Events

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tongue-Tied

Writing about the great journalist Egon Erwin Kisch in passing a few days ago brought up this anecdote:
Kisch's visit to Australia as a delegate to an anti-fascist conference in 1934 was later chronicled in his book Australian Landfall (1937). The right-wing Australian government repeatedly refused Kisch entry because of his previous exclusion from the UK. Under the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, visitors could be refused entry if they failed a dictation test in any European language. This law was used to enforce the White Australia policy by ensuring that potential Asian immigrants were given an impossibly hard test. Kisch was one of the very few Europeans to be given the test; he passed the test in various languages but finally failed when he was tested in Scottish Gaelic. The officer who tested him had grown up in northern Scotland, and did not have a particularly good grasp of Scottish Gaelic himself. Kisch then took matters into his own hands. He jumped five meters from the deck of his ship onto the quayside at Melbourne, breaking his leg in the process. This dramatic action mobilised the Australian left in support of Kisch. In the High Court case of R v Wilson; ex parte Kisch the court found that Scottish Gaelic was not within the fair meaning of the Act, and overturned Kisch's convictions for being an illegal immigrant.
And we think we have problems with our immigration law.

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