesman, 9-Dec-2010, www.newstatesman.com
[2] G Schaffer, Racial Science and British Society, 1930-1962. With the name ‘eugenics’ becoming a taboo word post-WWII the BES eventually changed its name to the Galton Institute … likewise in the US, the American Eugenics Society finally changed its name in 1973, becoming the more neutral-sounding Society for the Study of Social Biology
[3] C Hanson, Eugenics, Literature and Culture in Post-war Britain; S Garton, ‘Eugenics in Australia and New Zealand: laboratories of racial science’, in A Bashford & P Levine [Eds.], The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics. Eugenics has also been described as a straight out political movement, a form of ruling class consolidation, M Quigley, ‘The Roots of the I.Q. Debate. Eugenics and Social Control’, PRA (Professional Research Associates), www.publiceye.org
[4] ibid.
[5] Also, the New York Times in 1933 opined that the US policy on sterilisations was “harmless and very humane”, P Levine, Eugenics: a Very Short Introduction
[6] states leading the way were California, Virginia and North Carolina, ‘Eugenics in the United States’, op.cit.
[7] L Ko, ‘Unwanted Sterilizations and Eugenics programs in the United States’, PBS, 29-Jan-2016 www.pbs.org; P Lombardo, ‘Eugenic Sterilization Laws’, in the Eugenics Archive, www.eugenicsarchive.org; Encyclopedia of American Social Movements, Ed. by I Ness (D Hoff, ‘Survival of Euugenics’). Genetic counselling had the same euphemistic usage in Britain after the war with the first genetic counselling clinic in the UK opening in 1946
[8] K Begos, ‘The American eugenics movement after World War II’ (3 parts), Indy Week, www.indyweek.com. Paul Ehrlich’s highly influential Population Bomb (1968) in advocating world population control derives its premise from eugenics thought and rhetoric
[9] F K Salter, ‘Eugenics Ready or Not’, Quadrant, 11-May-2015, www.quadrant.org.au
[10] although it has been revealed that as recently as the mid 1970s over 3,000 native American women were involuntarily sterilised by the IHO (the US Indian Health Service), G W Rutecki,’Forced Sterilization of Native Americans: Late Twentieth Century Physician Cooperation with National Eugenic Policies’, Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, 8-Oct-2010, www.cbhd.org
[11] ‘Compulsory Sterilization’, Wikipedia, www.em.n.wiki.org
[12] N Rolls-Hansen, ‘Conclusion: Scandinavian Eugenics in the International Context’, in G Broberg & N Rolls-Hansen [Eds], Eugenics and the Welfare State: Sterilization Policies in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland
[13] ‘Sweden admits to racial purification’, The Independent,, 25-Aug-1997, www.independent.co.uk
[14] Rolls-Hansen, op.cit.
[15] ‘Sweden to reflect on eugenics past’, The Local (Sweden), 21-Dec-2005, www.thelocal.se

The Eugenics Movement in Australasia III: Sacrificing ‘Coloured’ Pawns to the Altar of a White ‘Racial Fantasy’

National politics, Racial politics, Regional History, Social History, Society & Culture

Probably the most iniquitous part of the eugenics movements’ social engineering, certainly in Australia, was the policies and practices of state governments towards their indigenous populations in the first half of the 20th century. The measures against aboriginals and Māori are the most manifest examples of the premise, the assumption, on which eugenics sits, that “some human life is of more value than other human life”[1].

The systematic discrimination and abuses of native Australians was conducted in the main by paternalistic, middle class white men who believed, or convinced themselves that they believed, they were doing the right thing, the humane thing, for the black people of the continent who were thought to be “irreconcilably backward”.

The perception of the “aboriginal issue” in Australia was fed by the prevailing eugenics ideologies at the time, and the treatment of aborigines was typified by the approach adopted in Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. All chief protectors of aborigines in Queensland during the years 1900-1942 advocated a policy of racial segregation❈. Whilst governments and administrators emphasised that this was a ‘protective’ measure for the ‘good’ of the aboriginals themselves, the self-serving eugenic motives of the power wielders was always very close to the surface of public policy.

Orphanage of removed children, WA c1930
Orphanage of removed children, WA c1930
The perimeters of white Australia’s assimilation policy for indigenous peoples was set in the 1937 Commonwealth and states conference which agreed on the policy objective of absorbing at least “the natives of Aboriginal origin but not the full blood”[2]. Australian political leaders and administrators generally followed an assimilation approach which had two planks to it – a mandatory biological assimilation (to ‘outbreed’ the blackness of aborigines), and a cultural assimilation aimed at “half-caste” aboriginals (removing them as children from their indigenous familial environment and nurturing them into the white ways of Australian society and ‘civilisation'[3].

