Slides from presentation by Dr Kate Bagnall at the Visible Immigrants Seven conference, Flinders University/Migration Museum, Adelaide, Australia on 14 December 2012.
From as early as the late 1850s, Chinese migrant fathers began taking their Australian families to China. Over the eighty years or so that followed, hundreds of young Australians—some full Chinese, some part Chinese and some of full European descent—accompanied their Chinese fathers and step fathers to Hong Kong and southern China, particularly to the Pearl River Delta counties in Guangdong province. For some men, these return journeys signalled the end of an Australian sojourn, while for others it was but a temporary return to their homeland—an opportunity to take care of business or family matters, to educate children, or to visit with friends and relatives before returning ‘home’ once again to Australia.
This paper drew on records created in the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act—legislation which limited the mobility of Chinese people in and out of Australia—to explore this history of geographical mobility in Chinese Australian families. While records of travel in the colonial period are limited, after the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901 officials kept careful track of Chinese leaving Australia to ensure that those who returned had the right to do so. The detailed administrative records created by these officials provide information that can be used to investigate both the motivations and mechanisms of travel by Chinese men and their Australian families in the early White Australia period. Why did Chinese fathers take their Australian children with them to China? Where did they travel to? How did they get there? How long did they spend overseas? What did they do there? And, finally, how did they negotiate their personal and familial mobility within the restrictions imposed by White Australia?