Bibliography on Chinese in Tasmania

Earlier this year I was commissioned by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) to compile a bibliography on Tasmania’s Chinese history and heritage.

The bibliography is intended as a tool to help with the study of Tasmania’s Chinese communities across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It documents existing research relating to Chinese people in Tasmania, focusing on history, heritage and community, and provides a survey of publications and other research outputs.

The bibliography was funded as part of TMAG’s Contemporary Migrant Experiences project, with funding from the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations.

On Sunday, 5 June 2022, Kirstie Ross and Grace Williams from TMAG and I presented copies of the bibliography to the Chinese Community Association of Tasmania Inc 澳洲塔省華人聯誼會 at their monthly meeting in Hobart.

Presentation of the bibliography to the Chinese Community Association of Tasmania Inc., North Hobart, 5 June 2022. Pictured L–R: Ruby Lee, Kate Bagnall (UTAS), Grace Williams (TMAG), Daniel Chan (President, CCAT), Brian Chung, Kirstie Ross (TMAG), Hingor Chung, Jan Everett. Photo courtesy Daniel Chan.

The bibliography will be made available in Libraries Tasmania and the National Library through the National edeposit service. I have also made a copy available online in Zenodo.

The compilation of the bibliography marks the beginning of my work on Chinese Tasmanian history and heritage, which I will be pursuing further through the new Everyday Heritage project. Everyday Heritage is an Australian Research Council Linkage project and is a collaboration between researchers at the University of Canberra (Tracy Ireland and Tim Sherratt), University of Western Australia (Jane Lydon), University of Tasmania (me) and GML Heritage in Sydney.

Population statistics on Chinese people in Tasmania

Note: Terms used in the following population tables reflect the original historical sources and are considered offensive today.

Chinese population of Tasmania, 1881–1947

    1881 1891 1901 1911 1921 1933 1947
Chinese Persons 844 1056 609 529 321 197 111
Male 842 993 536 450 283 160 81
Female 2 63 73 79 38 37 30
‘Full’ Chinese Persons 844 939 506 427 262 132 68
Male 842 931 482 400 247 117 51
Female 2 8 24 27 15 15 17
‘Half-caste’ Chinese Persons _ 117 103 102 59 65 43
Male 62 54 50 36 43 30
Female 55 49 52 23 22 13

Source: Compiled from the Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia, No. 18, 1925, Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, Melbourne, 1925, p. 955; Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1933 and 1947.

View a PDF version of this table.


Chinese in Tasmania, 1901

An Appendix in the 1901 Census of Tasmania contained specific tables enumerating Chinese and ‘half-caste’ Chinese, as well as ‘other alien races’ and Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

View a PDF of the Appendix to the Census of Tasmania, 1901.

Find the complete Tasmanian Census 1901 (look for TAS-1901-census.pdf) in the Historical and Colonial Census Data Archive (HCCDA) Dataverse.


Chinese British subjects in Tasmania and Australia, 1911

In this table, ‘Chinese’ indicates ‘race’ not birthplace. It is taken from a section of the 1911 Commonwealth Census on ‘Non-European Races’.

British subject by Total Chinese British subjects Total Chinese
Birthplace Parentage Naturalization
Male Chinese Australia 2 679 67 3 261 6 007 23 374
Tasmania 84 1 116 201 450
Female Chinese Australia 2 137 3 49 2 189 2 398
Tasmania 72 0 6 78 79
Total Chinese Australia 4 816 70 3 310 8 196 25 772
Tasmania 156 1 122 279 529
 
Male ‘full Chinese’ Australia 1 168 65 3 259 4 492 21 856
Tasmania 34 1 116 151 400
Female ‘full Chinese’ Australia 643 3 49 695 897
Tasmania 20 0 6 26 27
Total ‘full Chinese’ Australia 1 811 68 3 308 5 187 22 753
Tasmania 54 1 122 177 427
 
Male ‘half-caste Chinese’ Australia 1 511 2 2 1 515 1 518
Tasmania 50 0 0 50 50
Female ‘half-caste Chinese’ Australia 1 494 0 0 1 494 1 501
Tasmania 52 0 0 52 52
Total ‘half-caste Chinese’ Australia 3 005 2 2 3 009 3 019
Tasmania 102 0 0 102 102

Source: Compiled from the Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1911, Part VII: Non-European Races

View a PDF version of this table.

Cangdong Cultural Heritage Month, January 2022

Click on the image to view a larger version of this poster

Sophie Couchman and I will be speaking as part of the Cangdong Cultural Heritage Month Academic Lecture Series on 23 January 2022. The theme of the workshop is ‘Heritage Conservation and Roots Searching in Home Villages of Overseas Chinese’.

Sophie and I will be in conversation with Canadian historian Henry Yu about our Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour and its social impacts.

Also speaking on Sunday are Selia Tan Jinhua from Wuyi University, and Henry Yu and Denise Fong from the University of British Columbia.

The workshop runs for two days – details of the Sunday sessions are below and full details including the Monday program are available in the workshop schedule (pdf, 253kb).

Sunday, 23 January 2022, 12:00pm to 2.30pm AEDT

Zoom: https://ubc.zoom.us/j/68563524555?pwd=Yk5mVHZUaURUKzVVZUpOZ0RiZ2M2UT09

Meeting ID: 685 6352 4555

Passcode: 2021

TIME (AEDT) PRESENTER TOPIC
12:00 – 12:30 p.m. Prof. Jinhua Selia Tan, Wuyi University, China Heritage Conservation and the Cangdong Project
12:30 – 1:15 p.m. Prof. Henry Yu, and Denise Fong, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia, Canada A conversation on the construction of the Chinese Canadian Museum in Vancouver Chinatown, from the perspective of heritage preservation and community development
1:15 – 1:20 p.m. Break
1:20 – 2:00 p.m. Dr. Kate Bagnall, University of Tasmania, Australia and Dr. Sophie Couchman, Curator and Historian A conversation on the Australian roots-searching program and its social impact, from the perspective of its organizers
2:00 – 2:30 p.m. Presenters Discussion, Q and A

Video highlights

Thanks to Cangdong Heritage Education Center for putting together this video of the session!

 

CAHS presentation, 24 July 2021

‘Writing women into Chinese Australian history’

 

I will be speaking (via Zoom) to the Chinese Australian Historical Society on 24 July 2021 about ‘Writing women into Chinese Australian history’, drawing on my new edited collection, Locating Chinese Women: Historical Mobility between China and Australia, co-edited with Julia Martínez.


Date: Saturday, 24 July 2021
Time: 2.30pm to 4.00pm
Venue: Via Zoom (link will be provided by email after you RSVP)
RSVP: lowekelley@bigpond.com, 0417 655 233


Abstract

Women have been largely invisible in the broad sweep of Chinese Australian history. From the earliest days of Chinese migration to Australia, it was predominantly men and boys who came south to the colonies as labourers, miners and merchants. By the turn of the twentieth century, there were still fewer than 500 migrant Chinese women in Australia among a population of nearly 30,000 Chinese men. These small numbers have made it easy for historians to overlook the presence of Chinese women and girls in Australia and this, combined with the challenges of locating sources that document women’s lives, has contributed to an apparently legitimised acceptance of male-centred history. In this talk I challenge the framing of Chinese Australian history as a history of men and consider how tracing the lives of Chinese women in Australia disrupts accepted narratives of Chinese migration and settlement. These themes are the focus of my new book, Locating Chinese Women: Historical Mobility between China and Australia, co-edited with Julia Martínez.


Bio

Kate Bagnall is Senior Lecturer in Humanities and coordinator of the Family History program at the University of Tasmania. She has a background in public history and archives, completing her PhD in History at the University of Sydney while working at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra. Kate is best known for her work in Chinese Australian history, particularly the history of women, children and families in Australia’s early Chinese communities. Before joining the University of Tasmania in 2019, Kate was an ARC DECRA Research Fellow at the University of Wollongong.

Women’s History Month 2021 on Twitter

Wong Sing Quan (Mrs Timothy Fay Loie) and other Chinese women in Auckland in 1911 (credit: May Sai Loie, reproduced in James Ng, Windows on a Chinese Past, volume 2, p. 261)

For Women’s History Month in March 2021, I compiled a Twitter thread, with a tweet or two each day listing a historical work by a woman or women about Chinese Australian women’s history.

