Chinese settlement in Western Australia can be traced back to early colonial times. Moon Chow, a carpenter/boat builder, is considered the first Chinese person to settle in Western Australia in 1829. In 1847–1848, another 51 Chinese men arrived from Singapore as indentured labourers. Chinese people migrating to Perth came as contract labourers and farm hands and ran businesses such as market gardens, laundries, bakeries, furniture factories, tailor shops and grocery stores.
In 1886, Western Australia introduced an Act to regulate and restrict the immigration of Chinese people by introducing a poll tax. The number of migrants was restricted by linking the number of entries to the weight of cargo carried by the ships they arrived on. 1 man per 50 tons of cargo was the initial figure. The Goldfields Act of 1886 also curbed Chinese migration to Western Australia, no miner’s rights could be issued to ‘any Asiatic or African alien’. This was in response to the large numbers of Chinese migrants that arrived during earlier Australian gold rushes in Victoria.
The Australian Commonwealth Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 was a major contributor to the decline of Chinese migrating to Australia. The Act formed the basis of the White Australia Policy that limited immigration to Australia of non-Anglo-Saxon people until the 1970s.
Between 1971 and 1980, 275 people migrated from China to Western Australia. Four times as many arrived between 1980 and 1990, mainly as international students. Most of WA’s China born (11,000) arrived between 2001 and 2010, as skilled and business migrants. In 2016, China was the seventh largest source country for people born overseas living in Western Australia.
- How have Australian government policies affected Chinese immigration to Western Australia? What evidence would you use to support your answer?
- What difficulties would new Chinese migrants have experienced while settling in Western Australia? Would these have been different in different decades?
- What work was most commonly available to early Chinese migrants? Why do you think this was?
- Find an event in China’s history which may have encouraged people to migrate to a new country.
- Why do you think Western Australia may be attractive to some Chinese migrants?
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