Asian Studies Program

Chinese Australia

Digital Documents Record

1589 Example of material held in the Boarding Branch Circulars detailing how the Dictation Test should be applied

Full Document Caption:
While on the face of it the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act did not discriminate against the Chinese, in practice it did. This document illustrates how inspectors were to apply the dictation test so that unwanted immigrants would fail.

Source: National Archives of Australia (NSW), Department of Customs & Excise NSW, Boarding Branch Record of Files & Orders 1914-1931, C4203/1

Region: Date From: 1914 To: 1931

This document is available in two possible forms:

1. Scanned original version

Page 1 of 1 page/s

2. Searchable text version (below)


Home & Territories Department,
61 Spring Street,
MELBOURNE, 4th March, 1927.



The Collector of Customs,

Immigration Act 1901-1925.

Re I.A.I.'s 52-56:-

The following directions should be observed in connection with the application of the dictation test:-

(a) Test, when applied, to be effective: As indicated in I.A.I. 56, the test when applied to an immigrant, is intended to serve as an absolute bar to such person's entry into Australia, or as a means of depriving him of the right to remain in the Commonwealth if he has landed. The test should therefore be applied in a language with which the immigrant is not sufficiently acquainted to be able to write out at dictation.

(b) Languages: Section 3, paragraph (a), of the Act requires that the test applied shall consist of not less than fifty words prescribed by Regulation, but the Act permits of any European language being used, as authorised by Section 3 of the consolidated Act 1901-1925. In ordinary circumstances, the tests furnished from this Department should be used.

NOTE: The question has been raised as to whether it would be allowable to abandon the application of a dictation test before completing the fifty words and to choose a fresh passage in another language, in any case where an immigrant, after admitting inability to write in the language first chosen, commences to writ [sic] in such a manner as to indicate the likelihood of his passing the test. The Crown Law authorities, however, definitely advise that once the test has been started it should be gone on with and carried to completion. It is therefore desirable that every possible precaution should be taken beforehand in doubtful cases to ascertain whether the person concerned is likely to be able to write in the language chosen.

(c) Method of application: Various Court cases have been lost through evidence being furnished that the test had not been correctly applied. The main point to remember is that, although a language may be chosen with which the immigrant is not acquainted the test should be applied in such a way that he would be afforded a reasonable opportunity to write the passage out if he were literate and knew the language. The following precautions should therefore be taken, viz:-

(i) Pencil and paper should be handed to the person to be tested.
(ii) It should be clearly explained to him what he is required to do, viz., to write out the passage dictated to him (if necessary, an interpreter should be employed to explain the requirement).