The thread included details of about 35 different works, including books, journal articles, memoirs, blogs, radio documentaries and oral histories.

You can:

 

Charlie Allen’s mystery aunt

In letters that Charlie Allen wrote to his mother from China in 1911, he mentioned his ‘uncle’s wife’, who was, like him, trying to get home to Australia. Charlie had gone to live in Chuk Sau Yuen 竹秀園 near Shekki 石岐 in Heungshan 香山 in mid-1909, at the age of twelve, leaving behind his mother and siblings in Sydney. His father, Charley Gum, had taken him to China but had then returned to work in Sydney. His parents were no longer together and Charlie’s mum, Frances Allen, had not wanted her son to go to China.

I’ve written elsewhere about Charlie, his mum and the letters he wrote to her from China. They are a poignant account of Charlie’s loneliness and homesickness – he was a boy far from home and family, living in an unfamiliar place and learning a new language, with no easy way to leave. One hopeful thread in two of the letters, written in 1911, was the thought of returning to Sydney with his ‘uncles’ wife’ and her children.

He wrote about this idea in a letter dated 11 April 1911:

My uncle’s wife got a letter to-day from her sister say that if she wanted money to write & ask for it so she is going to send for 40 pound & she is going to pay my fare to sydney, & when we get to sydney she wants you to pay her back, & wants to know do you like this or not. so write back & tell me so I am now writing to custom house & sending photo & asking him for my paper to go back.

Extract of a letter from Charlie Allen to his mother, Frances Allen, 11 April 1911, NAA: SP42/1, C1922/4449

In a subsequent letter, written when Charlie had been in Chuk Sau Yuen for nearly two years (so perhaps around June 1911), he wrote:

My uncles’ wife said that she will pay my fare back to Sydney when I get there for you to give back my fare to her, or send Sam for me, & she told me to ask you would you like it or not you can please your self, mother I am very unhappy here.

And later in the same letter:

My uncle is going back to Sydney soon & as soon as he goes his wife is going to sneak away, she has 4 children & she would have a lot of trouble with them so I ask her to pay my fare back to & I would help her with her children & luggage & when we get back for you to pay her back my fare so I am writing this letter to ask you weather you like it or not, when she gets there she will stay at your place until she writs to her parents saying that she is home & tell them what to do.

I have long wondered who Charlie’s ‘uncle’s wife’ and her four children were, but without a name I thought it unlikely that I’d ever be able to establish their identity.

I’ve tried to solve a similar mystery in the case of another Sydney boy in China, Richard Lee, who, in newspaper reports, gave the name of a white Australian woman (‘Mrs Gee Chong’) that he knew and spent time with while living in his father’s village in Heungshan (the village was ‘Chuk-to-in’, which may or may not be the same village Charlie Allen lived in – another long-term, as-yet-unsolved puzzle!). In Richard Lee’s case, despite some substantial digging, I haven’t been able to identify who ‘Mrs Gee Chong’ was, even with a name, and so with Charlie’s ‘uncle’s wife’ I had given up any hope of identifying her.

A serendipitous breakthrough!

Recently, though, I’ve had a serendipitous breakthrough. Tim has been doing some updates to our Real Face of White Australia project, re-harvesting and processing the portrait photographs from NAA: ST84/1. As he does so, we’ve been looking through the images to see if we can spot any ‘new’ women and children – and one of those Tim spotted was this little poppet in her distinctive frilly bonnet:

Alice Yin, 1909, NAA: ST84/1, 1909/33/51-60

The certificate to which the photographs are attached – a 1909 CEDT for Charlie Yin – reveals that she is Alice Yin, aged one year and six months, and that she was leaving Sydney with her father and siblings. Her elder brother, Norman (aged three years and four months), and sister, Alma (aged 5 years and four months), were issued with their own CEDTs. Norman and Alma were both recorded as being ‘half-caste Chinese’ born in Mungindi, New South Wales. The family left Sydney on the Empire in October 1909; Charlie Yin returned to Sydney on the Empire on 16 August 1911 while the children returned three years later, on 30 October 1914 on the Eastern.

Further investigation revealed that a ‘C’ file in series SP42/1 still exists for the family, and it was here that I struck gold.

The file revealed that Alma, Norman and Alice Yin were the children of Charlie and Annie Yin, and had been born at Bumbalar, Mungindi in 1904, 1906 and 1908. Their father Charlie, a gardener, was from Canton while their mother, Annie (née Campbell), was also born at Mungindi. Charlie and Annie had married at Bumbalar on 16 July 1903, when Annie was aged 18 and Charlie was 29.

NSW birth certificate of Alice Yin, 1908, NAA: SP42/1, C1914/6345

Charlie had applied for CEDTS for himself and for the children to travel to China in 1909, and as noted, he had returned to Australia in 1911. In 1912, he wrote to the Collector of Customs, through Wing On & Co., requesting an extension of the children’s CEDTs ‘as they have not yet completed their schooling’. Charlie was then living at Eastern Road, Turramurra in Sydney. The extension was granted, providing the fee of £1 each was paid. Charlie then applied for another CEDT for himself in February 1914, and he departed Sydney for Hong Kong on the Taiyuan on 20 March 1914.

The next document in the file is a two-page letter addressed to the ‘Commissioner of Customs, Sydney’ from the Archdeacon of Hong Kong, dated 8 October 1914, requesting attention to the case of Mrs Yin née Campbell. The letter stated that after travelling together to China:

her husband himself returned to Sydney leaving his wife and family in the Heung Shan district, about one day’s journey from Hongkong. Subsequently he came back to China and died on June 2nd last. … Another son, Hubert (Huey) was born on 11th June 1911.

She holds no papers for this child of three years but as it is impossible for her as an Australian woman to live in China now that her husband is dead without suffering untold hardships, she is most anxious to return to her own people at Moree.

… this woman has been most harshly dealt with since her husband’s death as is unfortunately too often the custom in such cases. By careful manoeuvring she has managed to escape from her husband’s village with the children, and to return there would be fatal.

(On the experiences of Australian wives of Chinese in China, see my ‘Crossing oceans and cultures’ chapter in Australia’s Asia – details in References below.)

When the family arrived back in Sydney at the end of October 1914, Annie Yin and her three Australian-born children were allowed to land without question. Little Huey’s case, however, was referred to the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs for decision, as he was born in China; ten days later, permission was granted for him to remain in the Commonwealth.

Do the facts match?

Alice Yin née Campbell had travelled with her three children and husband to her husband’s village in Heungshan in 1909 and gave birth to a fourth child there in June 1911, after which time her husband returned to Australia (in August that year). Charlie Allen wrote, in around June 1911, that his ‘uncle’s wife’ was keen to return to Australia with her four children and that her husband was soon to return to Australia. So, they were in China at the same time, there were the right number of children, but were they in the same village?

Charlie Allen’s father, Charley Gum was a Gock / Kwok / Goq 郭 from Chuk Sau Yuen, and it was here that Charlie spent his time in China. On Alice Yin’s 1908 birth certificate, her father’s name was given as Charlie Gock Yin, and he corresponded with the Collector of Customs through Wing On & Co., which was run by members of the Gock family. Some poking about in Ancestry.com revealed a family tree (never the best source, but still!) that named Charlie as ‘Charlie Kwok Yin’ and listed his birthplace as ‘Jook So Yuen’.

Based on that, it seems very likely to me that both men, Charley Gum and Charlie Yin, were Gocks from Chuk Sau Yuen, and that it was here they took their children in 1909. And therefore that Annie Yin and Alma, Norman, Alice and Herbert were Charlie Allen’s ‘uncle’s wife’ and four children!

References

NAA: ST84/1, 1909/33/51-60 [7461089], Edward OYoung, Kee Sum, Mar Chin, Ah Mee, Charlie Yet, Charlie Yin, Norman Yin, Alma Yin and Marm Fong [Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test – includes left hand impression and photographs] [box 31], 1909

NAA: SP42/1, C1914/6345 [7537383], Children of Charlie Yin [includes photographs of Charlie Yin and birth certificates of Norman Yin, Alma Yin and Alice Yin; Customs Sydney restricted migration file], 1909–1914

Kate Bagnall, ‘Writing home from China: Charles Allen’s transnational childhood‘, in Paul Longley Arthur (ed.), Migrant Nation: Australian Culture, Society and Identity, Anthem Press, London, 2017.

