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.
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.
Note: Terms used in the following population tables reflect the original historical sources and are considered offensive today.
Chinese population of Tasmania, 1881–1947
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
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!
NAA: ST84/1, 1909/33/51-60 , 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 , 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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Environmetrics, Report on Remote User Study, internal National Archives report, October 2002. [↩]
National Archives of Australia and National Archives of Australia Advisory Council, Annual Reports 2004-05, p. 28. [↩]
Philip Ayres, Mawson: A Life, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 1999. [↩]
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, . See Ayres, Mawson, p. 239 and letter from Douglas Mawson to John Curtin, 23 March 1942, in NAA: A461, F703/1/2. [↩]
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.] [↩]
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
Erik Ketelaar, ‘Being digital in people’s archives’, Archives and Manuscripts, vol. 31, no. 2, November 2003, p. 15. [↩]
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
In January 2016 I took up an appointment as ARC DECRA Research Fellow in History in the School of Humanities & Social Inquiry, Faculty of Law, Humanities & the Arts at the University of Wollongong. DECRAs are a three-year fellowship, but being part-time (0.8 FTE), my fellowship stretched to 3.5 years.
My DECRA project is/was a transnational, comparative study titled ‘Chinese seeking citizenship in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, 1860 to 1920’. It’s an exploration of the history of Chinese naturalisation in the British settler colonies, which intertwines biographies and case studies with analysis of naturalisation law and policy. In essence I have been thinking about how, why and in what circumstances Chinese migrants became British subjects in New South Wales, New Zealand and British Columbia, and what it meant for them. I’ve presented on my DECRA research at various conferences and will be working on completing my databases and publishing in the future.
Being a DECRA fellow has also given me the opportunity to continue my earlier work on Chinese Australian women and families, and to embark upon the exciting adventure of running the Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour. Sophie Couchman and I have run the tour on three occasions, with about about fifty guests in total, each time collaborating with Selia Tan Jinhua from Wuyi University.
Now my DECRA has finished, I will continue on at UOW as an Honorary Fellow. I’m very lucky to have had the chance to work with such a fabulous cohort of historian colleagues at UOW – most particularly, Julia Martínez, without whom I would never have imagined that a DECRA could be within my reach.
Listed below is an assortment of things I’ve done during my fellowship and some photos that show the glamorous side of life as a jet-setting transnational historian.
2019 Tim Sherratt and Kate Bagnall, ‘The people inside’, 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, Ann Arbor, DOI: 10.3998/mpub.9964786.
2018 ‘Potter v. Minahan: Chinese Australians, the law and belonging in White Australia’, History Australia, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 458–474, DOI: 10.1080/14490854.2018.1485503.
‘Chinese women in colonial New South Wales: From absence to presence’, Global History Review 全求史評論, vol. 16 (in Chinese).
Sophie Couchman and Kate Bagnall, ‘Memory and meaning in the search for Chinese Australian families’, in Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton (eds), Remembering Migration: Oral Histories and Heritage in Australia, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.
Special issue in memory of Barry McGowan, Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies, vol. 8.
Kate Bagnall and Julia Martínez (eds), Locating Chinese Women: Historical Mobility Between China and Australia, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong
Kate Bagnall and Julia Martínez, ‘Chinese Australian women, migration and mobility’, in Kate Bagnall and Julia Martínez (eds), Locating Chinese Women: Historical Mobility Between China and Australia, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong
‘Example or exception? Ham Hop and the Poon Gooey case’, in Kate Bagnall and Julia Martínez (eds), Locating Chinese Women: Historical Mobility Between China and Australia, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong
Kate Bagnall and Tim Sherratt, ‘Missing links: Data stories from the archive of British settler colonial citizenship’, Journal of World History (submitted to special issue by invitation from Antoinette Burton)
‘Chinese women in colonial New South Wales: From absence to presence’, Journal of Biography and History
Kate Bagnall and Peter Prince (eds), Subjects and Aliens:Histories of Nationality in Australia and New Zealand before 1948 (edited collection)
‘Chinese naturalisation in colonial New Zealand and Australia’ (book chapter)
‘Paragraph (m): Chinese wives, migration law and White Australia’ (journal article)
‘Women and the Chinese family in colonial Australia and New Zealand’ (journal article)
(in preparation) James Minahan’s Homecoming LODBook project (with Tim Sherratt) – a new form of digital publication combining historical narrative and structured data.
