Audio: Andrew Griffin on Australia's non-British migrants
Date recorded: 24 Aug 2014
Good afternoon. Thankyou very much Ann.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Andrew Griffin's my name. I'm located in the Victorian office of National Archives as Ann's mentioned. Been there for 25 years. Doesn't seem that long.
Our head office is in Canberra. We've got an office in each state in Australia. We have a total staff of around 400 in round numbers. And in the Melbourne office we have a collection around about 55 kilometres in total. And our storage is at our East Burwood facility, which is a purpose-built storage facility.
I have one question for you all to ponder while I work my way through the presentation. And if you are listening keenly early this morning, you might have picked up on the answer. But I was just going to throw one at you. The percentage of Australians who were born outside of Australia?
So at the end, we'll just do a show of hands. I'll give you three options, just to see what your thinking is on that. And can I ask that you don't use your portable electronic devices to find out the answer.
The origins of the White Australia Policy can be traced back to the 1850s. The white miners’ resentment to industrious Chinese diggers, which culminated in violence on the Buckland River in Victoria and at Lambing Flat, now Young in New South Wales. The governments of these two colonies introduced restrictions on Chinese immigration.
Later, it was the turn of her hardworking indentured labourers from the South Sea Islands of the Pacific, known as the Kanakas, in Northern Queensland. Some influential Queenslanders felt that the colony would be excluded from forthcoming federation if the Kanaka trade did not cease. Leading New South Wales and Victorian politicians warned that there'd be no place for Asiatics or coloured’s in the Australia of the future.
In 1901, the new federal government passed an act ending the employment of Pacific Islanders. The Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 received royal assent in December of 1901. It was described as an act to place certain restrictions on immigration and to provide for the removal from the Commonwealth of certain prohibited immigrants.
The Act prohibited from immigration those considered to be insane, anyone likely to become a charge on the public or upon any public or charitable institution. It also included any person suffering from an infectious or contagious disease of a loathsome or dangerous character. The Act also prohibited prostitutes, criminals and anyone under a contract or agreement to perform manual labour within Australia, with some limited exceptions.
Other restrictions included a dictation test, which was used to exclude certain applicants by requiring them to pass a written test. And most often the tests were conducted in a language that the applicant was not familiar with and which had been nominated by an immigration officer.
With these severe measures, the implementation of the White Australia Policy was warmly applauded in most sections of the community.
The Immigration Restriction Act included a clause allowing the wives and children of anyone who was not a prohibited immigrant to enter the country in the company of their husband or parent. However, that clause itself was able to be suspended by proclamation at any time. In combination with the subsequent clause, which permitted entry to anyone who could prove that they were legally domiciled. This should have allowed non-Europeans, who arrived in Australia before Federation, to bring their families to join them but only a small number of certificates of domicile were issued before the clause relating to wives and children was suspended in March 1903. As a result, few families were able to take advantage of the provision, which was finally removed from the act in 1905.
The introduction of wives and children was limited because government policy was aimed at reducing the overall numbers of Asians in Australia. In debating the 1905 amendments to the Act, Alpha Deacon argued, and I quote, ‘If we were to throw open the door to an influx of Chinese women and children, we should reverse the policy of the act and undo all the good we have accomplished’.
A further compromise was introduced in 1906, when the wives of long-standing residents of good character were permitted to visit their husbands for periods up to six months. The Chinese, of course, had established a long association with Australia going back from the gold mining days, of course, so there was a strong Chinese culture established in Melbourne, and it was evident in the establishment of businesses particularly around the Chinatown district.
I want to take you on a bit of a slightly unusual journey, or down a path that's not perhaps travelled so much in relation to our collection. But I wanted to look at the first Muslims who were to settle for any length of time, when they first arrived in the 19th century to tend to the camel trains that helped open up the continent vast's interior.
In 1858, George Landells, well known exporter of horses to India, was commissioned by the Victorian committee to buy camels and recruit camel drivers. 24 camels and three drivers, two of whom were Muslim, arrived in Melbourne in 1860 to join the Burke and Wills Expedition.
By 1901, there were estimated to be between 2,000 and 4,000 cameleers in Australia. The first generation of Muslims journeyed from India and Afghanistan, although they were generally referred to as Afghans.
Some lived the adventure of a lifetime, saved their money and returned to their homelands. But many remained behind, often they lived two lives, making regular trips home to deal with family matters. Nebbie Bucks, for example, was absent from Australia from 1896 to '98 and again from 1912 to 1917. He, in 1924, he departed once more. But despite extending the certificate of exemption from the dictation test until 1933, he never seems to have returned.