Kate Bagnall, ‘Crossing oceans and cultures’, in Agnieszka Sobocinska and David Walker (eds.), Australia’s Asia: Reviewing Australia’s Asian Pasts, University of Western Australia Press, 2012.

2020 in review

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a strange and difficult year.

I started the year by moving from Canberra to Hobart, after three months of remote working in my new job at UTAS (as Senior Lecturer in Humanities and Course Coordinator of the Diploma of Family History). I was incredibly sad to be moving so far from Canberra, to be leaving our home of 20 years, to be uprooting my family and separating our kids from each other – the three big ones chose to remain, while the little one had to come with us. But it was also a relief to be leaving the thick smokey air and orange skies and anxiety and asthma that the bushfires had brought over December and January. Then, just as we were starting to feel a little bit settled in Hobart, COVID hit Australia. I had seen COVID come into the lives of friends in Guangdong and Macau, feeling very lucky that it wasn’t us who were in lockdown – but then we were too.

Of all the places in the world to spend 2020, Hobart has been pretty great. But being in a new job, in a new city, on an island cut off from family and friends on the mainland, in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, has been hard, so hard. And now, our plans of returning home to visit in the new year look unlikely due to the recent COVID outbreak in Sydney.

So, it’s with all that in mind that I’m writing this ‘year in review’ post – to help me see through my continually teary eyes that I’ve accomplished something at work this year. See the list below, if you want the details.

My biggest accomplishment this year hasn’t really been at work though. It’s been to get myself, my teenager and my tween through the year in more or less one piece, and to see them finally looking towards 2021 (and more particularly, 2021 in Hobart) with a sense of hope and perhaps even happiness. I couldn’t have achieved that without support from Tim, Sophie, Nicki and Molly the Labrador on the home front, and from my stellar colleague and font-of-Tasmanian-knowledge, Imogen, at work.

When we moved to Hobart I decided that wherever we lived, I needed to be able to see river and sky. I’m so glad that I did, because this was my work-from-home view for much of 2020.

Things I’ve accomplished at work this year

Here’s my list of work things I’m happy to have accomplished this year, in no particular order:

  • my probation at UTAS going through early, after 12 months (yay me!)
  • our major course changes for R2H Diploma of Family History for 2021 being approved by Senate – and being complimented on the excellence of my course change paperwork
  • preparing a proposal and gaining approval for my new unit, HAA108 Migrant Families, to be introduced into the Diploma of Family History in 2021
  • concurrently coordinating two units (HAA003 and HAA107) between July and September with a combined enrolment of over 900 students, with 6 tutors to manage – note to self: never do this again; you literally had 3 days where you didn’t work between June and October
  • revising HAA003 Introduction to Family History and developing 3 weeks’ content for our new unit, HTA206 Australian History in a Global Context, all done from home and taught online
  • finalising Locating Chinese Women: Historical Mobility between China and Australia, forthcoming with HKU Press in early 2021 – included working on the cover and marketing materials, commissioning and checking the index, and checking three rounds of proofs
  • submitting an application for the ARC Special Research Initiative for Australian Society, History and Culture with Julia Martínez and Sophie Couchman – we weren’t successful (only 7.1% of application were), but we were ranked between 10% to 25% of unsuccessful proposals within the scheme round (with three of the four selection criteria ranked at top 10%)
  • dealing with a plagiarism matter, where a PRC researcher had published an article, in Chinese in a PRC-based journal, that was largely based on my research
  • speaking via Zoom at the ‘Asia at the Crossroads: Ruptures and Hopes’ symposium, organised by the Melbourne-Monash Asia Studies Reading Group, on 31 July 2020
  • speaking with my UTAS colleague Imogen Wegman at Libraries Tasmania in Hobart for Family History Month on 13 August 2020
  • assisting/speaking to researchers/journalists: Kirsty Walsh (Who Do You Think You Are?), Ingrid Piper (commissioned by Australian Consulate, Hong Kong); Mell Chun (freelance journalist working on a project supported by a Judith Neilson and Walkley Fund grant)
  • being invited to participate in a three ARC applications (two I had to decline), including an ARC Linkage project with Tracy Ireland, Jane Lydon, Tim Sherratt and GML Heritage, which we submitted in December
  • being invited to contribute to two publications – an edited collection by Tony Ballantyne and a special journal issue on Chinese NZ/Australian history/heritage – in which I’ll write up more of my Chinese naturalisation research
  • progressing the Subjects and Aliens edited collection I’m working on with Peter Prince, with the aim of submitting it to a publisher in 2021
  • getting to work with some truly excellent colleagues at UTAS – with special mention to the professional staff who help me do my job better, in particular Carol, Melinda, Scott, and the wonderful young women in the Family History Contact Team this year, Maddy, Emma and Meredith
  • supervising my first Honours student, who achieved First Class Honours and also got herself a graduate job in the Department of Premier and Cabinet starting next year (yay Britt!)
  • beginning to think about and dig into Chinese Tasmanian history, particularly about Tasmanian Chinese family histories and how I might sneak Tasmania into my Chinese naturalisation book
‘My Native Land’, Examiner (Launceston), 22 December 1937, p. 7, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52175815. Click image to see full article in Trove.

Where my work has been cited, 2019–2020

For the record, here are some publications from 2019 and 2020 that have cited my work. I’ve included 2019 here because I didn’t manage to publish a ‘2019 in review’ post last year (too busy settling into new job, selling our house, packing, etc).

Barnwell, Ashley, ‘Keeping the Nation’s Secrets: “Colonial Storytelling” within Australian Families’, Journal of Family History, 46, no. 1 (January 2021), pp. 46–61, https://doi.org/10.1177/0363199020966920.

Berthon, Hilary, ‘A Treasure Trove of Community Language Newspapers’, in Catherine Dewhirst and Richard Scully (eds), The Transnational Voices of Australia’s Migrant and Minority Press, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-43639-1_11.

Charak, Sarah Edith, ‘Anglo-Jews and Eastern European Jews in a White Australia’, Honours Thesis, Department of History, University of Sydney, 2019, http://hdl.handle.net/2123/21137.

Cheng, Christopher, ‘Beacons of Modern Learning: Diaspora-Funded Schools in the China-Australia Corridor’, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 29, no. 2 (June 2020), pp. 139–62, https://doi.org/10.1177/0117196820930309.

Chua, J.Y., ‘ “An Open and Public Scandal” in the Transvaal: The 1906 Bucknill Inquiry in a Global Context’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 29, no. 2 (2020), pp. 135–161.

Fitzpatrick, Matthew P. and Peter Monteath, ‘Amidst Empires: Colonialism, China and the Chinese’, in Peter Monteath and Matthew P. Fitzpatrick (eds), Colonialism, China and the Chinese, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019.

Gibson, Peter, ‘The Market Gardens of Dark Dragon Ridge, New South Wales, Australia, 1876–1930’, Australian Economic History Review, 60 (2020), pp. 372–393. https://doi-org.ezproxy.utas.edu.au/10.1111/aehr.12195.

Gibson, Peter, and Simon Ville, ‘Australian Wool and Chinese Industrialization, 1901–1941’, Twentieth-Century China, 44, no. 3 (2019), pp. 265–287.

Kuo, Mei-fen, ‘The “Invisible Work” of Women: Gender and Philanthropic Sociability in the Evolution of Early Chinese Australian Voluntary Organisations’, in John Fitzgerald and Hon-ming Yip (eds), Chinese Diaspora Charity and the Cantonese Pacific, 1850–1949, Hong Kong University Press, 2020.

Kuo, Mei-fen and John Fitzgerald, ‘Colonial Pathways to International Education: Chinese Students in White Australia in the 1920s’, in Peter Monteath and Matthew P. Fitzpatrick (eds), Colonialism, China and the Chinese, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019.

