This semester I am working with Tim Sherratt’s Exploring Digital Heritage class at the University of Canberra to undertake an important project on the White Australia Policy, using records from the National Archives of Australia and collaborating with the Museum of Australian Democracy.
The project involves transcribing digitised files from series ST84/1 – mostly Certificates of Domicile and Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test dating from the early decades of the 20th century.
Under the White Australia Policy, anyone deemed not to be ‘white’ who travelled overseas had to carry these special documents. Without them travellers could be subjected to the Dictation Test and denied re-entry — even though they might have been born in Australia or had been naturalised.
The certificates contain information about ordinary people living their lives despite the restrictions imposed on them by a racist bureaucratic system. By transcribing these documents — extracting information about their names, their ages, their places of birth, their travels overseas — we hope to learn more about them and their experiences.
Only about 15 per cent of series ST84/1 has been digitised so far, but Tim estimates that there are about 6000 certificates already available online. There are two copies of most certificates, so that’s about 3000 unique certificates.
To extract the data Tim has built a website using Scribe, a community transcription platform developed by Zooniverse and the New York Public Library. His students are developing the documentation for the site and will support volunteer transcribers.
We will launch the transcription site on the weekend of the 9–10 September at the Real Face of White Australia Transcribe-a-thon hosted by the Museum of Australian Democracy. Across the weekend we’ll have transcription stations set up in Kings Hall. We’ll also have a series of speakers – Dr Sophie Couchman, Dr Peter Prince, Tim and myself – talking about the records and what they can tell us. Students will be managing communications and event planning related to the transcribe-a-thon.
It’ll be an exciting event — come along and help! Or if you’re not in Canberra, stay tuned for details of how you can be involved in transcribing the records online.
I will be presenting not once, but twice, during the School of Humanities & Social Inquiry’s Research Week 2016 at the University of Wollongong.
On Monday, 18 April 2016 I am speaking at the Faculty of Law, Humanities & the Arts ‘Early Career Research Presentations with the Vice Chancellor’, 12.30pm to 2.30pm in the University of Wollongong Research Hub, Building 19.2072B. It will be a short presentation outlining my career path to date, my research interests and my new DECRA project. My talk is titled: ‘History, archives and Chinese Australian lives’.
On Wednesday, 20 April 2016 I am speaking at the ‘History Postgraduate and Early Career Researchs Presentation’, 2.30pm to 4.00pm in Building 24.G02. I’ll be talking about my new DECRA project in a presentation titled: ‘The naturalisation of Chinese migrants to Australia, Canada and New Zealand from the 1860s to 1920’. Also speaking will be four History postgrads.
Here’s a first post about what I’ve been doing on this long-awaited research trip to China. I’m spending a week in Jiangmen, a weekend in Xinhui and Kaiping, a few days in Zhuhai, a weekend in Panyu and a week in Hong Kong. The trip has been funded by an Australian Academy of the Humanities Travelling Fellowship.
After a day’s travelling from Canberra and a night in Hong Kong on Saturday, I caught the ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui to Jiangmen on Sunday morning. The trip lasts for a bit under three hours and takes you past Macau to Doumen, where the ferry stops briefly, before heading up the river to Jiangmen. I like the ferry — it reminds me of how important water transportation was a century ago and of how my Australian families travelled back to the qiaoxiang, in a series of boats that got smaller and smaller as they got closer to their villages.
The ferry port is some way out of the centre of Jiangmen and with only one taxi on offer (everyone else on the ferry seemed to be met by family or friends), I had a lively exchange with the taxi driver, whose meter was broken and who wanted to charge me a pretty extortionate amount for the half-hour trip. He claimed he wasn’t cheating me, I reckoned he was, but with no other option I hopped in and spent the trip answering his many and varied questions about Australia and why I could speak Chinese. After settling myself into my hotel, on Sunday night I had dinner with Selia Tan from Wuyi University and her university-student daughter. Although it was Sunday, for the university (and everyone else) it had been a work day to make up for the New Year holiday they had been given on Friday.
My main reason for coming to Jiangmen is to visit two villages, one in Xinhui and one in Kaiping, which I will do this coming weekend. But while I’m here I’ve also taken the opportunity to have a look at the Wuyi University Guangdong Qiaoxiang Culture Research Centre library. I’ve spent two happy mornings there, on Monday and Wednesday, muddling through material on Kaiping and Xinhui. It’s a small library, but has collections that focus on each of the Wuyi qiaoxiang districts, as well as more general material on Guangdong. The research centre also publishes material itself, including a new book by Selia Tan on the ornamentation and decoration of qiaoxiang buildings. I am very grateful to Selia for her help in making arrangements for my visit to the research centre.
