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Subject: Cultural Studies »

John Fitzgerald on how Chinese endorsed Federation

John Fitzgerald and Mara Moustafine.

Historian John Fitzgerald describes how the Chinese population of Australia endorsed Federation



Date Added:

05 February 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

7.9 MB






At the time of federation there were around 30,000 Chinese in Australia. Assuming that 100,000 or so had come to Australia in the 19th Century, it appears perhaps 20,000 had died on Australian soil, half had returned to China and 30,000 or so remained. Thatís to give you a rough idea.


The 30,000 strong Chinese community could not in effect reproduce itself, because there were very few women in the first instance and there were restrictions introduced Ė deliberate restrictions after 1901 on the entry of women and wives. Where before, a wealthy merchant could afford to bring in his wife or partner to be when Ė because the only impediment was money, a poll tax, after 1901 there were legislative impediments to bring in a wife so no amount of money would qualify Ė would suffice to bring out a wife. So the community found it very difficult to reproduce itself.


And the community declined to roughly 15,000 by the outbreak of the Second World War. And didnít begin to substantially increase until the late 1950s and early 1960s with the introduction of restrictive provision for the entry of students. Some of whom stayed. Within that community a number of men did marry and married outside the Chinese community and integrated quite effectively. Itís important to note here perhaps that the white Australia policy had many arms: one was to restrict immigration of Chinese, another implemented at local levels, inhibited Chinese for example, Chinese Australians from engaging in certain trades- pearling in Western Australia or banana growing in Queensland. That there were very local restrictions as well.


But there were generally no restrictions on whether or not a Chinese Australian could attend school. And any Chinese Australian who enjoyed the vote or who was a citizen before federation or a subject, remained so and retained those rights and privileges after federation. So although there are Ė domestic legislative restrictions on Chinese Australian community life, theyíre not Ė itís not quite an apartheid model thatís in place. That being the case, itís possible for Chinese Australians to marry outside their community and for those families to grow and prosper over years to come. But it wasnít a happy outcome for everyone. A good many men, living alone in shacks in rural Australia died alone and unaided over that period.


End transcript