Shocked survivors from the wrecked ship Clan Ranald sitting amongst rocks at Troubridge Hill on the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, 1909. Some are wrapped in blankets and a policeman stands with them. Courtesy State Library of South Australia PRG 280/1/43/84.
Acts of the White Australia policy
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the abolition of the controversial dictation test, which was a central feature of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. This was one of three pieces of legislation, together with the Pacific Island Labourers Act and the Post and Telegraph Act, which were passed after Federation in 1901 and colloquially known as the White Australia policy. Together these acts placed restrictions on immigration and sought to remove prohibited immigrants, namely those from Asia and the Pacific Islands, from the new Commonwealth. On 8 October 1958, the Immigration Restriction Act was replaced by the Migration Act 1958, which introduced a simpler system of entry permits.
The dictation test required non-European immigrants to write out a passage of 50 words in any European language (later any prescribed language) as dictated by the immigration officer. Since the choice of language was at the discretion of the officer, undesirable immigrants were destined to fail the test. They could then be declared prohibited immigrants and deported. One of the most infamous cases of the application of the dictation test dates to 1909 and involved the Scottish cargo ship SS Clan Ranald, its Asian and Indian crew (known as lascars), and one of South Australia’s worst maritime disasters.
The 60th anniversary of the Spanish migration agreement
Sixty years ago today, the first contingent of assisted immigrants arrived under the Spanish migration agreement’s Operación Canguro (‘Operation Kangaroo’) to work as cane-cutters in north Queensland. The 159 young men, primarily from the north of Spain, docked in Brisbane on the Lloyd Triestino liner Toscana in 1958. They were transferred to the Wacol Migrant Centre, before being sent to the sugarcane fields in Cairns, Tully, Ingham and Innisfail. However, the origins of Spanish involvement in the Queensland sugar industry date back much earlier, to the introduction of the White Australia policy in 1901.
The French and United States factories at Canton, c1841. ANMM Collection 00015750. Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds.
History in art
When I visit maritime museums, I am always drawn to the ‘China trade’ paintings of Canton (now Guangzhou), the southern Chinese port to which all foreign trade was restricted from 1757 under the Qing dynasty’s Canton System. There is something about their composition that is so intriguing – the merging of Chinese and European artistic traditions, the bustling river crowded with boats, and the detailed architectural rendering of the Western merchants’ hongs (factories) with their national flags proudly displayed out front.
Recently I have been researching one of the museum’s China trade paintings as part of a broader project on the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Cantonese settler Mak Sai Ying in Sydney in 1818. Our oil painting depicts the French and American hongs on the western side of the Thirteen Factories district along the Pearl River. It has been dated about 1841, or the latter stages of the First Opium War (1839–1842) between Britain and China, which would result in the abolition of the Canton System and the opening of five Chinese treaty ports to foreign trade. What I really wanted to know about our painting was: why would the British Red Ensign be flying in front of the Spanish factory?
The Staging Post, a film by Jolyon Hoff, 2017. Courtesy The Staging Post/Cisarua Learning.
To mark Refugee Week last week, the museum was honoured to host the Sydney screening of the 2017 feature documentary The Staging Post in partnership with Settlement Services International. The Staging Post was produced and directed by Jolyon Hoff, an Australian documentary filmmaker who was living in Indonesia in 2013 when the Australian government instigated mandatory detention for all asylum seekers arriving by boat, with no possibility for resettlement in Australia. Jolyon had never met a refugee, so he headed for the village of Cisarua (about an hour south of Jakarta), known as the staging post for boats embarking for the offshore Australian territory of Christmas Island. It was there that he met two young Afghan Hazara refugees, Muzafar Ali and Khadim Dai. ‘We liked each other straight away’, Jolyon later said, ‘and that day we decided to start a project together.’
The Camenzuli family in Paola, Malta, a few days before their departure for Australia on Skaubryn, 1958. From left: Lucy, Lina, Georgina, Zaren, Mary and Joyce. Reproduced courtesy Camenzuli family.
