The construction of the white worker in early twentieth-century Australia was
an integral part of a broader process by which the new nation was imagined
as egalitarian, but where equality was available only to white citizens. This
formulation becomes complicated when considered in the context of the multiethnic workforce in northern Australia. Where nationalist white unionists took part in characterising the work done by non-white workers as coolie or slave labour, they unwittingly maintained a social hierarchy that privileged race over class. This colonial hierarchy granted privilege to white people on the basis of their standing as colonial masters, but there was no place in this
system for a white working class.