"Chinese in Australian History" - The Goldrushes

A Study of Sources focusing on the Chinese and their legacy (and influence) on Australian History.

"Footprint of the Dragon"

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Origins of the White Australia Policy
Origins of the White Australia Policy
Certificate exempting from dictation test (CEDT)
Certificate exempting from dictation test (CEDT)
Certificate exempting from dictation test (CEDT)
Certificate exempting from dictation test (CEDT)

White Australia Poster
White Australia Poster
Three generations of the Chen family in Melbourne, 1928
Three generations of the Chen family in Melbourne, 1928

Three generations of the Chen family in Melbourne, 1928 Source: Wang family

Playbill poster c. 1909
Playbill poster c. 1909
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statement of significance Immigration Restriction Act c.1901

Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia: A1336 3368
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia: A1336 3368

Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.2 -3
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.2 -3

Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.2 -3
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.4 -5
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.4 -5

Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.4 -5
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.6 -7
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.6 -7

Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.6 -7
Anti Federation cartoon 1899. SLNSW
Anti Federation cartoon 1899. SLNSW

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Harvest of Endurance: a History of the Chinese in Australia, 1788-1988

Mo Xiangyi.
This 50-metre scroll was painted in the traditional Chinese "gongbi" style as a Bicentennial project in 1988, sponsored by the Australia-China Friendship Society.
Created:1988 Date Added:23 July 2002 Source: National Museum of Australia, Canberra.
external image chinese-garden-darling-harbour-22.jpg
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1. First Contact between Australia and the Chinese

The first contact between Australia and the Chinese was established from the time of the First Fleet. Some of the ships, after dropping off their convicts, would go to China to pick up goods for the return trip to England.

By 1818, Mak Sai Ying (John Shying) was living in Sydney as a farmer and by 1829 was the publican of "The Lion" in Parramatta.

What sources do we have to substantiate the above?

Earliest arrivals: 1788 to 1848

From the very beginning of the colony of New South Wales, links with China were established when several ships of the First Fleet, after dropping off their convict load, sailed for Canton to pick up goods for the return to England. The Bigge Report attributed the high level of tea drinking to 'the existence of an intercourse with China from the foundation of the Colony …' That the ships carrying such cargo had Chinese crew members is likely and that some of the crew and possibly passengers embarked at the port of Sydney is probable. Certainly by 1818, Mak Sai Ying (also known as John Shying) had arrived and after a period of farming became, in 1829, the publican of The Lion in Parramatta. John Macarthur, a prominent pastoralist, employed three Chinese people on his properties in the 1820s and records may well have neglected others.

Transcript of Bigge Report from National Library: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/discover_collections/history_nation/macquarie/greenway/bigge.html

2. Chinese in Australia as Workers

Indentured labour: 1848 to 1853

Individuals such as Macarthur’s employees were part of the varied mix that was early Sydney Town. It was the increasing demand for labour after convict transportation ceased in the 1840s that led to much larger numbers of Chinese men arriving as indentured labourers, to work as shepherds and irrigation experts for private landowners and the Australian Agricultural Company. These workers seemingly all came from Fujian via the port then known as Amoy (Xiamen) and some may have been brought involuntarily, as kidnapping or the 'sale of pigs', as it was called, was common.
Between 1848 and 1853, over 3,000 Chinese workers on contracts arrived via the Port of Sydney for employment in the NSW countryside. Resistance to this cheap labour occurred as soon as it arrived, and, like such protests later in the century, was heavily mixed with racism. Little is known of the habits of such men or their relations with other NSW residents except for those that appear in the records of the courts and mental asylums. Some stayed for the term of their contracts and then left for home, but there is evidence that others spent the rest of their lives in NSW. A Gulgong resident who died at age 105 in 1911 had been in NSW since 1841 while in 1871 the Keeper of Lunacy still required the Amoy dialect from his interpreters.

Introducing the Chinese

-- Who were the Chinese who came to Australia? --
-- What was it like for the Chinese on the goldfields? --
-- How did societies help the Chinese in a new land? --
-- Women and Chinese --
-- Opium smoking --

Who were the Chinese who came to Australia?

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There is a common misconception that the Chinese were involved in most of the criminal activities in Victoria. In actual fact, this was not the case.
Chinese men had first come to Victoria in large numbers during the 1850s gold rushes. For them Australia was ‘Tsin Chin Shan’, the land of the New Gold Mountain.
The Chinese mainly came from the thirteen counties around Canton, the capital of Kwangtung province. These Chinese had very similar physical appearances, ideals and temperaments. They were generally described as a sober, peace loving, kindly, industrious and frugal people. Some of them however acquired what were seen as bad habits and tastes, such as opium smoking and gambling. Many also practised idol and ancestor worship which was seen at that time to be unacceptable, was misunderstood, and was considered to be a threat to the Christian way of life as practised in Australia.
Poverty was widespread in parts of China, especially in Canton. The gold rushes and the decades that followed were a time when Victoria appeared very attractive to people wishing to escape from the economic conditions at home in Europe as well as in Asia.
Approximately one-third of the Chinese immigrants to Victoria were free and independent, paying their own passages. These people were mainly artisans, shopkeepers and merchants. Many of these immigrants would have been able to read and write Chinese – and increasingly also English.
The other two thirds came under a credit ticket system and were mainly farmers who borrowed money for their passages from rich bankers, village elders or wealthy money lenders and left their land as security. Those who came under the credit-ticket system had to repay debts as soon as they earned enough money in the Australian colonies. Many of the Chinese in this second group went to the goldfields.

What was it like for the Chinese on the goldfields?

The Chinese hoped to find gold and help support their families and repay their loans. The Chinese miners therefore sent huge quantities of gold back to China to their families and to those to whom they owed money.
The gold fields were an extraordinary multicultural mix with practically every nation represented. However, the Chinese tended to stay in separate camps. They stood out as different because of their Asian features, language, cultural practices and dress. Problems on the gold fields soon occurred for the Chinese miners. They started to rework the mullock heaps (mounds of left over rocks from mining) and to extract the left-over gold (tailings) from them. This annoyed the European miners as they felt the dumps still belonged to them. It was also claimed that the Chinese method of mining muddied the precious water.
These differences and difficulties became more pronounced as surface gold became harder to find and deep lead mines required more money to operate.
Chinese miners adapted to these changes by starting other businesses that catered to the needs of the miners and the towns that were developing around the mines. The Chinese started shops, market gardens and laundries. Again their success and enterprise caused jealousy.
Find out more about the Chinese on the goldfields, the attitudes of Europeans towards them and early efforts to restrict their entry into Victoria and overland from South Australia.
Also visit www.sovereignhill.com.au/education/research.saspl (open in new browser) to read notes about the Chinese on the goldfields. There are notes for primary and secondary students on the Sovereign Hill website. You may find this information useful in trying to understand later attitudes towards the Chinese prisoners and their crimes as introduced in this exhibition and website.


Petitions are written documents that usually ask for a change in a law. If you are presenting a petition in Australia to a council or Parliament then it must be done in a particular way. At the top of the page or at the beginning must be clearly stated what the petition is about. People usually print their names, write their home address, and then sign it. The various pages are put together to form the petition. Some petitions might just have a few names, others will have tens of thousands of names. It is then either posted or given to the appropriate authority.
Governments and councils and others take petitions seriously. They can show that people’s attitudes towards something are changing or that a large number of people are dissatisfied with the way their government is acting.

How did societies help the Chinese in a new land?

Arriving in a new land with different customs, language, dress, attitudes to work and dress is difficult for all immigrants. To help them adjust to living in a new land, most Chinese miners joined a society of people from their home districts in China. These societies set rigid rules for them to live by and also helped sick miners. The best known one was the See Yup Society. Membership of the See Yup Society cost 25 shillings per year (the average weekly wage in 1855) plus one shilling per month. The society provided friendship, protection and advice to the new arrivals. The society helped new members by giving them a list of rules to help them settle in quickly and peacefully. They advised them to wear European clothes to avoid offending Europeans with their bare legs. They were to abide by European mining methods and to remain calm and peaceful. If they broke the rules, society officials flogged them.
It is quite likely that some of the men who were old and found themselves in prison did not belong to one of these societies and were therefore not looked after in their old age by a society. They were forced to steal as they had no family or other assistance. James Ah Oun is one such man.

Women and Chinese

Another cause of jealousy was women.
For many years there were virtually no Chinese women on the goldfields. According to the Handbook to Australasia in 1858, only 4 of the 18,109 Chinese on the goldfields in 1856 were women. In 1857 only 2 of the 26,321 Chinese were women.
Chinese men were accused of stealing white women. In actual fact some women preferred a Chinese miner as he washed more regularly and treated them well. It was difficult for the Chinese men as many had wives in China and it could be many years before they were reunited, if ever.
The number of women in general in Australia had always been low during the first half of the nineteenth century. With the huge influx of European men trying to find gold this inbalance increased. Various schemes were considered to encourage women to come and live in Australia.
European Australians views about the Chinese were often tainted by prejudice. You may recall from reading notes in the previous section that the evidence of the European wife of Ah Leen, who had been badly beaten by the mob, was not believed on the grounds that any white woman who would marry a Chinese showed a character of poor morals and people would not place any confidence in her or her evidence.
  • James Ah Oun was found guilty of larceny and vagrancy. What did he do?
  • Why do you think that a person like James Ah Oun would have been in and out of prison during the 1880s and 1890s? Why might he have found it difficult to find work? Think about the things that made life difficult for the Chinese in nineteenth century Victoria. If you had to prepare a set of rules for the See Yup Society to help new arrivals, what would you include in your set of rules? Note: You could find further ideas to include by reading the text, The Chinese on the goldfields.
  • People can fear other people because they know very little about them, their customs, traditions and way of life. If you had to prepare a booklet about Chinese people to help other Australians to better understand them, what might you include in your booklet and why?
  • What would you include in a booklet to help people coming from China to adjust to living in Australia. Compare your suggestions with those of other class members. Use this list to prepare a master list. Prepare the booklet and present a copy to your local member of parliament.
  • Search through the text that accompanies each of the photographs (including the text about Wah Lim) at this exhibition and online for evidence to prove or disprove the following statement: ‘Sometimes the court would take more notice of the evidence of a European rather than that of the Chinese person.’
  • Read the text, The Chinese on the goldfields:
    On a blank map of Australia (or Victoria and South Australia) mark in the places mentioned in the text.
    List any unfamiliar words and terms and make a glossary of these.
    Make a timeline of the early actions taken to restrict Chinese migration to Victoria. Later you can extend this timeline.
  • Use books from your school and local library and the internet to find out what happened at Buckland (1857), Lambing Flat (1861) or the Palmer Goldields (1877). Use this information to prepare a frieze or story map to explain one or more of these events.

Opium smoking

Another significant problem between the Europeans and Chinese was the Chinese habit of opium smoking. Opium dens were considered terrible places where only the desperate and criminals went. Many of the surviving records of the Chinese are their prison records for drug-related crimes. Joe Byrne, one of the four members of the Kelly Gang developed a close association with the Chinese community in Beechworth. He was reported to be an opium user.
Look at Ah Choey’s photograph and read Ah Choey’s story about how he came to be convicted. Next read Ah Chee’s story and look at Ah Chee’s photograph too. What img do these stories create for you? Talk about the ways stories such as these would help to reinforce the ideas about opium smoking described in the previous paragraph.

ozhistorybytes Issue Nine: Anxious States

Peter Cochrane
You can worry. I can worry. But can a nation worry? The answer is a qualified yes. There are times when we can identify signs of anxiety that are widely shared across the nation. The anxiety is not confined to one group or another but seems to be present pretty much everywhere. It is spread widely enough to allow us to say we have a collective anxiety or, to put it another way, we have an anxious nation. Wartime anxiety is the obvious example but wartime is by no means the only time when anxiety is widely shared Ö

In 2005 it may be true to say Australia is an anxious nation. Since the attack on the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, on what we now call ë9/11í, and especially since the more recent London bombings in 2005, most of us have wondered about our safety when walking in a crowded mall or traveling on a bus or a train. Our shared anxiety is focused on the disturbing figure of the individual ësuicide bomberí. The Australian Government coined the slogan ëBe alert, not alarmedí. And our State governments have approved signs in public transport that give advice about how to be alert, such as:
Do Not Leave Your Baggage Unattended.
If you see unattended items, please tell the Driver.

Our anxiety is low level but it is widely shared because no one in particular and everyone in general is potentially threatened. The danger is everywhere and nowhere. And there are no simple or immediate solutions.
The worry is something we can tune into during our daily routines ñ newspaper headlines, cartoons, conversations we might hear, chats with our friends and of course, argument and debate in the press and in our parliaments all indicate there is some degree of focus on this threat. We are not alarmed, but we are alert as we never were before 9/11.

Invasion Anxiety

Late in the nineteenth century a very different kind of threat made Australia an anxious nation. In the 1890s many Australians were worried by the fear of invasion from the north. Australia was a huge country with a tiny white population and an even smaller, very much smaller, Aboriginal population. The nationís location was understood as an insoluble problem ñ too close to heavily populated Asia and too far away from the ëMother Countryí, Britain.
Invasion anxieties first appeared in the 1850s during the gold rush that was centred in Victoria. By 1859 there were about 50,000 Chinese people in Australia, mostly males and mostly in gold digging. But as the gold ran out many of the Chinese moved to country towns or to the major cities. Fifty thousand was hardly a massive number and by the late 1880s it was probably down to about thirty thousand. But the Chinese presence was mostly male and it had spread from mining into retailing and manufacturing businesses such as the furniture making trade where their hard work and low rates of pay threatened the jobs of white working men and stirred the race phobias of white Australia.
The threat of low paid Chinese labour in the shipping industry also roused fears. Trade unions in the furniture trade in the cities and the Seamenís Union in the ports around Australia led the opposition to the presence of the Chinese in all the Australian colonies. Economic worries combined with race prejudice to stir up the call for a White Australia and in 1901 White Australia became official policy in the first Commonwealth Government. ëWhite Australiaí was the slogan of an anxious nation.


