Tag: New South Wales

‘That famous fighting family’

A little article of mine* appears in issue 9 of Inside History magazine (March–April 2012). The article discusses the experiences of Chinese Australians during World War I through the experiences of the Sam family from West Wyalong, New South Wales.

I first came across the Sam family in the file of youngest son, Percy, who travelled with his father to China in 1915. It was noted in their applications for exemption from the Dictation Test that a number of Percy’s brothers were serving in the First AIF – they were, in fact, at Gallipoli. It seemed such an irony that at the same time as his brothers were fighting for their country overseas, Percy was made to comply with the regulations of the Immigration Restriction Act, something that suggested he was less than a true Australian.

The way that Chinese Australians were treated during World War I was full of contradictions. Some young men were able to enlist, others weren’t. I don’t mention it in the article, but Chinese nationals were required to register as aliens during wartime (and afterwards) – so there were also cases of Chinese fathers having to report to the police to register as aliens while their Australian-born sons were away fighting for country and empire.

Unfortunately, I can’t provide a link to an online copy of the article, so if you’re interested you might just have to go and buy a copy of the magazine. 

Access a copy of the article from the link below:

* Kate Bagnall, ‘That famous fighting family‘, Inside History, issue 9, March–April 2012, pp. 37–40.

‘Birth of a Chinese in the colony’, 1865

In July 1865, the Maitland Mercury carried an article announcing the birth of the second Chinese baby in the colony of New South Wales – a little boy named Henry Sydney Ah Foo – or, as recorded in the NSW BDMs index – Ah Cong, son of Sam Ah Foo and Ah Fie (15489/1865):

Some days ago Mrs. Ah Foo, wife of Mr. Ah Foo, storekeeper, of Nundle, to the delight of her husband and every other celestial on the Peel river, presented the former with an unmistakable pledge of love in the shape of a fine healthy son, no half and half affair, but a thorough Mongolian. We are given to understand that this is the second birth in this colony where both parents were Chinese, and is, consequently, well worth mentioning. The Chinese in the neighbourhood have taken the matter up, and elated with joy, have made a present to the parents of £150. On Sunday last, the Rev Mr. Whitfield of Tamworth performed the interesting ceremony of christening the child, which was witnessed by a large number of Chinamen. The youngster’s name is Henry Sydney. Mrs. Ah Foo is said to be an interesting woman.

The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, 18 July 1865

I’ve recently started working on a project that has its roots back more than ten years. As part of my PhD research, I started compiling a database of marriages between Chinese men and non-Chinese women in 19th-century New South Wales. A version of it ended up as an appendix to my thesis, but since a lot of time went into the original data-gathering (thanks Mum!) I thought that perhaps this data should now take on a new and exciting life.

I’m therefore extending my original database to include any ‘Chinese’ marriage or birth registered in New South Wales up to 1918 – that is, where either husband or wife, father or mother, were Chinese or part-Chinese. I’m initially working from the published NSW BDM indexes (hence the 1918 cut-off), but I’ll then add information from my piles and piles of other research notes and also hopefully crowdsource further data to fill out the scant details provided by the index. So far I’ve worked through maybe a tenth of the material I have, and I’ve already got over 1000 entries in the database.

You can read more about the database project, Threads of Kinship – and there’s a prize for guessing the origins of the project name and why I chose it.

[Family group] [picture]

One of the first things I learnt in my training in arrangement and description was the meaning of those neat square brackets—they tell you that the archivist has, heaven forbid, used or added something other than the record’s original title. This is often done to assist with searching for the item in a collection database, particularly if the original title is a bit obscure, or non-existant. So it was that I came upon an item in the State Library of Victoria’s catalogue titled:

[Family group] [picture]

As the catalogue description notes, this photograph shows a:

Family grouped in front of picket fence, woman seated with two little girls, and possibly a little boy in short petticoats, beside her, two men standing on either side of her chair, a little boy standing beside man on left. Weatherboard house in background, tiled roof, and pergola, vines growing along roof line of porch.

What isn’t noted (except in the subject keywords) is that this family looks to be Chinese. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that the woman was of mixed heritage.

The photograph comes from the John Etkins collection, a private collection of around 2000 portrait photographs donated to the library in 2004. Inscribed in pencil on the back of the photograph is ‘[…] Wang in (?) Govt. Office / Inverell’. It is dated somewhere between 1880 and 1910.