They have some copies of qiaokan from the 1930s and 1940s, and a more extensive collection starting from the 1980s — but to do serious research into the qiaokan would need lots of time and an improvement in my reading skills, as well as visiting the local library/archives in Xinhui and Kaiping, which is where a fuller collection of qiaokan are kept. The library also contains a range of interesting books on qiaoxiang history and heritage, and in them I’ve found a few leads on Australian things, although nothing directly related to my two villages. I found a book on Chens from Xinhui who went to Australia — and while they weren’t my Chens from Xinhui, they are connected to a family I know someone else at home is researching.
Tuesday morning I visited the Jiangmen Wuyi Museum of Overseas Chinese. The museum tells the history of emigration from Wuyi, starting with nineteenth-century material and progressing through to the current day. Some of the highlights for me were:
contracts for borrowing money to pay for emigration
a shipping notice for ships travelling to Australia
coaching books and papers
seeing dear old Quong Tart, and William Liu, among the notable Chinese pioneers (but what of the likes of other Sze Yup notables like Yee Wing or Lowe Kong Meng?)
a photograph of a bus in 1929, and a life-size version of said bus that you can climb into!
The museum gives a nice overview of the history and is definitely worth a visit. The text panels and item labels are all bilingual. The museum guards on duty were a very jovial lot and I was just about the only visitor there.
On Tuesday afternoon I gave a talk at the research centre on Australian Chinatowns and the Chinese heritage of southern Australia. After walking to the uni in good time to set up my slides and whatnot, I realised that I’d left my handwritten notes behind in the hotel. Luckily my lovingly prepared 100+ slides saved the day! Selia Tan translated as I spoke, and we finished up after more than two hours of talking. It wasn’t a huge group, about 25 in all, made up of staff and students from the research centre, other students who were just interested to come along and hear, and a group from Xinhui who are interested in my work on Shiquli village (more on that in another post, I think). Also in attendance was a local journalist and to my surprise the front page of Wednesday’s newspaper featured my talk, with a small article inside. After the talk I went to dinner with Dorry Chen, also from Shiquli village, who is going to take me there on the weekend. She is a teacher in an international kindergarten here in Jiangmen.
The next couple of days are going to be a bit quieter, with just a short visit to a village here in Jiangmen today and some time to read and work on my DECRA application.
Following on from the 2013 Dragon Tails conference, Julia Martínez and I are organising a Symposium on Chinese Women in Southern Diaspora History. The symposium will be held at the University of Wollongong.
Date: Friday, 5 December 2014
Time: 9.00am to 3.30pm
Venue: Building 24, Rooms 201 and 202, University of Wollongong
Pauline Rule — Being a Chinese wife and mother in colonial Victoria, 1856–1900
Sandi Robb — Daughters of the Flowery Land: Chinese women in Queensland 1860–1920
Kate Bagnall — Family politics: Chinese wives in Australia, 1902 to 1920
Sophie Couchman — Chinese-Australian brides, photography and the white wedding
Julia Martínez — University education of Chinese women in the 20th century
Sophie Loy-Wilson — Daisy Guo’s Shanghai: Narrating the lives of Chinese Australian women in Shanghai before and after 1949
Paul Macgregor — Mrs Fabian Chow of Shanghai — journalist, radio star and goodwill ambassador: an Australian Chinese colleague of the Soong sisters
Professor Jan Ryan from Edith Cowan University will also be providing her reflections on Chinese women’s history.
The symposium is open to the public and there is no registration fee. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to Julia Martínez (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 31 October 2014 for catering purposes.
About six months ago I embarked on a new endeavour. I took a redundancy from the public service and began to spend my days at home — researching, writing, doing the washing, weeding the garden and wrangling kids. After twelve years in the public service — my entire grown-up working life — it has taken me a while to adjust. I was used to being a breadwinner, used to juggling the hectic demands of full-time work around my kids and my crazy need to keep up my historical pursuits in my ‘spare time’. So I’ve been feeling strangely guilty about the time I have, now that I don’t rush off to the office every day. I have done some occasional freelance work over the past couple of months and will need to get back to more paid work again in the new year — whether as a freelance editor/historian or back in an office job, I don’t know. For now though I have the rest of the year to get done the research and writing I’ve been bursting to do and couldn’t fit in before. No pressure, right?
