Reading sovereignties in the shadow of settler colonialism: Chinese employment of Aboriginal labour in the Northern Territory of Australia

by Ben Silverstein

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The Northern Territory of Australia is often described by historians as marginal and anomalous, characterised by plurality and set apart from the settler colonial south(east). But it has long been subjected to practices of government designed to articulate settler colonialism upon and through its distinctive character. In this article, I take one such governmental project in order to read the antagonistic work of Indigenous and settler sovereignties alongside each other. By examining the imposition of restrictions on Chinese people’s capacity to work and to employ Aboriginal labour in Darwin around 1911, I locate a racialised labour politics and capitalism as central to the obstruction and production of sovereignties. In doing so, this article engages with two recent criticisms of settler colonial studies: one that impresses upon scholars the need to write not only of settlers but also of Indigenous peoples; and another that insists on attending to the specific conditions of settlers of colour or precariously racialised migrants to settler colonies.