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Vol. 74/No. 11      March 22, 2010

Conference held on
Chinese labor in Australia
CAIRNS, Australia—Some 50 people attended the “Rediscovered Past: Valuing Chinese Roles across the North” conference here February 13-14. It was the third such conference organized by Chinese Heritage in Northern Australia.

Most of those attending the gathering were from Queensland—many of them either of Chinese heritage or researchers in the history of the Chinese in Australia.

Presentations at the conference explained some of the little-known history of the Chinese in Northern Australia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The final panel discussed the impact of anti-Chinese legislation introduced in Queensland from the Aliens Act of 1861 onwards—part of what became known as the White Australia Policy.

Chinese immigrants played a significant role in mining, farming, and commerce. From the end of the 1840s they were brought into Queensland as indentured laborers, when convict labor from Britain was ending. They worked on the big cattle and sheep stations as shearers, cooks, and stockmen. Many established ties with Aboriginal workers, while there was also conflict between the two nationalities.

Laws were introduced aimed at blocking the development of economic and social relations between Aborigines and Chinese. The white colonial government was carrying out brutal suppression of Aboriginal resistance at this time.

The largest numbers of Chinese came during the gold rushes from the 1860s through 1880s. In 1877, the 17,000 Chinese in north Queensland outnumbered the 7,000 white settlers. But by 1895, due to the reactionary White Australia Policy, there were only 2,800 Chinese in the region compared to 12,000 white settlers.

Throughout the conference a small display of Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution, published by Pathfinder, drew steady interest. Many expressed surprise that there was a significant Chinese presence in Cuba.

Kevin Wong Hoy, president of Chinese Heritage in Northern Australia, encouraged participants to pick up a copy of the book and three were sold.  
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