Not much of a clue as to the family’s identity, but perhaps one day I’ll stumble upon something that tells me who they are.

  • Description: 1 photographic print on cabinet card : albumen silver ; 10.7 x 16.6 cm.; 1 photographic print : albumen silver ; 9.7 x 13.9 cm.
  • Identifier(s): State Library of Victoria, Accession no(s) H2005.34/103.
  • Persistent link: http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/45774

LJ Hooker’s Chinese roots

His name is known across the country, but until recently the true story of LJ Hooker’s early life was unknown, even to his own family. Now, after five years of research, writing and production, Natalia Hooker has published a lavish biography as a tribute to her famous grandfather. The book, LJ Hooker the Man: The Untold Story of an Australian Icon, is particularly interesting for what it reveals about LJ Hooker’s Chinese roots.

Black and white portrait of LJ Hooker

Until an article in the Sydney Morning Herald published in 1985, nine years after Sir Les’ death, nothing was publicly known, or rather said, about LJ Hooker’s Chinese ancestry. The article revealed that LJ was ‘of Chinese origin’ and had changed his name by deed poll from Tingyou to Hooker in 1925 (Sydney Morning Herald, 13 March 1985).

In the preface to her biography, Natalia Hooker explains that there were many theories about the origins of the name Hooker:

The most popular story is that LJ’s Chinese father was a railway engineer named Tingyou who had invented the ‘hooker’ coupling system for rail carriages. Another suggestion was the LJ was an admirer of the American Civil War general, Joseph Hooker, whose statue had been built in his honour in Boston in 1903, the year of LJ’s birth. None of these accounts were particularly convincing. (LJ Hooker the Man, p. 5)

Fay Pemberton, the daughter of LJ’s cousin Sylvia, told Natalia a different and much more plausible story, however. Fay said that Hooker was, in fact, LJ’s father’s name.

LJ’s mother Ellen Tingyou, known as Nellie, was 18 and unmarried when she gave birth to her son on 18 August 1903. As was customary at the time for unmarried mothers, Nellie’s baby’s birth was registered with no record of his father.

Little Leslie grew up surrounded by family though – he and Nellie lived together with his grandfather, Chinese-born James Tingyou; aunts Mary Quan and Rosanna Davis; uncles Chun Quan, John Davis and James Tingyou junior; and his cousins William and Percy Quan and Biddy and Sylvia Davis. It was a household in which Chinese must have been spoken, at least by LJ’s grandfather, James Tingyou, and uncle-by-marriage, Chun Quan.

When LJ’s mother Nellie died from tuberculosis in 1911, at the age of 25, it was this extended family that raised him – in particular, his cousin Sylvia who was only six years his senior.

A mystery half solved

For Natalia Hooker, LJ’s parents were something of an enigma. Other than Fay Pemberton’s comment about the Hooker name, Natalia had no clue as to LJ’s father’s identity; she also knew little about the short life of LJ’s mother, Nellie. After some unsuccessful attempts to track down records of the births of Nellie and her siblings, Natalia approached me to see what I could uncover, particularly about the family’s Chinese connection.

As with much family history research, particularly those with Chinese heritage, the trick was in thinking creatively about names. Natalia knew details of the marriage of LJ’s maternal grandparents, James Tingyou and Rosanna Dillon, but there was no trace of their four children under either of their surnames. It turned out that the births of Mary Alice, Rosanna junior, James junior and Ellen (Nellie) were registered under the surname Harlet, and also that in some of the records their Chinese father was listed as being English. When James and Rosanna were married by Rev. James Fullerton in Sydney in 1874, Rosanna’s age was put up to 22 so that she did not need the consent of her parents to marry. It seems, sadly, that she may have been estranged from her Irish-born parents and siblings and felt the need to lie about her name and her husband’s birthplace.

Discovering the Harlet name led, inevitably, to some more small discoveries. But the real clincher came when I found a death registration for LJ’s mother, Nellie Tingyou, under the name Ellen Hookin. With Fay Pemberton’s comment at the back of my mind, the immediate similarity between Hookin and Hooker was striking! The story got even more intriguing when I saw that the informant of her death was a man who described himself as her husband, Harry Hookin.

From Hook Yin to Hookin to Hooker?

