Transnational Lives: Colonial Immigration Restrictions and the White Australia Policy in the Riverina District of New South Wales, 1860-1960

McGowan, Barry
January 2013
Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies;2013, Vol. 6, p45
Academic Journal
In Australia the historical debate on the effects of immigration restrictions on the Chinese people has focused largely on the White Australia Policy. By contrast, in this paper I focus on the relatively neglected topic of intercolonial migration and compare the impact of the colonial immigration restrictions of the 1880s and the White Australia Policy, using as an example the Riverina district of New South Wales. Many Chinese people were severely disadvantaged by the colonial immigration restrictions, particularly if they had strong commercial links on both sides of the NSW-Victorian border or needed special assistance from their compatriots. The local reaction in the Riverina to the tightening of anti-Chinese restrictions in 1888 in particular sits at odds with the popular impression of unrelenting animosity towards Chinese people in the pre-Federation period. Many white residents of the Riverina viewed the legislation with disdain and pleaded the case for change. Federation solved the problem of intercolonial migration, but it created many other difficulties for Chinese residents and this time the Riverina press was silent. With the same resilience and initiative of their forebears, however, many Chinese worked around these new impositions. Influence, money and friendship were, however, critical and those less well connected or affluent were at a much greater disadvantage. Intimidation from officials with its attendant risks of resentment and bitterness may have been of little concern in the colonial and post-colonial period, but today it should be, for the stakes are much higher.


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