Phil May, The Mongolian Octopus & Its Grip on Australia, Bulletin 21 August 1886.
This was one of the most famous cartoons to appear in the stridently anti-Chinese paper
known as the Bulletin. Make a list of the various charges made against Chinese people in
this cartoon. How might white Australians have reacted to this image? Why might this image
have had a powerful effect, even though its message was probably
inaccurate or exaggerated?
Image reproduced courtesy of the State Library, New South Wales

In the late nineteenth century Australians did not fear military invasion from China. Britain defeated China in the Opium War of 1842 and imposed humiliating terms of settlement. Decades of internal strife and rebellion followed. The Taiping Rebellion alone lasted more than thirteen years (1850-64), raged across eighteen provinces, destroyed hundreds of cities and cost millions of lives. It was therefore not Chinese armed forces that worried Australians but Chinese refugees ñ the fear that thousands upon thousands might come to Australia to escape the turmoil of their own country.
One Australian who visited China in 1879 wrote a book about his travels and predicted that China could well fall apart in the decades to come, releasing a ëfloodí of Chinese labour onto countries in the region. James Hingstonís book, The Australian Abroad (1885), argued that the Chinese were poor fighters but very good workers with unique powers of combination. ëOne hundred work as one,í he wrote, and he predicted they might overrun the world:

What is to stop his [the Chinese labourerís] progress and his dispersal over the world, now that the Chinese empire, mainly through the shaking of English assaults, is tumbling to pieces? As the Goths and Huns overran the Old World, so it seems probable that the hundreds of millions of Chinese will flood the present one, and that at no very distant date. (Quoted in David Walker, Anxious Nation, p.39)
The Australian Abroad was unusual in two respects. Firstly, the book was ahead of its time. James Hingston was anxious about a ëfloodí of Chinese before this particular worry became a national pastime. Secondly, he was unusually free of racial prejudice, finding much to admire in Chinese character and culture. Later in the 1880s it was hard to find a commentator like him. Hostility had taken over.

The Governor of New South Wales Speaks Out

In 1888 the Governor of New South Wales, Lord Carrington, responded to the swell of anti-Chinese opinion. He put the case against Chinese immigration under seven headings:

Firstly, the Australian ports are within easy sail of the ports of China; secondly, the climate as well as certain branches of trade and industry Ö are peculiarly attractive to the Chinese; thirdly, the working classes of the British people in all the affinities of race are directly opposed to their Chinese competitors; fourthly, there can be Ö no peace between the races; fifthly, the enormous number of the Chinese [in China] intensifies every consideration; sixthly, the Ö determination to preserve the British type in the population; seventhly, there can be no interchange of ideas of religion or citizenship, nor can there be inter-marriage or social communion between the British and the Chinese. (Quoted in L.E. Neame 1907, The Asiatic Danger in the Colonies, London, p.75)
Note the language used by Governor Carrington. He coins the phrase ëall the affinities of raceí and suggests the British people and the Chinese people are opposites that cannot be reconciled. He says ëthere can beÖ no peace between the racesí and he emphasizes the ëdetermination to preserve the British typeí.
His language tells us a great deal. It is the language of Social Darwinism ñ the belief that the struggle for human survival is a struggle, first and foremost, between the principal races of the world. In this race struggle, losers were doomed to enslavement or extinction and winners were endowed with happiness and prosperity and the best of everything.
Social Darwinism was a very popular notion late in the nineteenth century. The journalist Francis Adams who wrote for the labour newspaper the Boomerang (and the famous Sydney Bulletin) insisted that race struggle was a law of nature: ëThe Asiatic must either conquer or be conquered, must either wipe out or be wiped out by the Aryan and the European,í he wrote.


On Lee and Co a Chinese grocer's advertising sheet,
c. 1888-89. The success of many Chinese small businesses reminds
us that community fear and hostility were offset, to
some extent, by trade, working relationships,
friendships and even marriages between resident
Chinese and White Australians.
Image reproduced courtesy of the Mitchell Library,
State Library, New South Wales

Adams was spelling out his own anxious view about the future. He believed, as Professor David Walker has argued in his book Anxious Nation, that ëthe East was set to explode with accumulated resentments, population pressures and an awakened sense of national purposeí. Adams is especially important to historians today because he did not accept the common racist assumptions about Chinese people. Many of his contemporaries in the press argued that the Chinese were vicious and dirty people. Adams insisted that Chinese efficiency, not Chinese vice, was the problem. He worried about an ëopen doorí immigration policy because he believed the Chinese would outwork and outsmart most white Australians and soon come to dominate. And he was all the more unusual because he thought the Chinese might also adopt the socialist values of the labour movement ñ egalitarianism and republicanism. In other words, Adams, unlike Governor Carrington, saw the Chinese fitting into Australian society all too well. Even their diet was healthier, he argued. They did not overeat, they did not drink heavily and they used their energy efficiently. Calories in, hard work out. The Chinese were just too disciplined. Let them in, he argued, and pretty soon they would be running the country. In the race struggle, they were sure to prevail.
Adams ëtakeí on the Chinese was a minority viewpoint. His version of the race struggle was comparatively benign or kindly. His ideas are important because they remind us that some people did admire the Chinese and struck up friendly relations with them. But the popular viewpoint on the Chinese was more along the lines expressed by Governor Carrington ñ that the two cultures, Chinese and white Australian, were utterly incompatible, that one was bad and the other was good. In its most extreme and anxious form, this view of the race struggle can be found in the writings of another labour writer, William Lane.

William Lane and Race Hatred

Lane was the editor of the Boomerang, a Brisbane paper, and one of the most influential men in the Queensland trade union movement. He was English born, he spent ten years in America where the so-called ëChinese problemí first came to his attention, and in 1888 he arrived in Brisbane. In Brisbane he soon became a leading light among the radical workingmen of the city. Like Henry Lawson in Sydney, he was an urban dweller and a writer with a great admiration for the bush workers. In 1892 his novel The Workingmanís Paradise appeared to some acclaim. This novel and Laneís writings for the Boomerang were ferociously anti-Chinese and full of anxiety about Australiaís future as an outpost of white civilization in an Asian region.


'New South Wales Chinese Anti Opium League. Resident
Chinese were constantly worried by the things white
Australians said about their vices. In New South Wales
a group of Chinese traders got together to counter this
ëbad pressí. They created their own Anti Opium League
to demonstrate their respectability.
Image reproduced courtesy of the Mitchell Library,
State Library, New South Wales

Lane differed with Francis Adams on the moral character of the Chinese. He insisted they were a morally degenerate race whose vices would corrupt and weaken the entire community. He visited an opium den in Brisbane and wrote up his reflections for the Boomerang. The den, he wrote, was foul smelling, cramped and filled with smokers lying prone and insensate on small beds. On one wall was a print of a half-naked woman. The Chinese smoked opium for pleasure. Lane decided to try it so he might know its dangers:
I noticed mostly that I began to hate less these calm faced impassive invaders of our civilization and to feel less intensely against their abominable habits and vices and to take less notice of the stifling air and overpowering odours. (Boomerang, 21 January 1888)
What Lane noticed most, according to this account, was how the world around him mellowed and softened and how his own manly energies seemed to disappear, to go up in smoke. Clearly opium was a disarming drug.
Next he gazed at the print of the half-naked woman and then, Lane told his readers, he thought of a white girl who had fallen prey to opium and now lived with the Chinese. He was full of rage. He wanted to destroy every opium den in the city, to expel every Chinaman who might ëbury our nationality in a deadly slough of sloth and deceit and filth and immoralitiesí.
Lane hated the very idea of miscegenation ñ the mixing of the races. So his abusive language necessarily followed his memory of the white girl. In another newspaper called the Wagga Hummer he spelt out his views. He said he would rather see his daughter ëdead in her coffiní than see her kiss a black man. Black man, yellow man, it didnít matter to Lane ñ there must be no marriage and no ërelationsí of any kind across racial lines.
Lane believed in the race superiority of white men and women (Australians of European background). The problem, as he saw it, was numbers. There were simply too many Asians. He thought internal strife in China would drive millions of Chinese people to leave their own country and head for Australia. His fear that Australia might be overrun was supported by an important scholarly study written by Charles H. Pearson.

Charles Pearson's Anxiety

Pearson was an Oxford educated historian and Professor of Modern History at Kingís College, London, before he came to Australia and went into Victorian politics in the 1880s. For a time he was Minister for Public Instruction in that colony. He soon found that living in another part of the world gave him a new perspective on history. He began to understand the sort of colonial anxiety that Francis Adams, William Lane and others represented. In 1893 his book National Life and Character: a Forecast was published. Sales of the book were small but it had an international impact beyond the sales figures, for it was read by important people ñ such as Alfred Deakin in Australia, W.E.Gladstone in England and Theodore Roosevelt in the United States. Such men found it persuasive. Pearson prophesied that the ëhigher races of mení would soon be ëelbowed and hustled and perhaps even thrust asideí by peoples who were previously thought to be servile and impotent. He described Australia as one of the last strongholds of the white race, but a vulnerable place on the brink of destruction. When our first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, introduced legislation for a White Australia policy in 1901, each of his speeches on the subject quoted from Pearsonís book.
For anyone who believed in keeping the races separate and for anyone who wanted to keep the so-called ëhigher racesí in their elevated position, Pearson painted a very dismal picture. His extensive review of the history of race development had special relevance to Australia because of his views on the likely impact of the Chinese in the region. They were a people backed by vast resources. They would sooner or later ëoverflow their borders and spread over new territory and submerge the weaker races,í wrote Pearson. He believed the gold rush period had proved the Chinese could readily settle and flourish in Australia. He worried that there were no natural barriers to stop them flooding in. Exclusive legislation was the only way to save white Australia from being overwhelmed. Other great white nations such as the United States, he argued, were already becoming ëmixedí. Australia therefore took on a very special role in the worldwide race struggle ñ it was, he wrote, not just an outpost of the British Empire, but also the last stronghold of Anglo-Saxon stock.
Theodore Roosevelt, soon to be President of the United States, agreed. He was so moved by Pearsonís book that he wrote a 26 page review of it: ëThe peopling of the island continent,í he wrote, meaning Australia, ëis a thousand fold more important than the holding of Hindoostan for a few centuries.í (Quoted in David Walker, Anxious Nation, p.47)

The Invasion Narratives

If race anxieties were widespread in nineteenth century Australia then we might expect to find them surfacing in the literature of the time. Sure enough, in the late 1880s, as colonial governments moved to restrict Chinese immigration, the first ëinvasioní stories or narratives began to appear.


Cartoon featuring Sir Henry Parkes, Premier
of New South Wales, and a Chinese man
with pigtail. Caption: Both Yellow, Bulletin
cartoon, 4 September 1886. The cartoon
features the Premier, Sir Henry Parkes,
revealing his treachery.
Image reproduced courtesy of the State
Library, New South Wales

In the invasion scare novels of this period, Asians were the enemy. William Lane wrote the most publicized and important of these novels in the form of a story serialized in the Boomerang in 1888. That was called White or Yellow? Another spooky story of some importance was the anonymous book called The Battle of Mordiallic, or How We Lost Australia, also published in 1888. And a third one was Kenneth Mackayís The Yellow Wave: a Romance of the Asiatic Invasion, published in 1895.
These novels and others had a clear purpose ñ to alert white Australians to their poorly defended nation, to turn people from their indolent ways, and to influence public opinion on the burning questions of the day, whether immigration policy or defence needs or even health matters, for the Chinese were considered a health risk as well as a threat to bigger things such as ëcultureí and ëcivilizationí. In the invasion scare novels all sorts of fears come to the surface ñ fears of weakness, social decline and moral pollution, anxieties over the lack of race patriotism, fears of spies and, of course, fears of invasion.
In William Laneís serial White or Yellow? the scene is set in Queensland twenty years in the future, that is, 1908. The invasion is well under way. Australia is made up of thirty million whites and twelve million Asians and but for the immigration of fifteen millions from America, the country would already have been swamped. Laneís story contains a thread that is familiar to the radical journals and newspapers of the day ñ the belief that British mis-government is to blame for having ëcracked opení and disrupted Asia in the first place, and colonial governments are to blame for favouring Chinese immigration. Thus in White or Yellow? the ëinvadersí already have full civil rights, they have ceased to be hewers of wood and drawers of water and are fast becoming powerful in the colonial parliaments. The class aspect of the story is obvious ñ the Chinese are in cahoots with white employers and soft colonial governments.
The worst of the bad guys in this story is the evil Sir Wong Hung Foo who is scheming to marry into the wealthy Anglo-Australian Stibbins family. Lord Stibbins is premier of Queensland. In typical fashion, Laneís story has gender and race closely tied together. The struggle for white survival is also the struggle to protect the purity of wives and sisters, mothers and daughters. So we are not surprised to find that Lord and Lady Stibbins have only one child, their daughter Stella. They are clearly not doing their bit to ëpeopleí Australia, and now Sir Wong threatens miscegenation because he wants Stella for his wife. To make things worse, Stellaís parents do not have the ëspineí to say no. Could this be Australiaís fate?
Clues to goodies and baddies in these tales are usually to be found in the appearance of the main characters. Lord Stibbins might have been handsome, we are told, but for a hooked nose and calculating eyes. And Sir Wong has ëheavy lips and drooping eye-lidsí, the unmistakable mark of gross sensuality.
Luckily for poor Stella, not all Australians are like her parents. The salt of the earth hero is John Saxby (note the connection ñ Saxby not unlike ëSaxoní). He is a farmer, an Australian patriot, a devoted father to Cissie and also hard working secretary of the Anti-Chinese League. In William Laneís code, all this makes Saxby a very good man indeed.
But there is more. John Saxby is a leader in a secret army of miners, bush workers and farmers. In Laneís view, it is the white manhood of the countryside that can save Australia, the out-of-doors men, nourished by the soil and the wide-open spaces. Lane, like many others at the time, was inclined to idealise bush life and bush manhood. It is the likes of John Saxby, and also Cissieís boyfriend Bob Flynn, who are the likely saviours of the nation. They are both ferociously anti-Chinese and determined to fight and to die if necessary for a white Australia. Bob Flynn makes statements that are clearly Laneís own personal views. On one occasion he says: ëCissie can die as well. She is Australian too. And Iíd sooner kill her with my own hands than have her live to raise a brood of coloured curs.í
It turns out Bob doesnít have to kill his girl-friend, in what he seems to believe would be an act of kindness, because she dies in a paddock defending herself against the sexual advances of the evil Sir Wong. But she does not die for nothing. In White or Yellow? Cissieís death is the rallying point in the cause of race war. It is Sir Wongís big mistake, for the assault has the effect of uniting all sorts of white Australians into an anti-Chinese resistance:

She lay there like the virgin Nationality which had found its life in her deathÖ, [writes Lane], lay there typical of the faith and purity and holiness of thought which had lent strength to the upheaval. (Boomerang, 17 March 1888. Quoted in David Walker, Anxious Nation, p.103)
The defence of female honour thus becomes a potent symbol for the cause of racial unity and resistance to Chinese domination. And the result? Well, as you might now imagine, Sir Wong is undone and John Saxbyís army is victorious. The biggest problem is what to do with the 12 million Chinese residents in Australia. Answer ñ deport them. Round them up, put them on ships, and deport them to the Dutch East Indies (today called Indonesia). Like the other invasion novels that end in victory for the forces of good - that is, for a white Australia - Lane didnít bother much with a convincing conclusion. What the Dutch might have said about 12 million transported Chinese suddenly arriving on there shores was a problem best ignored.

