Category: Conferences

Transcultural Chinese at the Australian Historical Association conference 2012

There is a great line-up of Chinese Australian history papers on offer at the Australian Historical Association conference this year. The three sessions – all to be held on Tuesday, 10 July 2012 – have been organised by Paul Macgregor and bring together historians from Tasmania, Victoria, Canberra, New South Wales and Queensland. The conference’s opening plenary session will also be of interest.

I’m a late inclusion in the program after Derham Groves had to pull out, and I’ll be giving a version of the paper I presented at the WCILCOS conference in Vancouver in May.

Details of the ‘Transcultural Chinese’ sessions are below and other information can be found in the AHA program.

9.00am to 11.00am

Opening plenary panel: ‘Australian History in its Asian Contexts’
Speakers: Ms Sophie Loy-Wilson (University of Sydney), Dr Agnieszka Sobocinska (Monash University), Dr Julia Martinez (University of Wollongong).
Discussant: Professor David Walker (Deakin University)

11.30am to 1.00pm

Transcultural Chinese #1 – Modern Lives
Chair: Mobo Gao
1. Paul Macgregor – Islands of Chinese Modernity 1786-1949 – From Singapore and Shanghai to Sydney and San Francisco
2. Kate Bagnall – ‘I’m an Australian’: Anglo-Chinese and the Immigration Restriction Act in New South Wales, 1902–1920
3. Paul Jones – Gordon Lum Bo Wah, Australian-Chinese Tennis Ace

2.00pm to 3.30pm

Transcultural Chinese #2 – Material Connections
Chair: Julia Martinez
1. Virginia Esposito – The Archaeology of a Chinese camp in a European goldfield – Jembaicumbene, NSW
2. Melissa Dunk – Exploring Chinese interactions through material culture: Atherton Chinatown, Queensland 1880-1920
3. Joanna Boileau – The belongings of Georgie Ah Ling: pieces of the life of a Chinese market gardener

4.00pm to 5.00pm

Transcultural Chinese #3 – Sojourners to Settlers
Chair: Paul Macgregor
1. Mobo Gao – Sojourners, Where is Home?
2. Darryl Low Choy – Sojourners, Settlers, Selectors and Subjects: Interpreting a Queensland Chinese Australian family history through a palimpsest approach

‘Paper trails’: my presentation at the 5th WCILCOS conference

I’m still digesting all that I heard at the 5th WCILCOS conference and cogitating about the exciting possibilities for international collaborative work that have emerged from it. I’m hoping to pull together some more thoughts about my discussions with folk from Canada and the US about mixed-race overseas Chinese families and children.

In the mean time, though, here are the slides of my talk and the first (and much longer) version of the paper I wrote a couple of months ago: Paper trails: Anglo-Chinese Australians and the White Australia Policy (pdf, 1.9mb).

‘Chinese through the Americas’: a beginning to the 5th WCILCOS conference

I’m writing from the beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, where tonight I’ve been to the opening dinner of the 5th International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies. Henry Yu from the Department of History at UBC gave a really good keynote address (more on that in a minute) and we had great view – all rhododendrons and sea and sunset and distant snowy mountains. Being here in Vancouver is a bit like being in a slightly odd version of home – the mountains are pointier and snowier, the cars are on the wrong side of the street, the newspapers are a funny shape and ‘veggie burgers’ don’t seem to be vegetarian … but a lot of the ads on TV are the same, people are friendly and helpful and the Queen is still on the money. Perhaps Vancouver’s apparent familiarity is really a reflection of the fact that, over the past decade, my only foreign destination has been Guangdong, and Guangdong, and Guangdong again and again.

I spent some time this afternoon wandering in the UBC bookshop and was impressed that in the four shelves on Canadian history, there were seven books that specifically discussed Chinese Canadian history. I bought one of them – Colonial Proximities: Crossracial Encounters and Juridical Truths in British Columbia, 1871–1921 by Renisa Mawani, which looks at crossracial encounters particularly between aboriginal peoples and the Chinese. I will be interested to see if it mentions intimate relationships between Chinese men and white women at all; there seems to be quite a lot of interest in relationships between First Nations women and Chinese men, including a couple of sessions at the conference, but I haven’t yet heard any discussion of Anglo-Chinese relationships.

In Henry Yu’s talk tonight – titled ‘ The rhythms of the Cantonese Pacific and the making of nations’ – he set out to do two main things: introduce the major themes of the ‘Chinese through the Americas’ conference and tell us something of the $1.2 million ‘Chinese Canadian Stories’ project he has been leading. Henry used the term ‘Cantonese Pacific’ to talk about the ways in which Chinese in BC (and Canada more generally) were part of a network of nodes that stretched out from Hong Kong, including Sydney, Yokohama, Vancouver, San Francisco, Mexico and Hawaii, and of how this network was made up of people from a particular cultural and linguistic background. This was not a ‘Chinese’ world, but a ‘Cantonese’ one, with migrants coming from about eight different counties in the Pearl River Delta.

