“Behind the white curtain”: Indian students and researchers in Australia, 1901–1950

Amit Sarwal (SLAM, The University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji)
David Lowe (History, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Publication date: 8 December 2020



Academic scholarship on the White Australia Policy (WAP) has highlighted the history of Asian migration, early perceptions and policy-making initiatives. Prominent scholars have also pointed out the impact of the British Empire and WAP on Australia–India relations and early Indian migrants in Australia. Drawing on the debate concerning international students in Australia, our purpose in this article is to recover the role of Indian students in the story of Australian–Indian connections.


The article aims to highlight the reasons behind the involvement of the Australian government in the provision of scholarships and fellowships to Indian students and researchers at Australian universities during the period of WAP. To achieve this, it uses contemporary Australian newspaper reports to explore the popular representations of sponsored Indian students and researchers in Australia from 1901 to 1950.


The article concludes that the prevalence of this racially discriminatory immigration policy created a dissatisfaction among Indians, and some Australian sources of agitation, that helped chip away at the Australian government’s admission policies and the gradual demise of WAP.


This article contributes to the historiography and the effects of colonialism on Australian–Indian relations and debates on policy formation based on ideas of whiteness.



The title of this paper is taken from a news report, “Indian Students behind the White Curtain,” Malaya Tribune, 27 November 1948. We would like to thank the editors and the two anonymous reviewers of this journal for their valuable and insightful comments that have greatly helped us in shaping this article.Funding: Not applicable.


Sarwal, A. and Lowe, D. (2020), "“Behind the white curtain”: Indian students and researchers in Australia, 1901–1950", History of Education Review, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/HER-07-2020-0044

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