In the course of researching Indian histories, I frequently encountered Australian references in the archives. This led me to look at Australia-India connections in the early twentieth century as part of an ARC funded project. I felt that the frequent suggestion that Australia and India were equal partners in the British Imperial order (and later, the Commonwealth), skated over a great deal of the historical tensions that continue to underpin the contemporary bilateral partnership, which I have observed directly in my engagement with key stakeholders. Interrogating the complex history of connections (or perhaps more appropriately, disconnections), between the two colonies within the broader framework of empire in the early twentieth century reveals the fissures that were laid as a result of race consciousness, ideologies central to both British domination of India and in the upholding of the White Australia policy. The resulting book-length narrative, British India, White Australia Overseas Indians, Intercolonial Relations and the Empire (2020), provides a pre-history to formal bilateral relations between India and Australia post-decolonisation.

The book will be out in March and can be pre-ordered here.


‘Original and pioneering, this connected history looks at Indian-Australian relations through Empire, race, and postcolonial belonging…told with deep scholarship, irony and style.’ Dilip Menon

‘A history of the triangular relations between the United Kingdom, India and Australia that locates the tensions around the White Australia policy within the British imperial context. Even as Australians and Indians enjoyed a common status as British subjects, the superior rights accorded white colonies belied the myth of imperial equality. As this brilliant book shows, only by escaping empire can Australians and Indians forge independent relations based on reciprocity and mutual respect.’ Marilyn Lake

‘India is the third largest country of origin for overseas-born residents in Australia. Yet, beyond cricket and curry, Australians know little about their shared histories.   In this ground breaking book, Kama Maclean, Australia’s leading scholar of South Asia, fills the gap.  Based on meticulous archival  research Maclean presents an engrossing study of how in the first half of the 20th century Australia-India relations were conducted within the constraints of race in a British imperial context and how in the aftermath of empire, both countries are trying to come to terms with its legacies.  In confronting the issues of race head on, Maclean offers new possibilities for Australia’s place in Asia in the 21st century.’ Lyndall Ryan

‘British India, White Australia doesn’t just reveal the complex and contested colonial relationship between Australia, India and Britain, surveying the wider historiographical, sociological and political issues and debates with a critically and scholarly rigorous approach. Vividly, articulately and affectingly it raises the voices and lives of the people whose stories it tells with compassion and respect, offering the kind of personal stories and unflinching reflection that makes this engaging, enlightening and sometimes confronting book — like Samia Khatun’s Australianama — a vital and innovative addition to the growing body of Indian-Australian scholarship and literature that reinforces Maclean’s importance to the field, and a touchstone for those of us with Australian identities and Indian heritage to understand the relationship between the land of our parents’ birth and our own. It is not just a powerful response and rejection of colonialism, nationalism and racism, but an inspiring and necessary revelation about those lives and stories often marginalised and obscured by the very narratives and political imperatives it so brilliantly interrogates, offering all Australians an opportunity to raise urgent questions, engage in informed discussions and hopefully seek new definitions of what it means to be Australian — and humane — in our post-colonial, globalised world.’ Sunil Badami