Kwok, Juanita, ‘Waltzing the Dragon with Benjamin Law’, History Australia, 17, no. 1 (2020), pp. 192–194.

Kwok, Juanita, ‘Chinese Mining on the Turon: From Beginning to End’, Journal of Australasian Mining History, 17 (Oct 2019), pp. 75–95.

Lake, Marilyn, ‘Geneva (ILO) Conventions: Located but Not Made There’, Labor, 16, no. 2 (2019), pp. 49–54, https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-7323625.

McCarron, Barry. ‘ “Make it too hot for them to stop in the colony”: The Irish Stance on the Chinese Question in Australia, 1851–1901’, Australasian Journal of Irish Studies, 20 (2020), pp. 99–124.

May, Andrew, Helen Morgan, Nicole Davis, Sue Silberberg and Roland Wettenhall, ‘Untimely Ends: Place, Kin and Culture in Coronial Inquests’, Provenance: The Journal of Public Record Office Victoria, 18 (2020), https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/provenance-journal/provenance-2020/untimely-ends.

Rhook, Nadia,‘ “The Chinese Doctor James Lamsey”: Performing Medical Sovereignty and Property in Settler Colonial Bendigo, Postcolonial Studies, 23, no. 1 (2020), pp. 58–78.

Robson, Charmaine, ‘Doctors’ Dilemma: Appraising the Rights of New South Wales Leprosy Sufferers, 1890–1950′, Health & History: Journal of the Australian & New Zealand Society for the History of Medicine, 22, no. 1 (2020), pp. 126–49.

Sawaki, Tomoko, ‘Interacting Voices Structure a Text: A Quantitative Investigation of Dialogic Elements Across Structural Units in the Introductory Chapters of History Theses’, Functions of Language, 27, no. 2 (2020), pp. 174–206, https://doi.org/10.1075/fol.17037.saw.

Sayers, Jentery, ‘Bringing Trouvé to Light: Speculative Computer Vision and Media History’, in Kevin Kee and Timothy Compeau (eds), Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History, University of Michigan Press, 2019, https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvnjbdr0.5.

See, Pamela M., ‘The Agency of Papercutting in the Post-Digital Era’, PhD Thesis, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, 2020.

Williams, Michael, ‘Stopping Them Using Our Boats’, Australian Economic History Review, 2020, https://doi-org.ezproxy.utas.edu.au/10.1111/aehr.12207.

Wilton, Janis, ‘Histories of the Chinese in Regional NSW 1850–1950’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 105, no. 1 (2019), pp. 49–69.

The Hung family of Lefroy, Tasmania

Peter Cox’s local history of the former gold-mining town of Lefroy in north-eastern Tasmania, Lefroy: Tasmania’s Forgotten Gold Town (George Town and District Historical Society, 2016, p. 90), mentions a market gardener named Ah Hung, who with ‘his European wife Jemma’ had a large vegetable and fruit garden to the north of Lefroy, ‘on the old Douglas township site’.

Douglas was a town that never eventuated, about four kilometres east of Lefroy. By contrast, Lefroy was once a substantial town, reputed at one point to have been the fourth largest town in Tasmania. There was a notable Chinese community in Lefroy, including a temple. Today, there are only a few houses remaining.

Chinese miners occupy their own chapter of Cox’s study (Chapter 3, ‘Chinese and Slate’), but Jemma and Ah Hung receive only the one brief, unreferenced mention in Chapter 10 (‘The Peak of the Boom’). On a recent holiday in the East Tamar district, I set out to see what I could find out about them.

Jemima Cox and Ah Hung married in Launceston in 1875. She had come to Tasmania as a small child, after migrating with her family from Hertfordshire, England in 1856. Jemima and Ah Hung had three children, born in the early 1880s, Henry, James and Mary, and they lived on land owned by Jemima at Douglas, near Blanket Creek outside of Lefroy, where they ran a garden. Ah Hung died in 1904, after which time it seems that Jemima moved to Launceston with her eldest son, Henry. They lived in Forster Street, Inveresk, and Henry was a gardener like his father (and Jemima’s father, too). Jemima died in 1923, at age 74, in Broken Hill, New South Wales, where she was living with son Henry – she had been in Broken Hill for four months.

The town of Lefroy, Tasmania (George Town and District Historical Society, GTH_HS0194, https://eheritage.libraries.tas.gov.au/resources/detail0f3f.html?ID=GTH_HS0194)

Below is a chronology of the information I uncovered through Trove Newspapers, the Tasmanian Names Index, the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Ancestry.com, General Register Office UK, Broken Hill Cemetery website, and maps from the National Library and Libraries Tasmania (thanks to Imogen Wegman for the latter reference). There are many leads that could be followed up about the life of Jemima and Ah Hung and their children, and I’ve noted some of these for future reference!

Chronology

c. 1835–1846: Ah Hung was born.

1850: On 13 September 1850, Jemima Elizabeth Cox was born in at Nancy Bury, Tewin, Hertfordshire, England, the daughter of Daniel Cox and Mary Gregory. Her father was a woodman and her mother signed with an ‘X’.

Birth of Jemima Elizabeth Cox, Oct-Nov-Dec 1850, Hertfordshire, Vol. 6, Page 547, FreeBMD, England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 [database online], Ancestry.com.

Birth registration of Jemima Elizabeth Cox, December Quarter 1850, Hertford Union, Vol. 6, Page 547, General Register Office, United Kingdom.

1851: The family of Daniel and Mary Cox was listed in the 1851 England Census as living at Nancy Bury, Tewin, in Hertfordshire, England. The household consisted of Daniel (farmer labourer, age 32, born Tewin), Mary (housewife, age 26, born Codicote), Daniel (age 4) and Jemima (age 7 months).

Census record for Daniel Cox and household, Tewin, Hertfordshire, England, Class HO107, Piece 1711, Folio 170, Page 26, 1851 England Census [database online], Ancestry.com.

1856: On 5 February, Daniel and Mary Cox and their children arrived in New South Wales as assisted immigrants on the James Fernie. The Cox children were 7-year-old Daniel, 5-year-old Jemima, 2-year-old Joseph and a male infant born on board.

Assisted immigrants records for Daniel Cox, Mary Cox and Daniel, Jemima and Joseph Cox, arrived on James Fernie, 1856, Assisted Immigrants Index 1839–1896, NSW State Archives and Records.

Passenger list for the James Fernie, arrived Sydney on 5 February 1856, New South Wales, Australia, Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1828-1896 [database online], Ancestry.com.

1869: Jemima Cox gave evidence in a case about trespass on the land that her father, Daniel Cox, rented in Glen Dhu Street, Launceston.

‘Trespassing on Land’, The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 27 November 1869, p. 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65988017.

1875: Jemima Cox and Ah Hung were married at the Wesleyan Church in Patterson Street, Launceston, by the Rev. E.W. Nye. Jemima was incorrectly said to be a native of Tasmania, aged about 25 years old, and she was still living with her parents at Cataract Hill. Ah Hung was described as a ‘middle aged man’.

They were married on 13 May 1875. He was recorded as being aged 29 and she was 25. He was a bachelor and she was a spinster. He was a miner and she was a gardener’s daughter.

‘Another Chinese Benedict’, The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 14 May 1875, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66073314.

Reprinted as: ‘Fifty Years Ago’, The Mercury (Hobart), 16 May 1925, p. 12, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23817025.

Tasmanian Names Index, Ah-Hung and Jemima Cox (Marriage), 13 May 1875, Tasmanian Archives, RGD37/1/34 no 503, https://stors.tas.gov.au/RGD37-1-34$init=RGD37-1-34P266.

Tasmanian Names Index, Ah-Hung and Jemima Cox (Marriage), 13 May 1875, Tasmanian Archives, RGD37/1/34 no 503, https://stors.tas.gov.au/RGD37-1-34$init=RGD37-1-34P266.

c. 1880: Henry Charles Hung, son of Jemima Cox and Ah Hung, was born in Tasmania.

c. 1882: James Hung, son of Jemima Cox and Ah Hung, was born in Tasmania.

c. 1884: Mary Hung, daughter of Jemima Cox and Ah Hung, was born in Tasmania.

