Tag: Archives

Back to school

With school going back this week, here’s an article from the Sydney Morning Herald in 1911 about the Anglo-Chinese and Chinese pupils at the Waterloo public school in Sydney.

It mentions a recently arrived Chinese boy, son of a local butcher – one of hundreds of Chinese-born children of men living in Australia who came to Australia in the early decades of the 20th century to attend school. Most of the children who came were boys. Some, like the boy mentioned in the article, had no English at all. Others had already attended English school in China (this was a later requirement of their being allowed into Australia to study).

The National Archives of Australia holds files on the Chinese students in series A1. You can search for them in RecordSearch using a name, or keywords like ‘Chinese student’, ‘student passport’. A number of them are already digitised, so you can see what sorts of things are in them.

The files generally contain a Chinese student passport, which has a photograph and details in both Chinese and English – including name, date and place of birth, school attended, person responsible for the student. There are also usually school reports and other correspondence about the student’s time in Australia.

Willie Wahlook Lee's Chinese student passport, 1923

The image above is from the Chinese student passport of Willie Wahlook Lee, who attended the Crown Street Public School in Sydney between 1923 and 1926. It is found in NAA: A1, 1923/28341 and the whole file is digitised.

Sometimes the student was allowed to remain in Australia beyond the term of their studies, in which case the file will include more information. It may also then not appear in a search in A1 under ‘student passport’ – in such cases a search by name is more likely to get results. The National Archives might also hold other records, such as those created by the Collectors of Customs in the states, about the students.

The files can be a useful way of finding information about the Chinese name and origin (in characters) of people or families already living in Australia.

Chinese children – At public schools –Waterloo teachers’ troubles

During his visit to the Waterloo Public School on Friday Mr. Beeby (Minister for Education) was struck with the number of enrolled children who had English mothers and Chinese fathers. Surrounding the school are numerous Chinese dwellings. Some of the inhabitants have brought out their wives from China, but others are living with Englishwomen, and the offspring of the latter, the schoolmaster states, prove to be some of the brightest and most intelligent children in the school. In their home life and surroundings these children have a splendid opportunity of learning the Chinese as well as the English language, but in nearly every case they turn from the Chinese, and openly express a desire to become apt pupils in English.

The teachers in the same school have amongst their pupils one or two full-blooded Chinese children, and the headmaster has a problem to solve in trying to impart knowledge to these.

A Chinese boy of 14 years was presented to Mr. Beeby on Friday as an example of what the teaching staff had to content with. He is a fine sturdy boy, with intelligent features, and arrived from China two months ago. He is the son of a local Chinese butcher, and, like his mother and father, is unable to speak a word of English. But he proudly takes his place daily in the school among the infants of six and seven years, and the headmistress of the department is trying hard to impart to him the rudiments of English. The teacher told the Minister on Friday that the boy could not speak a word of English, ‘and of course, I can’t speak Chinese,’ she added. The Minister was interested, but puzzled. However, the headmistress of the infants is going to solve the problem herself. She writes words of two or three letters on the board, and the pupil copies them into his exercise book, and does it too in a very neat way: but he cannot read what he has written. The teachers hope that by mixing in with the other children the newcomer from China will gradually pick up the English language.

Sydney Morning Herald, 5 June 1911

‘A legacy of White Australia’

You can read ‘A legacy of White Australia’, the paper I gave at the Fourth International Conference of Institutes & Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies in Guangzhou in May, which has been published on the National Archives of Australia website.

A large part of the paper is about the Poon Gooey deportation case from 1910–13. The photo of the family below was published in the Daily Telegraph on 12 May 1913, shortly before the famiily left Australia. The newspaper article was clipped and placed on the wonderfully rich Department of External Affairs file about the case (NAA: A1, 1913/9139).

Sydney Chinese community archiving workshop

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of hosting an archiving workshop for Chinese community organisations at the Marigold Restaurant in Sydney’s Chinatown. The workshop had been funded by a federal government Community Heritage Grant from 2006 and was one of the many visions of the late Henry Chan (of the Chinese Australian Historical Society). Henry’s untimely death earlier in the year had meant the workshop hadn’t taken place as originally planned and it was good to finally see it finally happen. Sigrid McCausland, education officer with the Australian Society of Archivists, presented the workshop.

In attendance were members of about 8 different Chinese community organisations, and a few ring-ins, totalling 20 in all. The organisations included the Chinese Women’s Assocation, the Sze Yup Temple Trust, the Sze Yup Society, Goon Yee Tong, Chinese Community Council of Australia, Chinese Australian Forum, Chinese Heritage Association of Australia, Chinese Historical Association of Queensland and the Chinese Australian Historical Society. They were a jolly bunch, with lots of wit and banter coming from the floor. Tony Pun, from the Chinese Community Council, amazed us with talk of his shed, biscuit tins and how archives really should be kept on the moon.

More seriously, Sigrid’s presentation led us through some of the issues facing community organisations in terms of their current recordkeeping practices, as well as what to do with more historical records. She talked about what archives are, and why we should keep them; how to go about starting off an archive – developing policies and so on; how to record information about the archives; and finally how to look after them in terms of storage and preservation. It seemed that a real issue facing community organisations was having one central place where organisation records would be kept – there were lots of examples of how people would horde the records of their particular projects, or would keep records in their own homes because they didn’t trust what others might do with them.

We referred to the National Archives’ booklet Keep it for the future!, which gives a basic overview of managing archives and is specially targetted to community organisations. The Australian Society of Archivist’s book Keeping Archives is the Australian archival bible and provides much more detailed information.

We finished the day with a visit to the Chinese Nationalist Party of Australasia (KMT) in Ultimo Road, Chinatown. The KMT were very generous in allowing us to have a tour of their wonderful building, opened in 1921, and to see the work that they had done as a result of Community Heritage Grants of their own. The grants allowed them to commission a significance assessment and preservation needs report (done by Mei-fen Kuo, Henry Chan and John Fitzgerald), and then to purchase archival storage and environmental control equipment. Mei-fen’s recent PhD thesis makes use of some of their material.

The ground floor of the building is occupied by a Chinese medicine shop. The KMT offices are on the first floor, the hall where our group photo was taken is on the second floor, and then up again are rooms in which there are exhibits of historical KMT material. There are many interesting things – printing presses, publications, flags, a sign from the former Chinese consulate in Perth and lots of framed photographs on the walls. One of the things that fascinated me about the photographs was the number of images of dinners and social occasions which showed that these gatherings were also attended by people who looked distinctly un-Chinese, particularly women. Bang goes another misconception!

Early president of the KMT, Yee Wing (whose name is featured on the plaque next to the doorway of the KMT building), did, after all, have a white Australian wife and a gaggle of Australian children!

You can see more photos of the workshop and the KMT visit in my Flickr site. Just follow the link.