It’s International Museum Day, an annual event that raises awareness about the role of museums in cultural exchange and the development of mutual understanding. This year’s theme of ‘hyperconnected museums’ focuses on how museums can make their collections accessible and connect with local communities. It’s a theme that is pertinent to our Remembering Skaubryn: 60 years on exhibition, which is drawn from an important collection of photographs documenting the fire and rescue on the Norwegian migrant liner Skaubryn in 1958. Skaubryn was carrying 1,080 passengers, mostly German and Maltese migrants, and was the only vessel lost at sea during the era of post-war migration to Australia.
We have been amazed by the public response to Remembering Skaubryn, with offers of material for our collection, oral history interviews, and visits from survivors, their families and descendants, as well as local community groups such as the Australian-German Welfare Society. It has been wonderful to hear from visitors who have found a personal connection to the exhibition, reminding us that immigration is lived history but also living history, where the impacts of life-changing migrant voyages resonate right down through the generations. Continue reading →
Skaubryn survivors were transferred to Aden in one of Roma’s lifeboats, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.
The 60th anniversary of the Skaubryn sinking
The Norwegian liner Skaubryn was the only vessel lost at sea during the era of post-war migration to Australia, when it caught fire in 1958 with 1,288 people on board, including more than 200 children. Two of the survivors, who were both eight years old at the time of their voyage, recently registered for the Welcome Wall and shared their stories with the museum.
Port bow view of Skaubryn on fire in the Indian Ocean, 1958. ANMM Collection Gift from Barbara Alysen ANMS0214. Reproduced courtesy International Organisation for Migration.
Photography has always played a critical role in documenting the movement of people across borders. The photographs linked to the vast archive of Certificates of Exemption from the Dictation Test, for instance, put a face to those impacted by the Immigration Restriction Act (White Australia policy) for the first half of the 20th century. In more recent times, the 2015 photograph of the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach brought the horrors of the Syrian refugee crisis to a global audience. Photographs, as material (and now increasingly digital) objects, also cross borders to bear witness to the lived experiences of migration and diaspora.
The museum holds a rich archive of photographs relating to migration (many of which are in the process of being digitised), ranging from informal family snapshots to official portraits promoting government mass migration schemes after World War II. One of our most significant collections documents the fire and rescue on the Norwegian liner Skaubryn in the Indian Ocean in 1958. A selection of these photographs is now displayed in our Tasman Light Gallery to mark the 60th anniversary of the Skaubryn disaster.
John Shying on the Welcome Wall at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Image: ANMM.
It’s coming up to Lunar New Year and the so-called world’s largest annual human migration, as hundreds of millions of people (particularly China’s urban-based migrant workers) head home to spend the holiday with their families. It’s also coming up to a special milestone in Australia’s immigration history as it is 200 years since one of the first documented Chinese-born free settlers arrived in New South Wales.
Mak Sai Ying (later anglicised to John Pong Shying) arrived in Sydney on 27 February 1818, just 30 years after the First Fleet and several decades before the 1850s gold rushes, which would bring thousands of Chinese fortune seekers to Australia. John Shying has the distinction of being the first Chinese landowner and publican in Sydney, and also the grandfather of the first Chinese-Australian serviceman.
Letter from W H Barnwell to Konstancija Brundzaite, 1947. ANMM Collection Gift from the Australian Lithuanian Community 00003842.
At the museum, we hold a rich collection of ephemera, which refers to written or printed materials that have short-term use, like letters, postcards, brochures, invitations and greeting cards. Many of these items go on to acquire a lasting historical or social significance, such as a letter that was sent to a passenger on the former troopship USAT General Stuart Heintzelman in 1947. Continue reading →
White Russians Eugene, Ilia and Katherine Seiz in Harbin, China, 1940s. Reproduced courtesy Natalie Seiz and Andrew Seiz.
