The real face of White Australia

In October 1911, the Sydney Morning Herald published a short article under the headline, ‘An indignity: photographs and finger-prints’. The article discussed the situation of Charles Yee Wing, a wealthy and respected Sydney businessman, who had asked to be exempted from having to supply his handprint and photograph as part of the process of being issued a CEDT.

Yee Wing had travelled before and was well-known to Customs officials. In this case, the Customs Department was willing to dispense with the necessity of taking his fingerprints, but Yee Wing was still required to provide his photograph. As the Herald wrote:

Mr Wing is a merchant of some standing, held in high esteem by Europeans and Chinese alike, and it was supposed that in his case the notification would be a purely formal business, and that he would not, since everybody who has business relations with the Chinese community knows him, have to go through the process by which the officials identify on their return Chinese domicilied in Australia who have been for trips to their native land.

Yee Wing’s primary objection was that the officials insisted upon photographing him, in various positions, ‘just like a criminal’.

(This photograph of Charles Yee Wing was taken three years earlier in 1908, when he travelled to Fiji where he had business interests. It was the ‘profile’ photograph attached to his CEDT (Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test). NAA: ST84/1, 1908/301-310.)

Today our images are used to identify us in all sorts of situations—passports, drivers licences, student cards, work ID cards, building swipe cards and even online with sites like Twitter or Facebook. We have varying amounts of control over what images of ourselves are used in these contexts—I know that I have a couple of passports with photographs that I would rather had never seen light of day, and I hope that they aren’t the only images of me that survive for future generations! But we generally accept that these representations of ourselves are necessary. And we certainly don’t think when we head to the post office for a new passport photo that we are being treated ‘like a criminal’. So why did Charles Yee Wing feel that way?

A hundred years ago, few people had formal papers which stated their identity, and the use of photographs on such identity documents was still in its infancy. It wasn’t until World War I, for example, that countries like the United States and Britain developed passports specifically designed with a space for a photograph. But over the second half of the nineteenth-century, authorities had begun to use photographs for administrative purposes, particularly as technologies such as the carte de visite made photographs cheaper and more portable.

In Australia, authorities began using photographs in an ad hoc way to assist in the identification of Chinese entering Australia in the 1890s, perhaps even the 1880s, but by far the most common official use of the photograph at this time was in the photographing of criminals. In New South Wales, for instance, the keeping of gaol photograph description books commenced around 1870. Such mug shots were used by police in identifying and keeping track of criminals and, in fact, the close tie between this form of portrait photography and its criminal subjects led some to criticise its use—because it tainted the practice, and art, of photography more generally.

In 2005, the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV), together with the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo, launched what became a popular travelling exhibition, Forgotten Faces: Chinese and the Law. The exhibition presented large reproductions of gaol photographs of Chinese men imprisoned in Victoria between the 1870s and 1900, accompanied by brief biographical sketches drawn mostly from court and prison records. Dr Sophie Couchman, who knows more about photographs of and by Chinese Australians than any other person alive, was critical of the exhibition for ‘deliberately pulling photographs of Chinese prisoners from the wider prison archive’, thereby presenting the Chinese in colonial Victoria as both criminals and powerless victims of government bureaucracy (Couchman 2009, p. 122). Sophie futher noted that in doing this, the exhibition obscured the fact that Chinese were being treated in the same way as other residents of Victoria. In 2011, the PROV has put a selection of the images from the exhibition in its wiki, encouraging user contributions and plotting the subjects’ place of residence on a Google map.

A wall of faces

As part of our Invisible Australians project, Tim Sherratt has recently been experimenting with facial detection technology to automatically extract and crop photographs from CEDTs. You can read Tim’s discussion of what he’s done over at his blog. After extracting 7,000 photographs from Sydney series ST84/1, about a seventh of which is digitised in RecordSearch, Tim built an interface to display them as an interactive wall of faces. As Tim was putting it all together, I thought of Sophie’s critique of the use of photographs of Chinese people in the Forgotten Faces exhibition and of the way the images had been assembled together in rows as a kind of rogues gallery. I also thought of Charles Yee Wing’s comments a hundred years ago about the indignity of having to provide his photograph for a CEDT.

Could the same kind of criticisms be levelled at our wall of faces as at Forgotten Faces? Are we representing our subjects as more than passive victims of a racist bureaucracy? Are we using their images respectfully and decently? Are their images able to be understood by our contemporary audience? And how should we acknowledge the resistance and opposition of people like Charles Yee Wing?

I have been working with the CEDTs and other associated records (the ‘White Australia records’, for want of a better term) for about 12 years. The photographs are a significant part of what keeps me coming back to them—the photographs and the details about real people that are also found in the records. One of the challenges with writing about the early Chinese community in Australia has been to break through particular stereotypes, and one of the most powerful ways of doing this is through close-grained and detailed studies of individual lives. Yet uncovering those lives can be a difficult and time-consuming enterprise, for they were mostly ‘small lives’ which left only a faint trace scattered across the archive. The White Australia records provide an illumination of those lives, and are now widely used by families to uncover important and unknown information about their forebears.

When I began my research, the CEDTs and case files were not described individually in any catalogue or database, and they were certainly not online; the only ‘finding aids’ were the original handwritten indexes. I used to trek out to the archives, order up box after box after box, and look through the files one by one. In some instances I was the first person to have looked at the records for perhaps decades—the descendants of the men and women whose lives are recorded there knew nothing of the treasures the records held. But putting stuff online and allowing it to be discovered can have really meaningful results.

Since I put my PhD online, for instance, I’ve been contacted by a number of people who cite my research as the catalyst for their own journey of discovery into the families’ Chinese pasts—leading them to the White Australia records, which the National Archives has also done a lot of work on to make them more accessible. As Tim and I would both argue, online technologies and new digital methods really do provide significant and meaningful possibilities in providing access to, and ways of understanding, the lives documented in the White Australia records.

So what of our wall of faces? As Tim has noted, it’s not just an exhibition, it’s a finding aid. To me, this is the key. The wall of faces is another way of seeing into the records and into the lives of the individual men and women, the Australians, who were subject to the indignities of the White Australia Policy. Each image links to a copy of the document it was taken from, which then links to the digitised file in RecordSearch, which then links to other items in the same record series, which then links to other record series created by the same government agency—rich archival context.

But through the Invisible Australians project we also want to provide different links and detail other contexts. For instance, the first experimental version of our wall of faces is based on a small set of records, from Sydney and from the first decade of the 20th century. From this sample, we can see that most of those travelling from Sydney were Chinese men, but there were also non-Chinese and women and family groups. Records from other ports and other decades would produce a different pattern of faces—such as a greater proportion of younger or older people, more women and children, or a different ethnic make-up.