Emily Wilson has shown the extent to which miscegenation and racial contamination was an overriding concern for decision-makers in Queensland✤. There was an inordinate and obsessive fear of “half-castes” whose numbers many thought were on the rise◈. Queensland eugenicists believed this imbalance’ threatened the supposed “inviolate purity” of the White Australian Policy. Marriages or unions between other coloured minorities, such as the Chinese, and aborigines was also frowned upon by the Queensland authorities. Governments went sometimes to extreme lengths to keep whites and blacks separate to spare whites from the dangers of supposed aboriginal degeneration. This meant moving indigenous people out of the cities and into rural reserves where they could be better controlled.

Apprehension of miscegenation played on white minds constantly … fears were voiced on the street and in parliament about that worst of all fates, the mixing of different racial blood, be it black-on-white or coloured-on-white. The political class in Australia, left, right, protectionist or free trader, were all on a unity ticket in the debates on the necessity of achieving a White Australia, eg, (John) Chris Watson, Labor Party leader of the house, vented against the mixing of the coloured and white peoples (resulting in) “the possibility and probability of racial contamination” [Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, 6-Sep-1901]; as did Issac Issacs, high court judge and future governor-general, warning of the need to avoid “the contamination and the degrading influence of inferior races”[Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, 12-Sep-1901].

With Aboriginal protectors like these …
Colonial attitudes of “white supremacy” of the protectors(sic) were at best transparently disguised under the thinnest of veneers … Cecil Cook, the Chief Protector of Aborigines for the Northern Territory, called for authorities to “breed out the colour” of aborigines – making a mockery of his job title![4] Cook also endorsed segregation of black Australians, favouring forcible institutionalisation of aboriginals … Cook argued this was integral to public health policy, describing it as “a prophylactic measure” for white health.[5]. Cook as chief medical officer of NT had a great fear that blacks would with the aid of health interventions come to outnumber the white population in NT. Accordingly his view on aboriginal women with gonorrhoea was to leave them untreated and leave them to die out, putting a hold on aboriginal numbers in the Territory[6].

“Smoothing the dying pillow”
The white majorities in both countries believed that the “full-blood” tribal aborigines and the Māori people were racially inferior and destined to die out[7], and that the country should be inhabited by “good white stock” who would be capable of defending the Empire. The European elite pursued assimilation policies towards its indigenous minorities, the plan was to ‘absorb’ and ‘uplift’ the “half-castes” in society. The indigenous population bore the brunt of policies of eugenics ideology enacted by the government. In Australia A O Neville, an avid proponent of eugenics and Chief Protector of Aborigines for Western Australia for 25 years from 1915, was responsible for the controversial policy of removing aboriginal children from their families (the “stolen generation”). Neville’s two-pronged approach to ‘controlling’ the indigenous population involved “biological absorption” – deciding just who aboriginals under his control could marry, and by ‘assimilating’ the offspring of those marriages into white society.

Neville, like Cook in the Northern Territory, was haunted by the prospect of aborigines eventually swamping Western Australia with their numbers … his master-plan for realising an “all-white” WA involved the diluting of the skin colour of aborigines – a deliberate but controlled (‘progressive’) miscegenation, so that each succeeding generation would have lighter skin. After two or three generations the result would be an appearance acceptable to the non-indigenous community, aboriginals would be “perceived as white” and the indigenous settlements could be closed … the process would eradicate all aboriginal characteristics from white society. Neville’s scheme was thwarted by the hostile opposition of racist white people in WA who refused to countenance the planned mixed marriages[8].

Māori village, early 20th century
Māori village, early 20th century
In New Zealand the race planners crafted a fail-safe policy to deal with the Māori ‘issue’ – assimilation was proposed for those Māoris who did not succumb to what polygenists thought would be their ultimate destiny, extinction. NZ’s Taranaki Herald of 1852 proclaimed almost triumphantly, “The Maori race is doomed wherever the Anglo-Saxon appears”. The perception of the Māori in NZ as transitory was underlined by the fact that in NZ ‘Official Yearbooks’ prior to 1940 the national population figure was given “exclusive of Māori”. Even after demographic trends had demonstrated that the Māori birth rate was again on the ascent (Māori population rose from 40,000 in 1896 to 50,000 in 1911), many white eugenicists clung on to this prejudicial and outdated notion of ultimate extinction of the race[9].

