Tag: White Australia Policy

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.

Collecting CEDT applications and certificates

The administration of the Immigration Restriction Act was overseen by the Department of External Affairs, but the day-to-day work was undertaken by the state-based Collector of Customs/Department of Customs & Excise.

The Collectors of Customs had been responsible for administering colonial immigration restriction laws, and each had their own systems in place when the new federal legislation was implemented from 1902. Atlee Hunt, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs for the first two decades of the 20th century, set about ensuring that officials in each state implemented federal policy consistently, issuing a book of published guidelines as well as dozens of circulars that kept Customs officials up-to-date on decisions made by the Department.

The chap pictured below is WH Barkley, who was the New South Wales Collector of Customs between 1914 and 1933. His signature can be seen on hundreds of CEDTs issued in Sydney during that period.

Anyway, the different recordkeeping systems used by the state Collectors of Customs means that each state/territory now has a different set of records of CEDT applications and certificates.

To me, the system in Sydney seems pretty nicely organised – basically there is one series with correspondence files containing the applications (Form 22), another series that holds copies of the CEDTs that were issued in Sydney (Form 21), another that has the duplicate CEDTs (and other papers including Form 32s) of people arriving back into Sydney. (Okay, it’s really more complicated than that, but let’s not confuse things too much.)

Things are also very tidily done in Darwin (although on a much smaller scale), with all the paper work filed in the one file – the application (Form 22), the CEDT (Form 21), the return authorisation form (Form 32) as well as any other correspondence.

This post is an attempt to document what CEDT applications and certificates exist for each state, what series they are in, and whether they’re available online through RecordSearch. My list also includes registers of applications, as well as records that were created under colonial legislation.

NOTE: Although I’ve done a lot of research using the Sydney records in the flesh, most of what I know about records in the other states is based on what can be found in RecordSearch and in the National Archives’ guide to Chinese records. There will, therefore, be gaps! Any contributions of local knowledge gratefully accepted (especially Tasmania and South Australia).

NOTE TOO: These are the ‘main’ series with CEDT applications and certificates. There are other odd series that also include CEDT stuff that I haven’t included.

New South Wales

Applications: SP11/26

Series number: SP11/26
Series name: Applications for Certificates of Domicile
Dates: 1902
Contents: Applications by for certificates of domicile. Included are references, statutory declarations, submissions, and the Minister’s decision.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.18 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 27 (100 % of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: Includes person’s name, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: William Ah Bow, application for a certificate of domicile [7 pages and 4 photographs]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP11/26
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP11/26, A1

Applications: SP42/1

Series number: SP42/1
Series name: Correspondence of the Collector of Customs relating to Immigration Restriction and Passports
Dates: c.1898–1948
Contents: Correspondence files, varying in size from a few to dozens of pages, mostly concerning one person or family group. Because this series stretches over several decades, the contents varies a bit. Most later files include Form 22.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 119.79 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 6531 (% of series unknown, but probably a significant proportion)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 722 (as of 29 July 2010)
Item title: Generally includes personal name of subject/s, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Ah Sun [includes 2 photographs showing front and side views] [box 106]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP42/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP42/1, C1917/4159

Certificates: SP115/10

Series number: SP115/10
Series name: Certificates Exempting from the provisions of ‘The Influx of Chinese Restriction Act 1881’
Dates: 1884–88
Contents: Includes about 450 exemption certificates issued under the NSW 1881 Act and 2 certificates and documents relating to the 1861 Act. The certificates include scant information about the applicants themselves, giving their name, date of issue of the certificate and period of exemption. There may be handwritten annotations on the front and back, some in Chinese, which provide more personal information such as occupation, age and height.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.72 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1 (Whole series item)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: 1 item only. Certificates are not listed as individual items.
Item title example: Certificates Exempting from the provisions of ‘The Influx of Chinese Restriction Act 1881’

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/10
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/10, WHOLE SERIES

Certificates: ST84/1

Series number: ST84/1
Series name: Certificates of Domicile and Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, chronological series
Dates: c.1903–53
Contents: Certificates of Domicile and CEDTs (Form 21). Each item includes a bundle with the certificates of about 10 people. There may be used duplicate copies of the certificates and other material including Form 32.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 49.14 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 2754 (probably 100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 344 (as of 29 July 2010)
Item title: Includes the names of certificate holders, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Jong Say, Wong Kwong, Lee You Wing, Foo Gun, Mar Kum, Gock Buck, Ah Get, Jeong Keong, Percy Zuinn and Ah Yum [Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test – includes left hand impression and photographs] [box 122]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: ST84/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: ST84/1,1908/11/31-40