So, overly ambitious as always, here’s what I plan to do between now and January:
manage the publication production of my first book, Chinese Australians: Politics, Engagement and Resistance, co-edited with Sophie Couchman, which we are about to send to the publisher, Brill (ongoing)
finish writing a chapter, tentatively titled ‘Writing home from China: Charles Allen’s transnational childhood’, for Paul Arthur’s edited collection Australian Culture and Identity: Transnational Perspectives in Life Writing, to be published by Anthem Press (by end of September)
sole parent for a couple of weeks while Tim attends conferences in Japan and London (September/October)
prepare two written papers, on ‘Early Chinese families in Australia’ and ‘Finding your Chinese roots’, for Congress 2015 Canberra (written papers need to be in four months before the conference!) (by end of November)
organise, with Julia Martinez, a workshop on Chinese women in Australian history at the University of Wollongong in early December, as well as preparing my own workshop paper on the arrival of Chinese wives to Australia under the Immigration Restriction Act, 1902 to 1920
organise my three-week research trip to Hong Kong and Guangdong for January 2015 — I’ll spend two weeks based at the Overseas Chinese Culture Research Centre at Wuyi University in Jiangmen doing fieldwork in Xinhui and Kaiping and then a week of archival research in Hong Kong (the trip is supported by a Humanities Travelling Fellowship from the Australian Academy of the Humanities)
redevelop my website and blog a bit more than I have been (I’ve got a few half-written posts I’d really like to finish!).
Looking at this long list of things I’ve committed myself to doing, I’m also very aware that sitting in my inbox are quite a few emails from people hoping for some help with their family history research. I love hearing from people whose family stories intersect with my research interests and I regret that I’m not able to respond to them all in a timely manner — catch me on a bad day and your email might sit there for weeks or months, catch me on a good day and you’ll get a reply straight away! I do try to catch up, but if you’re one of those people waiting for a response from me, I hope you understand that sometimes a pressing deadline, or a request from my four-year-old to take her to the park, has to come first.
On 18 September 2013, I presented a paper on the transnational Chinese family in Australia as part of the Australia in the World seminar series organised by Marilyn Lake at the University of Melbourne.
You can read (a slightly revised version of) my paper (pdf, 1.3kb) or have a look at my slides.
I will be in Melbourne in September to speak as part of the University of Melbourne’s ‘Australia in the World’ history lecture and seminar series. I’m feeling very honoured to be included on a program with Joy Damousi and Sheila Fitzpatrick. If you’re in Melbourne on 18 September, I’d love to see you there!
In conventional histories of the nation, migrants have usually been represented as making a particular ‘contribution’ to the ‘national story’ in their capacity as members of an ethnic or national category. It is usually assumed that they come to stay eventually becoming members of the ‘migrant nation’. Recently, this narrative has been complicated by transnational frames of historical analysis that allow us to see the various ways in which migrants have lived ‘both here and there’ (in Adam McKeown’s words) both in terms of their subjective experience and in movement between old and new homelands. It has also been recognised that migrants’ lives can’t be reduced to an ‘ethnic’ experience, that ignores the formative economic, political, religious and familial dimensions of migration.
The transnational Chinese family in Australia
Kate Bagnall has published pioneering work on Chinese Australian family migration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the migration of white Australian wives of Chinese men to China. She works in Canberra as a print and web editor as well as a historical researcher.
Australian Greek migration, war memory and its legacies
Joy Damousi is Professor of History at the University of Melbourne. Her current project is Greek War Stories, which examines memories of the Second World War and the Greek Civil War in post-war Greek migrant communities.
‘New Australians’ from the Soviet Union via DP camps
Sheila Fitzpatrick is an Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney and Professor Emerita at the University of Chicago. Primarily a Soviet historian, her current ARC project is about displaced persons from the Soviet Union who ended up in Australia after the Second World War.
Wednesday, 18 September 2013
4.00pm – 6.00pm
The University of Melbourne
PARKVILLE VIC 3010
Admission is free.
Bookings are required.
Seating is limited.
To register visit:
On 10 May, I will be speaking at the Lilith Conference: ‘Women without men: Spinsters, widows and deserted wives in the nineteenth century and beyond’, at the ANU. It sounds like such a great conference, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Here’s what I’m going to be talking about.
Title: Returning home alone: marital breakdown and the voluntary repatriation of Australian wives from south China
Abstract: Between the 1860s and 1930s dozens of white wives of Chinese men travelled with their husbands and children from Australia and New Zealand to southern China. This paper will examine the decision made by a number of these women to subsequently leave their husbands and marriages, and sometimes also their children, to return to Australia. One of the main reasons they did so was the discovery that their husband had a Chinese wife. British and Australian commentators made much of the ‘cruel treatment’ white wives received from their Chinese families, with newspapers publishing periodic warnings of the dangers of a return to China. This paper will refigure such narratives of cruelty and abandonment to consider the deliberate and courageous decisions white wives made—first in leaving their Australian homes for new lives in China and second in choosing to return home alone, as ‘abandoned’ wives and mothers. It will explore the circumstances in which white wives left China, the physical and emotional journeys they made, and the sometimes devastating consequences these had upon their lives.
Yesterday I spoke at Visible Immigrants Seven, a small conference organised by Flinders University and the Migration Museum in Adelaide. The conference aimed to explore the idea of migrant mobility before and after the major act of migration. Most of the papers focused on nineteenth-century migrants from Ireland, Scotland and England, including convicts. My paper looked at the return migration of Chinese men and their Australian families.