June 18th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Deregulation cause of dairy industry crisis

CANBERRA OBSERVED Double-dissolution election likely to deliver disillusionment

EDITORIAL Turnbull keeps his smile as all around lose theirs

LIFE ISSUES Infant viability fails to wake upper house interest

GLOBAL ECONOMY A generation left to twiddle its thumbs

LOCAL GOVERNMENT Amateur hour at the Brisbane City Council

EUTHANASIA Too quick a leap to counsel of despair

CULTURE WARS Australia Council cuts funding to Quadrant

SEXUAL POLITICS Gay "marriage" and the given in human procreative behaviour (Part 2)

FEDERAL ELECTION How to ensure your Senate vote goes all the way

PHILOSOPHY John Haldane holds true to faith-reason nexus

HISTORY The Chinese in Australia: not the story you've heard

MUSIC The times it takes to reach eternity

CINEMA Madcap adventures in the Kiwi bush: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

BOOK REVIEW The curate's egg

BOOK REVIEW That other great Irish prelate


 A day in the life of a religious white man from the point of view of evidence and truth

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The Chinese in Australia: not the story you've heard

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, June 18, 2016

You may have been told that the history of the Chinese in Australia is dominated by racism and the White Australia Policy. Yet at no time were legally resident Chinese expelled from Australia; though a great many old Chinese men went home to China to die in their home villages, which is the Chinese custom.

Relics of the “White Australia” days.

Many Chinese men made their fortune and went home to marry and continue their lines; that was their intention when they came to Australia. Chinese immigration to Australia never stopped, even at the height of the White Australia Policy. Chinese people continued to migrate to Australia, circumventing red tape usually with the connivance of sympathetic politicians and government officials. There were many loopholes to exploit.

Oddly enough, one of the best friends the Chinese in Australia had during the White Australia era was Arthur Calwell, who was often the most senior parliamentary representative at Chinese community functions. Calwell is best remembered as the man who vigorously promoted Australia’s post-war immigration policy as minister of immigration from 1945 to 1949. He upheld the White Australian Policy but was a personal friend of many Chinese Australians. The aphorism attributed to Calwell, “Two Wongs don’t make a White”, was meant jocularly in the context of a parliamentary discussion with Sir Thomas White.

To understand the Chinese experience in Australia, we must recognise historic parallels elsewhere, in particular California and South Africa. San Francisco is known to the Chinese as “Old Gold Mountain” and Australia as “New Gold Mountain”. In other words, the Chinese came to Australia to get rich digging for gold, as they had done in California.

Almost always, if they made their fortune, they went home to China and honoured the ancestors by performing their filial duty and supplying the family with sons. The Chinese in South Africa, unlike Australia, were expelled when the work on the deep mines on the Rand ended.

Many hundreds of Chinese refugees settled in Australia for the duration of World War II. Much is made of the case of Filipino-American Sergeant Lorenzo Gamboa and his Australian wife Joyce and their children. Sgt Gamboa was expelled from Australia under the Chifley government; with the election of the Menzies Liberal government, Gamboa returned to Australia, where he remained resident for many years. However, many refugees, including Chinese taken in during World War II, never returned to their countries of origin but remained in Australia.

The White Australia Policy was a blip in Australian politics and as a policy did not meet its aim, if that aim was to keep Asians out of Australia; Australia has always had a substantial Asian population. The Japanese, for example, were essential to running the Broome pearling industry and were perpetrators of violence against other Asians. They were tolerated because Australia needed their expertise.

The Chinese have been great navigators since the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). The most famous explorer was Admiral Cheng Ho, who conducted seven voyages of discovery in an immense armada of ocean-going junks. We know that Admiral Cheng visited the Indian Ocean. The Ming navy defeated the Dutch East India Company (VOC) fleet in the Battle of Liaoluo Bay in 1633, off Kinmen Island in the Taiwan Strait. This allowed the Chinese to assert dominance in Chinese waters for two centuries.

In the initial stages of the Ching Dynasty (1644–1912) China used its fleet to subdue rebels in Taiwan. Chinese trade with foreign powers was conducted on a tribute system, meaning that China constructed a Sinocentric trade regime. The coastal people, who might be described as pirates, ignored the edicts from Beijing not to trade with foreigners. Evidence exists that Chinese traders visited northwestern Australia with the fleets from Makassar (now in Indonesia) who traded with the Aborigines for sea cucumber, a highly prized Chinese delicacy to this day.

Also worth noting is the fact that three ships of the First Fleet – the Scarborough, the Charlotte and the Lady Penrhyn – sailed to Canton (Guangdong today) to pick up a cargo of tea for sale on their return to England.

Earliest arrivals

Chinese men were arriving in Australia long before the gold rushes of the 1850s. John Shying landed in New South Wales in 1818, the first officially recorded Chinese migrant to land in Australia. He had a number of occupations, including running a shanty at the sign of the Red Lion in Parramatta. John Macarthur, father of the Australian wool industry, employed three indentured Chinese labourers in the 1820s.

Other Chinese men, some indentured labourers, others freebooters, merchants and adventurers, are known to have reached Australia without being officially recorded. Chinese women, though, rarely ventured far from China until modern times.