This first effort is certainly not perfect, and we’re already learning from it. We made the decision to leave the images at different sizes, and to widen out the crop so that you can see more than just the person’s face. We hope that this allows for some of the individuality in the images to come through—it’s not so neat perhaps, but maybe it’s also not so prescriptive. As Sophie Couchman has noted, the photographic portraits provided to the authorities by Chinese Australians were far from standardised, and many were studio portraits in which the subjects had a great deal of say in how they were represented. As Sophie has put it, they are ‘not so mug mugshots’. And we want our wall of faces to reflect that.

And now back to Charles Yee Wing

Among the images on our wall are the two portraits of Charles Yee Wing taken before his 1908 trip to Fiji. Those from his 1911 trip, when he made his objections known to both the authorities and the press, aren’t yet digitised. I have done a bit of research into Yee Wing’s family, finding a trove of files about his and his children’s travels over several decades. I don’t think, though, that I had come across this particular CEDT—a typo in the item title means that it doesn’t come up under a keyword search for ‘Yee Wing’. But I did find it browsing through the images in our wall.

Bibliography

the real face of white australia

In many of the presentations I’ve given in recent times I’ve managed to include a question raised by Tim Hitchcock in his chapter in The Virtual Representation of the Past. Tim asks:

What changes when we examine the world through the collected fragments of knowledge that we can recover about a single person, reorganised as a biographical narrative, rather than as part of an archival system?

The idea of turning archival systems on their head to expose the people rather than the bureaucracy is what motivates Kate Bagnall and I in our attempts to make the Invisible Australians project into a reality.

Invisible Australians aims to liberate the lives of those who suffered under the restrictions of the White Australia Policy from the rich archival holdings of the National Archives of Australia and elsewhere.

We always knew that the portrait photographs, included on a range of government documents, would provide a compelling perspective on these lives, but we weren’t quite sure how we were going to extract them. Up until last weekend, I’d assumed that we’d develop a crowdsourcing tool that contributors would use to mark-up the photos.

Now I’m not so sure.

In the space of a couple of days I’ve extracted over 7,000 photographs and built an application to browse them — here is the real face of White Australia

How did I do it? Paul Hagon, at the National Library of Australia, gave a presentation last year in which he explored the possibilities of facial detection in developing access to photographic collections. The idea lodged in my brain somewhere and a few days ago I started to poke around looking to see how practical it might be for Invisible Australians.

It didn’t take long to find a python script that used the OpenCV library to detect faces in photographs. I tried the script on a few of the NAA documents and was impressed — there were a few false positives, but the faces were being found!

So then the excitement kicked in. I modified the script so that instead of just finding the coordinates of faces it would enlarge the selected area by 50px on each side and then crop the image. This did a great job of extracting the portraits. I tweaked a few of the settings as well to try and reduce the number of false positives. Eventually, I developed a two-pass system that repeated the detection process after the image had been cropped and it’s contrast adjusted. This seemed to weed out a few more errors. You can find the code on GitHub.

Once the script was working I had to assemble the documents. I already had a basic harvester that would retrieve both the file metadata and digitised images for any series in the NAA database. Acting on Kate’s advice, I pointed it at series ST84/1 and downloaded 12,502 page images.

All I then had to do was loop the facial detection script over the images. Simple! The only problem was that my 3-year-old laptop wasn’t quite up to the task. As it’s CPU temperature rose and rose, I was forced to employ a special high-tech cooling system.

Keeping my laptop alive...

But after running for several hours, my faithful old laptop finally worked it’s way through all the documents. The result was a directory full of 11,170 cropped images.

The results

There were still quite a lot of false positives and so I simply worked my way through the files, manually deleting the errors. I ended up with 7,247 photos of people. That’s a strike rate of nearly 65% which seems pretty good. The classifier, which does the actual facial detection, was probably trained on conventional photographs rather than on the mixed-format documents I was feeding it.

Then it was just a matter of building a web app to display the portraits. I used Django for the backend work of managing the metadata and delivering the content, while the interface was built using a combination or Isotope, Infinite Scroll and FancyBox.

It’s important to note that the portraits provide a way of exploring the records themselves. If you click on a face you see a copy of the document from which the photo was extracted. A link is provided to examine the full context of the image in RecordSearch. This is not just an exhibition, it’s a finding aid.

What next? There are many more of these documents to be harvested and processed (and many more still yet to be digitised). I will be adding more series as I can (though I might have to wait until I can afford a new computer!). I’d also like to explore the possibilities of facial or object detection a bit more. Could I train my own classifier? Could I detect handprints, or even classify the type of form?

In the meantime, I think our experimental browser helps us to understand why the Invisible Australians project is so important — you look at their faces and you simply want to know more. Who are they? What were their lives like?

UPDATE: For more on the photos and the issues they raise, see Kate Bagnall’s posts over at the Tiger’s Mouth.

Birth certificate registers

In October 1913 Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Atlee Hunt, sent a circular to the state Customs departments asking if they kept records of Chinese Australians who used their birth certificates as identity papers when travelling overseas.

Queensland already kept such a register, and Hunt felt that:

Such a register is very desirable to enable a check to be kept on persons claiming admission to Australia on birth certificates, as it is an easy matter for a number of copies of the same certificate to be obtained, and the experience of the past shows that in some instances several Chinese have attempted, sometimes successfully, to land on copies of the same certificate. (NAA: A1, 1913/20069)

An example of the early difficulties that both Chinese Australians and government officials had with using birth certificates as identification can be found in the case of Fred Hong See (see NAA: BP342/1, 13021/357/1903). Fred was born in Sydney in 1885 to Chinese parents who, when he was very young, took their son back to China. Fred’s father later died and, in 1903, Fred returned to live with other relatives in Sydney. When he arrived, Customs officer J.T.T. Donohoe doubted his identity and would not allow him to land. Donohoe’s suspicions were based on the fact that Fred could not speak any English and his feeling that Fred looked older than the age stated on the birth certificate he presented.

Fred was quickly sent on his way back to China, and it was only through the threat of legal action by his well-respected relatives in Sydney and their payment of a deposit of £100 that Fred was permitted to stop at Brisbane for re-examination. With evidence provided by Fred’s relatives, the Brisbane Collector of Customs, W.H. Irving, was satisfied that he was, in fact, telling the truth. After Atlee Hunt’s approval, Fred was allowed to stay.

This is the copy of Fred Hong See’s birth certificate that he presented to officials on his return to Australia in 1903. It can be found with other correspondence about the case in NAA: BP342/1, 13021/357/1903.

In the decade after the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act, the processes for its administration continued to be refined and tightened, primarily to prevent the fraudulent entry of Chinese into Australia. Hunt’s request for the keeping of birth certificate registers came about from a concern that ‘as other channels of fraudulent entry are being blocked, the Chinese will make a determined effort to utilize birth certificates to that end.’

