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Introduction: Bereft of Words

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 September 2019

Jon Piccini
Affiliation:
Australian Catholic University, Melbourne
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Summary

As well as introducing key themes and literature, this introductory chapter deals with the concept of rights in Australian pre’s key period of investigation and setting the scene for a discussion of why human rights emerged as a common rhetorical tool in the 1940s. Movements for the abolition of convictism, appropriate treatment of Indigenous people and universal manhood suffrage from the 1820s up until the 1850s grappled with the long, contested history of British subjecthood. These could serve both democratic and elitist ends, as well as exclude those whose position as a subject was unclear. Movements for women’s rights and against restrictions on Chinese immigration are shown to have encountered some of the inbuilt fetters on the notion of Britishness from the 1850s to the 1880s – specifically its gendered and racial exclusions. Yet, inventive uses were found of the “British Rights” concept by activists working within a firmly patriarchal, racist context where ideas of universality were unpopular.

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Chapter
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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