Ideas behind Fear

How did the core ideas in books like National Life and Character and novels such as White or Yellow? become so influential? To answer that question we can compile a list of material or circumstantial factors that contributed to the collective anxiety of the late nineteenth century.
Some of these factors have already been mentioned ñ proximity to Asia, distance from Britain, not much in the way of defence forces, the sheer size and ëemptinessí of Australia. Also, the disturbed conditions in Asian countries such as China are relevant ñ rebellions, poverty, overpopulation and so on. Each of these circumstances is an important part of the explanation. The economic concern of the trade unions, their fear of cheap Chinese labour, is another consideration that cannot be ignored. It was, after all, the trade unions and the early Labor Parties in the eastern colonies that led the way towards a White Australia policy.
But these problems did not determine the way people thought about the Chinese. Possibly the most important consideration is the big idea of the age ñ Social Darwinism. We need to give that idea its place in the analysis.
Social Darwinism was a misapplication of Charles Darwinís theories. Darwinís famous The Origin of the Species published in 1859 did not relate natural selection (his theory of evolution) to the social and political life of humankind. But some of Darwinís followers were keen to do just that. It was one of these followers, Herbert Spencer, who invented the phrase ëSurvival of the Fittestí. That was an idea that quickly became very influential because it justified ruthless competition between the nations and races of the world. It became a sanction for colonialism in the fabled ëEastí and elsewhere.
The late nineteenth century was a high point for racial thinking and racial anxiety. People analyzed their world in terms of racial types. In ëracial typesí, the European nations found good reason for their dominion over other peopleís inadequacies. Thus, for example, the peoples of the East or the ëOrientí were categorized as sleepy and backward (or, alternately, cunning, aggressive and unprincipled). As Richard White has explained in his book Inventing Australia, Social Darwinism could be turned to many purposes:

By businessmen to condemn government interference in ënaturalí competition; by conservatives to explain away poverty; by militarists to justify war as [a way of] maintaining the vigour of superior races; by eugenicists to promote the sterilization of the ëunfití in the interests of racial progress. (Inventing Australia, 1981 edition, p.69)
In Australia the language of Social Darwinism was pretty much gospel for most people. Even if the theory was not familiar, people easily grasped the core idea. One point that is important to understand is that in late nineteenth century Australia, Social Darwinist thinking was accepted as a progressive outlook. People spoke the language of race rivalry because it was closely tied to their ideas about good character, hard work and striving to uplift both family and friends. Progress, in other words, was thought to be very much a matter of racial character. It was not only necessary, it was believed to be morally good.
But for white Australians, or British Australians or Anglo-Saxons as they were sometimes called, seeing things through racial spectacles raised some disturbing questions. Could the white race flourish in the Asian part of the world? Could it survive the rigours of an unfamiliar and often cruelly hot climate ñ after all Australians derived from the cold climes of the northern hemisphere? It is hard to imagine today but one of the anxieties at that time was an anxiety that linked race to weather and raised the question ñ would Australians wilt in the hot sun? Given the worry about Asia, one of the big concerns was how to fill or populate the great, parched spaces of northern Australia ñ could the ëwhite maní do it? And if indeed he was physically capable of pioneering the north, then where would the numbers come from? The USA perhaps? Canada? Where?


The idea of race-based goodness or badness was evident
in the way the Chinese were depicted in anti-Chinese
cartoons. This cartoon by Alf Vincent represents both
the alleged evil of the Chinese and their nearness to an
all-but-empty Australia. The little boy in the bottom right
hand corner probably signifies the naivetÈ of white
Australians, while the adultwith the little boy
seems more comic than capable. The cartoon appeared
in the Bulletin, 18 July 1907. And what of the Aboriginal
figures located in mid-Australia between the Chinese
threat and the little boy?
Image reproduced courtesy of the Mitchell Library,
State Library, New South Wales. Alf Vincentís cartoon
ëThe Thin White Lineí,
Bulletin, 18 July 1907.

Such questions were invariably thought through in racial terms and they led on to the biggest question around ñ how to keep out the other ëteemingí races to the north?
Not everyone was troubled, as William Lane and the Bulletin writers were troubled. Some Australians were confident about Australiaís future. They argued that as long as ëracial purityí was maintained, then the Australian branch of the British Empire was safe. They put their trust in the British navy and, ultimately, in their own capacity to keep Asians out of the Australian colonies by means of legislation. They shared the confident view of Joseph Chamberlain, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies who said in 1901:
I believe in this race, the greatest governing race the world has ever seen; in this Anglo-Saxon race, so proud, so tenacious, self-confident and determined, this race which neither climate nor change can degenerate, which will infallibly be the predominant force of future history and universal civilization. (Quoted in Richard White Inventing Australia, 1981 edition, p.71)
But while many Australians shared that view it was undoubtedly easier to believe it sitting in Downing Street London than in Perth in Western Australia or in Melbourne, or back of Bourke or somewhere in the far north of Queensland. In the Australian colonies race fears were at a high point late in the nineteenth century. Doctors worried about a declining birth-rate among white Australians. Politicians worried about the ëEmpty Northí. Workers and trade union leaders worried about Chinese competition in the work force and publications such as the //Bulletin// ran ferocious campaigns on their behalf. Scholars such as Charles Pearson believed historyís great lesson was the survival of the fittest ëracesí. And writers such as William Lane expressed some of the deepest anxieties around in their fanciful stories of the invasion nightmare kind.


People or Perish, Millions Magazine cover
page, 15 October 1923. Invasion anxiety
continued into the twentieth century.
In 1923 the worry about the emptiness of
Australia was as sharp as ever, as this front
cover illustration reveals.
Image reproduced courtesy of the Mitchell
Library, State Library, New South Wales

Perhaps the most interesting question of all, from a historianís viewpoint, is ëWhat kind of fear was this?í. Was it completely irrational? Or was it logical that Australians, living in an under-populated white outpost in the Asian region, would feel vulnerable and fearful? To what extent was Social Darwinism to blame? And what other factors are relevant?
One final question ñ a difficult one. What are the limits of the possible at any one time ñ was there any way the Australian colonies could have had a policy of engagement and free exchange with Asia, instead of the policy that prevailed ñ the policy of rejection and exclusion? The policy of ëWhite Australiaí?

About the Author

Peter Cochrane is writer and co-editor (with Brian Hoepper) of Ozhistorybytes.


White Australia Policy

The ëWhite Australia Policyí was the common designation given to the official policy of all governments and all mainstream political parties in Australia based on excluding non-white people from migrating to the Australian continent, centred around the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. Various of the policy's official aspects were operative from the late 1880s until the 1950s, with certain elements of the policy surviving until the 1970s. Although the expression ëWhite Australia Policyí was never in official use, it was common in political and public debate throughout the period.

For a brief fact sheet on the White Australia Policy see:

Taiping Rebellion

The Taiping Rebellion ran from 1850-1864. It was a revolt against the Chíing (Manchu) Dynasty of China and was led by Hung Hsiu-chíuan, a visionary from Guandong whose political ideas were influenced by his appreciation of some elements of Christianity. Hungís aim was to found a new dynasty, the Taiping or ëGreat Peaceí. His following drew on the great popular discontent at the time with the Chinese government, especially among the poorer classes. The rebellion spread through the eastern valley of the Chang River and in 1853 the rebels captured Nanjing and made it their capital. The Western powers showed some sympathy with the rebellion but soon decided its success could mean the collapse of foreign trade. Foreign military support, led by Britain and France, came to the rescue of the Chíing dynasty and the rebellion was defeated.

Alfred Deakin
Alfred Deakin was Australiaís second Prime Minister. He was also the fifth and the seventh. He was in office as Prime Minister three times in the first ten years of Federation. Deakin was born in Melbourne in 1856 and early in life became a student fascinated with Asia. His special interest was India. His was a friend of Charles Pearson and an admirer of Pearsonís book, National Life and Character. He was elected to the colonial parliament of Victoria in 1879 and between 1883 and 1890 held office in several ministries. He and Pearson shared an equal enthusiasm for the cause of education. Deakinís comment on the White Australia Policy is emphatic: ëThe unity of Australia is nothing, if that does not imply a united race. A united race not only means that its members can intermix, intermarry and associate without degradation on either side, but implies one inspired by the same ideas...í (Quoted from Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, 12 September 1901, p.4807). Deakin died in 1919.

W E Gladstone
The Rt. Hon. William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) was four times Prime Minister of Britain and one of that nationís great political reformers. He was famed as a great orator and as one half of one of the great political rivalries in the House of Commons ñ his rivalry with Benjamin Disraeli.

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) gained some fame as a Colonel in a volunteer force named the ëRough Ridersí serving in Cuba during the Spanish-American war. On his return he was elected (Republican) Governor of New York. He became Vice President of the United States in 1901 and succeeded to the Presidency when President McKinley was assassinated a few months after his inauguration. Roosevelt was President from 1901 to 1909.

Edmund Barton
Edmund Barton (1849-1920) was Australiaís first Prime Minister and a founding Justice of the High Court of Australia.
The Barton government's first piece of legislation was the Immigration Restriction Act, which put the White Australia Policy into law. This was the price of the Labor Party's support for the government. One notable reform was the introduction of women's suffrage for federal elections in 1902. Barton was a moderate conservative, and advanced liberals in his party disliked his relaxed attitude to political life. ëThe doctrine of the equality of man,í said Barton, ëwas never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman.í

The term Anglo-Saxon refers to an English Saxon, as distinct from one of the old Saxons of continental Europe, or a native inhabitant of England before the Norman (French) Conquest of the eleventh century. The term was used broadly in the nineteenth century to indicate people of English or British descent. Those who wanted to insist on an Irish strand in their Britishness used another phrase ñ Anglo-Celtic.

Natural Selection
Natural selection was the term Charles Darwin used to indicate the means by which a species ever so gradually changed (or ëmutatedí or ëevolvedí) over millions of years. In other words, natural selection was the mechanism of evolution.

Eugenics was a science of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries that became extremely influential in Europe, America and Australia. Eugenics was the study of the hereditary qualities of a race and of ways to control or improve those qualities. Eugenics came to be regarded as a pseudo science with the discrediting of ërace thinkingí after the defeat of Hitler and the fascist powers in the Second World War.

Joseph Chamberlain
Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914) was a British statesman and businessman. Though never Prime Minister he is regarded as one of the most important British politicians of the late nineteenth century.

The Bulletin

The Bulletin, to quote Sylvia Lawson's book on that subject, was the most ëvicious and electrifyingí newspaper in late colonial Australia. Says Lawson: ëFrom 1880 to the years after federation [in 1901] and the Boer War this journal penetrated its society and gripped attention in ways for which it is hard to find any parallel, even in the highest times of national radio and television.í Its anti-Chinese campaign began in 1886 and continued on for years with great savagery. For Sylvia Lawsonís account of the Bulletinís anti-Chinese campaign, see her book The Archibald Paradox. A Strange Case of Authorship, Penguin, Ringwood, 1986, ch.6, especially pages 141-3.


Peterís main source for this article is the award-winning book by Professor David Walker:
David Walker 1999, Anxious Nation. Australia and the Rise of Asia 1850-1939, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia. See, especially chapters 4 and 8, and note that Professor Walkerís book is also very informative on white Australian attitudes to the people of India and Japan.
Sylvia Lawson 1986, The Archibald Paradox. A Strange Case of Authorship, Penguin, Ringwood.
See ,especially chapter 6. This reference deals with the anti-Chinese crusade in the Sydney Bulletin.
Humphrey McQueen 1975, A New Britannia. An Argument Concerning the Social Origins of Australian Radicalism and Nationalism, Penguin.
Neville Meaney 1996, ëThe Yellow Peril, Invasion Scare Novels and Australian Political Cultureí, in Ken Stewart (ed), The 1890s. Australian Literature and Literary Culture, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia,, pp.228-263
L.E. Neame 1907, The Asiatic Danger in the Colonies, London.
Richard White 1981, Inventing Australia. Images and Identity 1688-1980, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.
See especially chapter 5.