PostScript: Pākehā Pseudo-medicine, Craniology
The New Zealand eugenicists assumed that the Māori would be fully absorbed into the dominant and supposedly superior Pākehā culture[10]. The dominant Pākehā society accepted the untested conventional wisdom that the Māori had inferior mental capacity, and army surgeon Dr A S Thomson ‘proved’ this in reaching the conclusion after random testing that Maori heads were smaller than European heads![11]

❈ in the 1940s the Queensland absorption policy on aborigines gave way to one of assimilation
✤ the eugenics preoccupations of the governing class in Queensland were further exacerbated by climate conditions. The tropics of Northern Queensland were widely thought unsuitable for white men and women, whereas they were believed to suit the “different constitution” of aboriginal and other coloured peoples (eg, Kanaks) … thus raising another source of anxiety for whites already fearing that their potency was waning
◈ the white elite enunciated this concern whilst completely sidestepping the uncomfortable reality that it was white men who brought about any such increase in “half-castes” by raping and impregnating black women

[1] be the value of that preferred life to the state, the nation, the race, or to future generations, Levine and Bashford described this as the “evaluative logic” at eugenics’ core, A Bashford & P Levine, ‘Introduction’, in A Bashford & P Levine [Eds], The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics
[2] ‘No 3. Aboriginal Societies: The Experience of Contact. Changing Policies Towards Aboriginal People’, (Australian Law Reform Commission), www.alrc.gov.au
[3] What Stefan Haderer accurately if somewhat dramatically calls “the white supremacist biological and cultural assimilation project of the twentieth century”, S Haderer, ‘Biopower, whiteness and the Stolen Generations: The arbitrary power of racial classification’, Critical Race and Whiteness Studies, 9(2) 2013, www.acrawsa.org.au
[4] E J Wilson, ‘Eugenic ideology and racial fitness in Queensland, 1900-1950’, Unpub. PhD thesis, (Department of History, University of Queensland, May 2003),
[5] Cook in 1930 government report, quoted in A Bashford, Imperial Hygiene: A Critical History of Colonialism, National and Public Health
[6] ibid.
[7] this myth lingered on far past its use-by-date, in Queensland still maintaining some currency as late as 1949, Wilson, ibid.. The white colonialists in both countries (Aust. & NZ) subscribed to the notion of “smoothing the dying pillow” (a term popularised by anthropologists Daisy Bates and A P Elkin). To the European mindset aborigines and Māori were assumed to be doomed races and the ‘best’ thing was to facilitate their demise, a miscegenation solution resulting in a hybrid race but one dominated by the “biologically superior” white stock, ‘Smoothing the Pillow of a Dying Race. A.A. Grace’, Maoriland : NZ Literature 1872-1914 (NZ Electronic Text Collection), www.nzetc.victoria.ac.nz
[8] ‘Bring them home – chapter 7’, Australian Humans Rights Commission, www.humanrights.gov.au; G R Robertson, ‘Well-intentioned Genocide’, www.geoffreyrobinson.com
[9] ‘Page 2 – Overview of Māori and Pākehā relations in the twentieth century’, New Zealand Race Relations, NZ Historywww.nzhistory.govt.nz;
C Leung, ‘Australia’, 24-Feb-2014, (Eugenics Archive Aust). Retrieved 8-Nov-2016 from www.eugenicsarchive.ca/discover/connections/530b8d09acea8cf99a0000000001, J Stenhouse, ‘The Darwinian Enlightenment and New Zealand Politics’, in R M MacLeod & P F Rehbock [Eds.], Darwin’s Laboratory: Evolutionary Theory and Natural History in the Pacific
[10] J Belich, ‘European ideas about Māori – the dying Māori and Social Darwinism’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/European-ideas-about-maori/page-4 (assessed 6-November-2016)
[11] Stenhouse, op.cit.

The Eugenics Movement in Australasia II: “Racial Fitness”, The ‘Melbourne School’ and the Racial Hygiene Association

National politics, Popular Culture, Racial politics, Social History

Melbourne: Hub of the Australian Eugenics Movement
Melbourne, and more precisely, the University of Melbourne, played a pivotal role in eugenics before WWI and especially during the interwar years. Melbourne University was in the forefront of the academic dissemination of eugenics ideology, its academics persuasive in their efforts to shape public policy on health❈. With professor of anatomy Richard Berry the principal advocate of the racial ‘purification’ cause on campus, the university spawned the Eugenics Education Society (EES). According to Ross Jones the EES “eugenicists operated primarily as a pressure group within the university, the education department and various government agencies and committees”[1]. Later the society morphed into the Eugenics Society of Victoria (1936). The obsessive skull-measurer Berry declared war on “rotten heredity”, calling for mandatory sterilisation and segregation of aborigines, the poor, homosexuals, prostitutes, criminals, alcoholics, the mentally ill, people with small heads and those with low IQs. Berry also advocated for a “lethal chamber” to euthanise “the grosser types of our mental defectives” as he described them (including Australian aborigines)[2].