His Customs circular of 1913 set out the details that Customs officers should record to enable correct identification on a person’s return to Australia:

  • name
  • number of birth certificate
  • date of issue
  • date of birth
  • where born
  • date of departure from Australia
  • remarks concerning departure
  • date of return
  • by whom examined, landed or rejected
  • general remarks

The Collectors of Customs responded thus:

  • Victoria reported that had been keeping a register from the beginning of the year (1913), but without the level of detail requested.
  • New South Wales had not been keeping records, but was now ordering a book for the purpose.
  • Western Australia had no special register, but would immediately open one.
  • South Australia said they had not had any need for a register, as there had been no cases of Chinese being admitted on birth certificates there.
  • Tasmania would begin keeping a record, but had only had four cases to date.
  • And the Northern Territory had been keeping record of Chinese arriving on birth certificates since 1911.

It became the practice for birth certificates to be endorsed by Customs officials on a person’s departure. This usually included taking a handprint and attaching a photograph, as well as recording the details in a register. Some people also went through the formality of applying for a CEDT.

The two remaining registers

To my knowledge, only two of the birth certificate registers still exist, those for Queensland and New South Wales. The Queensland register is held in the Brisbane office of the National Archives, and a digital copy is available through RecordSearch:

The first volume, of 16 double pages, has suffered flood damage and can be difficult to read in parts. The second volume, which has 23 double pages, is much more legible. A sample page from the second volume is shown below – this is a left-hand page, with the remainder of the details about each person completed on the corresponding right-hand page.

The single register for New South Wales, held in the National Archives’ Sydney office, is more substantial than those for Queensland, demonstrating the greater amount of travel that occurred from Sydney. The register contains around 150 double pages and includes an alphabetical index at the front. The entries date from 1904 to 1962; those before 1913 were presumably copied from records elsewhere. It is also fragile and difficult to read in places, but it has recently also been digitised and made available through RecordSearch:

The page reproduced below is a left-hand page, with further details about the travels of each person available on the corresponding right-hand page.

Making use of the registers

These registers are valuable sources of information about Chinese Australian families in Queensland and New South Wales, and can provide missing pieces of information for people who did not apply for CEDTs when they travelled overseas (which many Australian-born Chinese did not).

Having them digitised is great, especially for those of us who can’t easily get to the Brisbane or Sydney reading rooms – but what would be even more useful is if the information contained in the registers was in a form that could be searched and sorted. I’m working on a bigger project relating to Chinese families in New South Wales, based around a database of information sourced from marriage and birth records up to 1918. I’m part-way into transcribing relevant details from the published BDM indexes with 1000 entries (out of an estimated 3000–4000) in the database so far!

The information found in the birth certificate registers obviously relates very strongly to this, so I have another crazy plan to also transcribe the information held in the Sydney register. It’s not going to be a quick job – and it’s one that could easily be shared since the New South Wales register is online. So, if you happen to have some spare time and don’t mind deciphering old handwriting, I’d love to hear from you!

Liberating lives: invisible Australians and biographical networks

Presented at the Life of Information Symposium, 24 September 2010.
Slides are available on Slideshare.

Charlie Allen's palm print
This palm print belongs to a 12-year-old boy called Charlie Allen.

Charlie was born in Sydney in 1896.

His mother was Frances Allen (sometime sweet shop owner and brothel keeper), his father Charlie Gum (a buyer for Wing On company).

Charlie was raised by his mother, but in 1909, at the age of 13, he was taken to China by his father.

His father returned to Sydney, leaving Charlie in China. He lived with relatives in the town of Shekki (inland from Hong Kong) for 6 years.

Charlie was homesick, but had no means of getting back to Australia. His mother attempted to enlist government help but to no avail. Charlie finally returned in 1915.

The following year he enlisted in First AIF (well actually he enlisted three times, and was discharged as medically unfit each time).

Charlie married in Sydney in 1917 and had two daughters soon after. He returned to China in 1922 for 7 months.

Charlie Allen died in 1938 as the result of an industrial accident. He was 41.

How do we know all this about Charlie Allen?

We know this because there are fragments of Charlie’s life scattered throughout the holdings of the National Archives of Australia.

The CEDT from 1909 when he left Australia with his father:

Charles Allen 1909 - CEDT front

NAA: ST84/1, 1909/22/41-50


A letter from his mother to Prime Minister Billy Hughes, seeking help to return Charlie to Australia:
Letter to Billy Highes from Charlie's mother.

NAA: A1, 1911/13854


His WWI service record:
Charles Allen's WWI attestation form

NAA: B2455, ALLEN C A


An identity form relating to his trip to China in 1922:

NAA: SP42/1, C1922/4449


But of course Charlie is not alone in the archives.

Charlie’s father was Chinese, he was therefore categorised as a ‘half-caste’, as someone who was not white, and fell under the restrictions imposed by the White Australia Policy.

The certificate from 1909 granted Charlie an exemption to the Dictation Test. Without it, he may not have been allowed back into the country.

Every time one of many thousands of non-Europeans resident in Australia sought to travel overseas and return home again they needed one of these certificates.

We’re all of course familiar with the general outlines of the White Australia Policy, and the way it underpinned conceptions of Australia as a nation in the first half of the 20th century.

But what we sometimes forget is that it was also a massive bureaucratic exercise.

Forms and certificates were printed, issued, used and filed. Regulations were modified, guidelines were distributed and administering officers were managed and advised. Individual cases were reviewed, policy was changed and new forms and certificates were printed, issued, used and filed…

For example, between 1901 and 1911, 400 circulars were issued to port officers about immigration restriction. The confidential manual on immigration restriction grew from one page in 1902 to more than 200 in 1912.

Much of this system is now preserved in the National Archives.

For the years between 1902 and 1948 there remain:

  • More than 50,000 CEDTs
  • 90 shelf metres of records
  • 15,000 case files

And within those many thousands of files are the scattered fragments of lives such as Charlie’s — lives that were controlled, monitored and documented in a vain attempt to make Australia ‘white’.

We’ve already seen today some wonderful examples of how these fragments, these slivers of existence, can be found, extracted, aggregated and displayed. But I think it’s worth considering for a moment what happens when we do this.

The historian Tim Hitchcock, behind projects such as the Old Bailey Online and London Lives, has reflected on the impact of digitisation on our access to archives. Archives, he notes, tend to reflect the assumptions and practices of the institutions that created them.

But by providing new ways into these records systems, technology can undermine the power relations that persist within their structures.

‘What changes’, asks Tim Hitchcock, ‘when we examine the world through the collected fragments of knowledge that we can recover about a single person, reorganised as a biographical narrative, rather than as part of an archival system?’

I don’t know, but I think we should find out, don’t you?

**********

I hope you’ve all collected a mini card. These themselves provide a little glimpse at the real face of White Australia and I’d invite you all to head over to the National Archives website, do battle with the monster that is RecordSearch, and look up the file references that are on each card.

The cards are part of a project that Kate Bagnall and I are trying to develop — Invisible Australians.

I should note too that the cards, and most of the examples I’m showing you here today are the product of Kate’s long and detailed research into Chinese-Australian families. In modern project management parlance, Kate is the domain expert, while I am merely the technical resource.