Keynotes and invited lectures
2019 ‘The Real Face of White Australia: Seeing the People Inside’, Digital Histories Research Seminar, Australian Centre for Public History, University of Technology Sydney, 9 May.
2019 ‘Writing women into Chinese Australian history’, Department of History / Gender Studies Programme, University of Hong Kong, 21 March.
2018 ‘Gold Mountain guests: Cantonese settlers across the southern colonies’, public lecture, Global Dunedin Lecture Series, Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand, 10 June.
2018 ‘“All the rights and capacities”? Chinese naturalisation and colonial mobility’, keynote lecture, Amidst Empires: Colonialism, China and the Chinese, 1839–1997, Flinders University, Adelaide, 29–30 January.
2019 ‘From Hong Kong to Sydney: The voyage of the Glamis Castle, 1881’, ‘All Roads Lead to Hong Kong’: Hong Kong History Project Conference, University of Hong Kong, 5–7 June.
*2018 ‘White women and the transnational Chinese family in colonial New South Wales’, 2018 International Symposium on Transnational Migration and Qiaoxiang Studies: International Migration Research from a Gendered Vantage Point, Wuyi University, Jiangmen, China, 8–9 December.
2018 ‘White women, Chinese men: Interracial intimacies in colonial New South Wales’, 2018 International Federation for Research on Women’s History Conference, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, 9–11 August.
2018 ‘Chinese Australian families and the legacies of colonial naturalisation’, Australian Historical Association Conference, Australian National University, 2–6 July.
2017 ‘Chinese restriction, naturalisation and mobility in colonial and post-Federation Australia’, Subjects and Aliens: Histories of Nationality in Australia and New Zealand, University of Wollongong, 28 November.
2017 ‘Chinese women in colonial New South Wales: A case study approach’, International Conference on Chinese Women in World History, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan, 11–14 July.
2017 ‘Naturalisation and Chinese restriction in colonial Australasia’, Entangled Histories: Australian Historical Association Conference, University of Newcastle, 3–7 July.
*2017 ‘Naturalised Chinese in colonial Australia’, Beyond the New Gold Mountain: Chinese Community Council of Australia (Victoria) 2017 Conference, RMIT, Melbourne, 24 June.
2016 ‘Naturalised Chinese in British settler societies of the Pacific Rim, 1860 to 1920’, Colonial Formations: Connections and Collisions, University of Wollongong, 23–25 November.
2016 ‘Potter v. Minahan 1908: a legal challenge to White Australia’, 9th International Conference of the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas (ISSCO), Richmond BC, Canada, 6–8 July.
*2016 ‘A culture of suspicion: Chinese at the border of White Australia’, The Commonwealth Department of Immigration—Then and Now, La Trobe University, 19 February.
Community talks and outreach
2019 ‘Tracing the origins of Chinese Australian ancestors’, webinar, Society for Australian Genealogists, 15 April.
2018 ‘Researching Chinese Australian families’, Sailing into History: NSW & ACT Association of Family History Societies Annual Conference, Bateman’s Bay, 15–16 September.
2017 ‘Researching early Chinese Australian families’, U3A Wollongong, 23 October.
2017 ‘Researching early Chinese Australian families – 8 sources to know’, Deniliquin Family History Expo, Deniliquin Genealogy Society, Deniliquin, 14 October.
2017 ‘Women and the records of White Australia’, Real Face of White Australia Transcribe-a-Thon, Museum of Australian Democracy, 9 September.
2017 ‘Researching early Chinese Australian families’, Family History Month workshop, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 August.