The cameleers laboured across the continent carting produce, water and equipment at a time when roads and railways were still limited in their reach. The indomitable camels and their equally hardy keepers were crucial to momentous projects such as the construction of the overland telegraph, for which they carried supplies and materials used in surveying and construction work. They also accompanied a number of exploration parties into the little known interior.
These early Muslims contribute greatly to the development of rural and remote Australia.
The area of Marree, also known as Hergott Springs, was a famous rest station at the centre of the camel communication-network. Camel teams travelling from one state or colony to another converged at the dusty station on the busy railway head, which, where goods where off-loaded and loaded.
The cameleers generally lived away from white populations. At first in makeshift camel camps and later in towns on the edge of existing settlements. In its heyday, Marree supported a thriving Afghan community separated by the railway line from the European population.
Camels were indispensable on the Western Australian goldfields in the 1890s. Carrying food, water, machinery and other supplies they helped keep the towns of the Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie alive.
In 1898 there were 300 Muslims in Coolgardie, a young transient population providing essential services; however, the presence of the camel men also fostered racist fears and economic jealousies. Team masters and other golf field workers saw Afghans as cheap labour and unwanted competition, especially in the transport industry.
The cameleers were sometimes demonised in the press and accused of various acts of aggression including monopolising water holes.
There was a chain of correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Premier of Western Australia and the State Police Commissioner. The Commissioner noted that the, that while reports and rumours of Afghans polluting the water and taking forceful position of dams had been received on various occasions no evidence was attainable to substantiate the claims.
But while tensions were acute on the gold fields others were grateful for the cameleers and their efforts during the federation drought which had devastated eastern Australia from 1895 to 1902.
It is no exaggeration to say that if it not been for the Afghans and his camels, as John Edwards wrote to the Attorney General in 1902, Wilcannia, White Cliffs, Thornborough, Milparinka and other towns, each centres of considerable population, would have practically ceased to exist.
Growing prejudice in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was also reflected in discriminatory legislation introduced by colonial, state, and federal governments.
After 1895, for example, Afghans were prevented from mining on the Western Australian gold fields.
In 1903 a group of Indians resident in Perth put their grievances before the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, petitioning on behalf of the 500 Indians and Afghans Living in Western Australia. They asked the Viceroy to make inquiries into certain legislative restrictions that were making their lives unnecessarily difficult.
There were four major complaints. They were barred from holding a miner's right on the Western Australian gold fields. Travel from state-to-state in search of work was not allowed, except under the most stringent conditions. They were denied re-entry to Australia after a visit overseas. They were unable to be naturalised.
With the development of railways taking away their means of livelihood, the camel drivers found themselves in an increasingly desperate situation.
In the wake of camel men, Indian hawkers and merchants arriving from Karachi, Peshawar, Balochistan, the Punjab and Bengal. Hawkers travelled across the Australian countryside offering their merchandise for sale to remote settlers. They were supplied by wholesale merchants, who opened small shops in towns and cities. Hawking was popular with the younger Indian men, because they could start with very little capital, traveling on foot until they could afford a horse and cart. Older men met them when they arrived, sold them goods and provided advice.
The tradition of hawking or peddling was common throughout rural India and readily found a place among Australia's widely-dispersed population.
The early cameleers were practicing Muslims. In spite of living in a Christian society not attuned to the rhythms, customs and religious traditions of their homelands, for most of the year they were solitary travellers lacking the camaraderie and powerful sense of community that Islam bestows on their followers. There were no grand mosques for them to pray shoulder to shoulder. The highlight of the year was the celebration of the Eid, marking the end of Ramadan.
Further evidence of the strong desire by the cameleers and hawkers to maintain an Islamic identity, is revealed in his efforts to persuade the Australian government to permit Imams and Sheikhs to enter the country and serve their religious needs.
Following representations by the Muslim community in Victoria, the religious teacher Said Lal Shah was allowed to enter into Australia in 1911 for a period of 12 months. The following year an extension of his office certificate was granted to allow for local Muslims to have the use of his spiritual and religious services during Ramadan.
Again in 1913, permission was sought for the spiritual adviser and teacher to return to Victoria from India. Representations were made by A.H. Pritchard, Secretary of the Austral-Indian Society, and they provided an effective conduit between the Victorian Muslim community and the government.
Pritchard wrote long, well-argued petitions to the minister on behalf of local Muslims, interceding when difficulties were encountered over matters such as re-entry to the country.
Lal Shah was allowed to visit Australia a number of times, but authorities were careful to monitor his activities. In 1916, police reported that Lal Shah had been employed ministering to the ‘spiritual wants of the Indians during the past 12 months and follows no other occupation’. His comings and goings from Australia were carefully recorded.
