The recent questionable Essential poll on attitudes of Australians to Muslim immigration is not an indication of anything new.

We white colonials have a long and embarrassing history of hating “the other”. The very definition of our land as “Terra Nullius,” denoting the sub-human status of those who lived here for 50,000 years as being without culture or religion, marked our nasty beginnings as the colony of New Holland.

The trepang trade with Macassar from our northern shores, which predated by many decades the intrusion of the British, was even a source of jealousy. Once white people wanted to take over the trade, special laws and duties were introduced to kill it off. It was gone by 1907.

Then the cameleers from Afghanistan, who opened up the interior to European penetration, competed with white bullockies, so they had to go as well. The 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, White Australia, put paid to them.

“The other” even included refugees from the Holocaust who were seen as a threat. Di Stefano of Buzzfeed notes that in 1947 a poll showed that 58% of Australian opposed participating in a global Jewish refugee resettlement program. Most of us remember the opposition to “Balts”, Italians and Greeks coming to our land as recently as the 1960s.

That we have successfully integrated so many successive waves of immigrants, with this nasty resentment of “the other” dying down over a decade or two, is no small miracle.

Bilal Cleland