2016 ‘From Canton to the colonies: Chinese women in nineteenth-century New South Wales’, History Week talk sponsored by Wollongong City Libraries, Corrimal District Library, 7 September.
2016 ‘Researching Chinese Australian family history’, 2-hour seminar, Society of Australian Genealogists, Sydney, 30 April.
2016 ‘Women, history and the shifting patterns of Chinese Australian life’, opening of John Young Zerunge’s Modernity’s End: Half the Sky exhibition, Incinerator Art Space, Willoughby City Council, Willoughby, 2 March.
2017–2019 ‘Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour’
I organised and hosted, with Sophie Couchman, an annual history and heritage study tour to Hong Kong and Guangdong for 15–20 guests; participants included Chinese Australian family historians, writers, heritage practitioners and postgraduate students
Our third tour was held from 6 to 17 March 2019: 2019 brochure (pdf, 1.7mb)
Teaching and supervision
Higher Degree Research supervision
Emma Bellino, PhD, School of Humanities & Social Inquiry, University of Wollongong – ‘Marriage, women’s nationality, and Australia’s Asian communities in the early twentieth century’ (commenced 2017; UOW PhD scholarship tied to my DECRA fellowship)
University of Sydney Press; Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History; Australian Historical Studies; Journal of Australian Studies; History Australia; New Zealand Journal of History; Fabrications: The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand; Australasian Journal of Irish Studies; Limina
ARC Discovery Project, 2018; Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund Standard Grant, 2018
Other professional and outreach activities
Conference and event organisation
2017 Convenor, Subjects and Aliens Symposium, University of Wollongong, 28 November.
2017 Co-organiser with Tim Sherratt, Real Face of White Australia Transcribe-a-Thon, Museum of Australian Democracy, Canberra, 9–10 September.
Professional presentations and activities
2019 Presented on ‘Collaboration and communication: Engaging with public audiences’, Early Career Convivium, School of Humanities, University of Hong Kong, 20 March
2017 Co-organised (with Claire Lowrie) and presented at the ‘Invited Workshop on Digital Humanities and ARC Linkage Projects’, University of Wollongong
2017 Participated in the invitation-only ‘Under the Southern Cross’ Chinese Australian history book project workshop, University of Technology Sydney
2017 Social media and blog manager for the UOW Colonial and Settler Studies Network
2016 Presented on my DECRA project at the UOW Research Week ‘History Postgraduate and Early Career Researchers’ event, University of Wollongong
2016 Participated in an invitation-only workshop on the ‘Cantonese Pacific in the Making of the Modern World’, University of British Columbia
2016 Participated in the invitation-only ‘Whisper Workshop 2016’ (linking university researchers with creative and cultural industries), Australian National University
2016 Spoke about my career path from PhD to DECRA at the ACHRC Humanities in the Regions symposium ‘Humanities in the Regions: Building Capacity Through Connectivity and Knowledge’, University of Wollongong
2016 Spoke on my DECRA project at the UOW LHA Early Career Research Presentations with the Vice Chancellor, University of Wollongong
2017 Co-ordinator and contributor to ‘Locating Chinese Women: Historical Mobility Between Australia and China’, a historical photographic exhibition on display at the Feminist Research Network Symposium, University of Wollongong,
2017 Contributor to ‘Chinese Fortunes’, on display at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (January to July 2017); Immigration Museum Melbourne (August 2017 to March 2018)
Fundamentals of Higher Degree Research Supervision, University of Wollongong, October 2018
Project Management – Introduction, University of Wollongong, May 2016
2018 Historical advisor assisting John Jarratt, Who Do You Think You Are?, Series 9, Episode 4, broadcast on SBS TV, 8 May.
2017 Interview with Siobhan Heanue, ABC News Canberra, broadcast on ABC TV evening news and ABC News 24 late news, 3 September.
June 2019: Hong Kong, Guangdong (Zhuhai and Guangzhou), Macau – conference and fieldwork
Finally, some thanks.
