Invisible Australians.

They celebrated Federation. They fought at Gallipoli. They struggled through the Depression. And they battled for freedom in the Pacific.

They also lived through another of their country’s defining moments – the introduction of the White Australia Policy.

In the early twentieth century Australia defined itself as a white man’s country, yet the reality was something different. As well as Indigenous Australians, there were many thousands of non-Europeans, including Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Afghans, Syrians and Malays.

These are the Invisible Australians – men, women and children who, because of the colour of their skin and the homelands of their forebears, found themselves at odds with the nation’s claim to be white. They faced discriminatory laws and policies designed to deny them their place as Australians.

Because of this, there are extensive government records documenting their lives. The Invisible Australians project will use biographical information found in the records to link together their lives, revealing the real face of White Australia.

The handprint displayed on this page belongs to 12-year-old Charles Allen, the son of a Chinese father and white mother. It was taken in 1909 when he travelled to China. Charles spent six years living with his father's people in the town of Shekki, inland from Hong Kong.

The year after Charles returned home to Sydney he enlisted in the Australian army to fight in World War I.