In 1904, Sydney Muslims petitioned the government in support of their own religious leader Syed Muhammad Shah Bin Ri. The Mohammedan priest intended to advance his religious knowledge through his studies in his native country, but wanted to be reassured he could re-enter Australia on his return. The said Sayed preached his religion and morality to Mohammedans residing in Australia the petitions, the petitioners explained.
‘He follows no other occupation other than that of a preacher and thus his regress into the Commonwealth, we humbly believe, does not affect the spirit of the Immigration Restriction Act.’
The letter was signed by more than 30 shopkeepers and businessmen.
Just like the Muslim diaspora are scattered throughout the world today, early Australian Muslims felt an overwhelming need to build their own mosques. At first a special room was set aside in someone's house, served as a place of prayer. In the more remote areas of Marree and Coolgardie, simple mud and tin roof mosques were initially constructed.
In 1910, the Department of External Affairs sought to discover how many Mohammedan priests there were in each state, along with the number of permanent mosques. Replies come from the customs authorities around the country. In Sydney, it was explained Muhammad Shah, a local businessman, had been selected for the position of priest owing to his being sufficiently educated and there being no permanent priests there.
From Western Australia, it was reported, as well as the principal mosque in Perth, that there were mosques in Coolgardie, Mount Malcolm, Leonora, Bloomer's Creek, Mount Sir Samuel, Mount Magnet. There were two resident priests and about 25 sayids, or lay preachers, who were all working men and conducted these services without any remuneration.
As you can imagine, the camel-era ended with the improved roads and trucks.
I want to move to another group if you like. Again, not so well researched in some ways, but the Albanians who attempted, or did come to Australia. And this letter in August of 1924 was from the Agent General for Australia in London, explaining the hardships facing Albanians who were looking for opportunities to come to Australia.
The Deputy Director of…the Deputy of the Governor General wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for the colonies, raising some questions about objections to southern Europeans. Picking up on matters such as illiteracy gathering in communities and their potential impact on unemployment within Australia.
In a letter written to the Director of Immigration in Sydney of January of 1925, Albanians were unable to find work and had no means of subsistence. And if they could not find work, they would have to be returned to Albania.
And in a press release of December 1931 through the High Commissioner in London, the Albanian government made arrangements to assist distressed Albanians living in Australia and were offering reduced fares to enable their return to Albania.
Moving forward a little bit, there was a report regarding alien-classification and the advisory committee of March 1943, during the wartime period. And they were concerned about keeping an idea of the number of registered aliens, as they were referred to. Not British subjects, or at war, or stateless. And at that time the Albanians numbered over 1,000, Germans about 4,500, about 6000 Hungarians, 12,000 Italians, a bit over 2,000 Austrians and 290 Bulgarians.
The national security regulations meant there was a tight control with regard to the registration of aliens. The Director of Security, in writing to the Director of Military Operations and Intelligence in July '41, with regard to the status of Albanians. Now if they're anti, if they're considered to be anti-Italian they could be naturalised. If they were considered pro-Italian they were not to be naturalised.
I want to move onto the Malays. You see here a photo of pearl divers in Broome, circa 1910. Pearl-shellers paid a bond of about 20 pounds for every Asian worker introduced to Australia, so if you consider 20 pounds at that time, that, that's a serious amount of money.
Skipping forward into the ‘50s. The Colombo Plan was introduced and the purpose behind the Colombo Plan was to, it was a meeting of foreign ministers in Colombo, Ceylon, which recommended the creation of a scheme under which bilateral aid could flow to developing countries in South and Southeast Asia, later dubbed The Colombo Plan. This bold initiative brought Australia and the West together at a time of great political and economic uncertainty. By 1954, the seven founding nations of Australia, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and the United Kingdom had been joined by Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, the Philippines, the United States, Vietnam and Thailand.
The Colombo Plan occupies a prominent place in the history of Australia's relations with Asia; where it's best remembered for sponsoring of thousands of Asians students to study or train in Australian tertiary institutions. Yet it reached into almost every aspect of foreign policy, from strategic planning and diplomatic initiatives to economic and cultural engagement. Deeply grounded in the faith that improved living standards would foster political stability and prove a counter to terror, to Communism in the region.
The Colombo Plan offers a useful prism through which to examine the changing nature of Australia’s relations with Asia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Australia's hopes of using the aide program to involve the United States in regional affairs, cultivate diplomatic and commercial relations, assist the rehabilitation of Japan and play a part in the Cold War. Australian officials believed that increased personal contact with the Asians could temper growing resentment of Australian immigration policy.
We see the two-thousandth Colombo Plan student arriving. And in that, in that press release, which gives you some inkling as to the thinking at the time, it mentions Ume Kelson is here to do a three year nursing study, she's the fifth child in an upper middle class Malay family, she speaks fluent English and Malay, is a badminton champion, can drive a car and is a keen Girl Guide.