Prof Berry
Prof Berry
Berry was the zealous “campaign director” for the dissemination of egregious ideas about race and the advocacy of eugenic interventions in Victoria, but he had plenty of other willing collaborators at Parkville (the university). Other Melbourne U professors up to their elbows in the eugenics movement included educationalist Frank Tate¤, biologist Baldwin Spencer and one-time vice-chancellor John Medley. Zoologist Wilfred Agar, like the others also honoured with an eponymous building at the university[3], was at one time “chief protector” of Aborigines(sic) in Darwin where he vilified aborigines and happily oversaw the removal of indigenous children from their families[4]. Another influential proponent of eugenics was Berry’s friend, the psychiatrist William Ernest Jones. Jones railed against “low-class Roman Catholic Irish” in whom he detected an “inherent lunacy”[5]

The campaign driven by the Victorian Eugenics Society resulted in mental deficiency legislation passing through Victorian parliament in 1939 but the eugenics policies were never implemented¤ ※ initially because of the onset of war (and later on after shocking revelations about the Holocaust came to light)[6]. Meanwhile, over the border in NSW, eugenicist doctor and minister for health Richard Arthur met similar difficulties with his 1930 mental defectives bill which failed to be passed. The so-called ‘reform’ eugenicists whilst still intent on denying sectors of the community some of the fundamental rights of citizenship (including the right to marry and to reproduce), also undertook interventions aimed at societal improvement (slum clearance, health reforms, educational reforms)[7]. Despite the wholesale discrediting of the eugenics movement from the 1940s the Eugenics Society of Victoria lingered on until 1961, having steered a course away from outright endorsement of eugenic measures.

Other pillars of Victorian society also firmly entrenched in the eugenics camp included newspaperman Sir Keith Murdoch (Rupert’s father), the CEO of the organisation that became CSIRO, Sir David Rivett, and the founder of ACER (Australian Council of Educational Research) Kenneth Cunningham. The involvement of many of the eminent has not received the scrutiny that Berry has … academic Ross Jones suggests a “conscious cover up” of prominent Melburnians took place post-war with the whole subject of eugenics becoming taboo[8] (there seems to be a pattern of excising the unsavoury activities of eugenicists from biographies to ensure reputation preservation for many implicated in the Australasian movements – see also PostScript).

Feminist-Eugenists and the Racial Hygienists
The progressive circles of Australasian society with an interest in eugenics included middle class women’s groups. Several prominent feminists, for the most part well-educated, were in the vanguard of the eugenics movement. Their agenda was focused very much on birth control for poorer, working class women. In Australia the NSW Racial Hygiene Association (RHA), founded by Lillie Goodisson, Marion Piddington (an early advocate of artificial insemination) and Ruby Rich in 1926, endorsed selective breeding to end hereditary disease and defects, and campaigned without success for the “mentally handicapped” to be segregated and sterilised. The Sydney-based RHA started the first birth control clinic in Australia in 1933✤. As the practice of eugenics became increasingly stigmatised the RHA shifted its focus to family planning with an organisational name-change in 1960 reflecting this change.

The RHA were instrumental in campaigning for pre-marital safeguards to ‘purify’ the White stock … hygiene clinics, mental and physical tests and the issuing of certificates of approval to engaged couples who tick all the right boxes for ‘purity’. In a similar vein south of the Murray the Eugenics Society of Victoria were demanding compulsory pre-nuptials health checks for couples as late as 1947[9]. The New Zealand bureaucracy had matrimonial ‘purity’ checks as well … those couples who obtained an official Eugenic Certificate received a piece of paper affirming that they had been adjudged to possess “a perfect physical and mental balance and unusually strong Eugenic Love possibilities (necessary for) “the future welfare of the race”.

New Zealand women for “race improvement”: organised volunteers and ‘femocrats’
Across the Tasman various NZ elite women’s groups were active in combating what they saw as the degeneracy of society. As noted by Angela Wanhalla, “New Zealand women’s organisations were among the most vocal supporters of eugenic attempts at race betterment”[9]. These middle-class dominated groups included the National Council of Women, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Farmers’ Union (Women’s Division)[10]. As well as the volunteer organisations! many ‘femocrats’ in the professions and government bureaucracies added their voices to the chorus advocating eugenics as the way forward to a better New Zealand[11].