Harry Hookin had arrived in Sydney as Hook Yin, a thirteen-year-old boy whose cabinetmaker father was a long-term Sydney resident and naturalised British subject. Already proficient in English, Hookin attended and did very well at school and, in time, took over management of his father’s business, Sing War & Son in Albion Place. At the time of Nellie’s death he gave his place of residence as Beecroft, where the extended Tingyou family were also living – it is possible that Hookin was one among the tangle of aunts, uncles and cousins with whom the young LJ Hooker shared his home.

Harry Hookin, 1911. NAA: ST84/1, 1911/68/61-70.

After Nellie’s death is would seem that Harry Hookin disappeared from LJ’s life though. Three years later he married ‘again’ (he claimed to have married Nellie Tingyou in 1910, for which I have failed to locate a marriage registration) and there remained no memory of him among the Tingyou descendants.

The obvious question remains, however – was Harry Hookin LJ’s father? As Natalia Hooker concludes, ‘it is impossible to know for sure whether or not Hookin was Les’s biological father’ and a number of facts, such as his age – only 17 when LJ was born in 1903 – perhaps suggest otherwise. But, to quote Natalia again:

the fact that Les, as an adult, chose to change his name to Hooker, suggests that, at a minimum, Harry Hookin was a father figure to Les. (LJ Hooker the Man, p. 42)

Some more records about Harry Hookin have recently come to light, but whether they are able to prove anything is another question! It may well be that this remains one of those mysteries that is impossible to solve.

About the book

LJ Hooker the Man: The Untold Story of an Australian Icon by Natalia Hooker (self-published, 2010) is available to order online: www.ljhookertheman.com. It costs $54.95, free delivery. It is available in bookstores throughout Australia as of February 2011. You can also see a preview of the book.

Birth certificate registers

In October 1913 Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Atlee Hunt, sent a circular to the state Customs departments asking if they kept records of Chinese Australians who used their birth certificates as identity papers when travelling overseas.

Queensland already kept such a register, and Hunt felt that:

Such a register is very desirable to enable a check to be kept on persons claiming admission to Australia on birth certificates, as it is an easy matter for a number of copies of the same certificate to be obtained, and the experience of the past shows that in some instances several Chinese have attempted, sometimes successfully, to land on copies of the same certificate. (NAA: A1, 1913/20069)

An example of the early difficulties that both Chinese Australians and government officials had with using birth certificates as identification can be found in the case of Fred Hong See (see NAA: BP342/1, 13021/357/1903). Fred was born in Sydney in 1885 to Chinese parents who, when he was very young, took their son back to China. Fred’s father later died and, in 1903, Fred returned to live with other relatives in Sydney. When he arrived, Customs officer J.T.T. Donohoe doubted his identity and would not allow him to land. Donohoe’s suspicions were based on the fact that Fred could not speak any English and his feeling that Fred looked older than the age stated on the birth certificate he presented.

Fred was quickly sent on his way back to China, and it was only through the threat of legal action by his well-respected relatives in Sydney and their payment of a deposit of £100 that Fred was permitted to stop at Brisbane for re-examination. With evidence provided by Fred’s relatives, the Brisbane Collector of Customs, W.H. Irving, was satisfied that he was, in fact, telling the truth. After Atlee Hunt’s approval, Fred was allowed to stay.

This is the copy of Fred Hong See’s birth certificate that he presented to officials on his return to Australia in 1903. It can be found with other correspondence about the case in NAA: BP342/1, 13021/357/1903.

In the decade after the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act, the processes for its administration continued to be refined and tightened, primarily to prevent the fraudulent entry of Chinese into Australia. Hunt’s request for the keeping of birth certificate registers came about from a concern that ‘as other channels of fraudulent entry are being blocked, the Chinese will make a determined effort to utilize birth certificates to that end.’

His Customs circular of 1913 set out the details that Customs officers should record to enable correct identification on a person’s return to Australia:

  • name
  • number of birth certificate
  • date of issue
  • date of birth
  • where born
  • date of departure from Australia
  • remarks concerning departure
  • date of return
  • by whom examined, landed or rejected
  • general remarks

The Collectors of Customs responded thus:

  • Victoria reported that had been keeping a register from the beginning of the year (1913), but without the level of detail requested.
  • New South Wales had not been keeping records, but was now ordering a book for the purpose.
  • Western Australia had no special register, but would immediately open one.
  • South Australia said they had not had any need for a register, as there had been no cases of Chinese being admitted on birth certificates there.
  • Tasmania would begin keeping a record, but had only had four cases to date.
  • And the Northern Territory had been keeping record of Chinese arriving on birth certificates since 1911.