If we look again at one of the CEDTs, we can see that there’s a lot of useful structured data:

  • name
  • place of birth
  • age
  • height
  • destination
  • date of departure
  • name of ship

Invisible Australians has the modest aim of extracting this data from the 50,000+ forms in the National Archives. But of course that’s just the start, because each person might have used a number of certificates — so then it’s a matter of matching these identities.

Invisible Australians

http://invisibleaustralians.org

And then there are a range of other related forms, not to mention case files, alien registration documents, naturalisation applications…

Obviously we can’t do it alone. We’ll be creating a crowdsourcing tool to extract and link the data.

It’s ridiculously ambitious, totally unfunded and is likely to take over our lives.

Is it worth it?

Imagine being able to navigate the network of lives, families and relationships. To follow their journeys, to share their tragedies, to celebrate their small victories against a repressive system.

Imagine being able to watch them age.

Pauline Ah Hee and Shadee Khan

Is it worth it? We think so.

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For Tim Hitchcock technology opens up the possibility of writing a new history from below, exploring how the poor, the marginalised and the powerless navigated the institutions of the modern state. But it’s not just about search engines and databases. He talks about making ‘best use of the technology of emotions and representation — how you use words and pictures and a story to impact, not just on what people think, but what they see in their mind’s eye’.

In this project, the photos matter. I hope the irony in our project title is obvious.

Some of the faces of Invisible Australia

This is the real face of White Australia.

The photos remind us that the project is not just about shifting data around — these are lives, these are people.

But this brings its own challenge, for if we are seeking to liberate these lives from the fragmentation and obscurity of bureaucratic systems then we should be asking what are we liberating them into?

A database?

This is not just an exercise in data creation and management. We also have to think carefully and creatively about issues of representation, access and discovery.

We have to give these lives back their freedom to associate, to have relationships, to make connections.

We need to embed these lives in a variety of contexts and combinations. To make room for serendipity, celebration, sadness, and yes, even play.

We need to bring these lives into a rich and ongoing conversation with the world.

But how?

**********

I’ve been working on a little experiment for the National Museum of Australia called The History Wall. What the History Wall does is quite simple, it pulls together data on the fly from a variety of sources including People Australia, the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the National Library’s newspapers project, historical population data from the Bureau of Statistics, photos from the Flickr accounts of the PowerHouse Museum and the National Archives, and the collection database of the National Museum itself. It chooses randomly from all this stuff, throws the results up into the air and then displays them however they happen to fall. No two views are ever quite the same.

The History Wall

http://defining.net.au/wall/

It’s something more than a timeline. To me it’s more like a celebration of context and serendipity. There’s a richness to it, a sense of discovery and fun, but there’s also fragility — next time you look it might be gone.

It’s a bit like history itself.

It’s a bit like the world.

How do we create spaces for our data to merge and mingle? How do we encourage the development of new contexts and connections?

I think the first thing we have to do is stop thinking about databases and dictionaries, registers and encyclopaedias. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being critical of the wonderful projects we’ve seen today. I just think we can use all this work better if we stop thinking about individual resources and start developing on a web scale, on a global scale.

Yes, we have the technology. Time today has spared you from a detailed discourse on the Semantic Web, but I do want to focus on one aspect.

You may have heard of Linked Data, it’s a set of guidelines to help you publish your data to the Semantic Web. There are only four basic principles and I’m only going to talk about one of them. It’s one of those deceptively simple things. You look at it and think, ‘yeah, ok’, but before too long it’s starting to turn your brain inside out.

Use URLs to identify things in the real world.

Yeah, ok…

You know what URLs are, web addresses, the things you type in your browser’s location field.

And hopefully you know what things in the real world are: people, places, objects, events, ideas…

Now you may have detected a problem here, because no matter how many times you click the refresh button, your web browser is not going to be able to use such a URL to magically deliver you the real world thing.

Well, unless you’re on eBay.

Fortunately, the Linked Data guidelines provide for a bit of technical trickery that allow your browser to retrieve not the real world thing, but some information about that thing — perhaps in the form of a web page.

Why bother?

Names are powerful.

We share and use names to talk about things. Computers are the same. If we use URLs to identify things in the real world, then computers can start talking about them.

We can define and explore real-world relationships in an online environment. We can create rich, meaningful linkages across databases, across disciplines, across the world.

We can start building and thinking on a web scale.

**********

Thanks to the People Australia project, I can confidently claim that this is me:

http://nla.gov.au/nla.party-479364#foaf:Person

I keep meaning to get it on a t-shirt.

The most exciting thing about People Australia is not the EAC records or the aggregation of resources — it’s the identifiers, because they enable us to say things about people anywhere on the web that computers can understand and relate back to a specific real world entity — a person.

You can start doing it now with Wragge’s Identity Browser.

Wragge's Identity Browser

http://wraggelabs.com/identities/

This is a little tool I built using the People Australia API. It makes it easy to find identifiers for people and organisations, and it supplies you with some code that you can drop into a blog post or web page that will tell a computer that a name relates to a thing called a ‘person’ , that this person’s name has a certain standard form, and that this person can be uniquely identified by People Australia.

Even if you don’t publish a website or a blog, you can use People Australia identifiers to build semantic linkages. Wragge’s Identity Browser also creates machine tags for you. Machine tags are like normal tags but with built in semantics. When coupled with identifiers they enable you to do some pretty powerful things.

You could for example use machine tags in Flickr to tell computers that a certain photo depicts a person uniquely identified by People Australia. In fact, people have been doing just that.

Flickr Machine Tag Challenge

http://wraggelabs.com/fmtc/

The Flickr Machine Tag Challenge is a sort of scoreboard that I built to encourage people to start adding People Australia enriched machine tags to photos. More than 1200 tags have been added to over 1000 photos. Feel free to join in!

The point is that the technologies already exist to enable us to build web scale biographical resources. Not dictionaries or databases as we know them, but networks capable of constant expansion, elaboration, and cooperation.

What we need are more tools to make it simple, recipes to make it obvious, examples and applications to make it popular, and leadership to make it all seem possible.

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Of course most of the lives we hope to liberate through Invisible Australians will not be represented in People Australia.

Not yet.

But Invisible Australians will offer a point of aggregation and disambiguation that will enable our people to find their way from the bureaucratic recesses of the White Australia Policy to a place on the national stage.

And we will encourage others to do likewise. Basil can’t do all the work. The centralised system has to be fed through centres of aggregation and collaboration.

Similarly, there are many great resources already out there relating to Chinese-Australians. There are hordes of family and local historians compiling and publishing biographical data. We want to identify people in these resources and link to them.

We want to publish up to People Australia and link down to a single headstone in a lonely country cemetery.

But to do this we need to help people make their resources linkable. To help them create persistent, re-usable URLs, and expose their data in standard formats. To create Linked Data, even if they have no particular interest in the Semantic Web.

Invisible Australians

http://invisibleaustralians.org/

Invisible Australians is not just about extracting data from archives. It’s also about working with others to build capacities and demonstrate possibilities.

It’s ridiculously ambitious, totally unfunded and is likely to take over our lives.

Is it worth it?

We think so.

Form 21(i): Certificate of Domicile, 1902

This is the first in a series of five posts that looks at the different iterations of Form 21 over the first decade of the 20th century. Form 21 is better known as a Certificate of Domicile or Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test (CEDT), but there is something reassuringly bureaucratic in it having a number. There is something practical in it too, because there were a bevy of other forms as well (32, 22, 19, 9 etc), including the confusion-causing Certificate of Exemption (Form 2, which was a temporary entry permit rather than a re-entry permit).

I have located what I’m fairly confident are the first examples of each variation of Form 21 between 1902, when the Immigration Restriction Act came into effect, and 1908. After then things settled down a bit and the form remained more or less the same over the following decades. My examples are taken from New South Wales.

You can see these examples and others in my Invisible Australians library in Zotero.

Certificate of Domicile for Ah Shooey

The first Certificate of Domicile issued in New South Wales would have been numbered 02/1 – ’02′ being the year 1902 and ’1′ being the certificate number. There is a volume of certificates from 1902 in NAA: SP11/6, Box 3 (more about this in an earlier post), and my guess is that the first Certificate of Domicile is probably to be found there. Unfortunately it’s not digitised and I’m not in Sydney, so we’ll have to leave confirmation of that ’til a later time.

The first Certificate of Domicile that I can include here is, therefore, from a year later. It was the first Certificate of Domicile issued in New South Wales in 1903 (no. 03/1) and is the first certificate to be found in series NAA: ST84/1, ‘Certificates of Domicile and Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, chronological series’. (Here’s a link to the record item it is held in: NAA: ST84/1, 1903/1-10 – the whole item is digitised.)

The certificate was issued in the name of Ah Shooey, a 47-year-old Chinese man from Canton, who was departing Sydney for China on the Kasuga Maru on 1 January 1903. The certificate notes that Ah Shooey has one son, who is accompanying him. This is presumably 22-year-old labourer Louey Back Keong, whose certificate is no. 03/2.

Two copies of the form were completed; the one pictured above includes the word ‘Duplicate’ handwritten in red on the front. This copy was kept on file in Sydney, while the other copy (also found in NAA: ST84/1, 1903/1-10) would have been given to Ah Shooey to use during his travels, before being collected and filed on his return. Details of Ah Shooey’s arrival were also marked on the used certificate (‘Landed Empire 27/05/05′).

Ah Shooey’s form records the following information:

Duplicate

No. 03/1

COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and Regulations.

CERTIFICATE OF DOMICILE

I, Nicholas Lockyer Collector of Customs at the port of Sydney New South Wales in the said Commonwealth, hereby certify that Ah Shooey, hereinafter described, has satisfied me that he is domiciled in the Commonwealth, and is leaving the Commonwealth temporarily.

[Signature of Nicholas Lockyer] Collector of Customs
Date 31st December 1902

DESCRIPTION

Nationality Chinese
Birthplace Canton
Age 47 years
Complexion
Height 5ft 5 1/2 inch in Boots
Hair Turning grey
Build Stout
Eyes Brown
Particular marks Nail on little finger left hand missing. Top of third finger on right hand off from first joint.

(For impression of hand, see back of this document.)

Family One son
Where resident Accompanying
Date of arrival in Australia Year 1877
Place of residence in Australia Deniliquin
Occupation Storekeeper
Property Value £400 Deniliquin

Date of departure 1st January 1903
Destination China
Ship Kasuga Maru

References in Australia (names and addresses) Police Magistrate Deniliquin. A Fordham Deniliquin. C Hitchin Jerilderie.

Form No. 21.

On the reverse, the form includes the words ‘Impression of Left Hand’ and Ah Shooey’s handprint.

Reverse of Certificate of Domicle for Ah Shooey, 1903. NAA: ST84/1, 1903/1-10

Collecting CEDT applications and certificates

The administration of the Immigration Restriction Act was overseen by the Department of External Affairs, but the day-to-day work was undertaken by the state-based Collector of Customs/Department of Customs & Excise.

The Collectors of Customs had been responsible for administering colonial immigration restriction laws, and each had their own systems in place when the new federal legislation was implemented from 1902. Atlee Hunt, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs for the first two decades of the 20th century, set about ensuring that officials in each state implemented federal policy consistently, issuing a book of published guidelines as well as dozens of circulars that kept Customs officials up-to-date on decisions made by the Department.

The chap pictured below is WH Barkley, who was the New South Wales Collector of Customs between 1914 and 1933. His signature can be seen on hundreds of CEDTs issued in Sydney during that period.

Anyway, the different recordkeeping systems used by the state Collectors of Customs means that each state/territory now has a different set of records of CEDT applications and certificates.

To me, the system in Sydney seems pretty nicely organised – basically there is one series with correspondence files containing the applications (Form 22), another series that holds copies of the CEDTs that were issued in Sydney (Form 21), another that has the duplicate CEDTs (and other papers including Form 32s) of people arriving back into Sydney. (Okay, it’s really more complicated than that, but let’s not confuse things too much.)

Things are also very tidily done in Darwin (although on a much smaller scale), with all the paper work filed in the one file – the application (Form 22), the CEDT (Form 21), the return authorisation form (Form 32) as well as any other correspondence.

This post is an attempt to document what CEDT applications and certificates exist for each state, what series they are in, and whether they’re available online through RecordSearch. My list also includes registers of applications, as well as records that were created under colonial legislation.

NOTE: Although I’ve done a lot of research using the Sydney records in the flesh, most of what I know about records in the other states is based on what can be found in RecordSearch and in the National Archives’ guide to Chinese records. There will, therefore, be gaps! Any contributions of local knowledge gratefully accepted (especially Tasmania and South Australia).

NOTE TOO: These are the ‘main’ series with CEDT applications and certificates. There are other odd series that also include CEDT stuff that I haven’t included.

