From the Introduction: … Perhaps the most iconic figure that has come to epitomise the earliest interactions between colonial Australia and South Asia is that of the male “Afghan” cameleer. However, the catch-all term “Afghan” (or “Ghan”) is a partial misnomer since the cameleers who started making their way to Australia from the mid-1860s onwards were, in addition to Afghan, from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, including Punjabi, Balochi, Kashmiri and Sindhi. Many of these men came from areas that straddle present-day north India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and, therefore, at least some of them were “from British India and were British subjects, originating from east of the Durant line that separated British India from Afghanistan” (Ganter 487). Designating this diverse group of camel-drivers collectively as “Afghans,” rather than recognizing their status as British subjects where applicable, was not merely a case of sloppy record-keeping, but was also politically expedient since, as Regina Ganter points out, it “served the purpose of classifying them as Alien or ‘Asiatics’ under various restrictive laws curtailing their rights to own property, land, or engage in independent business” (487). This variety of immigration reached its height in the 1880s and the political climate during the 1890s became increasingly hostile towards immigrants from Asia. Though the Chinese “bore the brunt” (Jones 11) of the growing anti-Asian sentiment which culminated in the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 (or the White Australia policy), the cameleers too were inevitably affected by it and, of course, by “the invention of the modern engine” which diminished their “utility” significantly (Abdalla 39).

The “Afghan” camel-drivers’ chequered stay in the country is but one example of the kind of strains and anxieties that have informed encounters between South Asia and Australia. The impetus for this JEASA Special Issue came on the heels of the three-day “Australia-South Asia: Contestations and Remonstrances” conference which we co-organised with Professor Marc Delrez and which was held at the University of Liège in January 2017, under the auspices of the European Association for Studies of Australia and the University’s Centre for Teaching and Research in Postcolonial Studies (Centre d’Enseignement et de Recherche en Études Postcoloniales/CEREP). Like the conference, this Special Issue aims to shed light on the multifaceted ties between Australia and South (East) Asia from the nineteenth century to modern times, focusing primarily, though not solely, on the discontents and challenges characterizing the relationship between the two regions.

Taken together, the essays that form part of this Special Issue cover an array of disciplines, including contributions by Geoffrey V. Davis and Thamir Rashid Shayyal Az-Zubaidy, which grapple with literary texts, while John Zubrzycki’s essay, charting the experiences of Indian show people in Australia, draws on the field of cultural history, and Robyn Andrews’s article, situated within the field of cultural anthropology, features interviews with Anglo-Indians in New Zealand and India. This Issue is striking also for its chronological scope, ranging from Ralph Crane and Jane Stafford’s opening essay, which is concerned with “Anglo-India and Australasia in the century from 1820-1920,” to an exploration of “radioactive racism” in contemporary India and Australia by Paul Giffard-Foret in the Issue’s final essay. …

Copyright © Maryam Mirza, Marie Herbillon and Valérie-Anne Belleflamme 2017. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged.