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Japanese Immigration to Australia under the White Australia Policy

Japanese immigration to Australia under the white Australia policy.

The Japanese community in Australia was somewhat little in the nineteenth century. This was in part due to the fact that until 1866 it was a capital offence for Japanese born citizens to leave Japan[1].

However, in the later part of the nineteenth century Japanese had begun to immigrate to western nations. Those who went to Australia during the 1880s and 1890s largely worked as crew for Australian pearl harvesters in mainly northern Australia. Most other Japanese migrants worked in the Queensland sugar cane industry, or were employed in service roles. By 1891, only 30 Japanese immigrants had settled in Victoria[2]. 

The passing of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901 restricted all non-European immigrants, including the Japanese. However, temporary permits allowed some Japanese immigrants to land in Australia, and by 1904 Japanese immigrants were exempted from the dictation test when applying for an extended residency. However, troubles regarding immigration of Japanese citizens to Australia became worse with the beginning of World War two[3].

When the war against Japan broke out in 1941 the population was almost entirely interned. Most Japanese immigrants were deported back to Japan when the war ended. Japanese communities and businesses across the country were effectively eradicated. In Victoria alone, the Japanese community size had plummeted from 273 people in 1933 to 96 in 1947[4].

Immigration from Japan remained banned until 1949. During the next five years numbers enlarged with the arrival of over 500 Japanese war brides. By 1954 the community in Victoria had climbed to 238, and by 1961 it had reached 606 people.

The end of the White Australia policy in 1973 saw more Japanese born businesspeople, students and tourists arrive in Australia[5].

[1] Australian Government department of immigration and citizenship, ‘Community Information Summary, Japan-born’, Viewed: 25/10/17,

[2] Museum Victoria, ‘History of immigration from Japan’, Viewed: 25/10/17, <>

[3] Museum Victoria, ‘History of immigration from Japan’, Viewed: 25/10/17, <>

[4] J. Armstrong, Espace, ‘Aspects of Japanese Immigration to Queensland before 1900’, Viewed: 25/10/17, <–2NIrI9ZmVbKsrkEg4kCdYpIPRBF8u110aSi87ArU7bC54KlKQwu8BeOdoZnHwkKJDzYb0N1d-mbTcllwNQ9E~xQSmjQ35O-EhLYHAdv76qihprFWxu62kTkA–X7ph-2k6MZYdFeW3Pa-a4rmQtAMsIH08sWu-Gr1xxPOQeG3-2yKyjIyNxnTRzvo6Fs2BqdaG0czaqnwbzA9rPrti2ovw4duBs2I4JWEB7~MLCAmM4b7VJVfkFXRt0FbzZ5bfviXyoVIdSXfA3QW7qbLobySv3uPJ-SyfyZkyYZciKG01zRD4vx6s-IA__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJKNBJ4MJBJNC6NLQ

[5] Museum Victoria, ‘History of immigration from Japan’, Viewed: 25/10/17, <>


Chinese Immigration in 1800

History background of White Australia Policy —the history of Chinese immigration in 1800s

The large-scale movement of Chinese population from China to overseas countries appeared with the beginning of Chinese modern history. Before the First Opium War with Britain, only a little amount of Chinese could go aboard because of the Isolationism policy of Chinese government. Guangzhou in Canton province of China was the only port which was officially connected with Western world.

The beginning:

From the First Opium War between China and Britain (1840-1842) in 1840, China was forced to open the market and offer raw and processed material to Britain and other western countries. With the trend that Chinese society generally get in touch with the western world, Chinese began to migrate to western countries and colonies which include Australia (one of Britain colonies in 1800s)


Following the First Opium War, powerful western countries participated in the aggression by signing unequal treaties with China after wars. After the sign of the treaty of Nanjing, Chinese government opened five ports in south of China to western countries and admitted Hong Kong as a colony of Britain. In the treaty of Peking with Britain in 1861, Chinese government permitted Chinese labors to work aboard. Poverty and new business chances let many poor people and businessmen leave their hometown to overseas. People from provinces near the South China Sea, especially in Canton (near Hong Kong) tend to move to Southeastern Asia and Australia. This phenomenon is called “Xia Nan Yang” in Chinese history. The southern gold rushes of the 1850s and 1860s attracted a lot of Chinese to move to Australia, and then Chinese became the most numerous and obvious non-European migrants in Australia. However, with the desire for the new Australian nation to be white, white colonists started to introduce anti-Chinese legislation in each colony after gold rushes (Bagnall,2009).

In 1901, the federation of Australia was established. Because too many non-European migrants moved in and occupied Australian resources, Australian government introduced White Australia Policy to limit the migration from China and other non-European Countries.


