Beyond a white Australia? Race, multiculturalism, Indigenous sovereignty and Australian identities

Author: Catherine Koerner

Koerner, Catherine, 2011 Beyond a white Australia? Race, multiculturalism, Indigenous sovereignty and Australian identities, Flinders University, School of International Studies

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact with the details.


The social construction of race has been central in the debates about Australian identities since colonial violence founded the nation. The relationship between sovereignty, nationhood and whiteness is of central concern to this thesis. There are two underlying premises to this thesis. The first is that Indigenous people conducted their sovereignty prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the 1770's. The second is that Indigenous people did not cede sovereignty, which continues to this day. The thesis is an empirical critical and discursive analysis of the narratives of Australia, as a settler society, and its colonial legacy as a 'white Australia'. This thesis argues that Australia has protected its white sovereignty through four key points. First, that the Australian nation has been produced as a racialised entity with whiteness as the hegemonic norm which which shapes white power and privilege in Australia; second that multiculturalism in Australia has been used as a framework to deal with difference within which race is obscured; third that white Australian discourses of nation and identity are limited in their ability to be located in Indigenous sovereignty; and finally, that discourses of multiculturalism and Indigenous sovereignty are rarely addressed in a coherent manner resulting in what I call the 'great divide'. This thesis seeks to understand how whiteness, as the hegemonic norm, prevents non-colonial Indigenous-non-Indigenous relations in the everyday lives of white Australians. The literature in the area of critical race and whiteness studies predominantly focuses on discourse analysis and only a small group of researchers apply the theories to empirical research. Further, the literature on multiculturalism and the literature on the area of Indigenous sovereignty have historically been separate areas of research that are based in metropolitan areas. The researcher conducted in-depth guided interviews with 29 adults who self-identified as 'white Australian' in order to analyse the key discourses of race and to understand the complexities of how whiteness and race is socially produced and lived in rural Australia. This research makes a contribution toward meeting these gaps in the critical literature on race and the construction of everyday whiteness in Australia.

Keywords: Australian identities,whiteness,race,multiculturalism,Indigenous sovereignty,race relations

Subject: Development Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2011
School: School of International Studies
Supervisor: Associate Professor Jane Haggis and Associate Professor Susanne Schech