1889: The premises of Ah Hung at Lefroy were robbed on Tuesday, 3 September 1889, and £75 in gold and silver was stolen. The theft was not discovered until 5 September. The main suspect was another Chinese man.

‘Tasmanian News’, The Tasmanian (Launceston), 7 September 1889, p. 25, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article200288906.

1892: Jemima Hung was recorded as the owner of 2 acres, 0 roods and 31 perches of land on the main road from Lefroy to Back Creek, close to Blanket Creek.

A 1973 Tasmanian Department of Mines map of Lefroy still noted that the land is owned by J. Hung.

‘Map – Douglas D32’ (AF819-1-82), Printed Town Charts (AF819), Land and Surveys Department, Tasmanian Archives, https://stors.tas.gov.au/AI/AF819-1-82.

‘Lefroy’, Tasmania mineral chart series, Tasmania Department of Mines, Hobart 1973, http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-668738343.

Detail of 1892 map of Douglas, Tasmania, showing Jemima Hung’s land on what is now Douglas Road (Tasmanian Archives AF819-1-82)

1901: An article in April about ‘Crown Land Sales’, under the heading ‘Town Lands’, mentioned land in the town of Douglas ‘fronting on the road to Back Creek, opposite land purchased by H. Ah Hung’.

‘Crown Land Sales’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 15 April 1901, p. 4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153962637.

1904: James Hung, ‘a Chinese gardener’, went missing from his home near Lefroy at the beginning of February and had still not been found several days later.

‘Launceston’, The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 4 February 1904, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65130652.

1904: James Hung returned home on Thursday, 4 February; he had been reported missing from Blanket Creek near Lefroy. He was said to be in a weak state.

‘Current Topics: Returned Home’, Examiner (Launceston), 6 February 1904, p. 4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35790680.

This land on Douglas Road at Lefroy, near Blanket Creek, was owned and occupied by the Hung family in the late nineteenth century. On the land there are two old fruit trees, possibly apples. (Photograph by Kate Bagnall, October 2020)

1904: On 6 February 1904, Mr and Mrs Hung of Lefroy placed a notice in the Launceston newspaper to thank people for searching for their son, James, who was lost in the bush.

‘Family Notices’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 10 February 1904, p. 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153921840.

Google Earth satellite image showing the boundary of Jemima Hung’s property at Douglas, Tasmania (Created by Tim Sherratt, October 2020)

1904: Ah Hung, aged 69, died at his home at Lefroy on 23 October 1904 after a long and painful illness. He was the ‘dearly beloved husband’ of Jemima Ah Hung.

‘Family Notices’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 25 October 1904, p. 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153825631.

‘Family Notices’, Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 25 October 1904, p. 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153825631.

1910: Mrs J. Hung of Melbourne Street, South Launceston, won the ‘Robur’ Tea Ticket Collecting Competition for February 1910 and her name was listed in a Launceston newspaper (under ‘3/6 Rewards’ in the first column).

‘Advertising’, Examiner (Launceston), 26 March 1910, p. 9, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50412200.

1913: Mrs Jemima Hung was listed in the Post Office Directory as living at Forster Street, Inveresk, on the righthand side from Invermay Road after Goderich Street.

Tasmania Post Office Directory for 1913–14, H. Wise and Co., Hobart, p. 154, Ancestry.com. Australia, City Directories, 1845-1948 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

1914: Mrs Jemima Hung (domestic duties) and Henry Charles Hung (gardener) were living in Forster Street, Inveresk.

Electoral Roll, Tasmania, 1914, Bass, Launceston North, p. 25, Ancestry.com. Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

1915: Mrs Jemima Hung was listed in the Post Office Directory as living at Forster Street, Inveresk, on the righthand side from Invermay Road after Goderich Street.

Tasmania Post Office Directory for 1915–16, H. Wise and Co., Hobart, p. 152, Ancestry.com. Australia, City Directories, 1845-1948 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

1922: Jemima Hung (domestic duties) and Henry Charles Hung (gardener) were living in Forster Street, Inveresk.

Electoral Roll, Tasmania, 1922, Bass, Launceston North, p. 31, Ancestry.com. Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

1923: Jemima Hung died at Broken Hill, New South Wales (father Daniel, mother Mary).

New South Wales Registry of Birth, Death and Marriage, death of Jemima Hung, 3771/1923.

Death registration of Jemima Hung, Broken Hill, New South Wales, 10 January 1923 (NSW Registry of Birth, Death and Marriage, death of Jemima Hung, 3771/1923)

1923: On 11 January 1923, Jemima Hung was buried at Broken Hill Cemetery in the Methodist section.

Broken Hill Cemetery Records Navigator, Burial Number 30291, Methodist Section (METH M4 Row 23A Plot 15), Buried 11 January 1923, http://www.bhcemetery.com.au/.

1923: Probate record for Jemima Hung, late of Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Tasmanian Names Index, Jemima Hung (Wills), 1923, Tasmanian Archives, AD963-1-4 (Will no. 3880), https://stors.tas.gov.au/AD963-1-4-3880$init=AD963-1-4-3880-1.

1947: ‘Half-caste Chinese’ James Hung, age 65, died. He was the brother of Henry Charles Hung of 53 Charles Street, Launceston. James Hung’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff in the Gorge on Saturday, 1 February 1947.

‘Body Over Cliff’, Examiner (Launceston), 3 February 1947, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article60998659.

Things to follow up

  • Birth certificate of Jemima Elizabeth Hung ordered from the GRO.
  • Assisted immigrant record for Daniel and Mary Cox and family, 1856, ordered from NSW State Archives.
  • Passenger record for Cox family from Sydney to Tasmania, probably in mid-late 1850s.
  • Land purchase records for Jemima Hung’s land at Douglas near Lefroy, before 1892, and any other land purchase by the family.
  • Death registration for Ah Hung, 1904.
  • Marriage of Mary Frances Hung and James Quong in Tasmania in 1905 (1905/852) – is this Jemima’s daughter Mary, who was listed on her death certificate in 1923?
  • Birth of Edna Elizabeth Florence Quong, in Hobart on 13 October 1906 to James and Mary Frances Quong.
  • Reason for Henry Hung, and his elderly mother Jemima Hung, to have moved in c. 1922 from Launceston to Broken Hill.
  • Inquest record for the death of James Hung in Launceston in 1947.

 

Uncommon Lives

Uncommon Lives in the National Archives: Biography, history and the records of government

I presented this paper at the Australian Historical Association Conference at the Australian National University in July 2006 when I was working as Websites Content Developer at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra. It discusses a National Archives website called Uncommon Lives, a project I worked on as researcher, editor and project manager between 2003 and 2007. The latest iteration of the National Archives website, launched in October 2019, has seen the removal of Uncommon Lives from the web – and it probably goes without saying that I think this is a real loss. Uncommon Lives was one of a number of truly innovative web projects the then NAA Web Content Team created in the early 2000s and it is disappointing that the NAA no longer seems to understand the value of these websites as tools of both archival and historical understanding and exploration.

Note: Most of the web links below take you to archived versions of the webpage in the Internet Archive (except the link to The National Archives (UK) Moving Here website, which is archived by The National Archives itself!)

Abstract

In 2003, the National Archives of Australia launched its Uncommon Lives website, a series of biographical and historical profiles of individual Australians. The first profile, on German inventor and World War II internee Wolf Klaphake, has since been joined by features on subjects including activist Jessie Street and Yolgnu elder Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda. Each profile is based on documents held by the National Archives—that is, records created by the Australian government—and online access to digital copies of these records is provided through the Archives’ RecordSearch database. This paper will discuss the development of Uncommon Lives and consider how the records of government can be used to tell the stories of famous and not so famous Australians. Uncommon Lives can be found at uncommonlives.naa.gov.au.

Introduction

The National Archives of Australia’s Uncommon Lives website (uncommonlives.naa.gov.au) presents historical portraits of individuals whose lives have somehow intersected with the activities of the Commonwealth government of Australia—and therefore about whom the National Archives holds records. The website has grown gradually from an initial pilot in 2003 to three fully-developed and one preview feature about five subjects in 2006. Each of these lives has been researched and written by a different author, in conjunction with National Archives staff. The first feature, by Klaus Neumann, concerned interned German inventor, Wolf Klaphake; the second by Lenore Coltheart is about Jessie Street; the third by Peter Read tells the story of Yolgnu elder Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda; and the most recent feature, developed by John Dargavel, will look at the work of forester Charles Lane Poole and his designer wife Ruth.