To my research assistants: Karen Schamberger, Naomi Parry, Sophie Couchman and Tracy Olverson.
To my co-authors and collaborators: Sophie Couchman, Julia Martínez and Tim Sherratt.
To the staff at: the National Library of Australia and Trove, National Archives of Australia, State Archives NSW, State Library NSW, Archives NZ, Hocken Library, National Library of New Zealand, Digital NZ, NZ Presbyterian Archives, HK Public Record Office, Wuyi Qiaoxiang Culture Research Centre, British Columbia Archives, Vancouver City Archives, City of Victoria Archives, Library Archives Canada, UBC Library, China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, University of Wollongong Library.
To those who have offered me opportunities, shown me kindness, and helped, encouraged and supported me along the way over the past four years, especially when I’ve been far from home:
Tony Ballantyne, James Beattie, Emma Bellino, Dorry Chen Meixian, Chen Ruihuai, Georgine Clarsen, Sharon Crozier-De Rosa, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shawn Graham, Guo Feixiang, Min Guo, Ben He Zhibin, Carrie Huang Qiaoyi, Di Kelly, Nicki Kemp, Alastair Kerr and Lynn Smith, Tseen Khoo, Vivian Kong, Mei-fen Kuo, Elizabeth LaCouture, Catherine Ladds, Amy Li Dongmei, Sophie Liang Lu, Claire Lowrie, Sophie Loy-Wilson, Jane McCabe, Vera Mackie, Laura Madokoro, Megan Neilson, Amy Nichol, Jonathan O’Donnell, Lachy Paterson, Jayne Persian, Jason Petrulis, David Pomfret, Peter Prince, Kim Rubenstein, Frances Steel, Selia Tan Jinhua, Angela Wanhalla, Howard Wilson, Dawn Wong, Tori Wright, Simon Ville, Henry Yu, Angel Zhao Ruizhu.
I’m at the end of a two-week stay in Wellington, New Zealand, where I’ve been finishing off my the NZ part of my research on Chinese naturalisation. Last year when I was here I worked my way through the naturalisation files of about 450 Chinese men, and my aim on this visit was to look at the remaining 50 or so, as well as other policy files and correspondence around the subject of naturalisation and Chinese immigration. This is what I’ve mainly been looking at:
individual naturalisation files in 8333 (IA1): I now have a copy of most of the 499 successful naturalisation applications by Chinese up to 1908, some incomplete naturalisation applications, and files of some ‘Chinese’ naturalised after it was prohibited in 1908 (Chinese Canadian British subjects, and white widows of Chinese men) – happily about 90 of the files are now digitised in Archway (e.g. the 1905 file of Alexandra storekeeper Sue Hin: 8333, 1905/958)
copy letters of naturalisation in 8377 (IA53): I looked through 45 naturalisation registers to locate the copy naturalisation letters for each of 499 naturalised Chinese, and to confirm that I hadn’t missed any!
There are a few naturalisation files that I haven’t been able to see because they are either missing or restricted. The missing ones have been missing since at least the 1950s, and I checked the file registers and a couple were definitely destroyed. The restricted ones are two pre-1908 applications that have been top-numbered into later files, and files of the ‘exceptional’ post-1908 naturalised Chinese (Frank Kow Kee, Kathleen Pih and Anthony Joe). I’ve written again the the Department of Internal Affairs requesting permission to view the two pre-1908 applications, so fingers crossed.
I’ve also done some digging around in other records relating to naturalisation and nationality, the poll tax, immigration permits and petitions by Chinese residents.
What I’ll be doing next is transcribing biographical and administrative data from the files into my naturalisation database – data such as birthplace, length of residence in NZ before naturalisation, age at naturalisation, and length of time between application and grant of naturalisation. When that’s all done, I’ll be ready to do some proper analysis, and data visualisation!
While in Wellington, I’ve also enjoyed catching up with Lynette Shum from the National Library of NZ, Cameron Sang who runs the Wellington Chinese History Wiki, Bronwyn Labrum from Te Papa, and Grace Gassin who is also now at Te Papa.