Curriculum connections

Peter Cochraneís rich and engaging tale of the role of ëfearí in Australiaís past reminds us of some key features of history. His article provides examples of some Historical literacies promoted by the Commonwealth History project.
Historical concepts
One of those ëliteraciesí ñ Historical concepts ñ encourages students to understand ëconcepts such as causation and motivationí. Peter makes it clear that many white Australians in the nineteenth century were obsessed by the idea of ëraceí. That obsession translated into vivid fears which in turn motivated people to call for racist legislation to stop ëcolouredí immigration. As Peter points out, the first legislation passed by the new Commonwealth parliament in 1901 was the Immigration Restriction Act ñ the embodiment of the ëWhite Australia Policyí. Here is clear evidence of the workings of motivation and causation.
Events of the past
The passing of that legislation connects with another ëliteracyí ñ Events of the past. In particular, this literacy invites students to realize the significance of different events within a historical context. In 1901, the context was a society marked by racial ideas that most people today would probably find strange.
Empathy and the language of history
That strangeness can test the limits of our empathy ñ the ability to put ourselves ëin the shoesí of someone else, to try to see the world as they saw it, to imagine the hopes, fears, prejudices and attachments of someone living at a different time. Peter Cochrane invites us to exercise our empathy by confronting us with the very words of people living more than a century ago. And what words they are! Even Pearsonís academic reference to the ëhigher races of mení probably sounds strange to our ears. But William Lane is perhaps the most extraordinary, with his references to Chinese ëabominable habits and vicesí and ëa deadly slough of sloth and deceit and filth and immoralitiesí. Even more shocking perhaps is his claim that he would rather see his daughter ëdead in her coffiní than see her kiss a black maní. And, speaking through a character in his serial White or Yellow, Lane has Bob Flynn declare ëCissie can die as well. She is Australian too. And Iíd sooner kill her with my own hands than have her live to raise a brood of coloured curs.í Such extraordinary words from Cissieís own boyfriend! Engaging with these words, and with the ideas and emotions that motivate them, is an example of another ëHistorical literacyí ñ Language of history - which focuses on understanding and dealing with the language of the past.
Narratives of the past
Those extraordinary words from the past make connections with Narratives of the past, another ëliteracyí. In this case, the narrative is one framed by concepts of ërace,í ënationalismí and ëcivilizationí. It is a narrative of nation building, motivated by visions of a free, white, prosperous, British-based civilization perched at the edge of the globe
best summed up in the words of Joseph Chamberlain in 1901:
I believe in this race, the greatest governing race the world has ever seen; in this Anglo-Saxon race, so proud, so tenacious, self-confident and determined, this race which neither climate nor change can degenerate, which will infallibly be the predominant force of future history and universal civilization.
The Commonwealth History Projectís ëliteracyí Narratives of the past reminds us that there are often multiple narratives surrounding an event. At the time, it probably seemed as if the grand narrative of ëthe greatest governing race the world has ever seení was unchallengeable. Today, however, history students can access competing narratives, some written ëfrom belowí by those who were passive observers, unwilling participants or unfortunate victims in the narrative summed up by Joseph Chamberlain. Among them are Indigenous Australians and other non-Anglo inhabitants, as well as Anglo-Australians who rejected the racial assumptions of their society.
Research skills
This ëHistorical literacyí focuses on gathering and using evidence. What gives vivid colour to Peter Cochraneís story is his use of primary sources, writings and speeches culled from magazines, newspapers, stories and parliamentary records of the time. As he points out, Peter supplemented his own research by drawing on the excellent research of Professor David Walker in his book Anxious Nation. Australia and the Rise of Asia 1850-1939. Of course, the research by Peter and David was possible only because these records of the past have been collected and preserved, a reminder of the crucial historical role of archives, museums and libraries.
Making connections
Peterís article touches on another ëHistorical literacyí: Making connections ñ connecting the past with self and the world today. Peter began his article by suggesting that ëIn 2005 it may be true to say Australia is an anxious nationí. You may wish to consider this statement and compare contemporary ëanxietiesí to those described in Peterís article.
To read more about the principles and practices of History teaching and learning, and in particular the set of Historical Literacies, go to Making History: A Guide for the Teaching and Learning of History in Australian Schools - http://www.hyperhistory.org/index.php?option=displaypage&Itemid=220&op=page

3. The Goldrushes

Gold rushes: 1853 to 1877

Large numbers of Chinese people were working on the Victorian goldfields and fewer on the smaller NSW fields in the mid 1850s, when major gold finds in NSW and the passing of more restrictive anti-Chinese legislation in Victoria resulted in thousands of miners moving across the border in 1859. Many more Chinese goldseekers came by ship through Twofold Bay and Sydney and onto the various diggings. Fish curing, stores and dormitories in places such as The Rocks, soon developed to support the miners on the fields as well as those on their way to the diggings or back to China. The presence of numerous Chinese on the diggings led to anti-Chinese agitation, including violent clashes such as the Lambing Flat riots, the immediate result of which was the passing of an Act in 1861 designed to reduce the number of Chinese people entering the colony.

Chinese at the Goldfields
external image chineseman.jpgMany people from China came to look for gold.
Other diggers thought they were odd.
They had different customs and clothes.
The laws made things hard for the Chinese.
Many stayed after the Gold Rush.

external image Chinesestreet.jpgAt the time that news about the Australian goldrush reached China in 1853, the country had been suffering from years of war and famine. In order to raise money for the fare to Australia, a man would take a loan from a local trader, agreeing to make regular repayments. His wife and children usually stayed behind, and worked for the trader if the man was unable to repay the money he had borrowed. To reach Melbourne, it was a journey of several months by ship in cramped conditions.
A village in China

When the Chinese arrived at the goldfields, they external image chinesemen.jpgstayed together in large teams, often groups of people from the same town or region in China, with a head man in charge. Each head man allocated work groups to do duties such as mining, cooking, growing vegetables for the team. Much of the alluvial gold was running out and the Chinese miners re-worked claims that had been abandoned and collected gold that had been missed. They preferred not to go deep underground for fear of offending their mountain gods. The Chinese built their dwellings and temples separate from where the other diggers lived, and kept to themselves.
external image goldrushchinese_jupiter.jpgThere was ignorance about Chinese customs and culture, and the Chinese seemed very strange and different to the western diggers. The people at the diggings were suspicious of them and resentful of their methods of mining. The appearance of the Chinese, with their pigtails and unfamiliar clothes, their habit of going barefoot and of carrying loads balanced from two bamboo poles, their religion, all made them the target of a great deal of racism and prejudice. The Chinese were generally very hardworking and honest, and were quiet and law abiding. Local Chinese societies came into being, to advise newly arrived Chinese about how to fit in.

illustration © [2007] Jupiterimages Corporation

In an attempt to limit the number of Chinese at the goldfields, a law was passed in 1885 that any Chinese person entering Victoria would pay ten pounds tax, and one pound for a protection fee, the right to mine and live in the colony. No one entering Victoria from any other country had to pay this tax. However, this did not reduce the numbers of Chinese. They landed in South Australia and walked several hundred kilometres to reach the Victorian goldfields.
Some Chinese returned home after the gold rush, but many stayed here. They found jobs, set up market gardens, restaurants or laundries. They brought their families to Australia. Gradually the Chinese became a respected group in Australian society.

Page 1 : //Gold!//

Page 2: //Searching for Gold//

Page 3: //Life on the Australian Goldfields//

Page 4: //Women on the Australian Goldfields//

Page 6: //The Eureka Stockade//

Back to //Australia// contents

external image goldchinese.jpgIf you use any part of this in your own work, acknowledge this source in your bibliography like this:
Sydenham, S. & Thomas, R. Gold! [Online] www.kidcyber.com.au (2000)
Updated September ©kidcyber [2008]

external image goldrushchinese_jupiter.jpg


Many Chinese migrated to Australia after the 1849 Californian gold rushed. Those who left China to discover gold in Australia, came with a great advantage in experience.

external image chinaman.jpg

The Chinese were the biggest non-European group at the goldfields. They were not very welcome as their dress and habits were different from the other diggers. The average Chinese miner could live on less, withstand worse conditions and remain patient longer than diggers of other nationalities. They could work all day waist deep in water. They were often extremely secretive about their success.
European miners grew increasingly hostile towards the Chinese. They accused them of opium smoking and wasting water. The Chinese miners remained passive as hostility rose against them. This hostility exploded, and anti-Chinese riots developed. In Victoria, in 1857, 22 Chinese were killed as a result of these riots. In New South Wales, in 1861, two more Chinese were killed in further riots.
The government soon passed laws against the Chinese. The South Australian government issued bans and made the them pay taxes.
external image chinese3.jpg
Chinese walking towards the goldfields

The Chinese on the Goldfields

external image Steamer.jpg
The 'Golden Age' in Australian history brought thousands of Chinese gold-seekers from the thirteen counties near Canton to the goldfields. The Chinese named them ‘Tsin Chin Shan’ meaning the Land of the New Gold Mountain.
These Chinese people were generally described as being sober, peace-loving, kindly, industrious and careful with their money and possessions. A considerable number of them however acquired what were seen as bad habits and tastes, such as opium smoking and gambling, and many practised idol and ancestor worship.
They brought with them a blend of beliefs including ideas from Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. As a result, many joss-houses or temples were built by immigrant Chinese on the goldfields and in Melbourne at this time.
Like other nationalities, small numbers of Chinese began to arrive in Victoria in 1853. However, unlike others, from the middle of 1854 they came in large organised groups who generally did not mix with the mining population. They stayed in their own separate camps. Usually the Chinese did not join a major rush or establish themselves on a currently popular mining area. Instead they worked slowly and patiently through the mullock heaps of tailings (left over rock and earth from mines) already washed out by the Europeans. The returns were not great, but they appear to have been steady.
In the early days of Chinese settlement in Victoria the centre of the Chinese community was on the goldfields, particularly Avoca, Creswick, Castlemaine, Ballarat, Maryborough, Beechworth and Bendigo (previously called Sandhurst). Later many Chinese moved to Melbourne although Chinese communities still exist in some of these towns and cities today. If you visit these places you can often find a Chinese section in the local cemetery.
Most of the early Chinese immigrants wanted to return to the land of their ancestors and later many did. Others were forced to return because of the various immigration policies operating during this period. For example, entry taxes and the tonnage system on Chinese immigrants slowed the inflow of Chinese to Australia especially later in the nineteenth century.
The Chinese practice of sending gold back to China indicated their intention of eventually returning home. However, it also created dissatisfaction and jealousy among the European diggers. In 1857, 205,464 ounces of gold were shipped to Canton. Although the Chinese kept to themselves and were generally hard-working and law-abiding, their presence caused resentment amongst the Europeans, especially as Chinese numbers increased. By the middle of 1854 there were 4,000 Chinese immigrants on the Australian goldfields, this increased to 10,000 early in 1855 and 17,000 by the middle of the year.
The European objections to the Chinese were both racist and economic.
These criticisms included:
  • the Chinese muddied water that was needed for washing gold;
  • they went through the left over mining rubble or tailings which Europeans needed to fall back upon in times of hardship;
  • suspicion of Chinese dress, customs, religion and their vices, both real and imagined;
  • like the Aborigines, the Chinese were considered racially inferior, for the Europeans confused cultural differences with their own ideas of superiority. This was a very important point of view at this time.
Racial hostility led to riots on the Buckland goldfields in Victoria in 1857, at Lambing Flat in New South Wales in 1861 and the Palmer goldfields in Queensland in 1877.
Resentment of the Chinese and periodic attacks upon them placed pressure upon governments to restrict Chinese entry.

Early attempts to restrict the entry of the Chinese

The idea of a White Australia can be traced back to 1841 when the New South Wales Immigration Committee opposed the introduction of coolie labour by pastoralists who needed cheap labour. The Committee believed it would lower the living standards of white men.
The foundations of the White Australia Policy were laid on the goldfields where the arrival of many Chinese diggers caused alarm, fear, mistrust, and misunderstanding in the European mining community. Chinese immigration to the gold-fields played an important part in developing a fear of the ‘yellow hordes’ which was an important part of the Australian outlook for many decades to come.
On 7 July 1854 in the Legislative Council of New South Wales, Henry Parkes moved that the introduction of a coloured or an inferior race would have bad results. He argued that labour would be degraded, not only before the eyes of the working classes of Europe, but also amongst Australians. The morals of society would be seriously endangered. But Parkes was unable to suggest how to avoid these evils.
In June 1855, the Legislative Council of Victoria imposed an entry tax on all Chinese coming to Victoria. The master of a ship was required to pay a poll-tax of £10 for every Chinese immigrant on his ship. In addition each ship was limited to carrying one Chinese immigrant for each ten tons (about 4.5 tonnes) of their registered tonnage. The legislation also established an apartheid-like protectorate system. All Chinese would have to register, live within designated areas on the goldfields and pay an annual residence tax of £1. The protectorates were never fully implemented. Where they were introduced, they appear to have benefited the Chinese in one unplanned way at least. They reduced violence against them in those areas.
The entry tax succeeded in slowing the arrival of Chinese immigrants into Victoria by sea. However, the masters of ships discovered that the way around the Act was to land the Chinese at Port Adelaide and Robe in South Australia. From there they made their way overland to the Victorian goldfields traveling in stages of about 32 kilometres a day. The journey to the Bendigo goldfields from Adelaide (800 kilometres) would have taken approximately 25 days, from Robe (416 kilometres) approximately 13 days. Some in Adelaide thought that this would lead to trouble. They thought that joss houses would be built near Christian churches, which would be filled by crowds of worshippers, bowing before idols of wood and stone. Such behaviour, they argued, would be repulsive to Christians and would affect children’s minds.
By the second half of 1855 travelers on the overland route from Adelaide via Encounter Bay to the goldfields of Ballarat, Bendigo or the Ovens Valley saw processions of six hundred to seven hundred men moving ‘at the Chinaman's trot’. They usually walked in single file, each one carrying a pole and two baskets over his shoulders, talking to his mate in front in a sing-song tone. On their heads they had circular hats, like the top of a haystack, nearly a yard in diameter. The Europeans noticed that the young Chinese always respected their parents and older people. For example, the young did not sit down until the older men said they could.
In 1857 nearly eleven thousand Chinese walked from Robe to the Victorian goldfields. Between 1856 and 1858, 16,500 Chinese landed at Robe. By 1857 there were 23,623 Chinese on the goldfields of Victoria, and a total of 25,424 in the colony at large. The Aborigines of the south east now had to cope with another invader of their land.
Although in 1857 the South Australian government passed similar entry restrictions to the Victorian legislation, the Chinese were still able to come in through New South Wales. During 1859 the number of Chinese in Victoria passed 40,000 and made up nearly 20 per cent of the adult males in the colony.
Alarmed by the flood of Chinese, on 4 June 1857 John Pascoe Fawkner asked the Legislative Council of Victoria to appoint a select committee to prepare a bill to control the number of Chinese settling in the colony. Fawkner argued that he wanted to prevent the goldfields of Australia from becoming the property of the Emperor of China and of the Mongolian hordes of Asia. Fawkner had been told the Chinese had been teaching the youth of Victoria to smoke opium, and had been chasing girls as young as ten years of age on the goldfields. Other moralisers fanned the flames of prejudice. Rumours flew around Melbourne that simple-minded men were shivering and quaking at the prospect of being outnumbered in the not too distant future by hordes of yellow men!
There had been moderate voices too. Caroline Chisholm, who in the decade before the discovery of gold had been described as a 'second Moses in bonnet and shawl', reminded her contemporaries that there would be no rest until man was recognised as man, without distinction of 'colour or clime'. If Europeans went on humiliating and insulting the Chinese, she argued, one day there would be a 'sweeping calamity'.
The Chinese also contributed to this plea to be calm and reasonable. In a petition to the 'Honourable the Speaker and Members of the Legislative Assembly sitting on Chinese business' in 1857, they told how glad they had been to come to the goldfields. They had heard the English were good and kind to everybody. Now they had heard the Assembly was going to put a tax of £1 a month on them, and they were so sorry they did not know what to do. Digging was very difficult, and it was hard to earn a living. If they paid £1 a month, they argued, they could not get enough gold to buy food to eat. They asked the members not to proceed with their proposal.
Nothing could calm the madness in the diggers. At the Buckland River in North East Victoria early in July 1857 riots followed a rumour about the unnatural behaviour of a Chinese man. The rumour was seen as final proof that the Chinese were monsters in human shape, who practised abominations and made lewd gestures towards women and children.
On 4 July 1857, a meeting was summoned at the Buckland where the leaders of the meeting called on their fellow diggers to take the law into their own hands and drive the Chinese out of the Australian bush. Men on horseback armed with bludgeons and whips tore at the Chinese. Some 500 tents and stores were destroyed. The Chinese population, estimated at 2400, were all driven off the Buckland. If it were not for armed English miners who protected the Chinese from the mob as they rushed a single log that bridged the river, many might have died.
Twelve men were arrested. Four received sentences of 9 months gaol, one for rioting, the others for unlawful assembly. No charges of theft were proven.
The evidence of the European wife of Ah Leen, who had been badly beaten by the mob, was not believed on the grounds that any white woman who would marry a Chinese showed a character of poor morals and people would not place any confidence in her.
The anti-Chinese sentiment continued. In Beechworth the white diggers formed an Anti-Chinese League in 1857. Their aim was to get the Chinese expelled from the colony. The League disowned the rowdy, ruffians who had used brute physical force on the Buckland. Their first objective was to stop the influx of the Chinese into the colony. Petition after petition was submitted to the Legislative Assembly but without success.
Scaremongers also spread stories that the time was not far distant when the Chinese would outnumber the British and the Germans in South Australia. Some also argued that South Australia had a moral obligation to the well-being of the inhabitants of Victoria. The legislators finally acted. They argued that it was absolutely necessary to restrict Chinese entry into the country by legal means. Otherwise brutal warfare might rage and society would be shaken to its foundations. To preserve the European predominance over their territory, the South Australian government passed through Parliament an act, modeled on the Victorian act. Within months the streets of Robe which had streamed with Chinese were almost deserted.
Adapted from Chinese and the Law by Brian Barrow Deputy Chief Magistrate, 2001. Published by The Golden Dragon Museum, Bridge Street, Bendigo.