Uncommon Lives aims to show how Commonwealth government records held in the National Archives collection can be used to tell stories of people’s lives. Family historians, who make up a significant percentage of the users of the National Archives, know that the Archives has records which relate to their ancestors—particularly those ancestors who served in the armed forces or were migrants. But biographers and local, community and professional historians seem less savvy to the fact that there may be records about their subjects in the Archives, usually preferring instead to head towards libraries with their familiar manuscript and newspaper collections. The Uncommon Lives features are designed, therefore, to highlight the ways in which Australians (and non-Australians) have interacted with the Australian government over the past hundred years and the ways that evidence of their lives remains in the records. The project suggests the diversity of people and the range of life stories that inhabit the records of government—from those whose interactions are well known, such as politicians and prominent public servants, to those ‘ordinary’ people who found themselves in particular circumstances which necessitated their dealing with government.

Life histories and the records of government

Documents about individuals and families are the most commonly sought records in the collection of the National Archives of Australia. The impetus behind this is, without a doubt, the current community interest in genealogy and family history—a 2002 study of Archives users found, for instance, that 88% of those making reference enquiries were doing so for the purpose of family history research.1

To cater to these particular interests, the National Archives has two special reference services which provide copies of Australian war service dossiers and post-war migration records, and efforts are made by the Archives to make ‘family history’ records known and accessible.2  In the 2004-05 financial year, nearly 40,000 requests were made for copies of war service records3 and use of the newer Making Australia Home service, launched in February 2005, is also growing.

Migration and war service records can be so widely accessed because of the work the Archives has put in to making these nationally-significant collections open and accessible to anyone and everyone, many of whom know and care little about what the Archives does or how it works. For the majority of people who access archival records through the special reference services, it is their first and probably last interaction with the Archives and with the records in its vast collection.

Their interest in the records comes from the personal and very real human connection these records make between individuals today and those of the past, be they parents, grandparents or great-grandparents.

People enjoy finding links between their ancestors and themselves, between the past and present, and most are content once they have copies of a few precious folios and perhaps a photograph or two. But beyond these most obvious and widely-accessed sources, there are many, many more shelf kilometres of records which could be used by biographers and professional historians, as well as family historians, to tell of the lives of individuals in deeper and more nuanced ways.

More often than not, the archives of the Commonwealth government are imagined to be a dry and boring collection focussed on the policies and decision-making of stuffy bureaucrats and politicians tucked away in Canberra, separate from the ‘real’ life of the people of Australia. ‘The government’ who created and kept the records is thought to be a monolithic entity, and therefore the records are seen to present the voice of ‘the government’ only. But within the records there are myriad different voices and opinions—certainly there are those of prime ministers and prominent politicians, but there are also those of the many ‘everyday’ men and women who worked for the government, those who sought the government’s assistance, those who protested against it, and those whose lives were controlled and directed by its policies and actions.

Research undertaken by Alessandro Antonello, who this last summer completed an internship with the Archives, has shown how the presence of these individuals in the Archives’ collection can be overlooked by those who perhaps should know better. Alessandro did some digging into the Archives’ records on Sir Douglas Mawson and looked to see if these records had been used in Philip Ayres’ extensively researched biography of the great explorer, Mawson: A Life.4 Alessandro found that not only did Ayres not use the Archives wide-ranging collection of documents written both by and about Mawson during his dealings with the Commonwealth; he also revealed that a letter from Mawson to Prime Minister John Curtin which Ayres claimed had been destroyed was, in fact, safely held with its original envelope in a file in the Archives’ Canberra repository.5 I suspect that there are other similar examples out there, too—where personal papers held in manuscript collections, newspapers, interviews and published works have been used in biographical works, while the records of government have not.

With its focus on life stories and biography, the Uncommon Lives website aims to demonstrate some of the possibilities to be found within the records of government when it comes to researching and writing about people. The Archives’ records are evidence of the Australian government’s actions on behalf of its people and of its interactions with them, and they are kept by the Archives as a fundamental part of our democracy. One of the mandates of the National Archives is to ‘develop, manage and promote a visible, known and accessible national collection that engages and informs the community’.6 A challenge for those of us who work in Archives education and outreach is how to make connections between the people, the Australian community, and the records. Through Uncommon Lives we hope to bring to light the ways in which everyday Australians, both in the past and present, are connected to the actions of their government and the records which document them.

Uncommon Lives

Uncommon Lives is part narrative, part exhibition and part finding aid, a combination that hopefully works in different ways for different people and allows the exploration of records in both their historical and archival contexts. What I would like to do for the rest of my time, is to go through some of the different aspects of the website, both relating to its content and its functionality. I will then finish with some of the challenges we’ve faced in developing the website and in giving it a future.

But first, a brief tour. The features are generally made up of five sections—an overview of the subject’s life, two sections on particular events or issues prominent in the Archives’ records, a timeline and a listing of records used. The format varies a little between each of the features, as we adapt the general format to fit with the stories revealed in the records. The website also includes a search facility, and other general ‘housekeeping’ pages about credits, copyright and technical information.

Whose lives?

The subjects of the website to date are a varied bunch:

  • Wolf Klaphake, a German inventor interned in Australia in World War II
  • Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda, a Yolgnu elder from east Arnhem Land accused of murdering a white policeman, sentenced to death, then released on appeal to the High Court in the early 1930s
  • Jessie Street, an establishment rebel and social campaigner active throughout the middle decades of the 20th century, and
  • a British-born forester, Charles Lane Poole and his artistic Irish wife, Ruth, who designed the interiors of important public buildings in Canberra in the late 1920s.

Features in the pipeline are about a similarly diverse group of Australians:

  • Jiro Muramats, a naturalised Japanese businessman and pearling master who was denied the right to vote in federal elections and died in internment during World War II
  • LF Giblin, an interwar economist with an adventurous streak, and
  • an early Muslim community in Australia.

The connection between them, in all their diversity, is that they interacted with the Commonwealth government in such as way that there remains a significant body of records by or about them in the National Archives.

This is the first criteria we have used in assessing whose lives should be featured—are there enough records within our collection? As I’ve said, the collection is rich in stories about people, but obviously not everyone is included in the files. The people who feature most prominently are those employed by the government, those whose lives were directly impacted by its policies—in both positive and negative ways—and those viewed by the government as problematic.

The feature on interned German inventor Wolf Klaphake is based primarily on files related to his internment by the Commonwealth government during World War II.

The Jessie Street profile makes extensive use of the large ASIO files kept about her and other records of her dealings with the government as a lobbyist or member of official bodies.

The feature on Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda uses the substantial body of records, including many of newspaper clippings, kept by various government departments about his dramatic case, as well as files from the High Court (which are also held by the National Archives).

The life of Charles and Ruth Lane Poole is told through the many documents, letters and papers they wrote in their work for the government as Commonwealth forester and head of the Forestry School and interior designer of The Lodge and Yarralumla.

A second and very important consideration when choosing our subjects has been concerns over privacy and consent. Before the Archives uses records of a personal and individual nature in our publications and exhibitions, we aim to gain permission from the subject or if they are deceased, a family member.

We have been fortunate so far that family members have been involved in the development of each of the Uncommon Lives features. They have provided access to family documents and photographs and, in the case of Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda, we chose to take the profile further by including Dhakiyarr’s own story as told by his grandsons, based on what they had been told by their grandmother.7 Another success has been tracking down the family of Japanese businessman Jiro Muramats, subject of a forthcoming feature, whose only daughter married a Japanese diplomat and left Australia prior to World War II. Muramats’ descendants were pleased to hear about the work we are doing and interested to know more about the family’s now-distant connections to Australia.

Individual voices

Uncommon Lives reveals the presence of individual voices within the records of government, showing how people have interacted with the government in different ways. The website presents Wolf Klaphake’s numerous letters of protest against his internment during World War II in camps with Nazi sympathisers, particularly poignant as he and his wife had left Germany because of their dislike of the rising National Socialist movement, and it shows Jessie Street’s ongoing struggle for human rights with eight prime ministers and their governments, over more than three decades.

