Focus on a great injustice: 'Global Colour Line' wins Queensland Premier's book award

A book co-authored by La Trobe University historian Professor Marilyn Lake has won this year's Queensland Premier's History Book Award, sharing the prize of $15,000.

Titled Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men's Countries and the Question of Racial Equality, the book was written with Professor Henry Reynolds from the University of Tasmania and jointly published by Cambridge University Press in the UK and US, and Melbourne University Press in Australia.

Launched by former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, the book has received widespread critical acclaim. The judges described it as a 'wonderfully ambitious book, superbly researched and elegantly argued, (which) refreshes and re-casts our sense of one of the great injustices of the modern age'.

Professor Lake is an ARC Professorial Research Fellow at La Trobe University, a member of the Council of the Academy of Humanities and Vice President of the Australian Historical Association. She said: 'We were absolutely delighted to win this award.'

'Our book aimed to locate our national history in a global context, but during the six years it took to research and write it, we came to see the dynamic interconnections between Australian, American, South African, Japanese and Chinese histories. Ideas circulated and so did emotions. The colour line was global, but so were the campaigns to erase it, the international campaigns for racial equality and human rights.'

Professor Lake describes the work as 'a book for its time as Australian history - at both school and university levels - is increasingly orienting itself to larger global narratives'.

In the vanguard: Presenting the award (on 16 September), the judges said: 'Drawing the Global Colour Line shows that Australian attempts to define and defend "whiteness" through the infamous white Australia policy were in the vanguard of a global movement towards racial exclusion.

'Instead of a narrow national story, Lake and Reynolds focus on the interplay of attitudes, ideas and policies across the English-speaking world - Britain, North America, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand - that saw notions of democratic equality and racial difference translate into racist policies of segregation, deportation and white privilege.

'As English speaking supremacy appeared to be threatened by immigration, "coloured labour" and the rise of Asian powers, Lake and Reynolds show how the Australian experience intersected with similar fears and anxieties elsewhere to shape fundamentally the race relations and politics of the twentieth century.'

Note: Professor Lake's win is the second State Premier's literary prize for La Trobe University historians this year. It follows the award for the best first history book in the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards to Dr Robert Kenny for his book, The Lamb Enters the Dreaming: Nathanael Pepper and the Ruptured World (Scribe Publications) (see La Trobe historian wins Premier's award for book on early Aboriginal Christian conversion).

That book deals with the conversion to Christianity of the first tribal Aborigine in Victoria by missionaries, illuminating a highly significant moment, in 1860, when European society and Aboriginal spirituality collide on the colonial frontier.


Professor Marilyn Lake,
School of Historical and European Studies,
La Trobe University
03 9479 1610