New South Wales

Applications: SP11/26

Series number: SP11/26
Series name: Applications for Certificates of Domicile
Dates: 1902
Contents: Applications by for certificates of domicile. Included are references, statutory declarations, submissions, and the Minister’s decision.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.18 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 27 (100 % of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: Includes person’s name, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: William Ah Bow, application for a certificate of domicile [7 pages and 4 photographs]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP11/26
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP11/26, A1

Applications: SP42/1

Series number: SP42/1
Series name: Correspondence of the Collector of Customs relating to Immigration Restriction and Passports
Dates: c.1898–1948
Contents: Correspondence files, varying in size from a few to dozens of pages, mostly concerning one person or family group. Because this series stretches over several decades, the contents varies a bit. Most later files include Form 22.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 119.79 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 6531 (% of series unknown, but probably a significant proportion)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 722 (as of 29 July 2010)
Item title: Generally includes personal name of subject/s, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Ah Sun [includes 2 photographs showing front and side views] [box 106]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP42/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP42/1, C1917/4159

Certificates: SP115/10

Series number: SP115/10
Series name: Certificates Exempting from the provisions of ‘The Influx of Chinese Restriction Act 1881′
Dates: 1884–88
Contents: Includes about 450 exemption certificates issued under the NSW 1881 Act and 2 certificates and documents relating to the 1861 Act. The certificates include scant information about the applicants themselves, giving their name, date of issue of the certificate and period of exemption. There may be handwritten annotations on the front and back, some in Chinese, which provide more personal information such as occupation, age and height.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.72 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1 (Whole series item)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: 1 item only. Certificates are not listed as individual items.
Item title example: Certificates Exempting from the provisions of ‘The Influx of Chinese Restriction Act 1881′

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/10
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/10, WHOLE SERIES

Certificates: ST84/1

Series number: ST84/1
Series name: Certificates of Domicile and Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, chronological series
Dates: c.1903–53
Contents: Certificates of Domicile and CEDTs (Form 21). Each item includes a bundle with the certificates of about 10 people. There may be used duplicate copies of the certificates and other material including Form 32.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 49.14 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 2754 (probably 100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 344 (as of 29 July 2010)
Item title: Includes the names of certificate holders, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Jong Say, Wong Kwong, Lee You Wing, Foo Gun, Mar Kum, Gock Buck, Ah Get, Jeong Keong, Percy Zuinn and Ah Yum [Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test - includes left hand impression and photographs] [box 122]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: ST84/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: ST84/1,1908/11/31-40

Used certificates: SP115/1

Series number: SP115/1
Series name: Folders containing Certificates of Exemption and related papers for passengers arriving in Australia by ship, chronological series
Dates: c.1911–43
Contents: CEDTs (Form 21) and other identity documents (such as birth certificates) of people arriving into Sydney, as well as completed Form 32s which document why they were exempted from the Immigration Restriction Act. Each item contains the documents of multiple people.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 24.84 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1433 (probably about 80% of series – items from 1911–14 are not listed in RecordSearch)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 6 (it seems that for most of these the whole item has not been copied) (as of 29 July 2010)
Item title: Gives the name of the ship and the date of its arrival. Does not include people’s names.
Item title example: EASTERN 20/12/1922 [part 3] [Certificates of Exemption for passengers; includes photographs] [2.5cm]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP115/1, BOX 18

Used certificates: SP11/6

Series number: SP11/6
Series name: Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test (Forms 32 and 21)
Dates: 1902–46
Contents: Documents held in this series are, for the most part, similar to those held in SP115/1. The files contain copies of Form 32 and CEDTs (Form 21) or other identity documents of Chinese arriving into Sydney from overseas.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 1.62

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 100 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: Gives the name of the ship and the date of its arrival. Does not include people’s names.
Item title example: Certificate Exempting From Dictation Test Immigration Act 1901-1925: Chinese passengers per SS Tango Maru Sydney 11/10/26 [Box 2]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP11/6
Link to example item in RecordSearch: SP11/6, NN

Register of applications: SP726/1

NOTE: This series does not contain application forms and certificates like the others listed. It is included here, however, as it provides a full record of the CEDTs issued in Sydney.

Series number: SP726/1
Series name: Register of Applications for Certificate of Exemption Dictation Tests
Dates: 1902–59
Contents: 6 volumes listing details of people who applied for CEDTs in Sydney. Registers list details such as name, certificate and file numbers and dates of travel. The registers have a name index at the front.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.9 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 6 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: Description of register and date range
Item title example: Register of names relating to exemption from Dictation Tests (1902-1910)

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: SP726/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: SP726/1, BOOK 1

Victoria

Applications & certificates: B13

Series number: B13
Series name: General and classified correspondence, annual single number series
Dates: From 1902
Contents: Correspondence files of the Department of Customs & Excise/Department of Trade & Customs, concerning a range of Customs matters including immigration restriction. Because of culling, most files before the 1930s relate to immigration restriction. Files can include applications, supporting correspondence, photographs and certificates.
Location: Melbourne
Shelf metres: 104.08 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 20,120 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 131
Item title: Case files include person’s name, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Ah Lipp – application for Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: B13
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: B13, 1908/4495

Register of applications: B6003

NOTE: This series does not contain application forms and certificates like the others listed. It is included here, however, as it provides a record of the CEDTs issued in Melbourne.

Series number: B6003
Series name: Registers of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test (Departures), Melbourne
Dates: 1904–59
Contents: Three volumes of registers recording details of people departing Melbourne on CEDTs, noting the following details: Vic. no., CEDT Book no., C&E file no., date of issue, name, age, nationality, occupation, address, period of residence in the Commonwealth, departure – date and vessel and port, return – date and vessel and port, examined by, remarks. The registers date 1904–14, 1915–33 and 1934–59.
Location: Melbourne
Shelf metres: 0.72 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 3 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: All 3 items have the same item title
Item title example: Register of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test (Departures), Melbourne

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: B6003
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: B6003, NN

Queensland

Certificates: J2481

Series number: J2481
Series name: Proclamations under The Chinese Immigration Restriction Act 1888 & related correspondence, annual single number series
Dates: 1897–1902
Contents: Proclamations issued during the years 1897–1902 exempting persons named from the provisions of the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act 1888 for a period of two years from the date of departure from Australia. They are in a standard form with photographs and personal details.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 1.8 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 858 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 858
Item title: Includes person’s name, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Foo Lang

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J2481
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J2481, 1899/298

Certificates: J2482

Series number: J2482
Series name: Certificates of Domicile issued under The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and Regulations, annual single number series
Dates: 1902–06
Contents: Certificates of Domicile (Form 21)
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 1.8 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 799 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 798
Item title: Includes person’s name, place of residence and birthplace, so can be searched by name
Item titles example: Ah Tong of Redlynch near Cairns, Qld – birthplace: Canton, China – departed Cairns, Queensland on the Changsha 27 July 1904

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J2482
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J2482, 1903/99

Certificates: J2483

Series number: J2483
Series name: Certificates Exempting from Dictation Test [CEDT] issued under “The Immigration Restriction Acts 1901-1905″ and Regulations (and amending legislation), two number series
Dates: 1908–56
Contents: CEDTs (Form 21) and Form 32s. Each item contains one certificate (and duplicate) and one Form 32.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 30.6 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 14,429 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 203
Item title: Includes person’s name, nationality and birthplace, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test (CEDT) – Name: Margaret Chun Tie [also known as Margaret Choy Larn] – Nationality: Chinese [Australian born] – Birthplace: Croydon

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J2483
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J2483, 18/9

