Volunteer researcher Aliza Chin shares her investigations of late 19th-century Chinese vessels built in Australia.
A research adventure
For the past two months, I have been a volunteer researcher at the Museum. I have become an explorer who conducts archival deep dives, a decipherer and editor of Trove auto-text, an appraiser of photographs stored away in digital collections, swinging between feelings of elation and frustration, in between clicks and scrolls. If you don’t know Trove, it is an Australian online library database aggregator; a free faceted-search engine hosted by the National Library of Australia, in partnership with content providers including members of the National & State Libraries Australasia. It is one of the most well-respected and accessed GLAM services in Australia, with over 70,000 daily users.
To say that the experience has equipped me with new skills in my field would be an understatement, but this blog entry is not about me. Rather, it is about the issues and new sources encountered and uncovered in the little-studied area of Chinese shipbuilding; specifically, vessels that were made here in Australia between the 1870s and early 1900s. Dr Stephen Gapps has been researching sampans and junks for a while and invited me to help with this project.
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.
A section from a panorama of Hong Kong, circa 1940. Courtesy of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum.
Celebrating maritime connections between China and Australia
On July 11 in the year 1405 Admiral Zheng He’s Grand Fleet of over 300 ships with 28,000 crew departed China on the first of several expeditions through Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. The expeditions were aimed at establishing Chinese influence over long established trade routes, now often referred to as the ‘Maritime Silk Road’. The 600th anniversary of the date of the commencement of the first of these massive expeditions – July 11 – was chosen in 2005 as the annual China National Maritime Day. The Institute of Ancient Chinese Ships has led a conference on Chinese maritime history on this day for the last ten years, with a different international focus each year. Last year was the UK, and this year it was Australia’s turn. The Australian National Maritime Museum’s director Kevin Sumption was invited to deliver a keynote presentation on ‘Chinese Connections at the Australian National Maritime Museum’ and I was invited to give a paper on my research into Chinese watercraft built in Australia between 1870 and 1910.
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.
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.
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.’
A hut still standing near the site of Camp Victory in Casino, northern New South Wales. Photograph courtesy Anthony Liem.
On October 24 this year over a hundred people gathered in Casino in Northern New South Wales to commemorate the 70th anniversary of an event not widely known in Australian history. In late 1945 residents of the sleepy rural township of Casino were dramatically drawn into the events surrounding the struggle for Indonesia’s independence from the Dutch.
A new exhibit has been installed in the Museum’s Passengers gallery, about Japanese War Brides. It is called ‘War and Love’.
This new exhibit tells the story of two Japanese women – Teruko Blair and Sadako Morris – who met and fell in love with Australian soldiers during the Allied Occupation of Japan. They made Australian immigration history, being the first significant group of non-Europeans permitted to migrate to Australia in the early 1950s while the White Australia Policy was still in place.