Uncommon Lives also suggests the role of the individual with government itself—how prime ministers and ministers, public servants and other government employees differed in their opinions and approaches to issues and situations. It demonstrates how ‘the government’ is not one great monolithic entity. The tensions between public servants in Canberra and Darwin, for instance, are brought to the fore in the story of Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda, and the way in which personality influences policy will be raised in the full feature on Charles Lane Poole.

The feature on Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda also shows how individuals have been the subject of great government interest and activity, without ever having a voice to articulate their own thoughts, interests and needs. The records held in the National Archives show Dhakiyarr as a part of a ‘problem’ to be dealt with by administrators, police and the courts, as they do with many other Aboriginal Australians. Dhakiyarr’s story is a particularly compelling one, however, in that in the hundreds and hundreds of pages about him and the events which led to his eventual disappearance, not one word is his. Not even in the various court hearings was Dhakiyarr able to speak—he did not understand English and no interpreter was provided to him who could speak his language. It was for this reason that we chose to include the direct voices of Dhakiyarr’s grandsons to tell his story on his behalf.

In the website, such absences and gaps in the archival record are not overlooked; rather they are brought to light and the reader is invited to question possible interpretations raised by the records themselves.

Records

A primary aim of the Uncommon Lives website is to reveal the possibilities within the records, as well as their limitations. Each of the Uncommon Lives features reveals different types of records of government that can be used in writing about people, highlighting diverse parts of the National Archives collection and providing access to them. In doing so, we hope to raise questions about the records—both about what is in them and the way that they came into being.

The website aims to make readers more familiar with the types of records held in the National Archives collection, as well as providing insights into the way the government created and kept records, and the way that those recordkeeping systems are maintained and augmented by the National Archives. The Archives collection is a large and often unwieldy one, and it is arranged in a way that is unfamiliar to most researchers more familiar with topic or subject-based systems of arrangement as found in libraries. The disjuncture between the familiar idea of subjects and the unfamiliar idea of functions has been described as an ‘intractable problem’ for archives staff whose job it is to make the collection more accessible and to promote its use, even among tertiary students, academic and public historians.8 Archivists have solid and sound reasons for the way they arrange and manage the records in their care, adhering to the principles of provenance and original order—in the case of the National Archives through the Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) system based on the relationship between agency, series and item—but the merits of their systems are not immediately evident to most researchers.

Links to digitised records

Archives face the continuing question of how to provide meaningful access to their collections and, as technology changes, the expectations of the public grows. Ten years ago the National Archives website was in its infancy, the organisation had limited public programs and exhibitions, and the main way into our collection was through accession lists, some basic research guides and the knowledge stored in reference officers’ heads.9 Archives reading rooms were for ‘serious’ researchers.

In 2006, the National Archives is a different place, with a prominent online presence of one general and four specialised collection-based websites and two online catalogues, RecordSearch and PhotoSearch. Uncommon Lives, and the National Archives’ other specialised websites Documenting a Democracy, Australia’s Prime Ministers and Vrroom, build on directions the Archives took in the late 1990s to make the collection more open and accessible through the web. In particular, by the digitisation initiatives which mean that an ever-growing number of records are available to read in full through the Archives online catalogue RecordSearch.

In Uncommon Lives, the text is broken up with numerous images. Most of these images are not merely illustrative however, they are documents that relate directly to the surrounding text. Sometimes they are referred to directly in the text, other times they are a source from which surrounding text has been based, sometimes they are a photograph of person referred to. By breaking up the text in this manner, we hope to encourage the reader to pause and possibly view the records. Or for those who are not determined enough to read all, they can gleefully click on the images and be taken to copies of the original documents.

The Archives’ digitisation program and, through it, the ability to access archival records in their entirety online makes the Uncommon Lives project (and other National Archives websites) different from many other digital history projects. Other websites provide online access to digitised documents, but these are generally removed from their original archival context. I mentioned earlier that the merits of archival arrangement was not immediately recognised by researchers, but for those well-versed and interested in archival practice, the value of the fact that these documents can be located in their original order in the file is clear.

A reader of Uncommon Lives can go from a document to the whole file, where they can see it located alongside those documents filed before and after it, and from there into the record series to other files created by the same department about different cases, and so on. In the Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda feature, a reader can click through to see how anthropologist Olive Pink’s September 1933 telegram protesting a government-led punitive expedition in Arnhem Land sits nestled in a large file of the Department of the Interior, alongside similar letters of protest from the Church Missionary Society, Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix, the Australian Society of Patriots and the Women’s Central Organising Committee of the Victorian Labor Party.

Uncommon Lives provides pathways to the huge number of records that are available to view online RecordSearch—there are now more than nine million pages accessible, an achievement that took around five years to reach—and it provides the potential to make any number of connections that those of us developing the site might never have imagined. No longer are footnotes something that only serious researchers or eager students will make the time to pursue. Each feature includes a full list of the records used and links to other organisations who hold records about the subject.

Challenges

The development of Uncommon Lives has presented certain challenges, and I will finish by briefly mentioning a couple of these.

The first of these challenges comes from the delivery of the biographies as a website. The features are narrative-driven, but delivered in a medium noted for its non-linear nature. People generally read books from front to back, or at least they read each chapter from beginning to end. On the web, though, readers follow links here and there, go back and forwards as they please. They mostly don’t read online either, they scan. So with this in mind, the profiles are relatively short and the text is broken up with headings and illustrations. Within the narrative, we hope the website provides easy-to-follow paths, but also the ability to move around, browse or read in-depth as desires.

The Uncommon Lives features are probably too long to read in detail comfortably on screen, however, so we included a feature where you can also view all on one page, which allows the text to be printed conveniently in one go.

A further challenge—and this may sound a little contradictory considering what I’ve just been saying—has been the fact that we have limited the features primarily to records in the National Archives collection. In most cases, these records don’t cover every aspect of the subjects’ lives and our authors have struggled with wanting to include the fabulous things they have found in our sister institutions, such as the War Memorial, AIATSIS, the National Library and the ANU Archives, and elsewhere.

Where appropriate, we have included material from other collections as illustrations—for example, the Archives only has a couple of not-so-inspiring photos of Jessie Street, while the National Library has many good ones; and the only photographs in our collection of Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda are from newspapers, while AIATSIS has the stunning originals taken by newspaper photographer Eric Wilson. We also refer to records in other collections as needed in ‘filling in the gaps’—the diary or journal of Jiro Muramats held in the Battye Library in Western Australia, for example, has provided clues to parts of his personal and business life left blank in government records, as have discussions with family members of other subjects.

It is primarily, though, records held in the National Archives which direct the way the Uncommon Lives are presented. Being based primarily on one set of records, these portraits seem to go against one of the primary rules of good biography and history—to make use of all available source material, and to evaluate and make judicious selections from those sources to support a particular argument or thesis. This imbalance is why we try to focus on the records as being part of what the website is about. As archivists and historians, we can’t retrospectively control the records that were created and kept, we have to work with what’s there, and many of you will probably have experienced the ways that official records kept by public servants can skew situations, give highly-biased versions of events and of people’s characters and actions. In using the records of government alone, the website cannot present full biographies of the subjects, but it opens up the possibilities of different stories that can be told by these records when used with more traditional biographical sources.

Conclusion—keeping it alive

With a small project team—that is, myself plus an occasional research assistant—to coordinate the research and writing by our authors and to oversee the production of the website in between work on the Archives’ other websites, Uncommon Lives has not grown as quickly as I might have wished. It has however, met with positive feedback, particularly regarding the Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda feature. Over the past year, Uncommon Lives has received between 6,500 and 9,500 unique visits per month and we hope that this will expand, as the website itself expands. As I mentioned, there are four more lives currently in development, as well as a folder full of suggestions for other suitable subjects. Some possibilities for its future development include a greater diversity in the format of the lives and of the subjects, to feature families or communities as well as individuals, or to have ‘mini-lives’ that were focused more at the family history genre which were based around more limited groups of records such as those typically held about post-war assisted migrants from Europe.