Applications: J3115

Series number: J3115
Series name: Alien Immigration files relating to applications for Certificate of Domicile, Certificates of Exemption from the Chinese Immigration Restriction Act 1888 and Certificates of Exemption from the Dictation Test that includes photographs, birth certificates and other historical documents, imposed single number series
Dates: 1899–1928
Contents: Applications for Certificates of Domicile and some for CEDTs, also applications under earlier colonial legislation, so contents of the files is not consistent.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 2.17 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 161 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 62
Item title: Includes person’s name and where they live, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Certificate of Domicile for Young Chin, a storekeeper from Cairns – includes photographs

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: J3115
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: J3115, 25

Registers: BP343/15

Series number: BP343/15
Series name: Registers of aliens departing from the Port of Townsville who were granted a certificate exempting from dictation test [CEDT]
Dates: 1916–55
Contents: Details of aliens leaving the Commonwealth via the Port of Townsville for a temporary period who were been granted a CEDT. The vast majority of records contain a name, description, nationality, place of birthplace, right handprint, place and date fee paid, warrant number, date of departure and name of ship, date of return and name of ship, and number of CEDT. Most also
contain 2 photographs, showing full face and profile.
Location: Brisbane
Shelf metres: 5.22 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 2566 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 17
Item title: Includes person’s name, place of residence, nationality and birthplace, so can be searched by name.
Item titles example: Name: Willie Mar (of Richmond) – Nationality: Chinese – Birthplace: Canton – Certificate of Exemption from the Dictation Test (CEDT) number: 336A/87

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: BP343/15
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: BP343/15, 13/872

Western Australia

Applications: PP4/2

Series number: PP4/2
Series name: Applications for CEDTs with supporting documents, annual single number series
Dates: c.1915–41
Contents: Applications for CEDTs, accompanied by references, photographs of the applicant, and reports by the police and customs officials regarding the character etc of the applicant. Includes Form 22s.
Location: Perth
Shelf metres: 5.22 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 611 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 3
Item title: Includes the name of the person and their ethnicity (Japanese, Chinese etc), so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Quong Leong SET [Chinese] [Application for certificate of exemption from dictation test]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: PP4/2
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: 1931/94

Applications: PP6/1

NOTE: This series has one of the best series descriptions that I have ever seen in RecordSearch.

Series number: PP6/1
Series name: Correspondence files [subject and client], annual single number series with ‘H’ infix
Dates: 1926–50
Contents: Immigration correspondence files, including those concerning applications for CEDTs. The series also documents other immigration functions such as temporary admissions and naturalisation. Only a small proportion of files in the series concern Chinese, Japanese etc.
Location: Perth
Shelf metres: 36.54 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 6005 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 58
Item title: Includes the name of the applicant and what the file was about, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Yick YOU [Application for Certificate of Exemption of Dictation Test]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: PP6/1
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: PP6/1, 1927/H/325

Certificates: K1145

Series number: K1145
Series name: Certificates of Exemption from Dictation Test, annual certificate number order
Dates: c.1901–45
Contents: Contains CEDTs (Form 21) arranged in certificate number order commencing at one (1) each year.
Location: Perth
Shelf metres: 6.84 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 4787 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 24
Item title: Includes person’s name and ethnicity, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: Ah Kett [Chinese]

Link to series description in RecordSearch:
NAA: K1145
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: K1145, 1918/137

Northern Territory

Applications and certificates: E752

Series number: E752
Series name: Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test
Dates: 1905–41 (most date from 1915 and after)
Contents: Applications for CEDTs (and one Certificate of Domicile), CEDTs and correspondence. The series includes Form 21s (CEDTs) and Form 32s, which were completed on return to Australia.
Location: Darwin
Shelf metres: 4.5 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 720 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 715
Item title: Includes the name of the applicant, so can be searched by name.
Item title example: [Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test - Fong Yan]

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: E752
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: E752, 1917/11

South Australia

Register of applications: D2860

Series number: D2860
Series name: Immigration Restriction Act exemption certificate register
Dates: 1902–57
Contents: A register and alphabetical index of CEDTs and related matters. Includes a chronological record of departures from various Australian ports of holders of CEDTs showing date of issue, certificate number, person to whom issued (full name), date of departure, ship (and port if other than Adelaide), certifying officer, correspondence reference number, and number of previous certificate (if any). There are corresponding details for the certificate holder’s return to Australia as follows: date, ship, certifying officer, remarks. The volume is divided into other sections including birth certificates, applications for CEDTs refused, lapsed applications for CEDTs and CEDTs issued in other states to applicants departing from Port Adelaide.
Location: Sydney (a copy is held in Adelaide)
Shelf metres: 0.81 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: 1 item only
Item title example: Immigration Restriction Act exemption certificate register

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: D2860
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: D2860, WHOLE SERIES

Book butts: D5036

Series number: D5036
Series name: Certificates exempting from dictation test (CEDT) book butts (forms 21)
Dates: 1902–59
Contents: 2 volumes. Comprises book butts of CEDTs (Form 21). The butts include provision for certificate number, name (sometimes showing address, when and where born, occupation and other details), nationality, date of issue to Sub-Collector (of Customs), date of issue to holder and payment of fee. In some cases where certificates have not been issued, the record is cancelled and 2 copies of the certificate remain attached to the butt.
Location: Sydney
Shelf metres: 0.9 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 1 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: 1 item only
Item title example: Certificates exempting from dictation test (CEDT) book butts (form 21)

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: D5036
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: D5036, WHOLE SERIES

Applications: D596

Series number: D596
Series title: Correspondence files, annual single number series
Dates: c.1902–1930s
Contents: Correspondence files of the Collector of Customs, including a small number (less than 100) concerning applications for CEDTs.
Location:: Adelaide
Shelf metres: 53.91 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 11,390 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 63
Item title: Relevant file titles include the person’s name, so can be searched by name; they also generally include the words ‘exemption’ or ‘certificate’
Item title example: Abdul KHALICK – Certificate of Exemption from Dictation Test

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: D596
Link to example item in RecordSearch: D596, 1919/4386

Tasmania

NOTE: The 2 series listed here appear to hold the only remaining Customs records in Hobart relating to the issuing of CEDTs. The Department of External Affairs series A1 held in Canberra contains material relating to Tasmanian Chinese, and it is possible that Melbourne records do too.

Book butts: P526

NOTE: From the series description in RecordSearch, it would seem that this series contains book butts of CEDTs (Form 21) issued in Hobart. There appears to be no remaining copies of the certificates themselves. I’m happy to be corrected on this if someone knows better.