I’ll be back in Wellington in November 2019 for the Dragon Tails conference, where I plan to present the research I’ve been doing in a paper on ‘Chinese British subjects in the colonial trans-Tasman world’.
I’ve seen some damaged naturalisation certificates in my research, but I think this one is the worst! Granted to 亞美 Ah Mee, a Collingwood goldminer, in 1890, then damaged in a hotel fire (@ArchivesNZ 8333, 1894/1119). #chinnzhistpic.twitter.com/3LL4GTMK2H
I have now looked at 494 out of the 501 successful naturalisation applications of Chinese in NZ to 1908 – 1 file is being digitised, 4 files are missing (since before 1949) and 2 files are restricted. Huzzah! pic.twitter.com/u0TpjJsNj6
Yikes, I’ve found three more! And have identified what I think are a couple of duplicates. Time for some data cleaning tonight, I think. (Oh, and two of my chaps say they were born in Melbourne, which is perplexing!)
Some of my NZ naturalised Chinese are a real puzzle, like Melbourne-born Ah Louie of Whanganui, naturalised in 1896. A note from 1958 on his file states he was ‘naturalised in error’, since he was a British subject by birth. (@ArchivesNZ 8333, 1896/438) #chinnzhistpic.twitter.com/IqjPmy5vVs
Today I’m enjoying chasing up some odd cases, of ‘Chinese’ who were naturalised in NZ after 1908, in the period when it was prohibited: Chinese Canadians, Chinese Samoans, white wives (of Australian and German birth) who were widows, and three 'exceptional cases’.
Curious find of the day: 1889 naturalisation of Tim How of Gore, born in Mauritius in 1855 to a Chinese father and English mother. He chose to be naturalised, even after he was advised he was a British subject by birth.
Huzzah! I have now checked all the copy letters of naturalisation, confirming details for 499 Chinese men naturalised in NZ before 1908. This is the last one – Singapore-born cook, Ah Chick, from Wellington, naturalised in July 1907. (@ArchivesNZ, series 8377) pic.twitter.com/0C5aAWD0cj
More research to be done here, but Ah Chick was later said to have been ‘naturalised in error’ as he was a British subject due to his Singapore birth. But it seems in 1907 he wanted proof of being British – so he could join the cook’s union.
On Saturday, 18 February 1899, Sydney’s Evening News published ‘A Chinese New Year’s Day’, an illustrated article that gave a (white male) journalist’s impressions of the new year celebrations held by Sydney’s Chinese community a week earlier. The new year ushered in that February was, like 2019, a Year of the Pig.
The article, transcribed below, is typical of how the mainstream Australian press wrote about Chinese in Australia at the turn of the 20th century, particularly the ‘Chinatown exposé’-type articles found in the popular press. Both the language used and perspective presented in the article firmly ‘other’ Chinese people and Chinese culture, but the article can also be read as a source of information about Chinese cultural practices in Australia on the eve of Federation. So then, how did Sydney’s Chinese community celebrate new year 120 years ago?