One of the things I find most interesting about Australia’s immigration history is how political events and uprisings on the other side of the world can have a flow-on effect and shape our own history. Take for example the October Revolution in Russia, which occurred 100 years ago today on 7 November 1917 (or 25 October in the old Julian calendar) and would lead to the exodus of the refugees known as White Russians or white émigrés.
‘I do some soothsaying’, from Mrs Cherry’s illustrated journey from England to Australia on Ormonde, 1931. ANMM Collection 00029325.
I have recently finished reading Umbertina by Helen Barolini (1979), a classic novel about migration and identity as explored through the lives of three generations of Italian-American women. In the 1870s the title character, a Calabrian goatherd, commissions an intricate woven bedspread for her wedding to Serafino Longobardi. With its traditional design of grapes, fig leaves and ivy, ‘the bedspread was the one thing she would bring to her new home [in New York] and she wanted it beautiful and strong, to last forever’ (p 44). Circumstances force Umbertina to sell her treasured matrimonial bedspread, and decades later it ends up on display at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum with the label, ‘Origin: Calabria. Owner unknown’ (p 407). It’s a powerful reflection on the loss of cultural heritage and provenance, and the silence that characterises so many women’s stories and migrant collections.
In our own museum’s immigration collection are two intriguing watercolour albums that were created by traveller and amateur cartoonist, Mrs M E Cherry, in the 1930s. Together they contain more than 100 vibrant illustrations that capture Mrs Cherry’s voyage from London to Adelaide on Ormonde in 1931–1932, and her travels in the South Pacific and the south of France in 1932–1939.
Signing the Australia-Turkey Migration Agreement, 1967. Australian News and Information Bureau. Reproduced courtesy National Archives of Australia: A1200, L65408.
Fifty years ago today, on 5 October 1967, the Australian and Turkish governments signed a bilateral agreement to provide assisted passage to Turkish migrants, to help build Australia’s population and expand the workforce. The Australia-Turkey Migration Agreement – Australia’s inaugural agreement with a nation beyond Western Europe – enabled the first major Muslim community to settle in the country. This represented a significant step in the gradual dismantling of the White Australia policy.
Around 19,000 assisted Turkish migrants arrived in Australia between 1968 and 1974. Many, like couple Halit and Şükran Adasal, came with the intention of working hard and saving enough money to return to Turkey. But within three years of their arrival, Şükran had given birth to two daughters, Hale and Funda, and Australia became the family’s home. Hale registered Halit and Şükran Adasal on the museum’s Welcome Wall to honour ‘my parents who left all that they knew for a better life with hope and courage. Their migration planted the seeds of their family roots in Australia for future generations of our family.’
Samuel Elyard, Burning of the Barque India, c 1841. Watercolour on paper, 41.7 x 55 cm. ANMM Collection 00004246.
One of the museum’s most-requested paintings for public viewing is a dramatic watercolour by Sydney landscape artist Samuel Elyard (1817–1910) titled Burning of the Barque India (c 1841). Recently we arranged a viewing for cousins Catherine Bell and John Grant. Their great-great-grandparents John Scott Grant and Ann Grant (née Kilpatrick) were survivors of the ill-fated migrant ship, which caught fire and sank in the South Atlantic Ocean on 19 July 1841.
Textile artist Melinda Piesse with her Batavia tapestry. Photographer Kristina Kingston, reproduced courtesy Melinda Piesse
Last week we unveiled a new large-scale embroidered work by Melbourne textile artist Melinda Piesse at the museum. Known as the Batavia tapestry (2017), it illustrates the tragic story of the wreck of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) flagship Batavia in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Western Australia, on 4 June 1629 and the sorry fate of the ship’s company.
Dirk Hartog plate, 1600–1616. Tin alloy (metal), 36.5 cm (diameter). Reproduced courtesy Rijksmuseum
This week a very special piece of pewter is coming to the museum … the Hartog plate, on loan from the Rijksmuseum to mark 400 years since Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog made the first recorded European landing on the west coast of Australia in October 1616. As a testimony of his visit, Hartog left behind an inscribed pewter plate that is recognised as the oldest European artefact found on Australian soil.