The Mrs Freer case revisited: marriage, morality and the state in interwar Australia

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In October 1936, Australia’s Minister for the Interior, Thomas Paterson, ordered customs officials to bar a married, white British woman travelling with a married army officer from entering Australia. Mabel Freer’s exclusion sparked a media sensation and captured public attention for months. In re-examining the Freer case, this article focuses on questions of morality, respectability and marriage, and how these intertwined with racial identity formation in interwar Australia. Freer’s exclusion struck a chord with the general public, and with women in particular, who condemned Paterson’s action and demanded Freer’s admission. However, while this mobilisation against government overreach successfully challenged the sexual double standard and patriarchal assumptions about marriage and women’s respectability, it simultaneously reinforced the racist logic underpinning the White Australia policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-458
Number of pages22
JournalHistory Australia
Issue number3
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Aug 2019


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