Origins of the White Australia Policy

Origins of the White Australia Policy
Circa 1949
immigration, labour, Chinese, White Australia Policy, coloured, gold, population, alarm, crisis
Record creator:
Department of External Affairs
A183/1, 581/1 part 1
Origins of the White Australia Policy
Origins of the White Australia Policy

© Curriculum Corporation and National Archives of Australia, 2007-09

Certificate exempting from dictation test (CEDT)

1 2
Certificate exempting from dictation test (CEDT)
06 September 1916
dictation test, immigration, exemption, Chinese, White Australia Policy, certificate exempting from dictation test
Record creator:
Sub-Collector of Customs, Darwin
E752, 1916/54
Certificate exempting from dictation test (CEDT)
Certificate exempting from dictation test (CEDT)
Certificate exempting from dictation test (CEDT)
Certificate exempting from dictation test (CEDT)

© Curriculum Corporation and National Archives of Australia, 2007-09

4. White Australia Policy

A ‘White Australia’ for the new national capital

The newly federated Australian government in 1901 quickly introduced national legislation to protect its security and assert its sense of identity as a member of the British Empire. The first act it passed was the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act. Known as the White Australia policy, the act restricted the entry of non-Europeans by means of a dictation test, which could be given in languages other than English. People suffering physical or mental diseases, convicted criminals, prostitutes and those reliant on charity, were also refused entry.
White Australia Poster
White Australia Poster

Poster, about 1910
Source: State Library of Victoria, La Trobe Picture Collection
From 1901 the Australian Government passed other legislation which marked out the racial boundaries of the nation by restricting immigrant entry and curtailing the rights of existing non-European residents. This included The Pacific Islands Labourers Act, 1901, which enabled the deportation of over 9,000 Pacific Islander labourers who had been working in the sugar cane fields of Queensland and northern New South Wales.
In 1903, the Commonwealth Naturalisation Act excluded all non-Europeans from becoming naturalised, and severely limited their ability to bring spouses and children to Australia. One such example was the Chen family. Chen Ah Kew had arrived during the gold rush, and later brought his Chinese wife to Victoria. They moved back to China with their six children in 1901. As adults, the sons returned to Melbourne, forming Wing Young & Co., wholesale fruit merchants. Despite the sons’ Australian origins, the new laws meant that their Chinese-born wives were denied permanent residency here. The women were forced to live a precarious existence on temporary visas, accepted and denied entry at the discretion of government officials.
Three generations of the Chen family in Melbourne, 1928
Three generations of the Chen family in Melbourne, 1928

Three generations of the Chen family in Melbourne, 1928
Source: Wang family
The ideal of the white, egalitarian Australia became increasingly widespread around the time of Federation. These ideals were based on genuine beliefs in the inferiority of non-white races, a desire by unions to protect local trade and labour, and on the sidelining of Aboriginal people from any notions of national identity and citizenship. Publications such as the Bulletin, and organisations such as the Australian Natives’ Association (a Friendly Society providing benefits to its Australian-born members), were staunch supporters. Edmund Barton stated in 1902 that

We can bring in, without delay, our kinsmen from Britain and, if the numbers be insufficient, such other white races as will assimilate with our own. Or we can…see the doors of our house forced, and streams of people from the lands where there is hardly standing room pour in and submerge us.
The Immigration Restriction Act was not universally accepted. Federal parliamentarian Senator Pulsord of the Free Trade Party argued against it, although he was isolated in his stance. Beyond parliament, the Chinese community continued to voice opposition to immigration and economic restrictions. The Pacific Islands community mounted a political campaign to oppose their deportation, supported by the sugar cane farmers who employed them. But these opinions were in the minority and remained so until the gradual breaking down of the White Australia policy from the 1950s and its final removal from legislation in 1973.
As national capital, Melbourne was at the centre of the movement for a ‘White Australia’. While the gold rush and its aftermath had brought people to the city from many countries, the overwhelming majority of Melburnians were of British or Irish ancestry, and shared a hope that Australia would remain that way.

Further Reading

Davison, Graeme, Hirst, John and McIntyre, Stuart (eds), The Oxford Companion to Australian History, Oxford University Press, 1998.
Jupp, James, From White Australia to Woomera. The Story of Australian Immigration, Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Tavan, Gwenda, The long, slow death of White Australia, Scribe Publications Pty Ltd, 2005.

Immigration Restriction Act

Playbill poster c. 1909
Playbill poster c. 1909
Playbill poster c. 1909Source: State Library of Victoria
While the Australian Government encouraged British immigration with offers of assisted passage, at the same time it restricted non-Europeans, especially Asians from immigrating to Australia.
The Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, or the 'White Australia Policy' as it became known, stated that immigrants had to write and sign, in the presence of an Immigration Officer, a passage of 50 words in a European language as directed by the officer. The Dictation Test was usually first given in English. If the prospective immigrant passed, but was considered to be racially or politically unsuitable, the officer could then give the test in another European language.
The Dictation Test was given 805 times in 1902-1903 with 46 people passing, and 554 times in 1904-1909 with only six people passing. After 1909, no person passed the Dictation Test. People who failed the test were refused entry to Australia and were deported.
The most infamous case involving the Dictation Test was that of Egon Kisch in 1934. The Prague-born Jewish socialist had a valid visa for Australia, where he had come to address the Movement Against War and Fascism. However, the conservative Lyons Government was concerned that Kisch was a communist and attempted to stop him from disembarking in Fremantle. Kisch proceeded on to Melbourne, and when he was arrested, jumped from the liner onto Station Pier and broke his leg.
Kisch was arrested again and sent to Sydney. When he disembarked, the authorities gave him the Dictation Test in Gaelic, as he spoke English and a number of other European languages fluently.
His case was taken to the High Court and Kisch won. The Attorney-General, Robert Menzies, was humiliated in the High Court and parliament, and Kisch went on to address huge crowds throughout Australia.
To read more about Egon Kisch, go to the article "The Big Jump: Egon Kisch in Australia" on the National Centre for History Education's 'Ozhistorybytes' website.
The Immigration Restriction Act remained in force until 1958, when the Dictation Test was abolished, and was not fully dismantled until the introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975. For a copy of the original Immigration Restriction Act and a further discussion of its history go to http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/item.asp?dID=16



Immigration Restriction Act 1901

White Australia policy

[[image:/skins-1.5/common/images/magnify-clip.png width="15" height="11" link="http://asiaeducationfoundation.wikispaces.com/page/edit/wiki/File:Ac.whiteaustralia.jpg"]]external image 200px-Ac.whiteaustralia.jpg

This badge from 1906 shows the use of the expression "White Australia" at that time
The White Australia policy stands for the historical policies that intentionally restricted non-white to Australia from 1901 to 1973.
The chief architect of the policy, Alfred Deakin, believed that the Japanese and Chinese might be a threat to the newly formed federation and it was this belief that led to legislation to ensure they would be kept out:
"It is not the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them so dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance and low standard of living that make them such competitors."
The happening of the inauguration of White Australia as government policy is generally taken to be the passage of Immigration Restriction Act in 1901, one of the first Acts of the new national parliament upon federation, the bill had support from the labour movement. The policy was dismantled in stages by successive Liberal governments after the conclusion of World War II, with the encouragement of first non-British and later non-white immigration. From 1973 on, the White Australia policy was for all practical purposes defunct, and in 1975 the Australian government passed the //Racial Discrimination Act//, which made racially-based selection criteria illegal.
Restrictions on immigration had preceded federation, beginning with anti-Chinese legislation enacted by individual Australian colonies during the Australian goldrushes of the 1850s.

Immigration policy prior to Federation

Gold Rush era

The discovery of gold in Australia in 1851 led to an influx of immigrants from all around the world. Over the next 20 years, 40,000 Chinese men and 11 women (mostly Cantonese) migrated to the gold-fields because of wanting a new start in life by trying to find gold.[[#cite_note-Markey-2|[3]]] Competition on the gold-fields led to significant conflict between groups.
This tension eventually led to a series of protests and riots, including the Lambing Flat Riots between 1860 and 1861. Governor Hotham, on 16 November 1854, appointed a Royal Commission on Victorian gold-fields problems and grievances. This led to restrictions being placed on Chinese immigration and residency taxes levied from Chinese residents in Victoria from 1855 with New South Wales following suit in 1861. These restrictions remained in force until the early 1870s.

Support from the labour movement

The growth of the sugar industry in Queensland in the 1870s led to searching for labourers prepared to work in a tropical environment. During this time, thousands of "Kanakas" (Pacific Islanders) were brought into Australia as indentured workers.[[#cite_note-Griffiths-3|[4]]] This and related practices of bringing in non-white labour to be cheaply employed was commonly termed "blackbirding" and refers to the recruitment of people through trickery and kidnappings to work on plantations, particularly the sugar cane plantations of Queensland (Australia) and Fiji.[[#cite_note-Willoughby-4|[5]]] In the 1870s and 1880s, the trade union movement began a series of protests against foreign labour. Their arguments were that Asians and Chinese took jobs away from white men, worked for "substandard" wages, lowered working conditions and refused unionisation.[[#cite_note-Markey-2|[3]]]
Objections to immigration restrictions for non-whites came largely from wealthy land owners in rural areas. It was argued that without Asiatics to work in the tropical areas of the Northern Territory and Queensland, the area would have to be abandoned.[[#cite_note-Griffiths-3|[4]]] Despite these objections to restricting immigration, between 1875-1888 all Australian colonies enacted legislation which excluded all further Chinese immigration.[[#cite_note-Griffiths-3|[4]]] Asian immigrants already residing in the Australian colonies were not expelled and retained precisely the same rights as their Anglo and Celtic compatriots insofar as citizenship.
Agreements were made to further increase these restrictions in 1895 following an Inter-colonial Premier's Conference where all colonies agreed to extend entry restrictions to all non-white races. However, in attempting to enact this legislation, the Governors of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania reserved the bills, due to a treaty with Japan, and they did not become law. Instead, the Natal Act of 1897 was introduced, restricting "undesirable persons" rather than any specific race.[[#cite_note-Markey-2|[3]]]
The British government in London was not pleased with legislation that discriminated against certain subjects of its Empire, but decided not to disallow the laws that were passed. Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain explained in 1897:
"We quite sympathise with the determination...of these colonies...that there should not be an influx of people alien in civilisation, alien in religion, alien in customs, whose influx, moreover, would seriously interfere with the legitimate rights of the existing labouring population."[[#cite_note-5|[6]]]

From Federation to World War II

Federation Convention and Australia's first government

Immigration was a prominent topic in the lead up to Australian Federation. At the Federation Convention, Western Australian premier and future federal cabinet member, John Forrest, summarised the prevailing feeling:[[#cite_note-Willoughby-4|[5]]]

[It is] of no use to shut our eyes to the fact that there is a great feeling all over Australia against the introduction of coloured persons. It goes without saying that we do not like to talk about it, but it is so.

The government following Federation in 1901 was formed by the Protectionist Party with the support of the Australian Labor Party. The support of the Labor Party was contingent upon restricting non-white immigration, reflecting the attitudes of the Australian Worker's Union and other labour organisations at the time, upon whose support the Labor Party was founded.

Immigration Restriction Act 1901

Main article: Immigration Restriction Act 1901
The new Federal Parliament, as one of its first pieces of legislation, passed the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 to "place certain restrictions on immigration and... for the removal... of prohibited immigrants". The Act drew on similar legislation in South Africa. Edmund Barton, the prime minister, argued in support of the Bill with the following statement: "The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman."
Early drafts of the Act explicitly banned non-Europeans from migrating to Australia but objections from the British government, which feared that such a measure would offend British subjects in India and Britain's allies in Japan, caused the Barton government to remove this wording. Instead, a "dictation test" was introduced as a device for excluding unwanted immigrants. Immigration officials were given the power to exclude any person who failed to pass a 50-word dictation test. At first this was to be in any European language, but was later changed to include any language.
In 1902 the Australian parliament passed the Pacific Island Labourers Act. The result of this legislation was that 7,500 Pacific Islanders (called "Kanakas") working mostly on plantations in Queensland were deported and entry into Australia by Pacific Islanders after 1904 was prohibited..

