Lest we forget

Meston Tozer Foley

Black Opium – lest we forget


In Flanders Fields the poppies grow

Between the crosses row on row…

(John McCrae)

In Queensland, there are two types of remembrance poppies. Papaver Rhoeas of Flanders’ fields is the red flower with the black center, associated with war memorial. Papaver Somniferum is the opium poppy. Although Papaver Rhoeas is increasingly visible, Papaver Somniferum is on my heart and mind at the moment. Once again, thanks to Fiona Foley for her artwork.

On a map of Brisbane, a curious feature, which might be a memorial to the opium poppy, is just around the corner from the Gallipoli Barracks.

Meston St and Tozer St are not far from each other. I wonder if these are references to Archibald Meston, Chief Protector of Aborigines and Sir Horace Tozer, Queensland Home Secretary. Meston and Tozer presided over the establishment of the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act of 1897.

In his paper entitled ‘Opium and race relations in Queensland’, Andrew Gillett makes the following observations about Meston, Tozer and the preparation of ‘The Act’ before it was introduced to Parliament.

 “Meston and other supporters of the 1897 Act were motivated on the one hand by fears of racial miscegenation and on the other by humanitarian concern over the destructive impact of white society and its ‘civilized vices’ on Aboriginal communities. But the introduction into Parliament of a bill proposing a system of Aboriginal reserves and regulations did not enjoy wide support: representatives of town and pastoral employers, who had already overturned the short-lived reserve system of the 1870s, were antagonistic to potential restrictions of their use of Aboriginal labour.  It was with an eye to this opposition that the bill introduced by Tozer included provisions restricting the sale of opium both to Aborigines and more widely, as a tactic to exploit the potent image of the drug. It is striking that Meston’s first report, detailing a disturbing range of ills affecting Aboriginal communities, made no mention of opium, but a second report commissioned by Tozer in preparation for the new bill emphasised this ‘detestable drug’ as a prime example of the need for a system of Aboriginal reserves.”

Opium has retained its potent image. In the mean time, the image of Papaver Rhoeas has grown in profile and potency. Both flowers are reminders of the potency of discrimination, which is what I understand Gillett to mean by Tozer’s political tactic.


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