‘Grass roots’ racial fitness in NZ
New Zealand’s quest for ongoing, nationwide improvements in the eugenic fabric of the country included the periodical measurement of Pākehā schoolchildren. In 1927 bureaucrats delighted to announce that New Zealand children were taller and heavier than their English counterparts (and than Australian as well!)◘. These findings reinforced the belief that New Zealand was the ideal nursery for British stock. Agricultural-based New Zealand missed no opportunity to promote itself as “Britain’s farm”, the exporter of primary products to the ‘Mother’ country[12].


PostScript: No retrospective … the past practice that dare not speak its name
Devotees of conspiracy theories would revel in the apparent hush up subsequently of the involvement of many prominent Australasians in eugenics. A cursory thumb-through of ADB and DNZB✡ biographies of Australasian public figures (especially medical practitioners, scientists and educationalists), largely written before the 1990s, is very revealing. In the mini-bios of figures who were significant and even integral in some cases to the eugenics movements in Australia and New Zealand, eg, Richard Berry, Frank Tate, Kenneth Cunningham, Raphael Cilento, Harvey Sutton, Elizabeth Gunn, Truby King and Duncan MacGregor, eugenics doesn’t rate a mention – any reference to their key historic roles in eugenic causes have been discreetly omitted (or if mentioned at all their eugenics careers have been swiftly glossed over). By the 1950s most eugenicists still practicing in Australia and New Zealand had, as elsewhere, sought to distance themselves from the negative connotations of the eugenics title by adopting new designations such as “human geneticist”, ‘sociologist’ or ‘demographer'[13].


❈ the University of Melbourne’s counterpart in the US was the University of Virginia, a stronghold of the belief and practice where a “eugenics mania” existed (see also ‘The Eugenics Movement in Australasia IV’)
¤ one of Tate’s pet projects as director of education was aimed at excluding working class kids from secondary and tertiary education, in sharp contrast to his NSW counterpart Peter Board’s equality of opportunity approach
※ compare with the success of eugenics legislation in the US – in the 1920s and ’30s sterilisation laws were passed in 24 of the (then) 48 states
✤ the RHA and other elite other women’s groups were undoubtedly inspired and enlightened by the international trail-blazers in the birth control field … British palaeobotanist Marie Stopes and American nurse and sex educator Margaret Sanger, both strongly committed eugenics ideologists
◘ measurement to determine physical fitness became a pastime of state officials on both sides of the Tasman. In Australia, welfare worker Dr Mary Booth was a consistent advocate for even more anthropometry, as was eugenicist Dr Harvey Sutton. Many of the anthropometrically-inclined like fitness expert H C Bjelke-Petersen were perturbed to discover that the chest-girth of the typical white schoolboy in Australia was “distressingly small”, W Anderson, The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health and Racial Destiny. All of the eugenic emphasis on measurement did have a utilitarian purpose in encouraging statistics-gathering by the state
Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University; Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, NZ Ministry for Culture & Heritage)