Used certificates: SP115/1

Series number: SP115/1
Series name: Folders containing Certificates of Exemption and related papers for passengers arriving in Australia by ship, chronological series
Dates: c.1911–43
Contents: CEDTs (Form 21) and other identity documents (such as birth certificates) of people arriving into Sydney, as well as completed Form 32s which document why they were exempted from the Immigration Restriction Act. Each item contains the documents of multiple people.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 24.84 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1433 (probably about 80% of series – items from 1911–14 are not listed in RecordSearch)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 6 (it seems that for most of these the whole item has not been copied) (as of 29 July 2010)
Item title: Gives the name of the ship and the date of its arrival. Does not include people’s names.
Item title example: EASTERN 20/12/1922 [part 3] [Certificates of Exemption for passengers; includes photographs] [2.5cm]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/1, BOX 18

Used certificates: SP11/6

Series number: SP11/6
Series name: Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test (Forms 32 and 21)
Dates: 1902–46
Contents: Documents held in this series are, for the most part, similar to those held in SP115/1. The files contain copies of Form 32 and CEDTs (Form 21) or other identity documents of Chinese arriving into Sydney from overseas.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 1.62

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 100 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: Gives the name of the ship and the date of its arrival. Does not include people’s names.
Item title example: Certificate Exempting From Dictation Test Immigration Act 1901-1925: Chinese passengers per SS Tango Maru Sydney 11/10/26 [Box 2]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP11/6
Link to example item in RecordSearch: SP11/6, NN

Register of applications: SP726/1

NOTE: This series does not contain application forms and certificates like the others listed. It is included here, however, as it provides a full record of the CEDTs issued in Sydney.

Series number: SP726/1
Series name: Register of Applications for Certificate of Exemption Dictation Tests
Dates: 1902–59
Contents: 6 volumes listing details of people who applied for CEDTs in Sydney. Registers list details such as name, certificate and file numbers and dates of travel. The registers have a name index at the front.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.9 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 6 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: Description of register and date range
Item title example: Register of names relating to exemption from Dictation Tests (1902-1910)

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP726/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP726/1, BOOK 1

Victoria

Applications & certificates: B13

Series number: B13
Series name: General and classified correspondence, annual single number series
Dates: From 1902
Contents: Correspondence files of the Department of Customs & Excise/Department of Trade & Customs, concerning a range of Customs matters including immigration restriction. Because of culling, most files before the 1930s relate to immigration restriction. Files can include applications, supporting correspondence, photographs and certificates.
Location: Melbourne
Shelf metres: 104.08 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 20,120 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 131
Item title: Case files include person’s name, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Ah Lipp – application for Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: B13
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: B13, 1908/4495

Register of applications: B6003

NOTE: This series does not contain application forms and certificates like the others listed. It is included here, however, as it provides a record of the CEDTs issued in Melbourne.

Series number: B6003
Series name: Registers of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test (Departures), Melbourne
Dates: 1904–59
Contents: Three volumes of registers recording details of people departing Melbourne on CEDTs, noting the following details: Vic. no., CEDT Book no., C&E file no., date of issue, name, age, nationality, occupation, address, period of residence in the Commonwealth, departure – date and vessel and port, return – date and vessel and port, examined by, remarks. The registers date 1904–14, 1915–33 and 1934–59.
Location: Melbourne
Shelf metres: 0.72 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 3 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: All 3 items have the same item title
Item title example: Register of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test (Departures), Melbourne

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: B6003
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: B6003, NN

Queensland

Certificates: J2481

Series number: J2481
Series name: Proclamations under The Chinese Immigration Restriction Act 1888 & related correspondence, annual single number series
Dates: 1897–1902
Contents: Proclamations issued during the years 1897–1902 exempting persons named from the provisions of the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act 1888 for a period of two years from the date of departure from Australia. They are in a standard form with photographs and personal details.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 1.8 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 858 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 858
Item title: Includes person’s name, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Foo Lang

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J2481
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J2481, 1899/298

Certificates: J2482

Series number: J2482
Series name: Certificates of Domicile issued under The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and Regulations, annual single number series
Dates: 1902–06
Contents: Certificates of Domicile (Form 21)
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 1.8 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 799 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 798
Item title: Includes person’s name, place of residence and birthplace, so can be searched by name
Item titles example: Ah Tong of Redlynch near Cairns, Qld – birthplace: Canton, China – departed Cairns, Queensland on the Changsha 27 July 1904

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J2482
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J2482, 1903/99

Certificates: J2483

Series number: J2483
Series name: Certificates Exempting from Dictation Test [CEDT] issued under “The Immigration Restriction Acts 1901-1905” and Regulations (and amending legislation), two number series
Dates: 1908–56
Contents: CEDTs (Form 21) and Form 32s. Each item contains one certificate (and duplicate) and one Form 32.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 30.6 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 14,429 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 203
Item title: Includes person’s name, nationality and birthplace, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test (CEDT) – Name: Margaret Chun Tie [also known as Margaret Choy Larn] – Nationality: Chinese [Australian born] – Birthplace: Croydon

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J2483
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J2483, 18/9

Applications: J3115

Series number: J3115
Series name: Alien Immigration files relating to applications for Certificate of Domicile, Certificates of Exemption from the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act 1888 and Certificates of Exemption from the Dictation Test that includes photographs, birth certificates and other historical documents, imposed single number series
Dates: 1899–1928
Contents: Applications for Certificates of Domicile and some for CEDTs, also applications under earlier colonial legislation, so contents of the files is not consistent.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 2.17 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 161 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 62
Item title: Includes person’s name and where they live, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Certificate of Domicile for Young Chin, a storekeeper from Cairns – includes photographs

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J3115
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J3115, 25

Registers: BP343/15

Series number: BP343/15
Series name: Registers of aliens departing from the Port of Townsville who were granted a certificate exempting from dictation test [CEDT]
Dates: 1916–55
Contents: Details of aliens leaving the Commonwealth via the Port of Townsville for a temporary period who were been granted a CEDT. The vast majority of records contain a name, description, nationality, place of birthplace, right handprint, place and date fee paid, warrant number, date of departure and name of ship, date of return and name of ship, and number of CEDT. Most also
contain 2 photographs, showing full face and profile.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 5.22 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 2566 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 17
Item title: Includes person’s name, place of residence, nationality and birthplace, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Name: Willie Mar (of Richmond) – Nationality: Chinese – Birthplace: Canton – Certificate of Exemption from the Dictation Test (CEDT) number: 336A/87

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: BP343/15
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: BP343/15, 13/872

Western Australia

Applications: PP4/2

Series number: PP4/2
Series name: Applications for CEDTs with supporting documents, annual single number series
Dates: c.1915–41
Contents: Applications for CEDTs, accompanied by references, photographs of the applicant, and reports by the police and customs officials regarding the character etc of the applicant. Includes Form 22s.
Location: Perth
Shelf metres: 5.22 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 611 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 3
Item title: Includes the name of the person and their ethnicity (Japanese, Chinese etc), so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Quong Leong SET [Chinese] [Application for certificate of exemption from dictation test]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: PP4/2
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: 1931/94

Applications: PP6/1

NOTE: This series has one of the best series descriptions that I have ever seen in RecordSearch.

Series number: PP6/1
Series name: Correspondence files [subject and client], annual single number series with ‘H’ infix
Dates: 1926–50
Contents: Immigration correspondence files, including those concerning applications for CEDTs. The series also documents other immigration functions such as temporary admissions and naturalisation. Only a small proportion of files in the series concern Chinese, Japanese etc.
Location: Perth
Shelf metres: 36.54 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 6005 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 58
Item title: Includes the name of the applicant and what the file was about, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Yick YOU [Application for Certificate of Exemption of Dictation Test]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: PP6/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: PP6/1, 1927/H/325

Certificates: K1145

Series number: K1145
Series name: Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, annual certificate number order
Dates: c.1901–45
Contents: Contains CEDTs (Form 21) arranged in certificate number order commencing at one (1) each year.
Location: Perth
Shelf metres: 6.84 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 4787 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 24
Item title: Includes person’s name and ethnicity, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Ah Kett [Chinese]