BANG! Fizz!! Bang!!! A firework display, or what? The Post Office clock had just chimed 12 at midnight, when these sounds greeted my ears as I was making my way home on the night, or, I should say, early morning, of last Friday, February 10, 1899. Coming round the corner of a street I had to cross on my homeward journey, I was assaulted by a combination of shrieks of delight and explosions that woke the echoes of the street and scared the inevitable cat from off the roofs of the neighbouring houses and sheds. Half-blinded by the sparks that flew up, and smothered by the sulphurous smoke, I found myself in close proximity to about twenty or thirty dancing capering demons, as I took them to be, busily engaged in letting off various abominable samples of the common or garden firecracker of my early youth. As I stood wondering at these things being allowed in the quiet streets of Sydney at this late, or, rather, early house of the morning—Phizz! bang! pop! pop! pop! numerous; it seemed to me hundreds of pops. The clatter, banging, and smashing of tin pans, blowing of horns, scraping of some awful musical instruments—only seen or heard in Eastern countries—portended that a ceremony of great importance must now be going on. I stopped and gazed spellbound on the scene. Just then my eye rested on a tall, dark figure leaning up against a lamp-post. A policeman, thank goodness! I’ll now find out what’s the matter, thought I; and approaching him, I said, “Funny racket this, eh?” He looked at me with an eye of suspicion, as though he was contemplating a “run in,” which could be sworn to in the morning as being an assault on the police and damaging, etc., fine 10s, and costs, with 21s for uniform; but on the magic word “press” he explained to me that it was simply the opening of the Chinese new year. The new year was, I subsequently found, the year 5650, and is known as “Kee Hoy” [己亥], or the dynasty of “Ching” [清], whose family has reigned over China for the past 400 years. The name of the present Emperor is Quong Soy [光緒] (no relation to the inventor of the celebrated sauce of that name). “Why,” said I to the policeman, “they make a fuss of our way of celebrating ‘our New Year’ with noise, shouting, and performances on the trumpets, but what about this?” “Oh, they’re all right, and harmless enough; and to-morrow they’ll keep it up in great style, you take my word for it. If you’ve got nothing else to do you take a trip over to the Glebe to their josshouse about 8 in the morning, and you’ll see some fun; and then do a tour round the Chinese quarters. Talk about a time? Why our New Year’s Day is nothing to theirs.” “Thanks, I will,” and with a parting “good night” to the officer of the law, and a parting grand double-barrelled salute on the part of the happy Celestials, who just then let off about—well goodness only knows how many bungers, crackers, and other Celestial fireworks—I wended my was home, resolving in my mind, as I fell asleep, to spend a day among the Chinese residents of the city of Sydney on their great day of the year, namely, “New Year’s Day”, and as I fell asleep, I seemed to be wafted away on the wings of dim and dusky Chinese angels, amidst corruscations of golden light, sparks of fire, and amidst a general concatenation of hideous sounds and awfulness.
The Chinese residents of Sydney, or I may say of Australasia in general, celebrate their New Year by making a general holiday of at least three days, during which no work is done, and the time is given up to calling on each other, and wishing a happy New Year, or in their own vernacular, “Goon Hee Fad Choy [恭喜發財].” The Chinese New Year’s card is a quaint one, and consists of a slip of particularly brilliant red paper 9½in long by 4½in in width, on which are written the names of the sender, wishing the recipient a heartfelt greeting for a prosperous New Year. On entering the house of a friend they advance with the slip of paper folded in a certain way held in both hands, and after expressing themselves in the words quoted above the slip is deposited in a china plate placed for the purpose on a table in the centre of the room, around which are other tables covered with gorgeous tablecloths and numerous china dishes and bowls, containing dried melon-seeds, ginger, biscuits, dried fruit, and other simple dainties. They do not forget liquids either, as the very finest brands of champagne, brandies, whiskies, and gins, with first-class brands of cigars and cigarettes are to be seen; and the hospitable host presses one and all who visit him to partake of the good things provided, and as you leave hands you a cigar, with expressions of pleasure at your doing him the honor of calling. There he is arrayed in the very finest of his gorgeous Eastern silks, bespangles with gold, and lovely silk embroidery, his hair twisted up in snake-like folds almost hidden by a black silk cap, diamonds glisten on his tapering fingers, and his smiling face and twinkling black eyes meet yours with expressions of mirth and goodwill towards you and yours in the coming new year. The Chinese ladies of the family are never seen; but they children, if any, are resplendent in their finery, and pleased to meet and accept any presents which may be brought. The Chinese at this time of the year make a point of settling up all their outstanding accounts, and the day before their New Year’s Day, is generally spent in going round settling up their indebtedness, both among their own people and their European friends, as they do not deem it lucky to enter into a new year owning anyone money.