It became the practice for birth certificates to be endorsed by Customs officials on a person’s departure. This usually included taking a handprint and attaching a photograph, as well as recording the details in a register. Some people also went through the formality of applying for a CEDT.

The two remaining registers

To my knowledge, only two of the birth certificate registers still exist, those for Queensland and New South Wales. The Queensland register is held in the Brisbane office of the National Archives, and a digital copy is available through RecordSearch:

The first volume, of 16 double pages, has suffered flood damage and can be difficult to read in parts. The second volume, which has 23 double pages, is much more legible. A sample page from the second volume is shown below – this is a left-hand page, with the remainder of the details about each person completed on the corresponding right-hand page.

The single register for New South Wales, held in the National Archives’ Sydney office, is more substantial than those for Queensland, demonstrating the greater amount of travel that occurred from Sydney. The register contains around 150 double pages and includes an alphabetical index at the front. The entries date from 1904 to 1962; those before 1913 were presumably copied from records elsewhere. It is also fragile and difficult to read in places, but it has recently also been digitised and made available through RecordSearch:

The page reproduced below is a left-hand page, with further details about the travels of each person available on the corresponding right-hand page.

Making use of the registers

These registers are valuable sources of information about Chinese Australian families in Queensland and New South Wales, and can provide missing pieces of information for people who did not apply for CEDTs when they travelled overseas (which many Australian-born Chinese did not).

Having them digitised is great, especially for those of us who can’t easily get to the Brisbane or Sydney reading rooms – but what would be even more useful is if the information contained in the registers was in a form that could be searched and sorted. I’m working on a bigger project relating to Chinese families in New South Wales, based around a database of information sourced from marriage and birth records up to 1918. I’m part-way into transcribing relevant details from the published BDM indexes with 1000 entries (out of an estimated 3000–4000) in the database so far!

The information found in the birth certificate registers obviously relates very strongly to this, so I have another crazy plan to also transcribe the information held in the Sydney register. It’s not going to be a quick job – and it’s one that could easily be shared since the New South Wales register is online. So, if you happen to have some spare time and don’t mind deciphering old handwriting, I’d love to hear from you!

Form 21(i): Certificate of Domicile, 1902

This is the first in a series of five posts that looks at the different iterations of Form 21 over the first decade of the 20th century. Form 21 is better known as a Certificate of Domicile or Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test (CEDT), but there is something reassuringly bureaucratic in it having a number. There is something practical in it too, because there were a bevy of other forms as well (32, 22, 19, 9 etc), including the confusion-causing Certificate of Exemption (Form 2, which was a temporary entry permit rather than a re-entry permit).

I have located what I’m fairly confident are the first examples of each variation of Form 21 between 1902, when the Immigration Restriction Act came into effect, and 1908. After then things settled down a bit and the form remained more or less the same over the following decades. My examples are taken from New South Wales.

You can see these examples and others in my Invisible Australians library in Zotero.

Certificate of Domicile for Ah Shooey

The first Certificate of Domicile issued in New South Wales would have been numbered 02/1 – ’02’ being the year 1902 and ‘1’ being the certificate number. There is a volume of certificates from 1902 in NAA: SP11/6, Box 3 (more about this in an earlier post), and my guess is that the first Certificate of Domicile is probably to be found there. Unfortunately it’s not digitised and I’m not in Sydney, so we’ll have to leave confirmation of that ’til a later time.

The first Certificate of Domicile that I can include here is, therefore, from a year later. It was the first Certificate of Domicile issued in New South Wales in 1903 (no. 03/1) and is the first certificate to be found in series NAA: ST84/1, ‘Certificates of Domicile and Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, chronological series’. (Here’s a link to the record item it is held in: NAA: ST84/1, 1903/1-10 – the whole item is digitised.)

The certificate was issued in the name of Ah Shooey, a 47-year-old Chinese man from Canton, who was departing Sydney for China on the Kasuga Maru on 1 January 1903. The certificate notes that Ah Shooey has one son, who is accompanying him. This is presumably 22-year-old labourer Louey Back Keong, whose certificate is no. 03/2.