[1] R L Jones, ‘Eugenics in Australia: The Secret of Melbourne’s Elite’, The Conversation, 21-Sep-2011, www.theconversation.com
[2] Australasian politicians were pretty much in synch with the eugenicist-scientists, certainly in regard to craniometry – in 1911 Australian PM Andrew Fisher urged the state premiers to regularly measure the heads of state schoolchildren, Walker, op.cit. Craniology – examining the human skull to ascertain supposed racial differentiation, harks back to the earlier (19th century) pseudo-science of phrenology which purported to divine(sic) character and mental capacity by also examining the skull; E Cervini, ‘A theory out of darkness’, Sydney Morning Herald, 13-Sep-2011, www.smh.com.au
[3] community disquiet about the retention of eugenicist nomenclature at Melbourne University is a topic that is gaining heat, E Cervini, ‘Its time Melbourne Uni stopping honouring eugenicist Richard Berry’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6-March-2016. The focus remains on the unapologetic Berry who never recanted his eugenicist beliefs and maintained a collection of aboriginal ancestral remains in the Anatomy building on campus
[4] M Dobbin, ‘Heart of darkness: Melbourne University’s racist professors’, The Age (Melbourne), 30-Nov-2015, www.theage.com.au
[5] S G Foster, ‘Jones, William Ernest (1867–1957)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jones-william-ernest-6882/text11929, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 19 November 2016
[6] Jones, ‘Secret of Melbourne’s elite’, op.cit.
[7] R L Jones, ‘The master potter and the rejected pots: Eugenic legislation in Victoria, 1918-1939’, Australian Historical Studies, 1999; 30(113)
[8] A C Wanhalla, ‘Gender, Race and Colonial Identity: Women and Eugenics in New Zealand, 1918-1939’, Unpub. Thesis for MA in History, (University of Canterbury, NZ, 2001)
[9] Cervini, ‘Theory out of darkness’, op.cit.
[9] Wanhalla, op.cit.
[10] A Bashford, Imperial Hygiene: A Critical History of Colonialism, National and Public Health
[11] A Rees, ‘The Quality and not only the Quantity of Australia’s People. Ruby Rich and the Racial Hygiene Association of NSW’, Australian Feminist Studies, Vol 27 2012 – Issue 71, http://dex.doi.org/10.1080/08164649.2012.648262, pub. online: 07-Mar-2012; ‘The Racial Hygiene Association of New South Wales’, (Wikipedia), www.en.m.wikipedia.org; A C Wanhalla, ‘Gender, race and colonial identity : women and eugenics in New Zealand, 1918-1939’, (CORE, University of Canterbury 2001), www.core.ac.uk
[12] P Mein Smith, A Concise History of New Zealand
[13] D H Wyndham, ‘Striving for National Fitness: Eugenics in Australia 1910s to 1930s’, (Unpub. PhD thesis, Department of History, University of Sydney, July 1996)

The Eugenics Movement in Australasia I: Preserving the White Elite from Dysgenic Degeneracy

National politics, Popular Culture, Racial politics, Social History

The belief in eugenics, the science (or as modern eyes would see it – the pseudoscience) of “improving the quality of the human race, especially by selective breeding”❈, had a powerful hold on societal thinking in Australia and New Zealand in the first half of the twentieth century, as it did elsewhere in the world, predominantly in western countries or western-implant societies.

Sir F Galton
Sir F Galton
The term “eugenics” itself was coined in the latter 19th century by English polymath and statistician Francis Galton, whose views had been informed by the theories on “the preservation of favoured races” (Origins of the Species) of his second cousin Charles Darwin (coincidentally Darwin’s son, Leonard, was a leading eugenicist in Britain). Galton linked heredity to Social Darwinism. Sometimes called “race science” or more euphemistically “racial hygiene”, eugenics ideology in its day had a duality to its basis. On the one hand it assumed the natural superiority of the white race (because of its ‘good’ genes), on the other, that same ‘superior’ stock was being assailed by a countervailing threat of physical, psychological and moral degeneration of the race coming from those elements of society labelled as ‘inferior’ (the dysgenic or cacogenic sections of society).

A cycle of low fertility rates in the West commencing in the late 19th century together with rising levels of crime and the emergence of welfare state dependency provoked concerns of moral and physical degeneracy of the white race[1]. In Australia this concern prompted a Royal Commission into the Decline of the Birth Rate in NSW in 1904. The widespread perception in Western countries was that the decline was hitting the “good stock” hardest, as a consequence ‘inferior’ people of “low racial stock” were out-breeding the ‘superior’ stock of the country❇.

White societies like Britain and the Dominions were viewed as becoming ‘soft’ and ‘weak’ and the foundations being laid for the welfare state in the UK were attacked as contributing to this ‘decay’ – the survival and multiplication of the poor, the deranged and other “social undesirables” was a financial burden on the state, driving up the welfare costs. Even the man who later provided the blueprint for the British welfare state post-WWII, pursued a strong eugenics agenda. William Beveridge in 1909 called for the ‘defectives’ within society to be denied their “citizen rights” – “the franchise … civil freedom and fatherhood”[2].

Britain, the US, New Zealand, Australia and other countries were informed by ‘scientific’ notions of eugenics and sought to implement policies and practices which remedied this trendஐ. This was a two-fold process, the first involving so-called positive eugenics – elevating or ‘purifying’ the racial stock by encouraging the so-called ‘fit’ people in society to procreate more (in New Zealand the act of providing literature on contraceptives was proscribed in the 1900s). Simultaneously the states sought to deal with negative eugenics (or more precisely dysgenics¤), identifying those members of society thought to be ‘unfit’ for procreation (people of unsound mind, of physical deformity, the intellectually handicapped, the epileptic, the criminal classes including prostitutes, slum dwellers, homosexuals, dipsomaniacs, the indigenous non-white population and other marginalised sections) and either segregating them, preventing them from marrying or having them sterilised to stop their sexual reproduction[3].