Henry spoke of how we need to try to understand the history of the Chinese in settler nations around the Pacific from their perspective, with an understanding of their terms of reference and their imaginaries. As an example, he discussed the idea of ‘gum saan’ (gold mountain). Each new Pacific settler society, as a destination for migrating Chinese, was called ‘gum saan’ – not because Chinese migrants didn’t have proper names for these places, but because ‘gum saan’ was naming a dream and a set of aspirations for life; it was not really the name of a place but that of a geographic imaginary where dreams of wealth, prosperity and a successful return home could be realised. Henry also discussed the importance of understanding the linguistic background of these early Chinese migrants – their letters make no sense and their poems don’t rhyme if you read them in Mandarin. An important part of the Chinese Canadian Stories project has been to draw on community knowledge to help with particular activities where dialect language skills are essential, such as making connections between the places of origin (or sending villages, as Henry called them) that are given in the head tax records with their proper Chinese names and locations.

Henry said a lot more about the Chinese Canadian Stories project and showed us some of the nifty visualisations they’ve developed from the head tax record data (they’ve got info on 97,123 individuals). Good stuff. I’m looking forward to hearing more about it in the following days.

Something Australian at WCILCOS 2012 (Vancouver, Canada)

In a bit over a week, I’ll be heading (a long way) north to the 5th WCILCOS International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies in Vancouver, Canada. The conference theme is ‘Chinese through the Americas’, but there is a small Australasian representation among the papers. I’m particularly excited to be going to Vancouver because I’m hoping to hear lots about the work that Henry Yu and others have been doing with the Chinese Canadian Stories project at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Here’s the abstract of the paper I’ll be presenting. A version of the paper will be available on the UBC website after the conference.

Paper trails: Anglo-Chinese Australians and the White Australia Policy

This paper discusses the overseas travels of Australians of Anglo-Chinese descent in the early decades of the 20th century. It explores their experience of overseas travel and their negotiation of bureaucratic processes under the White Australia Policy.

In the early 20th century, Anglo-Chinese Australians travelled overseas, primarily to Hong Kong and China, on holidays, for education, business and to visit family. Like other ‘non-white’ Australians, they were subject to the regulations of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, under which they did not have an automatic right of return to Australia, even though they were Australian-born British subjects.

Australia’s early immigration regulations were designed to keep out unwanted ‘non-white’ arrivals, most famously through use of the Dictation Test, and the legislation was not clear on how officials should deal with those who were both Australian-born and of mixed race. Consequently, over the following decades officials developed a set of administrative practices in which their ideas of community belonging and cultural knowledge, as well as race, determined the outcomes of cases involving Anglo-Chinese Australians. The development of these administrative practices was an iterative process, where officials responded to the actions of Chinese and Anglo-Chinese Australians who, in turn, responded to and negotiated changing legislation and government policies.

Conference announcement: Rediscovered Past

Rediscovered Past: Valuing Chinese roles across the north

13—14 February 2010

Organised by Chinese Heritage in Northern Australia Inc. (CHINA Inc.)

Hides Hotel, Lake Street, Cairns, QLD, 4870

Following the success of the previous Rediscovered Past conferences held in Cairns in 2006 and 2008, the organisers are pleased to announce a third conference to be held in 2010. Again this will be a ‘no fuss’ multidisciplinary event run over two days and will be open to contributions from all fields of Chinese Australian studies – including history, archaeology, heritage management, law, literature, linguistics, art, and library science. The conference will maintain the previous casual, convivial atmosphere that everybody has enjoyed, and the theme will focus on Chinese contributions to the development of northern Australia.

Chinese have been part of this region for several centuries, starting with sporadic visits by traders and fishermen and culminating in the large scale immigration of miners, workers and business people during the 19th century. From pioneering tropical agriculture to bringing essential goods and services to remote towns, from generating wealth for the colonies to galvanising debate about social exclusion and ‘white Australia’, their roles in shaping the social, economic and political life of the region have been critical on many levels. Yet these roles have been largely ignored in the writing of history, and so this conference will present fresh, exciting new research that establishes greater understanding and a true valuing of Chinese Australian heritage.

Details are available on the CHINA Inc. website:

‘A legacy of White Australia’

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

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

Revisiting the Poon Gooeys

In a few weeks I’m heading off to China for the first time two and a half years. I’m going to be doing some ‘fieldwork’, visiting the ancestral homes of some of the people I’m writing about at the moment, as well as giving a paper at the Fourth International Conference of Institutes & Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies (What a mouthful! Here’s a link to the conference website.) The conference is being held at Jinan University and looks to be bringing together a somewhat curious mix of people.

I’m going to be talking about the National Archives’ records on Chinese Australia (see abstract below), and I’ve decided to use the ‘Poon Gooey incident’ of 1911-13 as a case study and an excuse to show off some lovely records. I’ve been doing a little bit of digging, and have a great naturalisation certificate for Poon Gooey’s uncle amongst other things.

