Asian Studies Program

Chinese Australia

Brief History of the Chinese in Australia

This brief history of the Chinese in Australia is designed to provide an introduction and context to the materials and information on the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation website. References to related information on the website can be found via links within the text (eg. [1]). A more detailed history of the Chinese in Australia can be found on the Harvest of Endurance Scroll website and of the Chinese in New England, NSW on the Golden Threads website.

A context and introduction to material on the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation website

Chinese traders were visiting the north coast of Australia from 1750s, probably earlier. After the British settlement of Australia (1788) small numbers of Chinese men arrived as indentured labourers, convicts and free settlers.[01] However the numbers of Chinese immigrants to Australia did not really become significant till the Victorian (1850s) and New South Wales (1860s) gold rushes. Most Chinese arrivals came from impoverished areas in southern China, particularly the provinces around Canton. Pushed by environmental, economic and political difficulties in China and pulled by the lure of gold, many who arrived went into debt to pay their passage under a 'credit ticket' system.[02] From the first Victorian goldrushes onwards the number of Chinese people in Australia quickly reached approximently 50,000. This was maintained up until federation although proportion in each colony varied according to goldrush and other economic opportunities.

Chinatowns and benevolent societies often based on clan or district ties quickly developed across Australia to support the Chinese population.[03] As gold and other minerals were discovered in Queensland, Northern Territory and north-east Tasmania Chinese miners followed.[04] Along with the miners came Chinese entrepreneurs who helped provide goods and services for the emerging Chinese population.[05] As mining became less profitable Chinese miners then became increasingly involved in and successful at market gardening, storekeeping (including importing and exporting), furniture making, the growing and wholesaling of bananas, fishing and the pearl diving industry.[06] The contribution of Chinese labour to Australia's development was particularly significant in the Northern Territory and north Queensland area.

Chinese communities across Australia grew socially and politically more complex with the development of Chinese newspapers and political and business associations.[07] They were particularly interested in events occurring in homeland China. Many of the goldrush Chinese in Victoria were refugees who supported the Taiping Rebellion in China in the 1850s. Their anti-Qing dynasty attitude was a dominant influence on Chinese community life and led to support for Sun Yatsen and the Chinese revolutionary movement which eventually overthrew the last Chinese emporer in 1911. Another spur to engagement with politics in China occurred when Liang Qichao, an exiled Chinese reformer, visited Australia in 1901.[08] His visit helped to awaken nationalistic, pro-monarchy and reformist ideas in Australia's Chinese and the establishment of 'Protect the Emperor' organisations. Another way that Chinese Australians engaged with China's modern development was as business pioneers. Sydney banana merchants such as the Kwok brothers and Ma Ying Piu established the first modern department stores in China from the 1910s onwards.

The Chinese population were also concerned and involved in political and social life in Australia.[09] Often through community leaders and supported by the wider community, they protested against discriminatory legislation and attitudes.[10] Despite the passing of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901 communities around Australia participated in parades and celebrations of Australia's Federation and the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York.[11]

Although the Chinese were generally peaceful and industrious, resentment flared up against their communities particularly because of their different customs and traditions.[12] Anti-Chinese leagues were established. Victoria was the first to pass legislation to try and restrict Chinese immigration through the introduction of a specific poll tax in 1855. This was successively followed by New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. Often such legislation did not distinguish between naturalised, British citizens, Australian-born and Chinese-born individuals.[13] Legislation in Victoria and New South Wales was repealed in the 1860s but by the 1880s there was a further explosion of anti-Chinese feeling. Despite a steady decline in the number of Chinese residents in Australia the numbers of Chinese and Chinese Australians in the more visible Chinatowns of Melbourne and Sydney was growing. In 1887 two Chinese Commissioners, the first statesmen from China to visit Australia, arrived to assess the living conditions of Chinese in Australia after numerous requests from overseas Chinese.[14] In 1888, following protests and strike actions, an inter-colonial conference agreed to reinstate and increase the severity of restrictions on Chinese immigration.[15] This was adopted by most Colonies across Australia and provided the basis for the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act and the seed for the 'White Australia Policy'.[16]

The 'White Australia Policy' remained in force until the 1950s. In the 1950s and 1960s there was a gradual easing of the Immigration Restriction Act, participation in the Colombo Plan (which involved the education of Asian students in Australia) and the adoption of a less Eurocentric attitude to immigration. It was not until 1973 when the White Australia Policy was abandoned and non-discriminatory immigration selection adopted. As a result of these changes the number of people in Australia of full or partial ethnic ancestory increased dramatically. By the 1990s there were approximately 450,000 people of Chinese background in Australia. People of Chinese background continue to be an integral part of Australian society today.