The E tree
The E tree
Some of the contemporary popular fiction produced in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, etc. played on the anxieties of a “race war” which put the supremacy of the white European in peril. Influential writers such as Charles H Pearson in Australia, helped to shape these perceptions with books like National Life and Character: a Forecast which argued that it was the “racially defiled” non-white races with their higher birth-rates, not the white race with its relentless imperial juggernaut, that was on the ascendency[4].

What sectors and groups of society were in the Vanguard of the Eugenics Movements in Australasia?
The eugenicists and fellow travellers of the eugenics movement were drawn from the elite circles of Australian and New Zealand society§ – including politicians, scientists, medical practitioners, educators, academics, social workers, women’s groups, churches and clergymen (excluding the Catholic Church). Other professionals such as psychiatrists, anthropologists and magistrates aided and abetted the work of the movement. Eugenics was not a left /right thing, support for it came from across the political spectrum – from socialists and conservatives both.

Opponents of Eugenics in Australasia
Although eugenic thought was accepted as the normative approach to tackling social problems in the interwar period, it was not universally countenanced by all sectors of Australian and New Zealand society. Opposition to eugenics came from organised working class elements, ie, the trade unions, as well as from the Catholic Church, from moral campaigners (concerned that sterilisation might lead to increased promiscuity), from some medical practitioners (also concerned that the poorly educated sterilised would be sexually indiscriminate and spread VD[5], plus wary of the legal ramifications of sterilising citizens), and from public intellectuals and scientific dissenters.

The eugenics movement in Aeotearoa
New Zealand in the first 40 years of the 20th century presents a similar story to its large trans-Tasman neighbour. The New Zealand Eugenics Education Society, founded in 1910, led the call for eugenic measures necessary it claimed to manage the population and ensure a healthy country. Grass roots pressure prompted a government investigation in 1924 which concluded that there was a birth-rate disparity distorting the population’s genetic balance – “the ‘fit’ were being swamped by the ‘unfit'”. It informed a view that NZ was in racial decline as a consequence of growing numbers of the feeble-minded and social defectives which eugenicists argued posed a social menace[6].

Chief Justice Sir Robert Stout was one of the leading figures in NZ eugenics in the first half of the century. Stout in a discursive and often anecdotal lecture to the Wellington Eugenics Society in 1912 espoused the standard eugenicist position. Stout linked heredity to fatal diseases, condemned high levels of alcohol consumption and cigarette-smoking, and warned that “the peerage” was committing “race suicide”, “the best blood” was being “enervated” and supplanted by the “second best”, “the extinction of the race was being seen everywhere”, etc[7]. Chief Justice Stout’s race views carried even more weight because he had previously been premier of NZ in the late 19th century. William Chapple was another leading NZ eugenicist who was influential in the NZ movement through his dual roles as medical practitioner and Liberal Party politician. His book Fertility of the Unfit advocated enforced sterilisation in certain circumstances.

In touch with the latest currents in eugenics thinking in Britain and the US, eugenicists in Australia and New Zealand whole-heartedly set about rejuvenating the racial ‘fitness’ of Australians. This would be achieved they believed by encouraging the elite in society to procreate, whilst at the same time, with the aid of legislators, denying those they labelled as “social misfits” or ‘degenerates’ that same right to reproduce[8].

The Scoutmaster-General
The Scoutmaster-General

PostScript 1: British Models
The Australian and New Zealand eugenics movements took impetus from the larger and more advanced movements in Britain and the US. The leading British eugenicists themselves acknowledged a debt to Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scouting movement. Baden-Powell’s emphasis on the traits of character[9], discipline, citizenship and patriotism were appealing to eugenicists such as Karl Pearson and Caleb Saleeby. Dr Saleeby wrote in ‘The progress of eugenics’: “If national eugenics is ever achieved in Great Britain, it will come through the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides”[10].

PostScript 2: Eugenics, an agricultural template
Sidestepping the moral and ethical considerations, some contemporary eugenics enthusiasts made the argument for efficacy based on agricultural models. They advocated the utilisation of the successful principles of selective stock and plant breeding, applying them to the reproduction of humans to improve the quality of future generations. One US agricultural society member in 1911 summed it up in a straightforward, no nonsense sort of way, “better horses, better cattle, better hogs …. (why not) … better babies?”[11] The agriculture/eugenics nexus has a further dimension in the US … two of America’s foremost eugenicists, Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin, had been chicken breeders.