I’ve also found a name that I’m happy to call Mrs Poon Gooey (it doesn’t seem quite right that she’s at the heart of the story and doesn’t even get to be called anything but Mrs Poon Gooey!) – she was Ham See or Ham Hop. And I’ve been able to confirm that Poon Gooey was Sze Yap, from Kaiping in fact. I had guessed from Ham See’s name that they were Sze Yap people, but it’s nice to have it confirmed.

My digging has taken me in directions it shouldn’t and I’ve had to be very strict not to get distracted. I could have wasted a lot of time investigating the family of Poon Gooey’s brother, Poon See. He married Ada Wing Yen (nee Siakew), a widow with five children, in 1915. They had several kids of their own, too, and lived at Horsham, Victoria.

I will put up a version of my paper after the conference, but in the meantime, here’s the abstract.

A legacy of ‘White Australia’: Records about Chinese Australians in the National Archives of Australia

The administration of Australia’s Immigration Restriction Act 1901, together with other parts of the ‘White Australia Policy’, left a rich and diverse body of records, now held by the National Archives of Australia. The records document many aspects of the lives of Chinese Australians, such as immigration, travel, business enterprises, political activities and community life. The records give a vivid picture of the experiences of both immigrant and Australian-born Chinese, of individuals, families and communities in Australia and of their ongoing ties to China.

Using specific case studies, this paper will discuss the National Archives of Australia’s holdings on Chinese Australians, particularly those created in the administration of the White Australia Policy. Over the past decade, the National Archives has made its Chinese records increasingly accessible through the publication of two research guides and by ongoing descriptive and digitisation projects. Many thousands of individual records are now available to view through the Archives’ collection database, RecordSearch, providing unprecedented online access.

Greater access to the records hopefully also means greater use. The paper will further explore how the records, a legacy of the discrimination and marginalisation of the ‘White Australia’ years, can be reclaimed by researchers today, to both recover the lives of Chinese Australians in the past, and to provide a more nuanced understanding of the contradictions and complications of Australia’s response to its Chinese population.

Call for papers – Dragon Tails, October 2009

Dragon Tails: Re-interpreting Chinese-Australian Heritage
9-11 October 2009
Sovereign Hill, Ballarat, Victoria


Sovereign Hill Museums Association, Ballarat, Victoria (

Conference outline

In 1984, noted historian Jennifer Cushman challenged researchers to move beyond the prevalent one-dimensional approach to understanding the Chinese presence in Australia—an approach that was primarily concerned with examining Australia’s attitudes towards the Chinese. In taking up this challenge, and seeking to understand the Chinese ‘on their own terms’, researchers have uncovered new sources and applied inter-disciplinary approaches to reveal the complex picture of Chinese community cultures, identities and race relations in Australia.

While we would no longer say that the history of the Chinese in Australia is hidden or neglected, where do these new stories fit within the wider narrative of Australian history? What are the challenges involved in communicating and interpreting these new perspectives, with their inherent complexity and contradictions, to broader audiences? One of the major aims of this conference is to bring together these new historical understandings about early Chinese-Australians, and consider their place within broader histories of Australia and the Chinese diaspora. Another aim is to create a forum for how these stories might be interpreted in the classroom, and at cultural heritage sites and museums.

This conference welcomes papers from a wide range of disciplines, including history, archeology, tourism, cultural studies, education, and museum/heritage studies.

We are particularly interested in work that:

  • Tells about early Chinese-Australian history from Chinese-Australian perspectives.
  • Discusses Chinese-Australian heritage/history within broader perspectives (e.g. Australian, Chinese, comparative, and/or transnational).
  • Draws on new resources to tell new stories.
  • Focuses on intercolonial (Northern Territory and Queensland) and/or trans-Tasman connections.


  • Chinese goldseekers and their legacy
  • Developments and issues for Chinese-Australian heritage tourism (regional and urban)
  • Everyday life and culture for early Chinese-Australians
  • Communicating Chinese-Australian heritage (e.g. education, multimedia, internet technology)
  • Early Chinese-Australian formations of politics, identity and citizenship
  • Interrogating Chinese-Australian historiography and material culture
  • Perspectives on heritage Chinese precincts
  • Mapping historical connections between Asia and Australia
  • Biographies and oral histories of Chinese-Australian ‘pioneers’
  • Creative work that re-interprets Chinese-Australian history


Papers – Standard session presentations should be 20 mins long (with 10 mins allowed for question time).
Panels – We’d welcome panel submissions. Our suggested formats for the panels are:
(a) 3 x 20 min papers with a coherent theme, or
(b) Up to 5 speakers on a discussion panel (approx 10 mins each, with at least 40 mins for discussion)

Abstracts (max 200 words), with speakers’ full contact details and short biographical notes (max 100 words) should be sent to BY MONDAY 18 MAY 2009.

Enquiries about the conference should be directed to