Link to series description in RecordSearch:
NAA: K1145
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: K1145, 1918/137

Northern Territory

Applications and certificates: E752

Series number: E752
Series name: Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test
Dates: 1905–41 (most date from 1915 and after)
Contents: Applications for CEDTs (and one Certificate of Domicile), CEDTs and correspondence. The series includes Form 21s (CEDTs) and Form 32s, which were completed on return to Australia.
Location: Darwin
Shelf metres: 4.5 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 720 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 715
Item title: Includes the name of the applicant, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: [Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test – Fong Yan]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: E752
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: E752, 1917/11

South Australia

Register of applications: D2860

Series number: D2860
Series name: Immigration Restriction Act exemption certificate register
Dates: 1902–57
Contents: A register and alphabetical index of CEDTs and related matters. Includes a chronological record of departures from various Australian ports of holders of CEDTs showing date of issue, certificate number, person to whom issued (full name), date of departure, ship (and port if other than Adelaide), certifying officer, correspondence reference number, and number of previous certificate (if any). There are corresponding details for the certificate holder’s return to Australia as follows: date, ship, certifying officer, remarks. The volume is divided into other sections including birth certificates, applications for CEDTs refused, lapsed applications for CEDTs and CEDTs issued in other states to applicants departing from Port Adelaide.
Location: Sydney (a copy is held in Adelaide)
Shelf metres: 0.81 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: 1 item only
Item title example: Immigration Restriction Act exemption certificate register

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: D2860
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: D2860, WHOLE SERIES

Book butts: D5036

Series number: D5036
Series name: Certificates exempting from dictation test (CEDT) book butts (forms 21)
Dates: 1902–59
Contents: 2 volumes. Comprises book butts of CEDTs (Form 21). The butts include provision for certificate number, name (sometimes showing address, when and where born, occupation and other details), nationality, date of issue to Sub-Collector (of Customs), date of issue to holder and payment of fee. In some cases where certificates have not been issued, the record is cancelled and 2 copies of the certificate remain attached to the butt.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.9 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: 1 item only
Item title example: Certificates exempting from dictation test (CEDT) book butts (form 21)

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: D5036
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: D5036, WHOLE SERIES

Applications: D596

Series number: D596
Series title: Correspondence files, annual single number series
Dates: c.1902–1930s
Contents: Correspondence files of the Collector of Customs, including a small number (less than 100) concerning applications for CEDTs.
Location:: Adelaide
Shelf metres: 53.91 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 11,390 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 63
Item title: Relevant file titles include the person’s name, so can be searched by name; they also generally include the words ‘exemption’ or ‘certificate’
Item title example: Abdul KHALICK – Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: D596
Link to example item in RecordSearch: D596, 1919/4386

Tasmania

NOTE: The 2 series listed here appear to hold the only remaining Customs records in Hobart relating to the issuing of CEDTs. The Department of External Affairs series A1 held in Canberra contains material relating to Tasmanian Chinese, and it is possible that Melbourne records do too.

Book butts: P526

NOTE: From the series description in RecordSearch, it would seem that this series contains book butts of CEDTs (Form 21) issued in Hobart. There appears to be no remaining copies of the certificates themselves. I’m happy to be corrected on this if someone knows better.

Series number: P526
Series name: Immigration permit butts (form 21) issued to foreign nationals at Launceston and Burnie outports
Dates: 1908–18
Contents: Volumes containing butts of immigration permits issued to foreign nationals wanting to enter Launceston and Burnie outports. The butts include information on the person name, nationality and date of issue. They were issued in Hobart.
Location: Hobart
Shelf metres: 0.06 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 2 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: The 2 items have the same title
Item title example: Australian Customs Service, Tasmania – butts of immigration permit certificates issued

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: P526
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: P526, CUST47

Applications: P437

Series number: P437
Series name: Correspondence Files, Annual Single Number Series
Dates: From 1909
Contents: Correspondence files of the Collector of Customs, including files on immigration matters such as applications for CEDTs. Most items in the series do not relate to CEDT applications, however.
Location: Hobart
Shelf metres: 94.68 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 4959 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 1
Item title: Relevant items have person’s name in the title, so can be searched by name. It appears item titles are taken directly from the files’ original titles as they are not consistent.
Item title example: Gi Hung – Statutory Declaration re Immigration Restriction Acts. – visit China 36 months.