Series number: P526
Series name: Immigration permit butts (form 21) issued to foreign nationals at Launceston and Burnie outports
Dates: 1908–18
Contents: Volumes containing butts of immigration permits issued to foreign nationals wanting to enter Launceston and Burnie outports. The butts include information on the person name, nationality and date of issue. They were issued in Hobart.
Location: Hobart
Shelf metres: 0.06 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 2 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 0
Item title: The 2 items have the same title
Item title example: Australian Customs Service, Tasmania – butts of immigration permit certificates issued

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: P526
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: P526, CUST47

Applications: P437

Series number: P437
Series name: Correspondence Files, Annual Single Number Series
Dates: From 1909
Contents: Correspondence files of the Collector of Customs, including files on immigration matters such as applications for CEDTs. Most items in the series do not relate to CEDT applications, however.
Location: Hobart
Shelf metres: 94.68 m

Number of items listed in RecordSearch: 4959 (100% of series)
Number of items digitised in RecordSearch: 1
Item title: Relevant items have person’s name in the title, so can be searched by name. It appears item titles are taken directly from the files’ original titles as they are not consistent.
Item title example: Gi Hung – Statutory Declaration re Immigration Restriction Acts. – visit China 36 months.

Link to series description in RecordSearch: NAA: P437
Link to example item in RecordSearch: NAA: P437, 1911/291

Hacking a research project

Amongst the holdings of the National Archives of Australia are some of the most visually arresting documents you’ll see — thousands and thousands of forms from the early decades of the twentieth century, each with a portrait photograph and palm print, each documenting the movements of a non-white resident. Along with many other certificates, regulations, correspondence and case files, these forms are part of the massive bureaucratic legacy of the White Australia Policy.

These certificates allowed non-white Australians travelling overseas to re-enter the country. NAA: ST84/1, 1906/21-30

But these are more than just interesting looking pieces of paper, they are snapshots of people’s lives. The forms capture data about an individual’s place of birth, physical characteristics and more. Over time a person might have submitted several of these forms, so by bringing them together we could trace their history, we could map their journeys — we could even watch them age.

The system which sought to render non-whites invisible has captured and preserved the outlines of their lives. By extracting and linking this data we could build a picture of another Australia, an Australia in which non-white residents lived, loved, struggled and succeeded, despite the impositions of a repressive regime.

I talked about these records at the AAHC conference last year, inspired in part by Tim Hitchcock’s chapter in the Virtual Representation of the Past. Tim Hitchcock argues that technology can allow us to restructure archives, looking beyond institutional hierarchies to the lives of individuals contained within:

What changes when we examine the world through the collected fragments of knowledge that we can recover about a single person, reorganised as a biographical narrative, rather than as part of an archival system?

I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.

During my AAHC talk, Dave Lester suggested that the extraction of data from these forms might make a good crowdsourcing project. It’s a great idea. As you can see, the data is generally well-structured and legible, it should be possible to construct a simple series of forms that would allow volunteers to transcribe the data. The next stage would be to try and match identities across forms. That’s more complicated, but projects such as Tim Hitchcock’s London Lives show how users can construct identities by connecting a range of historical documents.

Then there are connections to resources outside of the archives — photographs, local histories, newspapers, genealogies, cemetery registers and more. By keeping our system open and extensible, and by working with others to help them expose their information in standard ways, it should be possible to develop the framework for an evolving mesh of biographical data.

So, how do we get started? This is the point when you usually have to start thinking about money — how can I fund this? In Australia that generally means a journey into the arcane world of the Australian Research Council. The ARC suffers from all the problems of a peer-reviewed system, but added to this is a rather antiquated notion of what research is.

In the rules covering each of the main schemes it’s clearly stated that the ‘compilation of data’ and the ‘development of research aids or tools’ are not supported. I spend part of my life working for the Australian National Data Service, an organisation that seeks to highlight how the sharing and reuse of data can open up new research possibilities. The ARC, however, seems to think that data has little value beyond its original research context.

Of course you can still mount a case for such activities. Applicants for a ‘Discovery’ grant can argue that data creation is integral to their project and provide details of the ‘specific research questions to be addressed’. But what if you don’t yet know what the questions are? Part of the point of a project such as this is to try and find out what questions we are able to ask. Until we start to compile, link and explore the data, the ‘specific research questions’ will be little more than convenient fictions, dreamt up to satisfy the prodding of peer reviewers.

Tom Scheinfeldt wrote a fantastic blog post recently, responding to concerns about the failure of many digital humanities projects to make arguments or answer questions. Drawing examples from the history of science, Tom argues:

we need to make room for both kinds of digital humanities, the kind that seeks to make arguments and answer questions now and the kind that builds tools and resources with questions in mind, but only in the back of its mind and only for later. We need time to experiment and even… time to play.

The ARC does not fund play.

You might imagine that the ARC’s infrastructure funding scheme would offer more hope for a project such as this. And yes, there are many worthy projects involving databases and online tools that have been supported in this way (and I have benefited from some of them!). But it seems that in the minds of research funders infrastructure is always BIG. Grants start at $150,000, and applications are expected to involve multiple institutional partners. Projects have to be scaled up to fit the ARC’s definition of infrastructure, often resulting in complex, lumbering, long-term projects whose products are out of date by the time of their release.

There is no room in our current infrastructure models for agile, innovative, user-focused digital toolmakers seeking small amounts to experiment with apps, prototypes, datasets or visualisations. I often look with envy upon the US National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants.

In any case, neither I nor my partner in this endeavour, Kate Bagnall (@baibi), are currently in academic positions, so our chances of gaining any sort of research funding are next to none. We have the expertise — Kate has spent many years researching Australian-Chinese families and knows the records back-to-front, while I just can’t help playing with biographical data — but is that enough? How can you mount an ongoing research project without institutional support, research funding and the various badges and signifiers of academic authority?

I don’t know that either, but I have some ideas.

Ah Yin Pak Chong

Mrs Ah Yin Pak Chong. NAA: ST84/1, 1907/321-330

I didn’t manage to get a contribution together for Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt’s crowdsourced-in-a-week book, Hacking the Academy, but watching the process from afar I did begin to wonder about how we might hack the way we build and run major research projects. This is what I have in mind:

  • To strip down the large, lumbering beasts and design projects that are modular and opportunistic — able to grow quickly when resources allow, to bolt on related projects, to absorb existing tools.
  • To follow the data freely across technological and institutional boundaries, developing open networks that invite participation and use.
  • To develop a floating pool of collaborators, both inside and outside of academia, who are able to come and go, contributing whatever and whenever they can.
  • To make everything public, accessible and standards-compliant, so that even if the project stalls it could be picked up and developed by someone else.

Most of all I just want to be able to do it. I don’t want to second-guess the ARC. I don’t want to spend months negotiating with potential partners or begging for an institutional home. I want to build, experiment and play. I want to make a start.

So that’s what we’re going to do.

We have a topic, plenty of raw materials, some basic principles and the beginnings of a plan. We even have a name — Invisible Australians: Living under the White Australia Policy.

As the project develops, I’ll be blogging here about some of the technical stuff, while Kate will be exploring the content over at the tiger’s mouth. I hope to have a prototype of the transcription tool ready to demo at THATCamp Canberra, while Kate is already at work putting together guides on using the records and developing an Omeka site that follows a number of Chinese-Australian families through the archives.

Can we hack together a major research project? Let’s find out.