The Paris Peace Conference

At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference following World War I, Japan sought to include a racial equality clause in the Covenant of the League of Nations. Japanese policy reflected their desire to remove or to ease the immigration restrictions against Japanese (especially in the United States and Canada), which Japan regarded as a humiliation and affront to its prestige.
Australia was one of few countries which had race as a dominant political ideology at the time. As such, Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes vehemently opposed Japan's racial equality proposition. Hughes recognised that such a clause would be a threat to White Australia and made it clear to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George that he would leave the conference if the clause was adopted. When the proposal failed, Hughes reported in the Australian parliament:

"The White Australia is yours. You may do with it what you please, but at any rate, the soldiers have achieved the victory and my colleagues and I have brought that great principle back to you from the conference, as safe as it was on the day when it was first adopted."[[#cite_note-australian_story-6|[7]]]

Stanley Bruce

Australian Prime Minister Stanley Bruce was a supporter of the White Australia Policy, and made it an issue in his campaign for the 1925 Australian Federal election.[[#cite_note-Policy_Launch_Speech-7|[8]]]

It is necessary that we should determine what are the ideals towards which every Australian would desire to strive. I think those ideals might well be stated as being to secure our national safety, and to ensure the maintenance of our White Australia Policy to continue as an integral portion of the British Empire.[[#cite_note-Policy_Launch_Speech-7|[8]]] We intend to keep this country white and not allow its peoples to be faced with the problems that at present are practically insoluble in many parts of the world."[[#cite_note-Bowen-8|[9]]]

—Prime Minister Stanley Bruce during his 1925 election campaign speech

Abolition of the Policy

World War II

Between the Great Depression starting in 1929 and the end of World War II in 1945, global conditions kept immigration to very low levels.[[#cite_note-timeline-9|[10]]] At the start of the war, Prime Minister John Curtin (ALP) reinforced the message of the White Australia Policy by saying: "This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race."[[#cite_note-abolition-10|[11]]]
However, by the end of World War II, Australia's vulnerability during the war in the Pacific and small population led to policies summarised by the slogan, "Populate or Perish", an ethnocentric slogan that meant "Fill with whites, lest we be filled with yellows".[[#cite_note-11|[12]]] During the war, many non-white refugees, including Malays, Indonesians, and Filipinos, had settled in Australia, but Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell controversially sought to have them all deported. However in 1948, Iranian Bahá'ís seeking to emigrate to Australia were classified as "Asiatic" by the policy, and were denied entry and the policy largely remained in place until the 1960s and was lifted in 1973.[[#cite_note-pers-12|[13]]] In 1949, Calwell's successor Harold Holt allowed the remaining 800 non-white refugees to apply for residency, and also allowed Japanese "war brides" to settle in Australia.[[#cite_note-abolition-10|[11]]]

Relaxation of restrictions

Australian policy began to shift towards significantly increasing immigration. Legislative changes over the next few decades continuously opened up immigration in Australia.[[#cite_note-timeline-9|[10]]]
  • 1947 The Australian Government relaxed the Immigration Restriction Act allowing Non-Europeans the right to settle permanently in Australia for business reasons.
  • 1950 Colombo Plan, students from Asian countries were admitted to study at Australian universities.
  • 1957 Non-Europeans with 15 years' residence in Australia were allowed to become citizens.
  • 1958 The [[w/index.php?title=Migration_Act,_1958&action=edit&redlink=1|Revised Migration Act of 1958]] abolished the dictation test and introduced a simpler system for entry.
  • 1959 Australians were permitted to sponsor Asian spouses for citizenship.
  • 1964 Conditions of entry for people of Non-European stock were relaxed.
After a review of the European policy in March 1966, Immigration Minister Hubert Opperman announced applications for migration would be accepted from well-qualified people on the basis of their suitability as settlers, their ability to integrate readily and their possession of qualifications positively useful to Australia. At the same time, the Holt Liberal government decided a number of "temporary resident" non-Europeans, who were not required to leave Australia, could become permanent residents and citizens after five years (the same as for Europeans).
As a result, annual non-European settler arrivals rose from 746 in 1966 to 2,696 in 1971, while annual part-European settler arrivals rose from 1,498 to 6,054.[[#cite_note-abolition-10|[11]]]

End of the White Australia Policy

The legal end of the White Australia policy is usually placed in the year 1973, when the Whitlam Labour government implemented a series of amendments preventing the enforcement of racial aspects of the immigration law. These amendments:[[#cite_note-abolition-10|[11]]]
  • Legislated that all migrants, regardless of origin, be eligible to obtain citizenship after three years of permanent residence.
  • Ratified all international agreements relating to immigration and race.
  • Issued policy to totally disregard race as a factor in selecting migrants.
The 1975 Racial Discrimination Act made the use of racial criteria for any official purpose illegal.
It was not until the Fraser Liberal government's review of immigration law in 1978 that all selection of prospective migrants based on country of origin was entirely removed from official policy. Currently, a large number of Australia's immigrants are from countries such as China and India, though the United Kingdom and New Zealand respectively remain the two largest single sources of immigrants.
In 1981 the Minister for Immigration announced a Special Humanitarian Assistance (SHP) Program for Iranians to seek refuge in Australia and by 1988 some 2500 Bahá'ís and many more others had arrived in Australia through either SHP or Refugee Programs.[[#cite_note-pers-12|[13]]] See Iranian Australian and Bahá'í Faith in Australia. The last selective immigration policy, offering relocation assistance to British nationals, was finally removed in 1982.[[#cite_note-Jupp-13|[14]]]


Contemporary demographics

The 2001 Australian census results indicate that many Australians claim some European heritage: English 37%, Irish 11%, Italian 5%, German 4.3%, Scottish 3%, Greek 2%, Dutch 1.5%, Polish 0.9%. Australians of some non-European origin form a significant but still relatively small part of the population: Chinese 3.2%, Indian 0.9%, Lebanese 0.9% ( Sometimes considered white australian, but not from Europe), Vietnamese 0.9%. 2.2% identified themselves as Indigenous Australians. 39% of the population gave their ancestry as "Australian". The Australian census does not classify people according to race, only ethnic ancestry. (Note that subjects were permitted to select more than one answer for this census question.)[[#cite_note-census-14|[15]]]
15% of the population now speaks a language other than English at home.[[#cite_note-Inglis-15|[16]]] The most commonly spoken languages are Italian, Greek, Cantonese and Arabic.

Political and social legacy

Discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity was legally sanctioned until 1975. Australia's new official policy on racial diversity is: "to build on our success as a culturally diverse, accepting and open society, united through a shared future".[[#cite_note-united_diversity-16|[17]]] The White Australia Policy continues to be mentioned in modern contexts, although few politicians ever mention the policy, except when denouncing their opposition. As Leader of the Opposition, John Howard, argued for restricting Asian immigration in 1988, as part of his One Australia policy, later admitting that his comments cost him his job at the time:

I'm not in favour of going back to a White Australia policy. I do believe that if it is -- in the eyes of some in the community -- that it's too great, it would be in our immediate-term interest and supporting of social cohesion if it (Asian immigration) were slowed down a little, so the capacity of the community to absorb it was greater.[[#cite_note-Megalogenis-17|[18]]]

John Howard speaking on ABC Radio PM, 1 August, 1988
At its peak, Pauline Hanson's One Nation party received 9% of the national election vote.[[#cite_note-carr-18|[19]]] Pauline Hanson was widely accused of trying to take Australia back to the days of the White Australia Policy, particularly through reference to Arthur Calwell, one of the policy's strongest supporters:

I and most Australians want our immigration policy radically reviewed and that of multiculturalism abolished. I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40 per cent of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.[[#cite_note-Hanson-19|[20]]]

Pauline Hanson in her maiden speech to parliament
On 24 May 2007, Pauline Hanson, with her new Pauline's United Australia Party, continues her call for a freeze on immigration and provided comments about African migrants carrying disease into Australia[[#cite_note-20|[21]]]. Topics related to racism and immigration in Australia are still regularly connected by the media to the White Australia Policy. Some examples of issues and events where this connection has been made include: reconciliation with Aborigines; mandatory detention and the "Pacific Solution"; the 2005 Cronulla riots, and the 2009 attacks on Indians in Australia. Former opposition Labor party leader Mark Latham, in his book The Latham Diaries, described the ANZUS alliance as a legacy of the White Australia policy.
In 2007, the Howard Government introduced a citizenship test to include a tougher English language test, and a test on "Australian" values. The actual questions of such citizenship test have not been publicly released, and its future is in question given the ALP victory in the 2007 election.
Australian government policy from earlier years has been claimed to be the original impetus for the apartheid system in South Africa.[[#cite_note-21|[22]]]


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statement of significance Immigration Restriction Act c.1901

Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia: A1336 3368
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia: A1336 3368

Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia: A1336 3368
National Archives of Australia, ACT, Australia.
Object Name
Immigration Act 1901
Object/Collection Description
An Act to place certain restrictions on Immigration and to provide for the removal from the Commonwealth of prohibited Immigrants (No.17 of 1901). Parchment, cotton and wax. Dimensions: 400mm long x 320mm wide.
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.2 -3
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.2 -3

Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.2 -3
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.4 -5
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.4 -5

Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.4 -5
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.6 -7
Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.6 -7

Immigration Restriction Act 1901. National Archives of Australia p.6 -7
Before 1900, there was no actual country called Australia, there were six colonies of New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia that existed on the Australian continent and Tasmania the island colony. While the six colonies were on the same continent they were governed by Britain like six separate countries. Up until the 1880s, there was limited interest in the idea of uniting the colonies into one country and the influential businessmen in the colonies seemed more interested in protecting their own economic interests. Things began to change in the 1890s. There was a severe drought that resulted in violent industrial strikes. By 1888, 70% of people in Australia had been born here and there was a growing nationalist sentiment. Communication had improved and all the colonies were linked to each other and the world by the overland telegraph and submarine telegraph. Germany, France and Russia were expanding in the Pacific and the colonies could better defend themselves with a single army and navy. Thousands of Chinese migrants came to Australia during the gold rush. People wanted to restrict the economic competition of migrants from Asia. The best way to do this was for all the colonies to act together and work out a common immigration policy.
Uniting the six colonies was not easy and there were many fights and walkouts in negotiations along the way. After a series of conferences and meetings, a draft Australian Federal Constitution was drawn up. Then a series of referendums were put to the people, until finally, in 1900, there was a majority agreement for Federation. The Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed on 1st January 1901 at a grand ceremony in Sydney’s Centennial Park. In 1901 most people in Australia were proud to be Australians. They thought their country was the land of opportunity. But, while Australians elected their own parliament that made Australian laws, they did not control their own foreign policy or defence. Australia did not have its own Navy and it could not make treaties with other nations. The ‘mother country’, Britain controlled these.
Australia was part of the British Empire. In 1907, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand became known as Dominions. While Britain arranged conferences to hear the views of the Dominions, Britain kept a firm control over defence and foreign policy.
But Australia was getting ideas of its own. It was especially concerned that Britain did not have strong military bases in the Pacific area and Britain had signed a treaty with Japan who Australia feared. As a result, Australia began to build up its own navy in 1909.
In 1901, 98% of people in Australia were white. Australia wanted to remain a country of white people who lived by British customs. Trade unions were keen to prevent labour competition from Chinese and Pacific Islander migrants who they feared would undercut wages. One of the first pieces of legislation passed in the new Federal Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act. Now known as the infamous White Australia Policy it made it very difficult for Asians and Pacific Islanders to migrate to Australia. This Act stated that if a person wanted to migrate to Australia they had to be given a dictation test. The dictation test could be in any European language. So a person from China or Japan who wanted to live in Australia could be tested in one or all of French, Italian or English languages. In 1905, the Act was changed so it could be given in any language at all. Of course, most Asians failed the tests and were not allowed to migrate to Australia unless they were able to enter the country under very strict exclusion rules and fortunate enough to have well connected sponsors.
Anti Federation cartoon 1899. SLNSW
Anti Federation cartoon 1899. SLNSW

Anti Federation cartoon 1899. SLNSW
The Immigration Restriction Act was the key part of a package of legislation passed by the new Federal Parliament in 1901, aimed at excluding all non-European migrants. This package included the Pacific Islander Labourers Act and Section 15 of the 1901 Post and Telegraph Act, which provided that ships carrying Australian mails, and hence subsidised by the Commonwealth, should employ only white labour. Its sentiments were in line with Australian nationalism in the late 1880s and 1890s, and moves to restrict non-European immigration to most of the Australian colonies dating back to the 1850s.
The mechanism restricting immigration could not be overtly based on race as this was opposed by Britain and frowned upon by Britain’s ally, Japan. Instead, the basis was literacy, assessed by a Dictation Test. Similar Dictation Tests, based on legislation used in Natal in South Africa, had been introduced in Western Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania in the late 1890s.
The Immigration Restriction Act enabled the government to exclude any person who ‘when asked to do so by an officer fails to write out at dictation and sign in the presence of the officer, a passage of 50 words in length in a European language directed by the officer’. The Dictation Test could be administered to any migrant during the first year of residence.
It was initially proposed that the Test would be in English, but it was argued that this could discourage European migration and advantage Japanese people, and Americans of African descent. Instead, any ‘European language’ was specified. In 1905 this was changed to ‘any prescribed language’ to lessen offence to the Japanese. From 1932 the Test could be given during the first five years of residence, and any number of times.
The Dictation Test was administered 805 times in 1902-03 with 46 people passing and 554 times in 1904-09 with only six people successful. After 1909 no person passed the Dictation Test and people who failed were refused entry or deported.
The Act, frequently amended, remained in force until 1958.
This document has historic value because it has direct links Federation and the drafting of the first Australian Constitution. This document put in place the law that was the cornerstone of Australia’s ‘White Australia’ policy. The Governor-General signed the document two days before Christmas Day 1901, a week after he had signed the Pacific Islander Labourers Act into law. Together with Section 15 of the 1901 Post and Telegraph Act, these formed a powerful set of legal instruments shaping immigration policy at the foundation of the Commonwealth. They continued to guide thinking on immigration for half a century.
The document has social value for migrant communities especially Chinese and Pacific Islanders who were largely the target of the racist nature of the Immigration Restriction Act.
The document was drafted and passed in the House of Representatives in Federal Parliament in 1901. The document is in the National Archives of Australia collection.
The document is rare as it is one of the few objects directly associated with the drafting of the first Australian Constitution.
The document represents the formal adoption by Commonwealth of Australia of racist policies that resulted in form immigration apartheid that grew out of racist 19th century community attitudes.
The document is in excellent condition.
The document has the potential to interpret the main themes of Federation. This is namely the drafting of the Federal Constitution that governed immigration, customs, defence, trade, taxation and finance and industrial relations and the creation of a new Australian nation in 1901. The document has the potential to interpret the racist attitudes to Asians and Pacific Islanders and the subsequent laws and polices adopted by the Federal government to restrict these groups to migration and work in Australia.

