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“Turban-clad” British Subjects

Tracking the Circuits of Mobility, Visibility, and Sexuality in Settler Nation-Making

Nadia Rhook

The late nineteenth century saw a wave of Indian migrants arrive in Victoria, many of whom took up the occupation of hawking. These often-described “turban-clad hawkers” regularly became visible to settlers as they moved through public space en route to the properties of their rural customers. This article explores how the turban became a symbol of the masculine threat Indians posed to the settler order of late nineteenth-century Victoria, Australia. This symbolism was tied up with the two-fold terrestrial and oceanic mobility of 'turban-clad' men; mobilities that took on particular meanings in a settler-colonial context where sedentarism was privileged over movement, and in a decade when legislators in Victoria and across the Australian colonies were working out ways to exclude Indian British subjects from the imagined Australian nation. I argue that European settlers' anxieties about the movements of Indian British subjects over sea and over land became metonymically conflated in ways that expressed and informed the late nineteenth-century project to create a settled and purely white nation. These findings have repercussions for understandings of the contemporaneous emergence of nationalisms in other British settler colonies.