At the National Archives we often think of ourselves as holding the records of the nation and the memory of the nation, but as Dutch archivist Eric Ketelaar has suggested ‘the “national memory” is not located in the National Archives’, but rather is a tapestry woven from a host of different societal resources.10 People want to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of archivists, historians, biographers and curators to make sense of the past and records of the past—and Uncommon Lives hopefully fulfils that to some degree—but they also want to be able to participate in the creation of the national memory by telling their own stories and the histories of individuals and families that have particular meaning to them.11 One possibility is that Uncommon Lives could open up to enable the public to post their own historical or biographical profiles, complete with links to related records in the Archives, as other online history projects do.12 While this kind of interactive functionality is not planned for the immediate future, Uncommon Lives, together with other Archives initiatives, is hopefully already linking the national memory hidden in the records of government to the people and communities of today’s Australia.

Bibliography

Antonello, Alessandro, ‘On seeing lives through the lenses of officialdom: Biography in the National Archives of Australia’, unpublished Summer Scholar paper, National Archives of Australia, 2006.

Bellamy, Craig, ‘The web, hypertext and history: A critical introduction’, Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History, paper from Virtual Histories, Real Time Challenges (a joint symposium of the Australian Historical Association and the State Library of New South Wales), July 1999, URL: www.jcu.edu.au/aff/history/conferences/virtual/bellamy, accessed 28 April 2006.

Brown, Joshua, ‘History and the web, from the illustrated newspaper to cyberspace: Visual technologies and interaction in the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries’, Rethinking History, vol. 8, no. 2, June 2004.

Cohen, Daniel J, ‘History and the second decade of the web’, Rethinking History, vol. 8, no. 2, June 2004, pp. 293-301.

Davison, Graeme, ‘History and hypertext’, Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History, URL: www.jcu.edu.au/aff/history/articles/davison, accessed 28 April 2006.

Gillies, Malcolm, ‘Virtual histories: Facts, contexts and interpretations’, Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History, paper from Virtual Histories, Real Time Challenges (a joint symposium of the Australian Historical Association and the State Library of New South Wales), July 1999, URL: www.jcu.edu.au/aff/history/conferences/virtual/gillies, accessed 28 April 2006.

Ketelaar, Eric, ‘Sharing: Collected memories in communities of records’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 33, no. 1, May 2005, pp. 44-61.

Ketelaar, Eric, ‘Being digital in people’s archives’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 31, no. 2, November 2003, pp. 8-22.

Knowles, Harry, ‘Voyeurs or scholars? Biography’s role in labour history’, in Paul Ashton and Bridget Griffen-Foley (eds), From the Frontier: Essays in Honour of Duncan Waterson, joint issue of Journal of Australian Studies, no. 69 and Australian Cultural History, no. 20, 2001, pp. 63-75, 191-93.

Ling, Ted and Anne McLean, ‘Taking it to the people: Why the National Archives of Australia embraced digitisation on demand’, Australian Academic and Research Libraries, vol. 35, no. 1, March 2004, pp. 2-15.

Meredyth, Denise and David Prater (eds), Online Archives and Virtual Communities, special issue of Southern Review, vol. 38, no. 1, 2005.

Nosworthy, Helen, ‘Reaching Out’, in Sue McKemmish and Michael Piggott (eds), The Records Continuum: Ian Maclean and Australian Archives First Fifty Years, Ancora Press in association with Australian Archives, Clayton Vic., 1994.

Wilson, Tikka, ‘Publishing online: The uncommon life of Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda’, Archives and Communities: Conference Proceedings and Photos [proceedings of the 2005 conference of the Australian Society of Archivists, held in Wellington New Zealand, 6-8 October 2005 on CD-rom], Australian Society of Archivists, [no place or date of publication].

Wilson, Tikka and Lenore Coltheart, ‘ “Reaching out” revisited: A case study of the Australia’s Prime Ministers website’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 32, no. 1, May 2004, pp. 88-105.

Notes

  1. Environmetrics, Report on Remote User Study, internal National Archives report, October 2002. []
  2. For example, articles are written for family history and community newsletters, personal names are included in catalogue item descriptions, and individual case files are digitised for access through the Archives’ online catalogue RecordSearch. For information about accessing defence service records and the Making Australia Home service, see www.naa.gov.au/the_collection/family_history/armed_services.html and www.naa.gov.au/the_collection/family_history/immigrants.html, accessed 13 June 2006. []
  3. National Archives of Australia and National Archives of Australia Advisory Council, Annual Reports 2004-05, p. 28. []
  4. Philip Ayres, Mawson: A Life, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 1999. []
  5. Alessandro Antonello, ‘On seeing lives through the lenses of officialdom: Biography in the National Archives of Australia’, unpublished Summer Scholar paper, National Archives of Australia, [2006]. See Ayres, Mawson, p. 239 and letter from Douglas Mawson to John Curtin, 23 March 1942, in NAA: A461, F703/1/2. []
  6. National Archives of Australia, Service Charter, available online at URL: www.naa.gov.au/about_us/service_charter/service_charter.html, accessed 1 June 2006. []
  7. See ‘Olman’s story’, Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda: Appeal for Justice, Uncommon Lives website, http://uncommonlives.naa.gov.au/contents.asp?cID=54&lID=2, accessed 22 June 2006. [Historian Peter Read has written more on this in ‘Murder, revenge and reconciliation on the North Eastern Frontier’, History Australia, vol. 4, no. 1, 2007, pp. 09.1-09.15.] []
  8. See Hilary Golder, ‘National Archives of Australia/Australian Historical Association: Reference Group Meeting—14 February 2002’, Australian Historical Association Bulletin, no. 95, Summer 2002/2003, p. 34. []
  9. On the development of the National Archives public programs and websites, see Helen Nosworthy, ‘Reaching out’, in Sue McKemmish and Michael Piggott (eds), The Records Continuum: Ian Maclean and Australian Archives First Fifty Years, Ancora Press in association with Australian Archives, Clayton Vic., 1994; Gabrielle Hyslop, ‘For many audiences: Developing public programs at the National Archives of Australia’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 30, no. 1, May 2002, pp. 48-59; Tikka Wilson and Lenore Coltheart, ‘Reaching out’ revisited: A case study of the Australia’s Prime Ministers website’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 32, no. 1, May 2004, pp. 88-105. []
  10. Erik Ketelaar, ‘Being digital in people’s archives’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 31, no. 2, November 2003, p. 15. []
  11. For a discussion of how to connect archives to the people, see Eric Ketelaar, ‘Sharing: Collected memories in communities of records’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 33, no. 1, May 2005, pp. 44-61. []
  12. See, for example, the ‘Stories’ section of Moving Here: 200 years of migration to England, at URL: www.movinghere.org.uk/stories, accessed 2 June 2006. []

‘A legacy of White Australia’ – Records about the Poon Gooey family in the NAA

Ten years ago, in June 2009, a paper of mine about White Australia records and the Poon Gooey family was published on the National Archives website. I had presented the paper at the Fourth International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China, on 10 May 2009. I was then working in the web team at the National Archives and so we put my paper up online, with links to images of documents and to the original archival records, which were all digitised in RecordSearch.

Using the story of Poon Gooey and his family as a case study, the paper discussed the National Archives’ early 20th-century records on Chinese Australians, particularly those created in the administration of the White Australia Policy. The records document many aspects of the lives of Chinese Australians, including immigration and travel, business enterprises, political activities and community life. Publications and finding aids, descriptive work and digitisation projects over the years have made the records easier to access and hopefully encourage their use.

The records are a legacy of the discrimination and marginalisation of the White Australia years, but they can be used by researchers today to recover the lives of Chinese Australians in the past, and also to provide a more nuanced understanding of the contradictions and complications of Australia’s response to its Chinese population.

With the NAA website currently being redeveloped (and the online fate of my paper uncertain), I thought I’d revisit the original version of my paper, which can be found in the Wayback Machine at: https://web.archive.org/web/20090627064642/http://naa.gov.au/collection/issues/bagnall-2009/index.aspx

You can also download a full version of the paper, including images (pdf, 15.1mb): A Legacy of White Australia by Kate Bagnall, 2009