Coupe, S. & Andrews, M.
Their Ghosts may be heard: Australia to 1900,
Longman Cheshire, Sydney, 1992.
Coupe, S. & Andrews, M.
Was it only Yesterday? Australia in the Twentieth Century World,
Longman Cheshire, Sydney, 1992.
Regional Histories of NSW,
Heritage Office & Dept of Urban Affairs & Planning,
Sydney, 1996.
Significance: A guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections,
Heritage Collections Council. 2001.

Written by Stephen Thompson
June 2007
Migration Heritage Centre
Crown copyright 2007 ©


Migration Heritage Centre logo
Migration Heritage Centre logo

The Migration Heritage Centre at the Powerhouse Museum is a NSW Government initiative supported by the Community Relations Commission.

external image whitebrotherhood.jpg

The White Australia Policy

From 1901 to the end of World War II, Australia used language tests, otherwise known as the Immigration Restriction Act (White Australia Policy), to prevent "undesirables" (prostitutes, paupers, criminals, non-whites, contract labourers) from migrating to Australia. In total, the policy ran for around 50 years; less than a 1/4 of Australia's urban history.
Unfortunately, some historians have used the Act to portray present-day Australians as racists by deliberately mis-telling the reasons for it and ignoring some of the positive race relations either side of it and during it. As a consequence of their deliberate misdirections, history has been used to divide races in Australia. One such historian is David Day, a white research fellow at LaTrobe University. According to Mr Day:
"The law was passed with hardly a voice raised in protest, although there was discussion as to the best way of achieving its objective of racial purity." (1)
While Mr Day has his reasons for his interpretation of history, his conclusions are not consistent with reality and call into question his moral integrity. As Mr Day would know, racial purity was not the objective of the Immigration Restriction Act and it was passed with plenty of protest.

Foundations of the White Australia Policy
Unlike America's colonial era, race was relatively insignificant in Australia's colonial era. In America's founding era, whites constituted the majority of the population, and were the first class citizens. Blacks were the disliked minority. On the other hand, nearly two generations into Australia's urban era, nearly 80 per cent of the population was a Convict, Emancipist, or of Convict descent. As a consequence, the majority of the population were second class-citizens, and the exclusive free settlers were the disliked minority. Race was insignificant compared to the stigma of criminality and the majority of the population shared that stigma together.
Billy Blue
Billy Blue
Billy Blue

The unique social dynamic allowed non-whites to be celebrated in Australia in a way that they could never be celebrated in America. A good example comes in the form of the black emancipist Billy Blue. In the early 19th century, Billy Blue became what could be defined as Australia's first celebrity. He was admired by the convict class and dined with the governors. Newspapers of the time didn't even refer to his colour. In tribute to Billy's legacy, many streets, landmarks, hotels and businesses in Nth Sydney were named in his honour. These include Blues Point, William Street, Blues Point Road, The Commodore Hotel, and the Billy Blue Design School.
More examples of equality for all races came in revolutionary ideals of the 1850s. At the 1854 Eureka rebellion, Raffaelo Carboni, an Italian migrant, called on the crowd,
"irrespective of nationality, religion and colour", to salute the Southern Cross as the "refuge of all the oppressed from all the countries on earth".
Later Carboni wrote:
"The maiden appearance of our standard, in the midst of armed men, sturdy, self-overworking diggers of all languages and colours, was a fascinating object to behold." (2)
Of the 13 men arrested and tried with treason after the rebellion, two were black. Carboni, a Jew and a large number of Irishmen were also arrested. Perhaps the government deliberately targeted non-Anglo races for prosecution in order to erode support for the stockade. If so, the plan backfired because a jury found all thirteen men not guilty and they became colonial heroes. One of the black men, John Joseph, was carried around the streets of Melbourne in triumph by over 10,000 people.
The egalitarian sentiments were again reflected when the colonies of NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland framed their constitutions in the later 1850s. The colonies gave the vote to every man over the age of 21, regardless of race, religion or class (Aborigines included.)
When migrants started forming unions, the social dynamic began to change. As was to be expected, unions campaigned against any kind of labour that undermined their power. Initially, the threat to the unions came in the form of Convicts. Businesses could import them and not have to worry about them joining the unions or dying on the job. Once Convict transportation came to an end, businesses started importing Chinese and Pacific Islanders. The Chinese were under contract to those who paid their fare and this contract prevented them from joining unions. As for the Pacific Islanders, they were sometimes sold by island chiefs and therefore they were culturally bound to do as they were told.

In addition to causing problems by not joining unions, the contract labourers and Chinese were causing problems by spending very little money in Australia and instead saving almost all of it for their planned return to their home countries. For a real economy to emerge, the fledging businesses of Australia needed some of the profits of the gold rush to be spent in Australia. As was to be expected, local service and retail industries were not fond of the frugral nature of the Chinese and did not rejoice when Chinese found gold as they rejoiced when other nationalities found gold.
In response to the non-white threat to their power, unions started campaigning for a federated Australia with uniform immigration laws that could keep out the non-whites (or anyone that wouldn't join a union). A Federation poster appearing in Punch magazine contained an old man advising a youngster:
"Right, my boy, your worthy of your sire. In the old days I stopped the convicts in the bay. And now you must bar out the yellow plague with your arm."
In 1901, the federation of Australia became a reality and the Immigration Restriction Act was implemented. The act prohibited prostitutes, criminals, and anyone under a contract or agreement to perform manual labour within Australia. It also required migrants pass a test in a language chosen by an immigration officer.
This language test was used to exclude non-whites or any individual that an immigration officer decided was of a dubious character.
Although some politicians said extremely racist things to justify the exclusion of non-whites, others argued that the claims were nothing but a distraction from the real intention. Bruce Smith of the Free Trade party said:
"The foundation of the bill is racial prejudice. The whole thing is a bogy, a scarecrow. I venture to say that a large part of the scare is founded upon a desire to make political capital by appealing to some of the worst instincts of the more credulous of the people." (3)
The Labour Party voiced its opposition to the racial overtones. James Fowler arguing:
"Many of these peoples are at least our equal in all that goes to make up morality, or even intellectual or physical qualities. We should not, therefore, argue this question upon such grounds." (3)
Even the chief architect of the policy, Alfred Deakin, conceded that non-whites might be superior, and it was belief in their superiority that necessitated that they be kept out:
"It is not the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them so dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance and low standard of living that make them such competitors."

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Opinions in the wider community reflected some of mixed opinions in parliament. Henry Lawson, a nationalistic poet of the era, wrote an essay saying the Chinese must be kept out because they were not good colonists; however, he also said:
"The American negro is already a man and brother."(5)
Lawson was a committed unionist and his dislike of Chinese but like of American blacks was a further example of the Immigration Restriction Act being motivated by economic reasons, rather than notions of white supremacy.
Although the White Australia Policy restricted the ability of Asians to migrate to Australia, because it was primarily designed for economic reasons, it was unlikely that it was a reflection of a wider dislike of Asians in Australian society. From the years 1900 to 1950, there was plenty of evidence of Asian culture being respected. Firstly, the streets of Sydney and Melbourne were home to Chinese cookhouses. Secondly, Australia's greatest race horse was named "Phar Lap" after Aubrey Ping, the son of a Chinese migrant, told a trainer it meant "sky flash" in both Zhuang and Thai. Obviously the trainer didn't think that an Asian name would prevent the public from feeling a sense of ownership over him. That faith in the public proved to be well founded. During the 1930s depression, Australians ventured to the track to cheer on Phar Lap while Germans were turning to Hitler.
Admittedly, attitudes to Asians were very negative during World War II, which was to be expected considering that Japan was trying to invade Australia. Just as contemporary Japanese homogenise all Caucasians as gaijins (derogatory word for outsider) and contemporary Chinese homogenise all Caucasians as laowei (derogatory word for outsiders), Australians homogenised all Asian people, be they Chinese, Japanese or Korean, as being the same.
The major change in immigration policy came under the rein of the Labor leader Ben Chiefly immediately after World War II. Whereas previous governments had favoured immigration from Britain, Chiefly favoured anywhere from Europe. Millions of non-English speaking southern Europeans were enticed to migrate to Australia. To give them a job and enable the Australian community to appreciate them, Chiefly initiated the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. 70 per cent of the workers were migrants and they came from countries that had been in conflict with each other for thousands of years. Rather than hold on to their conflicts, the migrants let them go and embraced the future.
In addition to reducing conflict by giving the migrants a purpose, Chiefly reduced conflict by referring to them as “new Australians”. The title encouraged the migrants to see themselves as stakeholders in Australia’s future and pre-existing Australians to embrace them as stakeholders.

As well as targeting non-traditional European migrants, Chiefly also started dismantling restrictions on Asian migration. In 1947, Chiefly relaxed the Immigration Restriction Act by allowing non-Europeans to settle permanently in Australia for business reasons. In addition, around 700 Australian soldiers who had married Japanese women were allowed to bring their brides back to Australia.
It said a great deal about the soldiers' characters that they would marry a people that had been accused of terrible things, and subsequently risk community outrage by bringing the enemy people back to Australia. Likewise, the willingness of the Australian people to break an immigration policy to accept the women, and forgive the Japanese in general, also showed a strength of character worthy of admiration. Other nations in the eastern hemisphere have not been able to forgive the actions of the Japanese as readily as Australians. Even today, many Chinese can't even stand to be in the same room as Japanese men or women.
Because migrants and the wider Australian community were able to see the positive side of non-traditional migration, the remaining aspects of the Immigration Restriction Act were progressively dismantled by the Liberal Menzies government. In 1958, a revised Migration Act introduced a simpler system of entry permits and abolished the controversial dictation test. Because the revised Act avoided references to questions of race, it allowed well-qualified Asians to migrate. By 1964, almost all conditions blocking entry of people of non-European stock had been removed and non-traditional migration was being very well recieved by the Australian community. By 1966, there were 101,387 Asian-born migrants in Australia. (ABS 2005).
The election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972 represented somewhat of a schizophrenic progression and regression of ideologies. In regards to progress, Whitlam introduced some symbolic gestures that aimed to show that race was not a significant factor in the Australian identity. Specifically, Whitlam:
  • Legislated that all migrants, regardless of origin, be eligible to obtain citizenship after three years of permanent residence;
  • Ratified all international agreements relating to immigration and race;
  • Issued policy to Australian embassies to totally disregard race as a factor in selecting migrants.
Another progressive Whitlam idea was to encourage Australians to stop seeing themselves as transplanted Brits in the eastern hemisphere. Not only were Australians of British stock encouraged to reject their heritage, migrants were encouraged not to see the British Queen as their Queen. Instead, they were encouraged to hold onto their heritage.
The obvious problem with Whitlam's plan was that it created an inequality of status. Australians of British heritage became "Australians" while others became ethnic. To reduce the inequality of status, a whole new identity needed to be created. These identities became 'white', 'European', 'multicultural' or 'western.' Ironically, although Whitlam discouraged Australians from seeing themselves as a British outpost in the eastern hemisphere, he encouraged them to see themselves as Europeans in the eastern hemisphere, which really wasn't much different at all. If anything, Whitlam's identity was more racially conscious than the British identity that it replaced.
Some of the regression of values could be seen in the symbols of the Australian Capital Territory. The ACT's Coat of Arms was designed in 1928. A black swan was included to represent Aborigines and a white Swan to represent Europeans. Even though there were many Australians in 1928 who did not identify themselves as either Aboriginal or European, no supporter was included to represent them. Likewise, all Asians, Americans and Africans were excluded as well. In 1988, the ACT gained self-government and with it, the opportunity to create a new Coat of Arms that more accurately represented the people of Canberra. Despite having the power to make a change, politicians choose not to. Arguably, this was because the thinking of government in 1988 was not much different to what it was in 1928. In the minds of government, Australia was still nothing but a European outpost in the eastern hemisphere. There was no such thing as Australians. Furthermore, Asians were not in their consciousness. There were just "westerners (Europeans/whites)" and "aborigines"
Canberra Coat of Arms
Canberra Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms of the ACT. Granted in 1928, the Black Swan repesents Aborigines. The White Swan represents Europeans. Australians and Asians are not represented. 80 years later, the same ideology defines the identity of Australian politicians.
Even though the western identity was created in the aim of racial equality, the symbolism of seeing Australia as a European outpost in the eastern hemipshere denied opportunities for non-whites in Australia. By encouraging non-whites to see themselves as ethnic, the "westerners" were able to erode the non-white's ability to take social leadership positions in Australian society. For example, instead of potential Barack Obamas being encouraged to engage with mainstream life, they were encouraged to go away and play bongo drums at a multicultural festival. Meanwhile, white Australians, such as Whitlam, were encouraged to see themselves as social wardens that needed to protect the ethnics against racism. Furthermore, while they were encouraging non-whites to hold onto their ancestrial identities, they were building a "western" identity that connected them to the Australians of European heritage, and improved their ability to become leaders of other westerners.
The endurance of the discrimination was seen in 2005 survey of intellectuals by the Australian Public Intellectual Network. The survey asked 200 scholars to list 10 important and influential thinkers. The list they produced had 8 white men in the 10 most influential Australian intellectuals. Every intellectual in the top 20 had Caucasian ancestry. Not a single Australian of Asian ancestry was deemed to have anything useful to contribute to the Australian humanities. The ignorance of Asia was bad for Australia considering:
  • Australia’s top three trading partners were Asian
  • People with Asian ancestry constituted 7% of the Australian population,
  • Australia received about two million tourists from Asia, while about the same number of Australian tourists visited Asia,
  • Seven out of ten international students in Australian universities were Asian
  • Australia was in an Asian neighbourhood, which resulted in Asian issues having a big influence on Australia.
Not only did the victimisation of Asians result in them being ignored to Australia's detriment, it also resulted in Asians being excluded from the moral empowerment of the pro-Whitlam activist campaigns. The “we” whites who jumped on board were able to see themselves as keepers of political power that were showing moral courage by acknowledging their "guilt." This was recognised by Kay Schaffer, an Associate Professor from Adelaide University. In regards to white intellectuals dominating the racial debate, Schaffer wondered:
"Or is this present controversy yet another example of some prominent and influential white Australians talking to and among themselves in the name of a national debate in a way that maintains the exclusion of the nation's others? " (4)
While the intellectual industries have been a bastion of well intentioned, but racial supremacist attitudes since the days of the Whitlam Government, the wider Australian community has been far more inclusive. At the end of World War II, Australia's population was 7 million. In 2006, migrants constituted 22.8 per cent of the Australian population of around 20 million. The accommodation of these migrants has largely come without the conflicts seen in France and England, which only have a migrant population of around 5.6 and 4.8 per cent respectively, yet still haven't been able to integrate the migrants in a harmonious way. Both England and France have suffered some very serious minority-led race riots that have not been seen in Australia.
Mixed in with the relatively harmonious migration have been some very public displays of support for non-whites. In a uniquely Australian event, Frank Worrel's 1961 touring West Indian cricket team played well-above expectations and won the hearts of Australians in the process. Although losing the series, 90,000 Australians lined the streets of Melbourne in a ticker tape parade biding the Windies farewell. In rugby union, another sport that is often portrayed as the bastion of white establishment, the record of most caps as test captain is held by a blackman, George Gregan. As well as being popular with selectors, Gregan was popular with the Australia public; as evidenced by his frequent appearances in endorsements and communication campaigns. In music and stage, Marcia Hines became one of Australia's best-loved performers. In the 70s, she had a string of top-ten hits, was dubbed "The First Australian Lady of Song" and became the first black woman to play Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar. In the new mellenium, she became a judge on Australian Idol and released more successful albums.
The winner of the inaugural season of the Australian Idol song contest was born in Malaysia. After the 2004 Asian tsunami, a Liberal government gave $1 billion in aid to Australia's Asian neighbours in a move that was very electorally popular. In 2007, Australia elected the first western leader who could speak Chinese.
All of the positive attitudes of Australians to Asian countries and migrants from them are ignored by the likes of David Day, who see themselves as wardens needing to protect Asians and non-whites against the horrid Australians. It is almost as if they are defined by a penal colony psyche except the scorn that was originally directed towards convicts, then Chinese, has now been directed onto Australians.
The identity requires that all non-whites be defined as ethnic, and that examples of hostility towards them be exaggerated to portray Australians in a negative way. Subsequently, the David Days can portray themselves as the saviours that will punish the racist Australian and protect the non-white victims.
Unfortunately, whites such as David Day bring conflict. By constantly reinforcing the stereotype that Australians are racist, some Australians decide to act in conformity to the stereotype by just becoming racist. Furthermore, by constantly attacking Australia, the Australians act just the same as other people do around the world when their culture is attacked, they defend it. Although this doesn’t cause racial problems when it is white Australians fighting white Australians, it does cause problems when non-whites conform to the ideology of David Day and join in the attacks. This inevitably results in an ethnic versus Australian social dynamic that breeds some unsavoury attitudes.

