Dr Sean Brawley

Margaret George Award 2005

Topic: A study of two extraordinary Australians – Annie O'Keefe and Arthur Calwell – that highlights the challenges made to the White Australia Policy during the Pacific War and early postwar period
Dr Brawley presented his findings in a public lecture at the National Archives in Canberra on 1 June 2006.

Biographical note

Dr Sean Brawley is a Senior Lecturer at the School of History, University of New South Wales and the author of The White Peril: Foreign Relations and Asian Immigration to Australasia and North America, 1919–1978 (1995). He has published widely on how the Pacific War and postwar European immigration altered Australian attitudes to the White Australia Policy in the 1940s.


Dr Sean Brawley used his Margaret George Award to examine the challenges made to the White Australia Policy during the Pacific War and early postwar period. Dr Brawley’s study focused on two extraordinary Australians: Mrs Annie Maas Jacob O’Keefe, the first victorious legal challenger of the White Australia Policy, and Arthur Calwell, the then Immigration Minister and a staunch defender of the policy. By utilising life history as a methodological approach, Dr Brawley intends to close the gap between biography and history and allow the life stories to become the vehicle for his historical paper.

Mrs O’Keefe was regarded as ‘an Indonesian with strong pro-Dutch sentiments at the time of the Indonesian Revolution’ and was thus thought to be a spy. Her case has developed significance in the context of current concerns about refugees, deportation, and the possibility of hidden spy networks.

Like Dr Margaret George, for whom this award is named, Dr Brawley has made extensive use of Dutch sources and has studied early Australian–Dutch–Indonesian relations.


Arthur Calwell declared that the central pillar protecting the legislative and legal legitimacy of the White Australia Policy had been knocked down by the High Court in 1949 – by the decision that became known as the O'Keefe Deportation Case. In this paper Dr Sean Brawley traces the story of the O'Keefe case, from the 19th-century Dutch colonies of Ambon and Menado (in present-day Indonesia) to suburban Melbourne of the 1940s, exploring the events that led to the threatened deportation of Annie Maas Jacob O'Keefe and her children in 1949.

Related records from the National Archives collection

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