Two copies of the form were completed; the one pictured above includes the word ‘Duplicate’ handwritten in red on the front. This copy was kept on file in Sydney, while the other copy (also found in NAA: ST84/1, 1903/1-10) would have been given to Ah Shooey to use during his travels, before being collected and filed on his return. Details of Ah Shooey’s arrival were also marked on the used certificate (‘Landed Empire 27/05/05’).

Ah Shooey’s form records the following information:

Duplicate

No. 03/1

COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and Regulations.

CERTIFICATE OF DOMICILE

I, Nicholas Lockyer Collector of Customs at the port of Sydney New South Wales in the said Commonwealth, hereby certify that Ah Shooey, hereinafter described, has satisfied me that he is domiciled in the Commonwealth, and is leaving the Commonwealth temporarily.

[Signature of Nicholas Lockyer] Collector of Customs
Date 31st December 1902

DESCRIPTION

Nationality Chinese
Birthplace Canton
Age 47 years
Complexion
Height 5ft 5 1/2 inch in Boots
Hair Turning grey
Build Stout
Eyes Brown
Particular marks Nail on little finger left hand missing. Top of third finger on right hand off from first joint.

(For impression of hand, see back of this document.)

Family One son
Where resident Accompanying
Date of arrival in Australia Year 1877
Place of residence in Australia Deniliquin
Occupation Storekeeper
Property Value £400 Deniliquin

Date of departure 1st January 1903
Destination China
Ship Kasuga Maru

References in Australia (names and addresses) Police Magistrate Deniliquin. A Fordham Deniliquin. C Hitchin Jerilderie.

Form No. 21.

On the reverse, the form includes the words ‘Impression of Left Hand’ and Ah Shooey’s handprint.

Reverse of Certificate of Domicle for Ah Shooey, 1903. NAA: ST84/1, 1903/1-10

La Perouse market gardens under threat

Chinese community and heritage groups are opposing the planned resumption of heritage-listed market gardens at La Perouse in southern Sydney for use as a cemetery. The land on which the market gardens sit has been used for food production for more than 150 years, and managed by Chinese gardeners for more than a century. They are one of the very few remaining examples of the productive gardens which used to be found all around the Sydney suburbs.

Media release – Chinese Heritage Association of Australia Inc.

Resumption of Heritage-listed Market Gardens alarms community

Chinese community leaders were shocked to learn about a plan to resume 60% of the heritage-listed Chinese Market Gardens at La Perouse, which was presented by representatives from the adjacent Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park Botany Cemetery, at a Chinese Community Consultations meeting on 26 July 2010, organised by the Community Relations Commission and the Land and Property Management Authority.

The cemetery and the market gardens are on Crown land. Two years ago, in response to representations to acquire this land by the Botany Cemetery and Eastern Suburbs Crematorium Trusts, the Department of Lands, prepared a Draft Assessment of Crown Land – Chinese Market Gardens, Phillip Bay and called for submissions. Many submissions (including ones from the National Trust and Randwick Council) were lodged in July 2008 for the retention of these seven (7) hectares to remain as heritage-listed Chinese market gardens.

The Draft Assessment identified three (3) suitable uses for this land:

  • Environmental Protection
  • Agriculture
  • Nature Conservation

It stated that ‘the site currently has a very high capability for agriculture and is functioning very successfully in this purpose’. (p.35)

It further states in relation to the cemetery proposal: ‘The site in its current state would most likely require significant engineering works to overcome the current constraints such as a high water table and flooding issues. Given the current environmental constraints and current state of the subject land, the site is considered not suitable for the establishment of a cemetery. As per the Australasian Cemeteries and Crematoria Association (2004) ‘Guidelines for the Establishment of a Cemetery’, if the water table is too high burials may not be possible.’ (p.36)

Daphne Lowe Kelley, president of the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia says, ‘The community recognises that with a growing population, there is increased demand for burial space but urges the State government not to acquiesce to this demand to turn unsuitable land into burial plots. I am sure that no one wants to have their dearly departed spending their afterlife in a former swamp.’

Contact: Daphne Lowe Kelley – 0417 655 233 – lowekelley@bigpond.com

Media release – Australian Heritage Institute

From Andrew Woodhouse
President, Australian Heritage Institute, a non-profit, Australia-wide group of local heritage societies
Suite 12, 3 McDonald Street Potts Point NSW 2011
Phone: 0415 949 506

Wednesday 28th July, 2010

State Government moves to evict Chinese market gardeners at historic La Perouse site and downgrade heritage based on hidden report. Calls for Kristina Keneally to intervene.