White Australia's myths
Keith Windschuttle
The Australian
December 6, 2004

Top 10 countries of birth, 1901 and 2001 Censuses
1901 Census
2001 Census
United Kingdom
United Kingdom
New Zealand
New Zealand
Sweden and Norway
Total overseas born
Total overseas born

The influence of Chinese on the Australian accent
The Australian strain of English is very musical. Tones are very important, and with the abbreviation of words to emphasize the stressed syllable, Australian English follows the general pattern of how English sounds when it is sung. In 1911, an English woman, Valerie Desmond, released a book titled The Awful Australian. In the book, she speculated that the tonal aspect of Australian English may have been the result of Australians mixing with Chinese. Irrespective of whether she was correct or not, her observations of a great deal of communication occurring between the Chinese and other members of Australian society paint a very different picture to that painted by modern day white historians. Her words also reveals how the pro-British sections of Australia felt towards Australia and non-whites.
"But it is not so much as the vagaries of pronunciation that hurt the ear of the visitor. It is the extraordinary intonation that the Australian imparts to his phrases. There is no such thing as cultured, reposeful conversation in this land; everybody sings his remarks as if he was reciting blank verse in the manner of an imperfect elocutionist. It would be quite possible to take an ordinary Australian conversation and immortalise its cadences and diapasons by means of musical notation. Herein the Australian differs from the American. The accent of the American, educated and uneducated alike, is abhorrent to the cultured Englishman or Englishwoman, but it is, at any rate, harmonious. That of the Australian is full of discords and surprises. His voice rises and falls with unexpected syncopations, and, even among the few cultured persons this country possesses, seems to bear in every syllable the sign of the parvenu…The Australian practice of singing his remarks I can only ascribe to the influence of the Chinese. During my stay in Melbourne, I spent one evening at supper in a Chinese cookshop in Little Bourke Street, and I was instantly struck by the resemblance between the intonation of the phrases between the Chinese attendants and that of the cultivated Australians who accompanied me."
1)David Day, A political whitewash. 5 December, 2001 http://www.country-liberal-party.com/pages/David-Day.htm
2)Carboni Raffaello, The Eureka Stockade http://www.fullbooks.com/The-Eureka-Stockade2.html
3)Keith Windschuttle,The White Australia Policy http://www.sydneyline.com/WAP%20Sydney%20Institute.htm

4)Kay Schaffer Manne's Generation: White Nation Responses to the Stolen Generation Report Australian Humanities Review http://www.lib.latrobe.edu.au/AHR/archive/Issue-June-2001/schaffer.html5)Richard Nile, First cohort for thought, http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20459801-25132,00.html
5)HENRY LAWSON Autobiographical and Other Writings 1887-1922 ANGUS AND ROBERTSON, Sydney 1972

5. Prominent Chinese in our Australian Community



Arts and entertainment



  • John So: former Lord Mayor of Melbourne
  • Henry Tsang: Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier; Deputy Lord Mayor, Sydney, 1991-1999
  • Bill O'Chee: Senator (Queensland), Federal Parliament
  • Peter Wong: politician (New South Wales)
  • Alfred Huang: former Lord Mayor of Adelaide
  • Penny Wong: Senator (South Australia), Federal Parliament, Member of Cabinet, Minister for Climate Change and Water 2007-(incumbent)
  • Tsebin Tchen: Senator (Victoria), Federal Parliament



From miners to artisans: 1877 to 1901

Colonies of Australia occurred in 1873 in the far north of Queensland at the Palmer River, and by 1877 there were 20,000 Chinese there. After the ending of this Queensland rush, people either returned to China or dispersed, including a significant number[quantify] coming into NSW either immediately or in subsequent years. This openness of the land borders and the rise in Chinese numbers after a period of decline again raised anti-Chinese fears in NSW, resulting in restrictive Acts in 1881 and 1888.
a risky endeavour and very soon after arrival Chinese people began trying other ways of earning a living. People opened stores and became merchants and hawkers, while a fishing and fish curing industry operating north and south of Sydney supplied dried fish in the 1860s and 1870s to Chinese people throughout NSW as well as Melbourne. By the 1890s Chinese people were represented in a wide variety of occupations including scrub cutters, interpreters, cooks, tobacco farmers, market gardeners, cabinet-makers, storekeepers and drapers, though by this time the fishing industry seemed to have disappeared. At the same time, Sydney’s proportion of the Chinese residents of NSW had steadily increased. One prominent Chinese Australian at this time was Mei Quong Tart, who ran a popular tea house in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney.

Domiciles and Australian-born Chinese: 1901 to 1936

By the time of Australian Federation, there were around 29,000 ethnic Chinese in Australia:[4] Chinese people in NSW were a significant group, running numerous stores, an import trade, societies and several Chinese language newspapers. They were also part of an international community involved in political events in China such as sending delegates to a Peking Parliament or making donations at times of natural disaster. The NSW immigration restrictions of 1888 had not had a great impact on total numbers and a continued inflow of Chinese from Queensland mitigated even this. The passing of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, however, froze the Chinese communities of the late 19th century into a slow decline.
Continued discrimination, both legal and social, reduced the occupational range of Chinese people until market gardening, always a major occupation, became far and away the representative role of 'John Chinaman'. It was as gardeners that most pre-1901 now granted status as ‘domiciles’ under the 1901 Act, visited their villages and established families throughout the first 30 years or so of the 20th century, relying on the minority of merchants to assist them to negotiate with the Immigration Restriction Act bureaucracy. Only the rise of a new generation of Australian-born Chinese people, combined with new migrants that the merchants and others sponsored, both legally and illegally, prevented the Chinese population of NSW disappearing entirely.

According to the 2006 Australian Census, 206,591 Australians declared they were born in China (excludes SARs and Taiwan Province)[5]. A further 71,803 declared they were born in the Hong Kong SAR, 2,013 in the Macau SAR and 24,368 in the Taiwan Province[5]: a total of 304,775 or 1.5% of those counted by the Census.[1] Chinese ancestry was claimed by 669,896, either alone or with another ancestry, and Taiwanese ancestry was claimed by 5,837 persons.[2] The 2001 Australian Census reported that Chinese was the sixth most common self-reported ancestry.[6] Just under 40% of those claiming Chinese ancestry were born in mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan; 26% were born in Australia with other notable birth places being Malaysia (10%) and Vietnam (8%).[6]
Chinese Australians have historically been of predominately Cantonese descent. Due to recent immigration from other regions of mainland China and Taiwan, Mandarin and other Chinese languages are increasingly spoken as well. The Australian Bureau of Statistics lists 225,300 speakers of Cantonese (40.4% of Chinese Australians), followed by Mandarin at 139,300 (25.0%) and other Chinese languages 36,700.[7] Second or higher generation Chinese Australians are either monolingual in English or bilingual to varying degrees with Chinese.
In Sydney there were 292,338 persons, or approximately 7% of the population, who identified themselves as having Chinese ancestry (either exclusively or with another ancestry). Other Australian cities with large Chinese populations include Melbourne (182,550 or 5.1%), Perth (53,390 or 3.7%) and Brisbane (50,908 or 2.9%).[8] 53% of mainland China-born and 51% of Hong Kong born residents were enumerated in Sydney, while the largest portion of Taiwanese-born residents are in Brisbane (34%).


In the 2006 Census, among persons born in Mainland China, the religious breakdown was as follows: 57.8% declared no religion or atheism, 17.6% declared Buddhism, 15.1% declared Christianity, 0.6% declared other religions and 8.6% did not answer the question.[9]

Notable persons







See also


  1. ^ //**a**// //**b**// //**c**// "20680-Country of Birth of Person (full classification list) by Sex - Australia" (Microsoft Excel download). 2006 Census. Australian Bureau of Statistics. http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/ABSNavigation/prenav/ViewData?action=404&documentproductno=0&documenttype=Details&order=1&tabname=Details&areacode=0&issue=2006&producttype=Census%20Tables&javascript=true&textversion=false&navmapdisplayed=true&breadcrumb=POLTD&&collection=Census&period=2006&productlabel=Country%20of%20Birth%20of%20Person%20(full%20classification%20list)%20by%20Sex&producttype=Census%20Tables&method=Place%20of%20Usual%20Residence&topic=Birthplace&. Retrieved on 2008-05-27. Total count of persons: 19,855,288.
  2. ^ //**a**// //**b**// "20680-Ancestry (full classification list) by Sex - Australia" (Microsoft Excel download). 2006 Census. Australian Bureau of Statistics. http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au/ABSNavigation/prenav/ViewData?breadcrumb=POLTD&method=Place%20of%20Usual%20Residence&subaction=-1&issue=2006&producttype=Census%20Tables&documentproductno=0&textversion=false&documenttype=Details&collection=Census&javascript=true&topic=Ancestry&action=404&productlabel=Ancestry%20(full%20classification%20list)%20by%20Sex&order=1&period=2006&tabname=Details&areacode=0&navmapdisplayed=true&. Retrieved on 2008-05-27. Total responses: 25,451,383 for total count of persons: 19,855,288.
  3. ^ "Migration: permanent additions to Australia's population". 4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2007. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 7 August 2007. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/928AF7A0CB6F969FCA25732C00207852?opendocument#CHARACTERISTICS%20OF%20MIGRANTS. Retrieved on 2008-05-30.
  4. ^ Price, Charles. 'Asian and Pacific Island Peoples of Australia' in Fawcett, James T and Cariño, Benjamin V. Pacific Bridges: The New Immigration From Asia and the Pacific Islands. New York: Centre for Migration Studies (1987), p. 176
  5. ^ //**a**// //**b**// //**c**// //**d**// The Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes this data as being a count of people born in "China (excludes SARs and Taiwan Province)"
  6. ^ //**a**// //**b**// "4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2003 : Population characteristics: Ancestry of Australia's population". Australian Bureau of Statistics. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/7d12b0f6763c78caca257061001cc588/af5129cb50e07099ca2570eb0082e462!OpenDocument. Retrieved on 2008-05-19. "The 2001 census found that: Due to the historic migrations of people from China, especially to Southeast Asia, Chinese ancestry was associated not only with Australia (26%), China (25%) and Hong Kong (11%) but with several other birthplaces, such as Malaysia (10%) and Viet Nam (8%)." The ABS states in relation to the ancestry question for the 2001 census the purpose of an ancestry question is to capture current ethnic or cultural affiliations, which are by nature self-perceived, rather than to attempt to document actual historic family origins.
  7. ^ 2001 Australian Bureau of Statistics, "Languages other than English spoken at home"
  8. ^ 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics [1].
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ [3]
  11. ^ [4]
  • Brawley, Sean, The White Peril - Foreign Relations and Asian Immigration to Australasia and North America 1919-1978, UNSW Press, Sydney, 1995.
  • Cushman, J.W., "A 'Colonial Casualty': The Chinese community in Australian Historiography", Asian Studies Association of Australia, vol.7, no 3, April, 1984.
  • Fitzgerald, Shirley, Red Tape, Gold Scissors, State Library of NSW Press, Sydney, 1997.
  • Macgregor, Paul (ed.), Histories of the Chinese in Australasia and the South Pacific, Museum of Chinese Australian History, Melbourne,1995.
  • May, Cathie, Topsawyers: the Chinese in Cairns 1870 to 1920, James Cook University, Townsville, 1984.
  • Williams, Michael, Chinese Settlement in NSW - A thematic history (Sydney: Heritage Office of NSW, 1999) http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au

External links

Useful Websites:

Australian Government Cultural Portal - brief outline of events on the goldfields with some emphasis on the role of the Chinese
Brief outline based on a Goldrush theme park in Mogo
National Museum of Australia - collections of Paintings on the Goldfields
Brief Outline of Chinese/Australian Heritage
Goldrush Chinese - a rich lode (Australian Newspaper)
Federation Story
Wing Hing Long















Useful Books:

Brasch, Nicolas (2009) Australia's Immigration Policy 1788-2009, Heinemann, Melbourne
Shafer, Mina, (1996) Visions of Australia: Exploring our History, Oxford University Press, Melbourne
Chapter 13: The Gold Seekers, p.84-96

Blainey, Geoffrey, The Blainey View, Sydney 1982, Chapter 4: Yellow Dragon