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: P437
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: P437, 1911/291

Invisible Australians: A beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is an Australian? (c.1908)

For the past couple of years I have been researching, on and off, the story behind the 1908 High Court case Potter v. Minahan – a case which revolved around the question of exactly who could be an Australian. A short article about the case and my research has just been published in in the National Archives of Australia’s Memento magazine, issue 38, 2010, pp. 16–18. You can download the whole issue as a pdf (4mb), or just read my article below.

It seems somehow fitting (although coincidental) that I’m posting this on Australia Day. Not only does Potter v. Minahan centre on the idea of who belongs as Australian, it was on 26 January 1908 that James Minahan arrived in Melbourne (via Sydney) from Hong Kong on the S.S. Wollowra. Instead of being allowed to land, and to meet the friends of his father’s who had come to collect him from the ship, Minahan was held on board until an interpreter could be arranged so that Customs officers could interview him. Customs decided that Minahan could not land in Melbourne, and he was sent back to Sydney so that he could be deported back to China.

But that didn’t end up happening either…

Aussie lad or Chinese scholar?

A researcher’s journey through the archives can lead to unexpected discoveries and unknown places. But what happens when a tantalising archival trail arrives at a dead end? Dr Kate Bagnall shares an unsolved archival mystery she uncovered while researching Australia’s historical connections to China.

In the winter of 1882, the parents of five-year-old Jimmie Minahan packed up their home in the small mining settlement of Indigo in northern Victoria and made their way south to Melbourne. Jimmie had been born at the lying-in hospital in Melbourne to 17-year-old Winifred Minahan in October 1876. Winifred was also Melbourne-born, the eldest daughter of immigrant Irish parents. Jimmie’s birth registration made no record of his father’s name, for his parents weren’t married, but he did not grow up fatherless. Soon after Jimmie’s birth, his father, Chinese storekeeper Cheong Ming, took Winifred and the baby back to their home in Indigo. Until the age of five this was the only home Jimmie knew.

The family’s return to Melbourne in 1882 was the first part of a journey that would see members of the small family separated forever. Cheong Ming had become ill and wished to return to China to recuperate, taking young Jimmie with him to receive a Chinese education. Winifred was not to accompany them, and spent her final weeks with Jimmie in Melbourne as Cheong Ming made preparations for the longer journey ahead. Having lost a baby daughter to severe bronchitis only months earlier, Winifred would likely have been saddened by the departure of her little boy – perhaps comforted by the thought that he would return to Australia once his father had recovered.

The father and son’s destination was Cheong Ming’s home village in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. From Melbourne, the pair travelled to Hong Kong, then by boat to the district capital of Jiangmen, and from there to the village itself. The village name as recorded in Australian court records was Shek Quey Lee. It was the first time that Cheong Ming had returned home since he left for Australia in the early 1860s, but he quickly settled back to village life, taking on the role of local schoolmaster. The process of adjustment was more difficult for young Jimmie, who later described his tears as his father shaved his head according to Chinese fashion and as he encountered the ‘foreign devil boy’ taunts of his schoolmates.

From gum trees to Confucian classics

As time passed, Cheong Ming’s health did not improve and he and Jimmie remained living in Shek Quey Lee. They lost touch with Winifred, and Jimmie’s memories of his mother gradually faded. The little Australian lad, raised in the bush with red dirt and gum trees, became a Chinese boy, schooled in Confucian classics and fluent only in his father’s native tongue.

The Australian part of the story of Cheong Ming and Jimmie could well have ended there, as it did for many Chinese who chose to return to China after trying their luck in the Australian colonies during the second half of the nineteenth century. But when Cheong Ming left Australia, he had maintained a share in the business he owned at Indigo and his partner Chin Shing regularly remitted a share of the profits to China. Cheong Ming had also instilled in his son the belief that one day he should return to Australia, indeed that it was his birthright, to take up his father’s business and to become a teacher of Chinese children in the colonies. After Cheong Ming’s death in about 1896, young Jimmie, now aged 20 and known by the Chinese name of Ying Coon, decided to honour his father’s wishes. He continued to study, and attempted the gruelling imperial examinations in the provincial capital of Guangzhou three times – all unsuccessfully. After his third failure, he made the decision to return to his country of birth. He later said that he ‘always wanted to return to Australia.’