‘NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, should intervene to provide Sydney with more sustainable food sources and stop her Land Property Management Authority from evicting second-generation Chinese market gardeners from their Bunnerong Road, La Perouse, Crown Lease, just to increase profits and plots for a nearby cemetery,’ Andrew Woodhouse said today.

Mr Woodhouse was invited with about 50–60 members of the Chinese community to a meeting yesterday called by NSW Community Relations Commission to discuss land use changes at the controversial market gardens site.

The scheme, supported by the authority and promoted by the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Cemetery Trust, calls for eviction by 2013 of two of three lease holders, and resumption of 60% of the current market gardens, according to information provided at the meeting (agenda available).

However, no guarantee is provided of any future site for two leaseholders and no guarantee the remaining 40% will be not be resumed at a later date.

Former Labor Party Minister-turned paid lobbyist, Gary Punch, spoke for his clients, the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Trust (ESMT), who aim to purloin public land for their commercial benefit.

The ESMT is owned by the NSW state government and has been the subject of previous public concerns about conflicts of interest. (See ‘State Buys into Funeral Service’, by Paul Bibby, SMH, 27 November 2009, p.9.)

‘The whole rationale of this proposal is a house of cards, with the area’s heritage, dating back to land use by Count La Perouse in 1788 according to the NSW Heritage Council, to be handed over to fill state government coffers depleted by financial mismanagement,’ Woodhouse says.

‘According to Glen Blaxland, a local historian and once a member of the local historical society in the Municipality, Count de La Perouse cleared a piece of land and established a vegetable garden in Phillip Bay to prepare vegetables for his return journey back to France.

The first known name of this suburb area was the Frenchman’s Gardens. It is believed that this vegetable garden was Australia’s first primary industry site and the site was more or less the same site as the Chinese Market Gardens.

According to Randwick – A Social History, published by Randwick Council in 1985, ‘…until 1859, the market gardens were owned and tended by Europeans…’

‘Clearly, the ESMT is guilty of re-writing history to suit itself, claiming in their heritage report there has been no market gardening on the site until after 1904.

‘Show us your evidence,’ Woodhouse says.

‘Claims that heritage plaques or other interpretation will be installed on the site post-resumption are tokenism,’ Woodhouse said.

In yesterday’s one-sided meeting conflicting claims from Gary Punch and George Passas (ESMT) about whether work will begin in 3 or 7 years, the actual costs, perhaps up to $40 million in five $8 million stages, and information contained in a heritage report by an architect, Paul Rappaport, which the ESMT refuses to release, all point to a lack of transparency and accountability.

‘The meeting was presentation, not consultation,’ Woodhouse says. ‘It lacked credibility.’

‘This is not a “public good versus private interests” battle, as Gary Punch claims,’ Woodhouse says, “it’s a 7-hectare land grab based on unknown heritage evidence to remove private, profitable, sustainable businesses to make profits from the dead for the government.’

‘Offers to set aside 20% of new burial plots for Chinese community and a temple are simply bribes,’ Woodhouse says with further comments by Gary Punch that ‘Quite frankly, if you were not Chinese but English Australians there would be no problem with all this’ being not only factually incorrect but prejudiced, perhaps even racist.

Mr Woodhouse has applied under FOI laws for the disputed heritage report.

‘This whole dodgy project should be referred to an Independent Commission of Enquiry,’ Woodhouse says.

For further comments please also phone:

Ms Daphne Lowe-Kelly, President
Chinese Heritage Association of Australia Inc.
Phone: 0417 655 233
Email: lowekelley@bigpond.com

Mr Terry Ha, Chinese market gardener & leaseholder
President, Australian Chinese Growers’ Association of NSW
Phone: 0419 218 794
Email: terry8ha@hotmail.com

Celebrating the birthdays of venerable elders

It’s the Year of the Tiger, and today’s my birthday. Four of us in my little family are tigers, born 1962, 1974, 1998 and 2010 (I’ll leave you to guess which year I was born).

With birthday thoughts in mind, here are a three stories celebrating the long lives of some early Chinese Australians.

George Moo-hong of Young

Market gardener George Moo-hong of Young celebrated his 104th birthday on 29 July 1954. He was born in around 1850 and arrived in Australia from China at the age of 25 (c.1875). In 1954 it was reported that he’d been living in the Young area for about 70 years.

