60 years since the end of the dictation test

Shocked survivors from the wrecked ship Clan Ranald sitting amongst rocks at Troubridge Hill on the Yorke Peninsula. Some are wrapped in blankets and a policeman stands with them. Courtesy State Library of South Australia.

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.

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Voyaging vakas

This week I was privileged to be on board one of the vakas visiting the museum as they sailed into Sydney Harbour at the end of a 2 month, 6,000 kilometre voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

Vakas sailing into Sydney Harbour

Vakas sailing into Sydney Harbour

What an experience. These majestic double hulled sailing canoes are amazing craft, able to hoot along at 23 knots and plough through a six-metre swell.

Below the Cook Islands flag is a bank of solar panels. The museum's patrol boat HMAS Advance sits off Athol Bight in Sydney Harbour.

Below the Cook Islands flag is a bank of solar panels. The museum’s patrol boat HMAS Advance sits off Watsons Bay in Sydney Harbour, ready for escort duty.

At sunrise on Wednesday, a flotilla of museum vessels including the pearling lugger John Louis, HMAS Advance and MB 172 transported dignitaries and media out to the vakas that had overnighted at Watsons Bay. I was on board the lead vessel—Marumaru Atua from the Cook Islands. Unfortunately a grey, overcast and decidedly chilly day saw a slight westerly head wind which made travelling only under sail a little difficult. No mind; the vakas have a bank of solar panels on a platform off the stern that runs a quite noiseless electric motor.

The platform that stretches across the two hulls makes an open and easy-to-work deck. As the vessels are reconstructions of traditional vakas, the hulls are made of modern materials and each has surprisingly roomy quarters for the 16 crew Marumaru Atua can accommodate. The cabin on deck is the control centre—not what would be very cramped living quarters (as one bystander thought)!

Samoan vaka Gaualofa passes under Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Samoan vaka Gaualofa passes under Sydney Harbour Bridge.

As the sun tried to poke through the clouds around 8 am, the vakas passed under the Harbour Bridge and rounded Barangaroo headland towards Darling Harbour. As we approached the museum it seemed there was a sea of green decoration around the basin. When we drew closer we saw it was in fact a huge crowd of hundreds of welcomers. The echo of drums and singing cut the stillness of the harbour as we glided in to a wonderful Pacific Island welcome—and were also met by Indigenous Sydney man Dean Kelly in his nawi—a Sydney style bark canoe.

Dean Kelly in his nawi welcoming Cook Islands vaka Marumaru Atua.

Dean Kelly in his nawi welcoming Cook Islands vaka Marumaru Atua.

The vakas bring a message from the people of the Pacific Islands that urgent and significant commitment is needed to manage our oceans and take action worldwide on climate change to the 6th World Parks Congress, a major international event held once in every decade and managed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Welcoming ceremony for the voyaging vakas.

Welcoming ceremony for the voyaging vakas.

On Saturday 15 November there is a day of Pacific Island celebration at the museum. I thoroughly recommend coming along to Oceania Day and checking out the food, entertainment and in particular the amazing voyaging vakas.

Stephen Gapps, Curator

Vakas at the welcoming ceremony at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Vakas at the welcoming ceremony at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vakas visit the museum

Mua: Guided by Nature is a voyage undertaken by four vakas: 22-metre-long Pacific Islander double canoes. They have crossed the Pacific to Australia and are now making their way to Sydney. Marumaru Atua from the Cook Islands, Uto Ni Yalo from  Fiji, Haunui from New Zealand and Gaualofa from Samoa have been guided by their people’s traditional observations of the sun, moon, planets and stars, the behaviour of wildlife, the patterns, motions and changes in the sea and the clouds. There is a deep connection and understanding of the character and feeling of the ocean environment that is their island’s home. They look and listen to nature to show them the way, and their knowledge of how to use these signposts has been handed down over countless generations, and it now has powerful lessons for the future.

Vaka Uto Ni Yalo from Fiji

Uto Ni Yalo from Fiji. Courtesy Uto Ni Yalo Trust.

The four vakas, also known as drua (traditional canoes) have undertaken a 6,000-mile voyage to bring a message from the people of the Pacific Islands to the 6th World Parks Congress, a major international event held once in every decade and managed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. They are carrying the region’s statement that an urgent and significant commitment is needed to manage our oceans and take action worldwide on climate change. The Pacific Island leaders have pledged millions of square kilometres toward protected marine areas and all of the communities now work towards their own sustainable management practices to maintain their livelihood. They want everyone to recognise that the Earth is a planet with limited resources and be it islands in the ocean or a continent surrounded by sea, it is our only home.

Throughout the Pacific, the voyaging canoe represents the genealogy of its discovery and habitation. Pacific islanders trace their origins to specific canoes and their voyages to each new island or island group. The canoe connects people to their ancestors and their stories.

Gaualofa from Samoa. Courtesy Mua Voyage.

Haunui from New Zealand. Courtesy Mua Voyage.

These four craft are modern versions based on the traditional design. They have fibreglass hulls and solar-powered motors, but they retain their traditional shape and are sailed with the prevailing winds in the same way as the original canoes. Mua means ‘bow of the canoe’ and also ‘to travel or journey’. Just as the first voyages brought together harmony, teamwork, respect and adventure, crossing the sea to lands beyond the horizon, these craft bring the same elements to a new generation, and maintain the culture and skills.

Vakas on the Mua Voyage.

Vakas on the Mua Voyage.

The fleet of drua, their crew and respective heads of state, are coming to the museum on Wednesday 12 November where they will be met by another canoe with direct connections to its own land and culture—an Aboriginal nawi—made from bark and built here by museum staff during NAIDOC week. The symbolism of this mix of the traditional and the present, of Indigenous communities and those who have come to live here, this will all come together in a colourful and powerful performance as the First People welcome the voyagers to their country, and then let them respond in their traditional manner; there will be smoke, fire, dance and enduring friendship.

— David Payne, Curator of Historic Vessels

Mua voyage performers

Traditional performers. Courtesy Mua Voyage.

See the vakas up close at the Oceania Festival at the museum, Saturday 15 November from 9 am to 5.30 pm. This will be a fun-filled day for the whole family with Pacific food, performances, merchandise and all-day entertainment. You’ll also get the chance to board the canoes and meet the crew. Check the website for details.