A Chinese josshouse is a place which well re-pays a visit. There will be found Chinese of all descriptions, from the rich merchant to the humble gardener, arrayed in their best clothes, with presents of fowls, sucking pigs, fruit, flowers, and other delicacies dear to their Eastern tastes. The priest, arrayed in garments vying with the peacock for splendor, with curious shaved head and solemn mien, bowing and gesticulating before the altar, one which sits perched up on crimson and golden starred cloth, strange carved wooden gods, hideous in their dark mahogany carvings, or grotesque China images, representing the golds of air, light, water, and the various gods of the household. Paper flowers in profusion, long gilt bamboo sticks, tipped with some strange preparation, are stuck into pots of earth, slowly burning, and filling the dimly lighted chamber with a fragrant incense that rises in soft mauve velvet colored clouds to the richly decorated roof. Here, after a service of curious ceremonies, and presenting of presents of money and other things, they disperse, chattering and wishing each other compliments, etc., to their homes, where friends both European and Chinese will call during the ensuing days.
Amongst the more ordinary Chinese, such as cabinetmakers, fruiterers, gardeners, and hawkers, the first day of their New Year is held as a holiday, and they are very pleased indeed to see any and all of their own countrymen, and also any white man whom they have met in the ordinary course of business during the past year. Their reception of you is just as cordial as in the richer quarters. Spread out in little China plates are the inevitable dried melon seeds, little bits of preserved ginger, small cakes, and tea, real Chinese tea, which is served up in delicate, fragile little china cups, no milk, but sugar if you wish; also they offer you a kind of spirit, white and very strong, made, I believe, from rice, or some other grain; it is by no means unpalatable, but is very potent, and anyone taking several of these nips would regret it next morning. You will notice in many cases that the Chinese wear a bangle of peculiar greyish, green-looking stone on their wrists. This may be of real jade, a valuable commodity, but in many instances it is only imitation, and procured for a shilling or two. These bracelets are supposed to bear a certain charm for the well-being of the wearer, and the idiotic superstition regarding the lovely, but very often despised opal, does not seem to have much weight with them, as you will find that gem very much in vogue as rings, breastpins, and studs, either plain or set round with diamonds. The Chinese are great admirers or good genuine jewellery, and on the occasion of the New Year, don as much as they may own. I saw one rich merchant with diamond of great value in his shirt front, and rings on every finger, set with the same magnificent stones. As he manipulated his cigarette, rolling it between his long slender fingers, a perfect blaze of light played round his hands. I heard from another Chinese that he had over £900 worth on him. Gold chains and very richly embroidered slippers complete their attire on these festive occasions. Although the greater part of the holiday is spent in calling from one house to the other, and partaking of various beverages, not by any means temperance, you will not find any unseemly conduct on the part of the Chinese, or at any hour of the day or night come across a drunken one. They must have different constitutions from Europeans, as I have met several who had been spending their day amongst the genial Cathaians, not wisely but undoubtedly too well. Taking altogether the curious ceremonies, festivities, and peculiarities of the Chinese, the chance of spending a few hours amongst them on this, the greatest day of their year, is one that you will remember, and talk about for many days to follow.
During the evening, bands of celebrated musicians, amongst the Chinese, are engaged to enliven the houses of the rich merchants, and anyone passing by during the evening will be struck with the peculiar twanging of their strange instruments, the tum-tum of drums, , the clashing of symbols, and the staccato voices of the Celestials rise out upon the still, moonlit night, filling one with thoughts of far-away Eastern cities, and dreams of strange customs in far Cathay. The Chinese newspapers, whose title is rather a long one, and would undoubtedly be a stumbling block in the mouths of the usual Sydney newsboy, the “Kwong Yik Wah Bo” [廣益華報], the only Chinese paper in the Southern Hemisphere, owned by Europeans, comes out in gorgeous colored cover, and contains pictures, almanac, and double-page supplement, containing numerous red spaces, on which are printed the names of the leading merchants and bankers, wishing their Chinese clients in the Chinese fashion the complements of a Chinese New Year.