Sydney Morning Herald, 30 July 1954

James Chung Gon of Launceston

Tasmanian patriarch James Chung Gon celebrated his 96th birthday on 23 July 1950; he was born c.1854. Chung Gon had started his life in Australia almost 70 years earlier, working as a tin miner then orchardist. He married in China, but his wife joined him in Tasmania and the couple had 11 children. The Tasmanian press noted the family’s celebration of the occasion, as it had each year since his 90th birthday.

Mercury, 22 July 1950

Willie Chung Sing of Hobart

Hobart resident Willie Chung Sing celebrated his 82nd birthday in late December 1945. Born in around 1863, he arrived in Tasmania as a young man in 1887, working for Ah Ham & Co. in Hobart, then running his own businesses in Launceston and Wellington (New Zealand), then once again returning to work as general manager at Ah Ham & Co. for 36 years. He made regular trips back to China, where his wife and children remained, and in 1946 was heading back again to rejoin his family.

Mercury, 3 January 1946

Invisible Australians: A beginning

Over at discontents, Tim Sherratt has recently posted about a new project he and I are embarking on. Called ‘Invisible Australians: Living under the White Australia Policy’, the project aims to reveal something of the lives of the thousands of men, women and children who were affected by the racially-based immigration policy of early 20th-century Australia. (You might like to read Tim’s post.)

The Immigration Restriction Act, introduced in December 1901, was designed to limited the migration of ‘coloured’ people to Australia, but it (and other elements of the White Australia Policy) also had an affect on the lives of non-white, non-Indigenous Australians – people of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Lebanese, Syrian, Afghan descent who were either born here, or who had already built lives here after migrating.

To administer the Immigration Restriction Act, government officials implemented an increasingly complex and structured system of tracking and documenting the movements of non-white people* as they travelled in and out of the country. This surveillance left an extraordinary body of records containing information about people who, according to the national myth of a ‘White Australia’, were not Australian at all.

Tim and I hope that, starting with the documentary legacy of the Immigration Restriction Act, we can link together disparate fragments of information about non-white Australians to make their presence in early 20th-century Australia more visible. Many writings comment on how the White Australia Policy resulted in a reduction in Australia’s non-white population over the early decades of the century, particularly in the Chinese community – forgetting, it seems, that there were still thousands who just kept on living here, living their lives under the White Australia Policy.

Our first steps in the project are small ones. Tim is beginning work on a transcription tool that will enable the extraction of information from records already digitised by the National Archives of Australia. And I am going back and thinking about the records themselves, in part to provide Tim with details he needs to develop the transcription tool. I am also putting together a guide to researching individuals in the Immigration Restriction Act records from New South Wales (c.1902–1948) that are held in the National Archives’ Sydney office.

The lives revealed in the Immigration Restriction Act records are, for the most part, not big ones. They are those of market gardeners, labourers, hawkers, farmers, shopkeepers, cabinetmakers – as well as a wives and mothers and children. In many cases they are lives that are documented nowhere else. The documents I’ve included to illustrate this post are examples of two of the types of forms that we will be working with: Form 22, which was used to apply for an exemption from the dictation test, and Form 21, the Certificates of Domicile (CoD) and then Certificates Exempting from Dictation Test (CEDT) issued to those whose applications were successful. I’ll be posting more about these documents soon.

I have written elsewhere of the value of the records, and I marvel at the possibilities they offer for creating connections – between different groups of records, between the people documented in the records (parents, children, siblings, cousins, clansmen, neighbours) and between those ‘invisible Australians’ and their descendants today. Some days I’m a little overwhelmed by all the possibilities, but, for today at least, I’m happy that we’re making a start.

* In this post, and in our discussions of the project more generally, we use ‘non-white’ to refer to the people who crop up in the White Australia records because bureaucrats at the time considered them as something other than ‘white’. It’s not a perfect term, but it’s hard to come up with something that adequately covers all bases, particularly considering the instability of racial categorisation. Among those classified as ‘non-white’ were, for example, people of mixed race who had one white parent (usually their mother). Our use of ‘non-white’ does not include Indigenous Australians as they did not generally come under the restrictions of the White Australia Policy.

State Records NSW talk on the Chinese in Australia

On 15 May, State Records NSW is holding an event in association with the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia where you can obtain information to help you put together the pieces of your family’s history in Australia. Speakers include Christine Yeats from State Records and CHAA members.

See the State Records website for more information.