❈ some basic definitions to begin with – the etymology of the word ‘eugenics’ is Greek, from eugenes, root derivation: eu-, ‘good’ or ‘well’, + -genos, ‘birth’ or ‘stock’ … contrast with dysgenics, dys (‘bad’ or ‘ill’) + -genos, Collins Concise Dictionary (Australian Edition, 1995)
ஐ the US in particular was a hotspot of the eugenics movement, producing pro-eugenic films like The Black Stork (1917) which preached a chilling message of “Kill defectives, Save the Nation”
¤ this dysgenic sensibility, that race disintegration was occurring was so universally pervasive in the early 1900s that even black intellectuals in America led by W E B DuBois advocated that the ‘Negro race’ guard against racial decay by elevating up the “talented tenth” of the black community
Charles Darwin himself was ahead of the movement expressing elitist eugenics views in 1871 in The Descent of Man, “We civilised men…. do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick.. . thus the weak members of society propagate their kind.”
❇ the offspring of “low stock” were characterised as “the increasingly disproportionate progeny of the criminal” who were “swamping civilisation”, R Waddell, (Preface) The Fertility of the Unfit, cited in E J Wilson, ‘Eugenic ideology and racial fitness in Queensland, 1900-1950’, Unpub. PhD thesis (Department of History, University of Queensland, May 2003),
§ pointedly, many of the top figures (especially the medical doctors) in the Aust/NZ eugenics movements were born in Britain and migrated to the Antipodes

[1] the self-doubt harboured by Britons and by colonials in other dominions of the Empire was accentuated by a further sense of diminution after the Anglo-Boer War felt by the British professional classes, resulting what has been described by C L Bacchi as a “gloomy heredity determinism”, C L Bacchi, ‘The Nature-Nurture Debate in Australia, 1900-1914, Historical Studies, (19) 1980, quoted in M Cawte, ‘Craniometry and Eugenics in Australia: R.J.A. Berry and the Quest for Social Efficiency, Historical Studies, (22) 1986
[2] D Sewell, ‘How eugenics poisoned the welfare state’, The Spectator, 25-Nov-2009, www.spectator.co.uk
[3] ‘Story: Contraception and sterilisation Page 5 – Information about contraceptives’ Encyclopedia ; ‘Eugenics – Positive And Negative Eugenics’, http://medicine.jrank.org/pages/2210/Eugenics-Positive-Negative-Eugenics.html; some eugenicists, driven by fear of miscegenation, advocated complete segregation of races, especially prominent in South Africa and the USA; S Dubow, ‘Placing “Race” in South African History’, in W Lamont [Ed.], Historical Controversies and Historians, (1998),www.disciplinas.stoa.usp.br
[4] ‘Charles Henry Pearson’, Wikipedia, www.en.m.wikipedia.org. The race war notion – especially in regard to Japan’s emerging Pacific presence – found a fervid home in the Australian and New Zealand press and literature in the early century, eg, ‘The Commonwealth Crisis’, published in The Lone Hand, presents a fantasy scenario of a Japanese invasion of the Northern Territory, D Walker, ‘National Identity’, in J Jupp [Ed.], The Australian People: An Encyclopaedia of the Nation, Its People and their Origins
[5] Venereal disease was exceptionally virulent during the Great War, and in the prevailing eugenics environment in Australia, an indicator of what constituted racial ‘unfitness’ … the dilemma for society’s ruling elite as the war went on was that ‘respectable’ citizens also found themselves victims of the disease!, M Larson, ‘The iconography
[6] A Wanhalla, ‘New Zealand’, 23-Oct-2014, (Eugenics Archive NZ). Retrieved 8-Nov-2016 from www.eugenicsarchive.ca/discover/connections/544873c7d861fb0000000001
[6] ‘Eugenics – Problem of the Race – a lecture by Sir Robert Stout’, Evening Post (Wellington), 6-Aug-1912 https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/EP19120806.2.53
[7] Neo-Malthusian ideas informed eugenics thinking, especially regarding fertility control, R A Soloway, ‘Neo-Malthusians, Eugenists, and the Declining Birth-Rate in England, 1900-1918’, Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn, 1978)
[8] Baden-Powell declared in 1911: “Our business is to … pass as many boys through our character factory as we possibly can”, M Rosenthal, The Character Factory: Baden-Powell and the origins of the Boy Scout movement
[9] M A Hasian, The Rhetoric of Eugenics in Anglo-American Thought
[10] C Muir, The Broken Promise of Agricultural Progress: An Environmental History