Chinese Australian history EP2: The shift of Chinese professions, now and then
Chinese people arrived in Australia in the 19th century, mainly from southern China. Most of the new arrivals were physical labourers: coolies, gold miners, scrub cutter, market gardeners, and furniture makers.
From the 1870s onward, the growing number of Chinese workers, especially the cabinet makers, were seen as such a threat by the Europeans in the former self-governing colonies, including Victoria and New South Wales, that all furniture made by Chinese workers had to be stamped with "Chinese labour" so as to curtail the expansion of the Chinese workforce. This was the early days of what would become the White Australia Policy.
The White Australia Policy officially began in 1901 with the Federation of Australia and the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act, which aimed to reduce the number of non-white people in Australia and to restrict entry to anyone who wasn't white, said Michael Williams, a historian of Chinese history at the University of Western Sydney. The restrictions led to the gradual decline of the Chinese population in Australia from 20,000 people in 1901 to 6,000 people by the 1940s.
After the Second World War, Australia strengthened its relationships with Asia and, after 72 years, the White Australia Policy was finally abolished in 1973. Today you'll find Chinese Australians among some of the most prominent members of the Australian community, like Bing Lee, LJ Hooker, Penny Wong, Charlie Tao, and Lee Lin Chin.
Reporter: Sana Fong
With special thanks to:
Dr. Michael Williams
Chinese Australian Historical Society