Sporting activities are also part of the Colombo Plan. And here you see the photo of students of Hong Kong and Malay at Queensland University engaging in a soccer match.
Cocos and Christmas Islanders. You see the sheepskin currency, currency that was issued the Cocos/Keeling Islands. Australia administered these territories of which consisted several hundred Malays.
There you can see the, the mosque, the Malay mosque on Christmas Island.
Going backwards. In November of 1914, war had been declared against Turkey. The war precautions/alien registration regulations of 1916 meant people had to register.
The Director…In 1915, the Director of Military Operations wrote to the Commandant of the Third Military District any Turkish subject to be by race Greek, Armenian, Syrian, well known or opposed to Turkish regime, and Christian may be exempted from alien registration.
In 1928, the Director of the Investigation Branch of the Attorney General's department in correspondence to the Inspector Roland Brown, made reference to Asiatic Turks be not permitted to settle in Australia, ’European Turks may be permitted to enter and settle in Australia’.
And there we see an application of permit to enter Australia by Ibrahim Hussein Dalal in November of 1948, a Turkish Cypriot.
And there we see the first migrants to arrive under the Turkish Assisted Passage Scheme in 1968. So you can see how things have changed with the passage of time.
And in the post-World War II era where the emphasis was, of course, to build the population of Australia, there we saw huge numbers of various nationalities come to Australia. And here we see the Bellamarino Family, the 250-thousandth Italian immigrants to Australia in 1963. And the 100-thousandth Dutch family arrival in 1958.
This is the Destination Australia website homepage, which you will find as part of our National Archives website, which is the www.naa.gov.au, and it has 20,000 images on there. And as part of that website we encourage people to log on. If they identify pictures on there, to tell a story regarding the pictures that appear on there. You'll also see stories of people's travel to Australia, what motivated them to come to Australia. So there's an opportunity for people to learn about other cultures there but also to share their family story.
I might go back to the original question that I posed at the beginning of the talk, and it was the percentage of Australians that were born outside of Australia? So I'll give you three options. Who, who thought it was around 10%? 20%? Or 30%?
Nearly 28%. So thank you very much.
I just want to show you this is the website, the National Archives website. And you'll see there's an option there to search the collection, ask us a question using the collection and fact sheets. So certainly if people have got queries about whether they may, the national archives may hold records that relate to their family, that if you select the ‘ask us a question’ tab, there's an opportunity to lodge an inquiry with us, to ask whether we do indeed hold information with regard to their family.
Down the second half of the page there, you see there are the A-Z for researchers, which opens up by simple subject matter from the A to Z. But also there are snapshots of the collection, which, and all of the images that I used in the presentation you'll find on our website.
And I just want to show you some of the information, which you may find useful with regard to this subject. And we've preloaded documents with regard to European migration post-World War II for example.
Now you'll find a variety of documents with regard to people's traveling to Australia. There will be a simple or straight-forward passenger list, which documents the fact that people arrived into a certain port on a certain ship on a certain date. There will also be the alien registration, alien registration information. And further, when people went on to apply for and obtain Australian citizenship we will hold the paperwork, which people completed prior to obtaining the citizenship.
So, that can be a rich source of information about a family group and you can confirm details specifically about individuals and also of course we hold information with regard to government policy as the keeper of Commonwealth Government records.
So, you can find out information about, at the macro level, the policy settings that the government put in place. And, at the personal level, you can find information or documents with regard to individuals who came to Australia, engaged with Australia, took out citizenship for example.
'the origins of the White Australia policy can be traced back to the 1850s'
– Andrew Griffin
About this recording
Andrew Griffin's Family History Feast 2014 presentation looks back at Australia's strict immigration laws and discriminatory legislation, pre-dating the Federation-era White Australia policy.
In his talk, Andrew provides an entertaining history of several multicultural groups who made Australia home, against the odds. He describes the contribution of the Afghan cameleers who helped open Australia's interior to development, and the Indian hawkers and merchants who followed them.
He also discusses the more recent experience of Asian workers and students who arrived as part of the Colombo Plan in the 1950s, and the discrimination that permitted European Turks to settle in Australia but barred entry to Asiatic Turks.
Hear more from Family History Feast 2014
- Jenny Harkness on FamilySearch: Don Grant Lecture 2014 (video)
- Liz Denny on researching the records of Chinese miners on the Ballarat goldfields (audio)
- Diana Hookham on multicultural family research (audio)
- Dr Moya McFadzean on collecting migrant stories at Museum Victoria (audio)
- Walter Struve on on German family history resources (audio)
Andrew Griffin is a research archivist in the Victorian office of National Archives of Australia.