These early settlers have been described as “sojourners” by Singapore’s Asian Civilisations Museum. Typically, a man would go without a wife to a place abroad to seek his fortune, possibly cohabit with a local woman, then return to China. This did not happen to any marked extent in Australia. Some intermarriage occurred with European women, Afghan women and Aboriginal women, but the propensity of Chinese men to return home had to do with taking a Chinese wife and fulfilling their duty to the ancestors by extending the family line.

The first major migration of Chinese men did not have its origins in the gold rush, but rather in the end of transportation of British convicts to NSW. Transportation to NSW officially ended in 1850, and between 1848 and 1853 the first shiploads of Chinese workers arrived in NSW. The NSW authorities came under pressure from the British government not to exclude Chinese, as they wanted to give at least the appearance of being even-handed following the end of the First Opium War (1839–42).

The so-called “unequal treaty” that ended the war was not so much about forcing the Chinese to smoke opium as opening China to trade. If the British could not offer reciprocity in trade and movement of people, would that not truly be an unequal treaty? So, between 1848 and 1853, more than 3,000 Chinese workers arrived in NSW.

In 1851, the Great Australian Gold Rush began after Edward Hargraves discovered gold near Bathurst in NSW. Attention soon turned to Victoria, where the rich alluvial fields could be mined using relatively primitive processes and where water was plentiful.

The Victorian authorities became alarmed at the number of Chinese diggers arriving at Victorian ports. They imposed a head tax of £10 and limited the number of diggers a ship could carry, according to the ship’s tonnage. To get around this the Chinese miners instead landed at ports in South Australia, principally at Robe, and walked overland hundreds of miles to the Victorian goldfields. The colonial borders were very porous.

It would be a convenient to describe as racist the relationship between the mainly European diggers and the Chinese miners, and the Chinese and Victorian authorities, but such was not the case. Mostly, the Chinese and Europeans got on well. They cooperated and bought and sold claims. The Europeans processed pay dirt once a week and rested on Sundays; the Chinese worked every day.

The Chinese often worked by “paddocking”: that is, processing the claim down to bedrock. Europeans usually worked in pairs; the Chinese worked in syndicates. The Chinese lived in tent cities. Occasionally, they would have an “open day”. Visitors invariably commented on how clean and well organised this “Chinatown” was. Up until modern times, almost all Chinese immigrants came from the counties around Canton in southern China.

The authorities had a delicate situation to handle. The Chinese were the second largest ethnic group on the goldfields. To extract tax revenue, the Victorian government imposed a Protection Tax of £1 per head for each Chinese miner. Many could not – or would not – pay the tax. The situation was similar to imposition of the licence fee that sparked the Eureka Stockade rebellion at Ballarat.

The resentment the Chinese occasionally aroused on the goldfields was to do with economic competition and cultural blindness, not racism. The conflicts that did occur, such as the Buckland Riot of 1857 in Victoria and the Lambing Flat Riot in NSW in 1860–61 did not result in even a single recorded death.

Victoria, South Australia, NSW and Queensland all imposed limits on Chinese immigration and then modified these regulations. Not until Federation did the so-called “White Australia Policy” become a plank in what journalist Paul Kelly called the “Australian Settlement”. In particular the unionists were concerned for their own wellbeing. They saw the Chinese as a threat to their monopoly of supplying labour to their craft or industry. This threat was acute in some industries such as furniture making. Not so long ago, it was common to find older furniture with labels saying “Made with European labour only”. The reaction against the Chinese was economic; nor did it lack foundation.

The Chinese who remained in Australia prospered, on the whole. They were regarded as being diligent, thrifty, hardworking, law-abiding people. If they had a fault, it was that they liked to gamble. The fact that the so-called White Australia Policy persisted (there was never actually an act called the “White Australia Policy Act”) was mostly to do with invasion fears during the Cold War. Fairly obviously, refusing to open your doors to a group of people who you believe, often with good reason, to be agents of an enemy power is not illogical.

In 1957, Chinese who had lived in Australia for more than 15 years were invited to apply for naturalisation. That was effectively the end of the White Australia Policy. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam only put the already dead policy in its grave, for which he has gained undue credit. It was Liberal minister Harold Holt who put the stake in the vampire’s heart. Then Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser ensured the White Australia Policy was truly dead when he allowed the Vietnamese boat people to settle in Australia.

Today, some, 865,000 Australians identify as having Chinese ancestry, around 4 per cent of Australia’s population. The attachment of the Chinese to their ancestry does not make them any less Australian for this reason than Greek, Italian, Jewish Australians or any other Australian who maintains their cultural heritage.

True, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is blatantly manipulating elements in the Chinese community to further its own foreign policy ends, as in recent veiled threats about Australia’s policies in the South China Sea. But the battle for the hearts and minds of the local Chinese community has been going on for many years. It will not end, ever.

Australia must be clear about what our aims and policies are. Chinese organisations are donating massive amounts to both major Australian political parties. Altruism is rarely a motivation when the Chinese donate to political parties. They demand value for money.

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