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A social laboratory

In 1913, Australia enjoyed an international reputation as the social laboratory of the world. Relatively free of the entrenched class divisions of the ‘old world’ and richly endowed with land and mineral resources, Australia’s population of ‘transplanted Britons’ lived in a democracy with progressive social policies. To many, the country offered ‘infinite potential’ for the improvement of the race.

Scientific research and new technologies transformed approaches to health, housing and nutrition. Traditionally disadvantaged groups looked for opportunities to shape the conditions of their lives. Women seized the vote in federal elections in Australia from 1902, and turned their attention to international suffrage and improving conditions for women to work and raise children. Trade unions sought to establish fairer conditions for workers.

Adoption of the White Australia policy, and the commonly held belief that Indigenous people were a ‘dying race’, allowed the misconception that Australia would soon be a purely white nation to flourish.

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