Anti-Chinese Racism

Chinese Workers On The Australian Goldfields

Most migrants who joined the Australian goldrush left behind family and home. This was particularly difficult for the Chinese who came from a traditional culture that focused heavily on parents, family and the ancestral village.

The majority of Chinese men who came to NSW were not individual fortune hunters, but came as a family representative seeking an essential and supplementary income for his family and his wife who had been left at home to honour her primary role as support for her in-laws.

Added to that was the "credit-ticket" system whereby the family, villagers and brokers set up a co-operative venture to pay for the ticket. 

Australian Aboriginals and Chinese immigrants were especially identified in populations statistics. Chinese travelling outside of NSW had to get special re-entry certificates. Victoria had much more restrictive anti-Chinese legislation and thousands of Chinese miners crossed the border, from Victoria to New South Wales, after the major gold finds in NSW in mid 1850s.

Mei Quong Tart

By the 1870's 10% of the population of Majors Creek were Chinese. They had less racist problems primarily due to the efforts of Mei Quong Tart. They mined at Long Rat to the west on upper and lower Majors Creek, at Bells Creek, and in the Araluen Valley.

Quong Tart arrived with his uncle when he was only 9 years old, and began work with the Forsythe family in their Bells Creek store. He acted as interpreter for the Simpson's 200 Chinese miners on their Bells Creek field, and was given a lease of his own at the age of 14, where he soon struck it rich.

Quong Tart achieved naturalisation in 1871 and after some years' successful reef mining he married a Braidwood school teacher and moved to Sydney where he  became a successful merchant and unofficial Chinese Consul. It was largely due to his activities that the Braidwood fields were largely free of the racism rife on other gold-fields.

Chinese Entrepreneurial Activities

Soon after reaching the gold fields, many Chinese began other enterprises. North and South of Sydney, fishing and curing / drying fish became a solid industry providing dried fish to Chinese people in Sydney, Melbourne and the rest of NSW.

Some opened stores, became merchants or became commonly known as "John Chinaman" with his market gardens.

As alluvial gold finds dwindled, so their numbers in the countryside lessened as Chinese people went to work as scrub cutters, and tobacco farmers, then as cooks and drapers, as well as cabinet-makers, primarily in Sydney.

Gradually, after WW11, Chinese Cafes began to replace all forms of farming as the major source of employment .

In the latter half of the 1800's, the gold discoveries began to dwindle and increasing numbers of Chinese returned to their homeland. Very few chose to stay and run businesses, marry and settle permanently in Australia.

Anti-Chinese Laws

The anti-Chinese laws of the late 1870s and 1880s, and the White Australia Policy of 1901, were declarations that Chinese people were a threat to mainstream Australia;  For individual Chinese people, this could mean violence, wrongful arrest, commitment to a “lunatic asylum”, forced vaccination, eviction from the farms they’d built up, or being refused permission to re-enter Australia.

The largely uncontested  explanation of Australia’s anti-Chinese history is that it was based on fear of Chinese competition, because they provided cheap labour, in the gold rushes and later the labour market.

Violence, strikes, marches, protests and riots, eventually forced an unwilling ruling class, to legislate against Chinese immigration. In the course of this struggle the labour movement won over most of the other classes in society so that by 1901, the White Australia policy could be adopted with virtually unanimous support.

It was only after World War II with various changes to immigration policy that the White Australia Policy was quietly dismantled.  However, it was only in 1972 that Australia had the full political introduction of official policies of multiculturalism, 100 years after the first anti-Chinese laws.

During the intervening period, the Chinese had provided the population with a new style of food, far removed from the staple British diet.  Today, most Australian towns and villages boast a Chinese cafe or restuarant, where excellent cheap and cheerful meals can be enjoyed.

Chinese and other Asian influences are very much a part of Australia's multicultural approach to the "Modern Australian" dishes served in top restaurants today.

Chinese Settlement in NSW Heritage Office PDF573.67 KB
Further Reading