Two unequal treaties between Chinese and Britain government allowed Chinses to move overseas

Chinese labors and businessmen from Canton and Fujian preferred to go to Australia

The gold rushes in 1850s and 1860s attracted a lot of Chinese to enter Australia, which made white colonists unhappy.

The federation introduced White Australian Policy finally.

Map of Canton today overlaid with an old map of Canton.

This map shows the growth of the area and the changes of the river.


 Bagnall, K. (2009). Immigration – National Archives of Australia, Australian Government. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Oct. 2017].



by Jinrui Liu and Jie Yan

Map by Michelle Djakic.


People of the White Australia Policy Part 2


These boots are made for measuring!

When marking up the data of the transcriptions files I came across something that I found quite fascinating. This was that heights for the individuals included how tall they were in boots. This little bit of information just kept sitting in my head this unusual fact that measurements were taken when somebody was wearing boots.

So I tried to find out how much height a boot would add. I started looking through trove and online and I couldn’t find anything that was absolute. Most of the things I came across suggested it would add an inch. But then this research got me thinking about how the data is collected for height; were people measured by using measuring tape or was the wall a ruler and people had to stand next to it. Were people told to stand up straight or just told to stand. Just all these variables about this one little bit of data of height just kept on making me try and work out how it was generated. So, I decided to conduct a little experiment using other people in the class as guinea pigs.

My experiment was that I asked the class to stand against the wall and have their height measured both in boots and not in boots with no other instructions. Some interesting things observed is that some people move their heads in various ways giving themselves extra height or losing height. People took measurements from different points making the measurements inconsistent. I for one intentionally slouched for my height without boots but stood as tall as I could with boots to try and give myself the biggest variation. Below is the table of our results showing that on average most people would gain an inch when in boots with some outliers caused by intentionally trying to manipulate the data.

In conclusion I feel that this is an interesting way of looking at how data is collected on a small-scale as it shows that without knowing how the data was collected it’s hard to know how you can use it.


By Steven Doyle




People of the Real Face of White Australia Part 1


The ages of travelers recorded in the data, falls largely between the ages of thirty and fifty, with a small number of outliers on either side. We can see from the numbers that most of those travelling in and out of Australia at the time were adults, mostly of middle age. We know from the records that many had families ‘back home’ in their countries of origin. The predominantly male travelers were returning to wives and children across the seas, either to visit, or see to the livelihood of their relatives.


From the 284 data sets obtained, it was found that the most represented nationality, requiring an exemption document was Chinese, at 88% of all the travelers. The remainder was 9.8% Indian and 1.1%  Syrian. The other, at 0.7% comprised of one Japanese person and one identified as Assyrian. Despite the data set reportedly recording nationality of the travelers, Assyria (an ethnic minority who have lived mostly in what is now known as Iraq for thousands of years) was not seen as a nationality or country at the beginning of the twentieth century.  During the early twentieth century, this land was under control of the Ottoman Empire, and later under the control of the British after World War I.  The fact that ‘Assyrian’ has been recorded as a nationality is probably an example of human error. Whoever recorded the information would not likely have known any better. It is possible that the traveler referred to themselves as ‘Assyrian’, (as they likely felt more ties to their ethnic group than to the country/nationality) the way that, for instance, an Iraqi Kurd may describe themselves as coming from Kurdistan.





Mantilla, Y. 2016, “ISIS’ crimes against humanity and the Assyrian people: religious totalitarianism and the protection of fundamental human rights”, ILSA Journal of International & Comparative Law, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 77.


Travel in the Time of the White Australia Policy

Gathering some initial data after the transcribe-a-thon gave the Exploring Digital Heritage class several things to consider. What could we infer from the documents we, and many of you, had helped to transcribe? After looking at the data on ships and destinations, I decided to delve into the journeys those caught in the White Australia Policy took. Where were they going, what might travel have been like for them and what about the ships themselves?

The data collected so far indicates a distinct travel destination. Individuals found in the transcribed documents were mainly traveling to China. They departed from various ports along the East coast of Australia (The Australasian, 1909) with Sydney being a common departure point and Canton, China a frequent disembarkation. However, some travelled to India, Fiji, Syria, Japan and even France (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Graph depicting destinations of document holders

Traveling by ship during the period of the White Australia Policy was different from ocean travel today. The Aldenham and Australian were in service as early as the 1890s (Hoskin, E&A Line, 2007) and not near the size of modern passenger vessels. Unlike the current dedicated, entertainment focused, diesel or gas turbine powered ships; they travelled on passenger-cargo vessels mainly driven by steam. These included the Empire, Eastern, Australian and Aldenham (fig. 2) (Hoskin, E&A Line, 2007).

Fig. 2: Steamship Aldenham

Some of the earlier built, the Taiyuan and Changsha (fig. 3) for example, were combined steam and clipper ships (Hoskin, Minor Shipping Lines and Ship Owners, 2017).

Fig. 3: Combined steam and clipper ship Changsha

From the initial data it appears the Empire and Eastern were the most common ships/line to travel on followed by the Australian and Aldenham. A significant number of other ships also carried passengers during this time (fig. 4), allowing many individuals the means to travel to and from Australia.

Fig. 4: Graph depicting frequency of departure ship/line used by document holders

The speed of travel ranged from 12 to 15 knots (Hoskin, E&A Line, 2007), about half the speed of today’s passenger liners. They docked at various points along the way. Stops differed according to the destination route but some docked at places such as Timor, the Dutch Islands, Hong Kong and Singapore (The Argus, 1911).

Besides travellers, the ships carried a considerable amount of freight. Cargo included animal products. Cattle for example were shipped to places like Thursday Island on the Changsha (The Northern Herald, 1921). Hundreds of “hindquarters of frozen beef” dispatched from Port Alma for Manila, Philippine Islands, and tens of “cases of preserved meats” headed for Darwin were both listed as cargo on the Empire (Morning Bulletin, 1915).

Further research into the ships found in the documents also gleaned interesting stories of their own. The Australian was wrecked off the Coburg Peninsula (Hoskin, E&A Line, 2007). During the war years the Changte and Taiping were requisitioned as stores ships (Flotilla Australia, Minor Shipping Lines and Ship Owners, 2007). Others, such as the Tiayuan and Aldenham carried soldiers (The Borella Ride, 2017), while the Eastern and Nellore, were destroyed when bombed and torpedoed respectively (Hoskin, E&A Line, 2007).

Overall, it appears ship travel was a curious adventure. Perhaps an adventure not unlike our class work. Document transcription has led to several avenues of research and is giving us a better idea of what was happening during this period. What more might we be able to find out about the people and the journeys they embarked on as we continue to transcribe and get a better overall picture. Hopefully, with further transcription, we can do just that.

Take a few moments and transcribe a document today. Help us continue to see these documents in different and enlightening ways.


Hoskin, J. (2007). Minor Shipping Lines and Ship Owners. [website] Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.

Hoskin, J. (2007). E & A Line. [website] Available at Accessed 19 Oct 2017.

Morning Bulletin. (1915). ‘SS. EMPIRE.’, Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 8 June, p. 11. Available at: Accessed 24 Oct 2017.

The Argus. (1911). ‘S.S. ALDENHAM.’, The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 19 April, p. 6. Available at: Accessed 22 Oct 2017.

The Australasian. (1909). ‘S.S. ALDENHAM.’, The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 – 1946), 27 November, p. 48. Available at: Accessed 20 Oct 2017.

The Borella Ride. [website] Available at: Accessed 19 Oct 2017.

The Northern Herald. (1921). ‘The Changsha.’, The Northern Herald (Cairns, Qld. : 1913 – 1939), 9 November, p. 4. Available at: Accessed 20 Oct 2017.


Fig 1 & 4: Created from transcribed data

Fig 2: Aldenham (merchant ship). State Library New South Wales. Available at:

Fig 3: Changsha (merchant ship). State Library New South Wales. Available at:

The Six Degrees of Fingerprints: Leave your Fingerprint!

When I enrolled in Exploring Digital Heritage this semester and saw the documents we would help transcribe and analyse, I experienced what I call the six degrees of fingerprints.

Initially, I thought about how the records in the White Australia Policy were like an early form of passport and wondered how passports developed.

I quickly realised the policy was about restricting immigration to people who were deemed European.

The documents within Series ST84/1 demonstrate the policy was not only applied to new immigrants but also to Australian born individuals of non-European descent because of their non-European appearance.

Documents surrounding held data on individuals interest me. They hold power, they tell us stories, they can transport us through time, they can separate us from one another; but they can also bring us together.

These documents, many with fingerprints/handprints, transported me back to 2008 when I myself experienced Australian immigration.  It isn’t an easy process, there is a mountain of paperwork, expensive fees, a medical, invasive questions, a police check, photographs, and then there is the fingerprinting.

I walked into my nearest police station and awkwardly stepped up to the clerk and explained that I was immigrating to Australia and I needed to be fingerprinted as part of the application. The clerk looked at me with a puzzled expression, looked at the paperwork, looked at me, and back at the paperwork. She turned to a colleague who looked at the paperwork and looked at me with an equally perplexed countenance.