- Indentured Chinese Labourers and Employers identified NSW, 1828-1856 - Maxine Darnell (go to database)

- Origins of migration from China during the Qing (go to background)

- Melbourne's Chinatown - Little Bourke Street area (go to background)
- Melbourne Chinatown Streets Database 1900-1920 - Sophie Couchman (go to database)
- 'Notes by Mr J. Dundas Crawford on Chinese immigration in Australian colonies, 1877' - a section describes mining life and Chinatowns in Ballarat and Cooktown (go to document)

- 'Chinese deaths on the way to the goldfields in 1892' (go to document)

- Theatrical and opera troups (go to background)

- Chinese and the banana industry (go to background)
- Furniture making (go to background)
- Market gardening (go to background)

- Chinese language newspapers in Australia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (go to background)
- Lin Yik Tong or Chinese Commerical Association (go to background)
- Processions (go to background)
- Australian Chinese business innovation in China at Federation (go to background)
- Death and burial (go to background)
- Tung Wah Times index (go to database)
- Christianity and the Chinese in 19th and early 20th century Australia - Ian Welch (go to database)
- Fading Links to China - Linda Brumley (go to databases)
- 'Letter requesting permission to exhume bodies from the Sydney cemetery for removal to China, 1862' (go to document)
- 'Letter confiscated from an illegal immigrant when arrested' (go to document)
- 'Philip Lee Chun's explanation of the variations of his name on official documents' (go to document)

- A Chinese Reformer at the Birth of a Nation: Liang Qichao and the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation (go to exhibition)
- Liang Qichao's visit to Australia (go to background)
- Australian Chinese business innovation in China at Federation (go to background)
- 'Description of Liang Qichao's arrival in Melbourne in 1900' (go to document)

- Processions (go to background)
- 'Chinese residents welcome Mr Justice Herbert to Darwin, 1905' (go to document)
- 'Chinese tribute to Resident (Chief Administrator) in Northern Territory, 1914' (go to document)
- 'Chinese provide prizes for Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League of Australasia picnic day races,1918' (go to document)
- 'Peace Day procession in Darwin, 1919' (go to document)
- 'Mei Quong Tart presents an address to the Duke of York' (go to document)
- 'Chinese demonstration in aid of Melbourne Hospital, 1900' (go to document)