The National Archives holds two files which document the story of James Minahan’s return to Australia in January 1908 and the events which followed. In the time between his departure as a five-year-old boy and his return as a man of 31, the Australian colonies had federated and the attitude towards non-white immigrants, particularly Chinese, had hardened. The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and its infamous dictation test set the tone with which Chinese arrivals to Australia were met – even those of long-term Australian residence, of Australian birth or those with part-white heritage. When he landed in Australia, James Minahan’s identity was questioned by Customs officials and he was made to sit the dictation test, which he failed, resulting in his arrest and prosecution as a prohibited immigrant.

Landmark court case

After a decision in his favour was granted in the Victorian lower courts, the Commonwealth appealed to the High Court. There, in a landmark decision, the High Court again ruled in Minahan’s favour. The case Potter v. Minahan continues to be cited in court judgements 100 years later.

The two files in the National Archives – one created by the Department of External Affairs (which administered the Immigration Restriction Act) and one created by the High Court – provide a fascinating background to the complex legal discussions found in the judgements of the five justices of the High Court. The case before the High Court centred around the idea of who exactly was an immigrant, and who could be considered a member of the Australian community. What did the framers of the Australian Constitution envisage when they gave the new Commonwealth powers over immigration? Did immigration simply mean the process of entering the country, or were there subtleties to its meaning and if so, what were they? Could a man, both a British subject by birth and the son of a British subject, be considered an immigrant (and, therefore a prohibited immigrant) when returning to Australia, the land of his birth?

To explore these issues within Minahan’s case, the courts heard evidence from James Minahan himself, as well as from a range of witnesses, many of whom were Chinese and who had known Cheong Ming, Winifred and their son in Victoria or had contact with father and son in China. Their testimony painted a picture of their lives, first in Indigo and then in Shek Quey Lee, detailing the ongoing connections maintained by many Chinese living in Australia, both with kin in Australia and at home in China. There was Deung Garng, a French polisher and kinsman working in Melbourne, whom father and son first met on their return to the village; and Ah Chew, a cabinetmaker from Carlton, who had been at the village school with Minahan and had attended Cheong Ming’s funeral. Dern Hoy, another Melbourne French polisher, had met father and son before they left for China in 1882 and had also seen Minahan in the village two years earlier and spoken with him at length about what life was like in Australia.

Then there were those whose testimony told of the family’s early life in Victoria, when Minahan was still a small boy. Cheong Ming’s business partner at Indigo, Chin Shing, told what he knew of the ‘English woman’ who lived with Cheong Ming and had his child. Chan Num, a Melbourne tobacco dealer, who employed Winifred Minahan’s younger sister as a nursemaid, said Winifred and her son had once stayed with him at Beechworth, Victoria. Ching Kay, formerly of Hang Yick & Co. in Melbourne, had done business with Cheong Ming and recalled the small boy who called Cheong Ming ‘papa’ and ‘Minnie’ Minahan ‘ma’.

James Minahan vanishes

Among all the detail in the court records and the departmental file on Minahan’s case, however, there is no clue to suggest what James Minahan did after the High Court ruled in his favour. After working all those years to gain an education, so that he could teach Chinese children in Australia, is that what he ended up doing? Or did he return to Indigo to work in the business he had inherited? Or did he decide, given the unhappy reception he had received in Australia, that he would return once again to build a life in China?

With the archives proving silent on Minahan’s fate, perhaps his hometowns of Indigo and Shek Quey Lee might provide some clues. A visit to Chiltern in northern Victoria revealed that the old mining settlements at Indigo no longer existed, but led eventually to contact with a descendent of Cheong Ming’s business partner, Chin Shing. She revealed that Chin Shing had continued to run the business at Indigo with his Anglo-Chinese wife into the early decades of the twentieth century. From what she knew, it seems that Minahan had not returned to make a life for himself there.

What then of the village Shek Quey Lee, described as being 20 li (Chinese miles) from the district capital of Jiangmen? Had Minahan returned to that home? A preliminary research trip to the area in the northern spring of 2009 provided some tantalising clues – a village now written as Shiquli, whose name in the local dialect is consistent with the earlier anglicised name Shek Quey Lee, and the revelation that the same village has had a long history of migration to Australia. What remains now is to continue following the leads in the archival trail, using details from Australian records about the village and its men, together with Chinese village records and the memories of local people, to establish the fate of James Minahan, the young man who had said he ‘always wanted to return to Australia’.

Dictation Test is 50 years dead

October 8 2008 marks 50 years since royal assent was granted to Australia’s Migration Act 1958. The Migration Act replaced and consolidated a number of other pieces of legislation, effectively tidying up Australia’s migration law.

In a historical sense, the Migration Act is best known for its abolition of the Dictation Test, a step that is seen as one of the significant moments in the abolition of the White Australia Policy.

Introduced soon after Federation in 1901, the Dictation Test was designed to limit the numbers of non-Europeans entering the new ‘white’ Australian nation. It could be applied to anyone entering Australia, but in practice was not generally applied to those of European background. The Immigration Restriction Act said:

Any person who when asked to do so by an officer fails to write out at dictation and sign in the presence of the officer a passage of fifty words in length in any European language directed by the officer [is a prohibited immigrant].

‘Prohibited immigrants’ could then be deported.

The clause ‘any European language’ was later changed to ‘any prescribed language’, mostly due to pressure from Japan, but tests continued to be applied in European languages. Here is an example of a Dictation Test passage from 1931:

It is only in the South that any training in his profession is undertaken by the fetish man: in all other parts of the region the office devolves upon its holder in quite an accidental manner: the distinction is thrust upon some native whose fortune has in some way distinguished him from his fellows. [Dictation Test passage from 16–31 May 1931]

This example comes from a large Department of Home Affairs file held by the National Archives: A1, 1935/704 (follow this link to see the whole 397-page file online).

The Immigration Restriction Act and the presence of the Dictation Test affected Chinese Australians in a number of ways, primarily when they were wanting to travel overseas.

Australian-born Chinese and migrant Chinese who met certain residency and character requirements could apply for certificates that exempted them from having to sit the Dictation Test on their return to Australia. These certificates, commonly known as CEDTs (certificates exempting from dictation test), were like a form of passport that allowed them to return without hindrance to Australia. CEDTs usually included photographs and hand or finger prints.

Other Australian-born Chinese travelled using their birth certificates as identity documents. After 1913, these birth certificates were usually ‘certified’ using photographs and hand or finger prints, and details were recorded in registers kept by the Collectors of Customs at various Australian ports.

The National Archives of Australia holds CEDTs for many thousands of Chinese Australians (and other Australians of Asian descent, such as Japanese and Indians), as well as application files and other records of their travels in and out of Australia. You can see some examples of these in the Archives’ showcase of records about Chinese Australians.

In the face of works like Keith Windschuttle’s ridiculous The White Australia Policy, it’s reassuring to know that the Archives holds the real history of the White Australia Policy, in the thousands and thousands of case files which tell about real people and document real decisions, and in the policy files which track legislative and administrative changes over the first half of the 20th century. (For a critique of Windschuttle’s work that makes similar points, see David Walker, ‘Strange Reading: Keith Windschuttle on race, Asia and White Australia’, Australian Historical Studies, no. 128, 2006, pp. 108-122.)

Australia’s immigration policies were, for a long time, overtly racist – in practice, even if not in the carefully crafted rhetoric of politicians who created them. To say otherwise is to deny the impositions that were placed upon thousands of Chinese Australians – British subjects by birth and many also with European or Indigenous ancestry. The archival record surrounding the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act and the Dictation Test makes this very, very clear.

On the history of the Dictation Test and the administration of the White Australia Policy, some of the ‘classic texts’ still make good reading:

AC Palfeeman, The Administration of the White Australia Policy, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1967

Myra Willard, History of the White Australia Policy to 1920,  Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1923

AT Yarwood, Asian Migration to Australia: The Background to Exclusion 1896–1923, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1964

AT Yarwood, ‘Dictation Test. Historical Survey’, Australian Quarterly, June 1958, vol. 30, pp. 19–29

AT Yarwood, ‘The “White Australia” Policy. Some Administrative Problems 1901–1920’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, November 1961, vol. 7, pp. 245–60.