I was eventually called into a room where an astonished policeman placed the ink and paper in front of me but refused to fingerprint me. He had never fingerprinted an innocent person and wasn’t about to do so now. He explained what I needed to do and observed my efforts at fingerprinting myself. I then paid the station for said fingerprints and sent them off with my application.

At the time, I figured I had nothing to hide, and I wanted to move to Australia so I could live with my Australian born husband. Nonetheless, the process of immigrating inadvertently segregated me, it reduced me to an untrustworthy part of Australian society. Fingerprinting made me feel like a criminal despite having no criminal past.

I often wonder why my fingerprints were necessary considering I had a police check. Why are my fingerprints on file when Australian fingerprints are not? Will my personal files show up in an archive one day for people to search through? Will my fingerprints be there telling a little piece of my experience, my story of immigration to Australia?

My sense of isolation culminated after about six months of living in Australia. I was frustrated, angry, and I felt I had nowhere to turn for help. All I wanted was to contribute, to feel a part of Australian society. Unintentional as it was, I was often reminded in one way or another that I was not Australian. How much more so must the Australian’s in the Series ST84/1 documents have felt alienated by their own government.

Eventually, I got a part time job and was befriended by Australians, both of which helped bridge the gap. It was through research however, that I got back a sense of self-worth, a sense of contributing to something special. I began researching a relative who fought in WWII as a tail gunner in a Lancaster bomber, and I decided to extend my research to include the whole crew.

Getting their records from the archives in Canada and the UK took many months. Nothing was digitised or transcribed. I had no idea what these documents would look like nor how much they would cost. About three months later and nearly one thousand dollars charged to my credit card, I received a hefty box full of service records.

When I opened that box of documents, I opened the door to marginalised servicemen who didn’t live long enough to make their mark in the history books. However, reading their files and writing about their lives made a huge impact on me, and I’m hoping reading and transcribing documents from Series ST84/1 might make an impact on you.

I have many fond, memorable experiences of reading through the 600 plus pages of archival service records. I turned page after page, reading document after document which included information such as eye colour, hair colour, religious affiliations, next of kin, training reports, missing in action reports and in some instances, fingerprints.

I’ll never forget experiencing those first set of fingerprints. I instinctively reached out my hand to place my fingers over those on the page. What transpired in a fraction of an instant I can only describe as electric. It was as though the page itself had dissolved, my hand passed through time, and I touched the warm, three-dimensional living flesh that had once belonged to those fingerprints.

The Series ST84/1 documents that make up part of the records of the White Australian Policy have the ability, through your help, to tell their story. However, with the benefit of computer technology and transcription, they will become a searchable database and present the possibility of seeing the records in new ways such as mapping early employment or travel to and from Australia. At bare minimum, relatives of these many Australians will thank you in assisting to make their search for their relative much easier.

Regardless of our citizenship, appearance, job or education, we all have the chance through transcription to touch the past and leave our fingerprints on these records for future generations to research. I Invite you to share in a little piece of history by contributing to the transcription of the White Australia Policy documents. Whether you spend ten minutes or many hours, even a small amount will lead to telling their story.

Meet the Events Team


We’re the Events Team in the Exploring Digital Heritage Class of 2017.  We’re one of the many groups that worked on this project this semester. We have been liaising with the Museum of Australian Democracy/Old Parliament House, putting the event together , and we’re going to be the friendly guides on the weekend to make sure everything runs smoothly for the Transcribe-A-Thon.

Hope to see everyone there!

-Events Team 2017


Transcribe-a-thon this weekend!

Our transcription site is now open! Go to and start transcribing.

Check back here for updates or follow @invisibleaus on Twitter.

Transcribe-a-thon updates

9 and 10 September, 9.00am-5.00pm
Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House

Important things to note:

  • You’ll need to pay the MoAD admission fee ($2 adults, $1 children). This supports conservation work on Old Parliament House.
  • No bookings necessary — just turn up!
  • The transcription station will be set up in King’s Hall — look for the people hunched over laptops.
  • Student volunteers will available to help you — identify them by their ‘Real Face of White Australia’ lanyards.
  • If you want to help transcribe, please bring your own laptops (Mac, PC, Linux all fine). We’ll supply wifi and power.
  • There’ll be a fascinating program of talks and events throughout the weekend. Check the times!

Transcription site updates

The transcription site is:

If you’re having your own personal transcribe-a-thon let us know on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #uc10154.

Some things to note:

  • Open to everyone, everywhere. No login or registration required, just follow the instructions and start transcribing.
  • The site is designed for laptop/desktop machines. While some of the tasks, such as transcription and verification, can be done on a mobile device, the lack of screen space makes it rather tricky.
  • See here for an overview of the transcription process.