- Chinese protests against discrimination at the turn of the century (go to background)
- Poon Gooey incident, 1910-1913 (go to background)
- Ah Mouy, Louis, 1826-1918 (go to background)
- Cheong, Cheok Hong, 1851-1928 (go to background)
- Lee, W.R.G., dates? (go to background)
- Mei Quong Tart, 1850-1903 (go to background)
- Meng, Lowe Kong, 1831-1888 (go to background)
- Moy Ling, James, dates? (go to background)
- Onyik & Co, dates? (go to background)
- Ung Quoy, James, dates? (go to background)
- Way Lee, Yet Soo War, c1853-1909 (go to background)
- Wong Shi Geen, dates? (go to background)
- Hodges, Charles Powell, 1831-1905 (go to background)
- 'Chinese storekeepers in Darwin protest over accusations of opium trafficking, 1907' (go to document)
- 'Papers presented by the Chinese community to the Conference on the Chinese Question in Sydney, June 1888' (go to document)
- 'Petition by Lowe Kong Meng, Cheok Hong Cheong, Louis Ah Mouy and 44 others presented to the Chinese Commissioners who in turn presented it to the Victorian premier' (go to document)
- 'File on Mei Quong Tart's deputation on 29 December 1902 and letter to Prime Minister Barton relating to deputation' (go to document)
- 'Lowe Kong Meng, Cheok Hong Cheong, Louis Ah Mouy (eds), The Chinese Question In Australia, 1878-1879, F.F. Balliere, Melbourne, 1879' (go to document)
- 'Quong Tart, A Plea for the Abolition of the Imporation of Opium, Sydney, John Sands & Co, 1887' (go to document)
- 'Australian Chinese petition to the British government' (go to document)
- 'Mei Quong Tart petitions the Viceroy of Canton and Pekin Government in Hong Kong' (go to document)
- 'Correspondence between Cheok Hong Cheong and the Premier of Victoria' office regarding Chinese on board the ship Afghan' (go to document)
- 'Chinese merchants in Sydney complain about the imposition of the old Aliens Restriction Act and the new Immigration Restriction Act, 1901' (go to document)
- 'Ping Nam, president of the Chinese Merchants' Society, objects to idea of requiring all Chinese to carry passports' (go to document)
- 'Ping Nam responds to the government's position on the Mrs Poon Gooey case' (go to document)
- 'Reverend W.J. Eddy, secretary of the Council of Churches for Victoria, supports Mrs Poon Gooey' (go to document)
- 'Cheok Hong Cheong's letter to the editor of the Argus regarding the Factories and Shops Amendment Act, 1904' (go to document)
- 'Clarke, J.L., The Chinese Case Against the Chinese Employment Bill, Melbourne, 1907' (go to document)
- 'Shi Geen asks that all be treated equitably under the Factories and Shops Act, 1907' (go to document)
- Mr Way Lee's letter to the editor in response to Mr Hopkins and the anti-Chinese movement in Adelaide' (go to document)
- 'Copy of letter from Quong Tart to Prime Minister Barton regarding the Immigration Restriction Act and NSW poll tax on Chinese people' (go to document)
- 'Petition regarding Chinese immigration from Y.S.W. Way Lee, on behalf of the Chinese in South Australia to the South Australian parliament' (go to document)

- Opening of Federal Parliament and Royal visit celebrations (go to background)
- 'Description of the 1901 Chinese federation procession held in Melbourne' (go to document)
- 'Argus report on the Chinese procession at the opening of the first Federal Parliament, 1901' (go to document)

- 'Resident complains that Chinese are selling liquor without a license in Darwin, 1902' (go to document)

- Chinese NSW Naturalisation Database, 1857-1887 (go to database)
- 'Chuck Meng's certificate exempting him from the poll tax under the NSW 1881 Chinese Restriction Act' (go to document)

- Visit of the Chinese Commissioners General Wong Yung Ho and Consul U. Tsing to Australia in 1887 (go to background)
- 'Report on the visit of the Chinese Commissioners to Australia, 1887' (go to document)
- 'Dr George On Lee on behalf of the Chinese residents of Sydney writes to ensure the Chinese Commissioners receive an appropriate reception on arrival to Australia in 1887' (go to document)
- 'Australian response to the Chinese Commissioners visit to Australia in 1887' (go to document)
- 'Report on the visit of the Chinese Commissioners to Australia in 1887 based on material published in the Chinese Times' (go to document)
- 'Report in London Times on the Chinese Commissioners visit to Australian and Southeast Asian colonies in 1887' (go to document)

- Afghan incident, 1888 (go to background)
- 'Letter to Water Police State from Sergeant John Donohoe regarding the Afghan, 1888' (go to document)
- 'Government response to reports in Sunday Times regarding the influx of illegal Chinese immigrants' (go to document)

- Taxes on Chinese Immigration to Australia, 1901 Immigration Restriction Act and the Dictation Test (go to background)
- 'Immigration Restriction Act 1901' (go to document)
- 'Applying the Dictation Test to coloured persons who intend to remain in the Commonwealth for a limited time only' (go to document)
- 'Implications of dispensing with hand prints on some Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test (CEDT) forms' (go to document)
- 'Investigation of how Certification of Exemption from Dictation Test was being applied in Tasmania' (go to document)
- 'Chinese stowaways on oil tankers with Chinese crews' (go to document)
- 'Example of material held in the Boarding Branch Circulars detailing how the Dictation Test should be applied' (go to document)
- 'Proposed amendment to the Factories and Shops Act, 1904' (go to document)


short peice on the lives of individual Chinese Australian during the federation perid (c1880-c1930)

database or listing which holds historical information

short pieces designed to provide further information about particular topics

transcript or image of historic document

travelling exhibition developed by the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation project