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Research Guides


More People Imperative: Immigration to Australia, 1901–39


11. Public Attitudes to Immigration

Immigration in the period from 1901 to 1939 was rarely a subject which made headline news or one which could make or break governments. The consensus on the desirability of a 'white Australia' was broad and this goal, over time, was being achieved. Hostility which appeared from time to time towards various European groups often depended on their degree of 'whiteness' and their proportion of the immigrant intake as a whole. It also occurred most frequently in localities where particular ethnic groups congregated, as is natural, such as in North Queensland where many Italians and Maltese settled. In these areas, non-British Australians were especially 'visible' and longer-established settlers perceived these newer European communities as a threat to the 'Australian way of life' or to labour market opportunities and working conditions.

Opposition to immigration in general was most apparent during periods of economic recession. Yet societal views were often conflicting. In the 1930s for example, when economic depression coincided with a falling birth rate, some sections of the population were violently opposed to immigration, seeing it as contributing to unemployment, while others regarded it as a means of boosting population growth, important for reasons of national security and strength.

All the records described in this Guide display some indication of attitudes to immigration, if only those of government immigration officials and parliamentarians. Many, however, yield a wide cross section of opinion from people who were interested in the field, had something to contribute, or (more frequently) something about which to complain. Letters are seldom written to governments when things are going well; more often they point to the reverse. The contemporary press is always a fruitful, if not always objective, source to help gauge the public response to official policy. Archival collections in other repositories such as the Australian Workers' Union (AWU), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Chambers of Commerce records, and Colonial Sugar Refinery Company records, all held at the Noel Butlin Archives Centre at the Australian National University, as well as collections such as the Returned Soldiers' and Sailors' Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA), later the Returned Servicemen's League (RSL) held in the National Library, Canberra, are useful sources on attitudes to immigration in this period. It must be remembered, however, that what is left to us represents only the articulated views of the time, thus it is difficult to draw any definitive conclusions. Public opinion is not easy to gauge, even today.

Examples of Series and Items

Series descriptions throughout the Guide appear in upper case and in bold type. Note that descriptions of items within particular series are a selection only of what is held in the National Archives. All record descriptions are organised by series; items within series are listed in chronological order of the starting date they cover.

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES FIRST SYSTEM, 1915–23
Canberra
This series consists of correspondence files covering a wide range of subjects which were submitted to the Prime Minister.
Series: A457
Quantity: 18.27 metres
Recorded by: 1915–23: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement. Building Industry. Builders – Exclusion of' [3 pages, 1921]
This contains a resolution carried at a meeting of the Building Trades Federation of Victoria in March 1921 urging 'that the Federal and State Governments should exclude from the Immigration Scheme all persons engaged in the building industry until such time as the returned soldiers who are being vocationally trained shall be finalised and absorbed in the industry'. The reply from Superintendent H S Gullett stated that the Commonwealth government under its arrangements with the States on the question of assisted immigration did not contemplate the introduction of any workers whose presence would be detrimental to the interests of returned soldiers or any other Australian workers.
A457, 400/68
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement. Complaints re Transportation' [90 pages, 1921–25]
This file contains correspondence, press cuttings and Hansard extracts relating to complaints from immigrants regarding accommodation, food and care on various ships. The Statutory Rules and Orders for Merchant Shipping (Emigrant Ships) are included.
A457, N400/1
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement. Arrangements on behalf of Immigrants. Protest Against Excessive Charges at Immigration Home' [8 pages, 1922]
This relates to a petition from immigrants about charges for their maintenance at the Immigration Home in Western Australia. The men, all married with families, had expected employment on arrival; the Commonwealth replied that reception and settlement were the jurisdiction of the State government.
A457, M400/1
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement. Not elsewhere included. Criticism by Capt. D E Hope' [11 pages, 1922]
This contains a complaint by Captain Douglas E Hope in January 1922 about the treatment of ex-Imperial soldiers in the matters of payment of pension and settlement in Australia. Correspondence relates to the action taken. Replies to Hope emphasised the care exercised in the selection of immigrants and refuted his allegation that opportunities in Australia for ex-servicemen were misrepresented in England.
A457, G400/8/25
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement. Nominated and Assisted Passages. Restrictions of Non-British Immigrants. General Papers' [35 pages, 1922]
This contains letters and resolutions from 1922 which were forwarded to the Prime Minister's Department, from the Brisbane sub-branch of the RSSILA, relating to the 'influx of non-British immigrants'. Complaints were made particularly against Italians in the sugar growing areas in North Queensland and allegations that they were receiving concessions not available to the British. It was suggested that the numbers of non-British immigrants be limited and that only after five years' residence and naturalisation should they be permitted to own land. Further protests against Italians, Greeks and other 'aliens' were made by the Chambers of Commerce and Progress Associations on the Atherton Tableland and the Council of Eacham District Local Bodies, Yungaburra, Queensland. Correspondence deals with subsequent investigations and replies. A letter from the Northern Tasmanian division of the New Settlers' League alleged that no immigration scheme would be successful until the industrial laws in relation to rural labour were revised. A letter of support for British immigration from the RSSILA (Melbourne branch) is also included.
A457, Q400/2
Image 38: Extract from <em>The Argus</em>, 6 January 1906.

Image 38: Extract from The Argus, 6 January 1906.
NAA: A1, 1906/785
Enlarge image - View image gallery

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1923–34
Canberra
This series precedes series A461 (described earlier in this chapter) and contains general correspondence files covering the range of subjects that came to the Prime Minister's attention in this period.
Series: A458
Quantity: 49.77 metres
Recorded by: 1923–34: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Restrictions. Later Papers in Action' [2 cm, 1920–27]
This contains correspondence relating to the Commonwealth of Australia Immigration Act 1901–20. There are representations from the RSSILA in 1921 to prohibit absolutely the entry of Asians into Australia and in 1923 to request that foreigners entering the country be scrutinised with regard to the language and character tests. Other groups protesting against foreign, particularly Southern European, immigration in 1924–25 included the Protestant Federation (Auburn branch), the Australian Builders Labourers' Federation, the Port Pirie Combined Unions' Council, various branches of the Australian Natives' Association, the Twofold Bay Development League, the New Settlers' League of Australia, Victorian Division, the Sailors' and Soldiers' Fathers' Association, Toowoomba, the Australian Workers' Union, the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia, the Trades Hall Council, Melbourne, various branches of the Australian Labor Party, The Royal Society of St George, and a number of individuals. Replies from the Prime Minister's Department, with information on immigration legislation, are included. Correspondence also relates to other aspects of immigration restriction and to the application of the Dictation Test. There are press cuttings on European migration 1924–25, a copy of the War Precautions Act Repeal Act 1920, Hansard extracts, and reports of an attack on a group of Yugoslavs at Railway Town, Broken Hill, on 15 December 1924 and of destitute Albanians in Sydney in January 1925 from the SS Cephee. A report of a deputation from the Victorian Trades Hall Council, which waited on the Minister for Home and Territories on 22 January 1925, protesting against 'indiscriminate immigration' is also included.
A458, P156/1 part 2
Prime Minister's Department, 'Policies. Criticisms. Statements For and Against' [114 pages, 1922–26]
This file contains criticisms of various aspects of immigration from 1922 to 1926 in letters, cablegrams, press cuttings and questions in the House of Representatives. Protesting organisations include the Federated Moulders' Union of New South Wales, the Australian Workers' Union, and the Women's Organising Committee of the Australian Labor Party. Issues included the continued flow of immigrants in times of unemployment, the quality of immigrants being selected by Australia House, the treatment and reception of juvenile immigrants, and shipping difficulties. Press reports focussed on the behaviour of migrants on ships with headlines such as 'Is the Right Class Coming?' (The Age, 22 August 1923), 'The Worst Yet! – Latest Immigrants Described as Crime Recruits', (Sun Pictorial Newspaper, 3 September 1923) and 'Muddled Emigration' (Herald, 24 September 1923). Many criticisms resulted in government investigations. An article by Sir John Ross from The Empire Review, London, April 1926, on 'Our Most Vital Problem' is also included.
A458, F154/17 part 1
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement. Policy. Resolutions' [118 pages, 1922–30]
This file contains resolutions relating to immigration carried by a variety of community organisations between 1922 and 1930. The New Settlers' League and the National Federation favoured a broad and comprehensive policy of land development and settlement in connection with immigration. The Synod, Diocese of Gippsland and of Brisbane, supported immigration, the latter suggesting concerted action to bring 'church people' to Australia. The Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia resolved that restrictions on skilled labour be removed. There were several resolutions from the RSSILA during 1923, including the better selection and medical examination of migrants and the appointment of returned soldier doctors to the Migration Office, London; the appointment of returned soldiers to all migrant ships in order to give instruction in farming; an end to unrestricted immigration; a reciprocal arrangement with the British Government whereby certain areas of land suitable for fruit culture be granted to British ex-servicemen conditional on the Imperial government granting a preferential tariff on Australian grown fruit. While in favour of judicious immigration, the RSSILA deprecated the bringing of ex-soldiers when no employment existed and urged that foreigners be scrutinised, especially Italians in the Northern cane fields. It also advised greater financial consideration by the Federal government to the States, continued preference to the British, and development of the Northern Territory. The Church Army urged the reduction of fares for farm trainees and domestics in 1923. The Royal Society of St. George in 1924 recommended increased British immigration and fewer non-British. The Sydney, Melbourne, Townsville and Cairns Chambers of Commerce urged that British immigrants be welcomed and given preliminary training in Australia, while the Innisfail Chamber in 1924 recommended the restriction of foreigners. The Australian Natives' Association, Hobart, also recommended stricter control over the immigration of 'undesirable Southern Europeans'. The Graziers' Association of New South Wales opposed 'the overlapping between the various [auxiliary] organisations' in immigration work. The Women's Christian Temperance Union, Perth, objected in 1925 to immigrants being brought to Australia without adequate provision and asked that women be appointed to travel with and receive female migrants. The National Council of Women of Queensland urged that temporary accommodation be available to migrant families on arrival and that women doctors be on the roster to examine female migrants if particularly requested. Government replies to each organisation are included in the file.
A458, H154/7
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement', N.E.I. Miscellaneous' [35 pages, 1922–31]
This contains a letter of October 1922, forwarded to the Prime Minister's Office by the Hon. Littleton E Groom, MHR, referring to the setting up of the New Settlers' League, Queensland branch, which emphasised that the closer settlement of Northern Australia was 'essential for the maintenance of a white Australia and for national safety'. Responses stressed that it was up to Queensland to requisition settlers. A letter of July 1924 relates to questions in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in regard to 'undesirable immigrants' and the subsequent investigations. Another letter from the Women's non-Party Association in 1926 urged that, in the drawing up of any migration schemes which involved women, well-qualified women, both salaried and voluntary, should hold positions of responsibility, and that equal representation be allotted to women and men on the governing and subsidiary bodies associated with the question. The replies are included.
A458, J154/19
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement. RSSILA' [14 pages, 1924]
This file contains the views of the British Empire Service League (an ex-service organisation) in 1924 and 1925, viz. that there had been a slow development of migration throughout the Empire and similarly, a slow development of resources and that migration would not be successful unless employment was available. Correspondence and resolutions of the League were forwarded to the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA) which was a member of the British Empire Service League, and through that body to the Prime Minister. The reply to the RSSILA outlined the Empire Settlement Scheme and its provisions for assisted migration and asked for the co-operation of the Leagues in that work.
A458, P154/17
Prime Minister's Department, 'Resolutions: Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, 9th Annual congress, Adelaide. Reso 69, Employment of Disabled Ex-Soldiers. Reso 72, Secondary Industries, Reso 74, Fulfilment of promises, Reso 87, Ex-soldiers and Immigration' [21 pages, 1924–25]
This contains a number of resolutions carried by the RSSILA at its 9th Annual Congress. The following are relevant to immigration: No. 87, 'that such AIF men who took their discharge in Great Britain and have not since returned to Australia be eligible under the assisted immigrants scheme'; No. 89, 'in view of the very large number of undesirable 'alien' immigrants who are arriving in Australia, the Federal government be asked to take such measures as will at least regulate this most serious position, a position that is and will be detrimental to the best interests of Australia'; No. 91, 'that this Congress again draws the attention of the Commonwealth government to the lack of proper medical examination of the immigrants now arriving in Australia, and asks that the suggestions made previously by the League's Executive be given effect to'. Replies are included.
A458, 745/1/111
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement. Arrangements on Behalf of Immigrants. Welfare Officers' [18 pages,1924–29]
This contains a letter from R J Lynn of Perth in 1924, praising the work of A H Hayes, a welfare officer appointed by the Federal Government to bring Dreadnought boys to Australia. In contrast, another letter from Senator Ogden refers to a complaint by P T Morrisby, accompanied by a press cutting, about a series of shipboard lectures by Thos. Sedgwick which Morrisby alleged demonstrated a lack of knowledge of Tasmania. This became the subject of an inquiry by the Development and Migration Commission as a result of representations made by the Director of Labour and State Immigration, Hobart. Sedgwick's own response is included.
A458, M154/1
Prime Minister's Department, 'Resolutions. Australian Natives' Association, Hobart 1925. Immigration. Internal Loans' [15 pages, 1925]
This contains a letter to the Prime Minister calling his attention to a resolution passed in April 1925 by the Australian Natives' Association, Hobart, requesting an alteration in the immigration laws to provide for a quota on all nationalities other than British, the numbers not to exceed the average annual influx for the ten years prior to 1921. [This included the World War I years when there was almost no immigration.] The reply outlined the reasons why the Australian government had not adopted a quota system similar to that of the United States and the alternative steps taken to control 'alien' immigration. A copy of a further resolution concerning internal loans is also included in the file, with the reply.
A458, A745/1/152
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Restrictions. Australian policy. General File' [2 cm, 1925–28]
This file highlights public attitudes towards non-British European 'aliens' and the restrictions placed upon them in the mid to late 1920s. Correspondence refers to a report in The Age, Melbourne, of a statement by the Prime Minister in 1928 of a quota on Yugoslav and Czech immigrants to Australia. Letters from 1925 relate to Yugoslavs and their restricted immigration opportunities. Letters of protest against Southern European immigrants in 1925–27 came from the Sailors' and Soldiers' Fathers' Association (Hobart and Toowoomba branches, the former referring to 'mixed races'), the Australian Labor Party (Oatley and Perth Branches), the Australian Workers' Union, (Queensland and Perth branches), the Townsville Chamber of Commerce, the United Labourers' Protective Society of New South Wales, the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, Lismore, the citizens of Mildura, the Loyal Orange Lodge, Central Cumberland District, New South Wales, the Queensland Producers' Association, the Australian Natives' Association (various branches), the Bundaberg District Council, a committee representing a number of public bodies in Adelaide, various Senators and members of parliament, a representative of the Combined Sugar Conference, Mackay, the Royal Society of St George, Broken Hill unionists, and a number of Sydney residents in 1925–27. The Australian Natives' Association General Manager related comments between Dr Cumpson, Federal Director of Health, and Dr Home of the Health Commission, which drew a clear distinction between Southern Europeans and 'whites'. The replies to these protests, departmental policy statements, press cuttings, Hansard extracts, and notes of deputations are included. Other letters include complaints of penniless Britons, requests from the Hellenic Association of Brisbane for input into an alleged investigation of the condition of Greeks and other foreigners in Queensland following the Ferry Report of 1925 [see Appendix 2, Chronology], various protests from the Australian Boot Trade Employees' Federation and the Trades and Labour Council of Bundaberg against the passing of the deportation clauses of the Immigration Act 1925 and some requests for information.
A458, P156/1 part 1
Prime Minister's Department, 'Resolutions. Central Queensland District Council of Agriculture. (Migration)' [2 pages, 1926]
This contains a copy of a resolution forwarded to the Prime Minister for his information, protesting against the 'dumping of a rural migrant populace as producers into Queensland'.
A458, Q745/1/201
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration. Questions re Migration' [20 pages, 1926–29]
This contains copies of questions raised in the House of Representatives and the Senate concerning immigration between 1926 and 1929 and the responses.
A458, R154/17
Prime Minister's Department, 'Resolutions: Labour [sic] Women of Western Australia: Maternity Bonus. Child Endowment. Immigration. Commonwealth Shipping Line. Invalid Pensions' [13 pages, 1927–28]
This includes a letter from the Perth Labor Women to Senator Needham, November 1927, concerning motions passed at the Labor Women's Conference. Two of these were related to immigration matters: one asked that strict supervision be exercised over 'alien' immigrants to prevent them immediately sending their landing money back home; the other protested against the influx of foreigners into Australia and the attitude they adopted towards the protest of the Western Australian State Executive of the ALP.
A458, 745/1/297
Prime Minister's Department, 'Resolutions. RSSILA. 12th Annual Congress. Resolution 101. Immigration – British and Nordic Stock' [2 pages, 1927]
This contains a letter to the Prime Minister from the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, 1927, containing a resolution for his consideration, affirming the principle of increasing the Australian population by encouraging the immigration of people of British stock and Nordic descent to Australia.
A458, JR745/1/296
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement. Effect of Industrial Conditions upon Migration' [7 pages, 1928
Owing to reports of unemployment in Australia during 1928, the Prime Minister was asked to make a statement on industrial conditions for the Commonwealth Migration and Settlement Office in London. A two-page cablegram in explanation is included.
A458, T154/19
Prime Minister's Department, 'Resolutions. Protestant party of SA Immigration – Exclusion of Aliens' [2 pages, 1928]
This contains a letter to the Prime Minister from R A Cilento, Chief Organiser and Executive Officer of the Protestant Party of South Australia, with the following resolution carried at a meeting of the Protestant Party of South Australia in July 1928: 'that in order to ensure a loyal white Australia we ask that in future all disloyalists and those who owe allegiance to an Alien Power, be excluded, and that all possible inducement and preference be given to loyal Scots and Britons, to people this, our wonderful land of hope and glory – Australia'.
A458, 745/1/351
Prime Minister's Department, 'Resolutions. Tanners' and Leatherdressers' Union. Immigration; Unemployment Dole' [2 pages, 1928]
This contains a resolution passed by the Federated Tanners' and Leather Dressers' Union in 1928 asking for an end to British and 'Alien' immigration when there is no work. The introduction of an unemployment dole was also advocated.
A458, 745/1/336
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration. Discouragement of Migration by Labour Officials, AWU & Labor Council' [5 pages 1929]
This contains communications between the Development and Migration Commission, Melbourne, and the Prime Minister's Department regarding press reports on proposals by the AWU and the Labor Council in 1929 to send delegates to Great Britain to discourage migration.
A458, AG154/19
Correspondence Files, Annual Single Numbers Series, 1903-38
Canberra
This series was the main correspondence file system of the agencies shown above. The subject matter includes administrative and personal matters as well as the following functions administered by the agencies from time to time: immigration and emigration, 'aliens' registration, naturalisation, passports (except 1916–18), influx of criminals, indentured coloured labour, people of races for whom special laws were thought necessary, external affairs (1903–16), Pacific islands (1903–16) as well as other matters not relevant to this Guide.
Series: A1
Quantity: 184.92 metres
Recorded by: 1903–16: Department of External Affairs, Melbourne (CA 7); 1916–28: Department of Home and Territories (CA 15); 1928–32: Department of Home and Territories (CA 24); 1932–38: Department of the Interior (CA 27)
Home and Territories Department, 'Victorian Protestant Federation. Deputation re Restriction on Alien Immigration, 1925' [22 pages, 1925]
The notes on the deputation from the Victorian Protestant Federation included in this file convey attitudes to Europeans and opinions of the Federation about the composition of the future population of Australia. (See also Chapter 5)
A1, 1925/15492
Home and Territories Department, 'Western Australia. Statement by Premier' [2 pages, 1926]
This contains a newspaper article from The Age in 1926 and a comment on the attitudes of Labor members of Parliament to migration.
A1, 1926/20517
Department of the Interior, File of papers, 'Interviewing of Public re Immigration Matters' [18 pages, 1938]
Owing to the large increase in 'white alien' immigration in the late 1930s, the Department of the Interior appointed a senior officer specifically to deal with applications and personal inquiries. The file contains interdepartmental correspondence on the appointment.
A1, 1938/32939
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CLASS 2 (RESTRICTED IMMIGRATION), 1939–50
Canberra
These files relate to restricted immigration to Australia. Files may contain reports, correspondence, articles, cables, news cuttings, passports, proposed amendments to the Immigration Act, departmental despatches, authorities for admission under exemption (form 32) and deportation orders (form 43B). Restricted immigration covers things such as admission of Asians, coloured persons, business visits, deserters, deportees and undesirables. Files from these series may be top-numbered into series A446, as well as into the subsequent series, A445 and A2998.
Series: A433
Quantity: 8 metres
Recorded by: 1939: Department of the Interior, Central Administration (CA 27); 1939–45: Department of the Interior, Central Office (CA 31)
Department of the Interior, 'European Refugees. Views of Public re Admittance of' [123 pages, 1938–39]
This file contains letters indicating a variety of attitudes to refugees and to Jews in the late 1930s in Australia. Support for refugees came from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (Australian Section), the Australian League for Peace and Democracy, Sydney, the Mosman Peace Council, the International Peace Campaign (Townsville Branch and Adelaide Branch, Victorian Executive), the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), the Theosophists Peace Group, the Hamilton Branch of the Communist Party, the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Labor Party, a group of 66 citizens of Melbourne who signed a petition, the Queensland Branch of the National Missionary Council, and a meeting of citizens held at the Dacomb College, Presgrave Buildings, Melbourne. The Punchbowl Branch and Broken Hill Section of the Communist Party accused the government of discrimination against working class Jews and anti-fascists, arguing that the restrictions favoured those with professions, qualifications and capital. Opposition to refugee immigration came from the Business Brokers' Association of New South Wales and three manufacturers of artificial flowers who feared competition in their businesses. Opinions were often qualified: one writer denigrated the foreign Jew but allowed the British; several, while claiming to be sympathetic, suggested settlement in overseas or remote areas, such as Australia's mandated territory of New Guinea, the Malay Peninsula or British Borneo, or Australia's sparsely populated north-west. Another suggestion was that all foreigners in Australia be given a licence permitting them to work only at the place and occupation mentioned in the licence in order to avoid displacing Australians. The Congregational Union of Victoria recommended a strict quota and control on arrival, with provisions that all 'aliens' learn English and become naturalised. (See also Chapter 9 on Refugees.)
A433, 1943/2/4588
Department of the Interior, File of Papers, 'White Alien Immigration (Murrumbidgee Area) Investigation No. 2 by Department Officers' [93 pages, 1937–46]
This file focuses on Italians in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (MIA) and contains notes on individuals and their suitability as nominators of friends and relatives from Investigation No. 2 into 'White Alien' Immigration in the Murrumbidgee area, carried out by officers of the Department of the Interior in November 1937, together with the report and recommendations. There are press cuttings, extracts from Hansard, information about the land titles in the MIA, lists of Italian settlers, and expressions of concern about increased Southern European immigration from the Returned Soldiers' League.
A433, 1945/2/3758
Department of the Interior, 'ANA Annual Conference, Sydney. Resolutions Concerning Immigration' [13 pages, 1939–44]
This concerns a resolution adopted at the 1938 Annual Conference of the Australian Natives' Association (ANA), New South Wales, urging the Federal government to ensure that only the best type of migrant be encouraged to Australia, and that more stringent supervision be exercised, particularly with regard to the unemployment situation. A deputation was also requested. The remainder of the file deals with correspondence from the ANA in 1944.
A433, 1944/2/1566
Department of the Interior, File of Papers, 'Backyard Industries and Sweating amongst Refugees' [66 pages, 1939–40]
This file reveals attitudes to certain classes and nationalities of refugees. It contains a letter from H E Jones, Director, Investigation Branch, Attorney-General's Department, May 1939, referring to a report inspired by statements by Sir Frank Clarke against certain classes of refugee migrants. It discusses the alleged undercutting of wages and prices by Polish, Russian, Lithuanian and Roumanian Jews in Carlton, especially those engaged in the clothing trade. The letter concludes that this led to anti-Semitic attitudes within Melbourne business circles. A distinction was made between Eastern European Jews who, he claimed, had a poor physique as a result of slave-like working conditions, and the German and Austrian Jews who were taller, had a higher standard of living, Western European business morality and had settled in the better suburbs. The Carlton and St Kilda Jewish communities were characterised as Polish-Jewish enclaves and his concluding remarks suggested that it would take two generations to assimilate them. An article from The Age, 9 May 1939, (headed 'The Menace of the Refugee Sir F Clarke is outspoken. Social Standards threatened, Immediate Inquiry' reporting on a speech about the type of refugees and 'alien' migrants to be seen around Melbourne by Sir Frank Clarke, President of the Legislative Council, to the AWNL) is included. Sir S Argyle made similar derogatory comments about Southern Europeans. Other press extracts on Premier Dunstan's response, foreign doctors and naturalisation are included. The file contains a memorandum to the Director, Commonwealth Investigation Branch, from the Prime Minister, calling for urgent inquiries into the allegations. Hansard, press extracts and internal departmental correspondence relate to subsequent inquires. Attitudes of the Prime Minister, various parliamentarians and outside organisations and individuals can be ascertained. It was alleged that the same money was used for the admission of more than one migrant. There was doubt about the value of doctors' certificates in support of refugee applications and concern that there were no medical examinations, similar to those required for assisted migrants, for 'aliens'. Several of the reports undertaken are included in the file: one on textile weaving; one by Roland S Browne, Inspector, on Sir Frank's allegations, including an interview with Sir Frank; another on the alleged existence of backyard industries and of sweating amongst refugees; and departmental correspondence about them. The conclusion was drawn that while many refugees and others were engaged in irregular practices, refugees as a body were not endeavouring to contravene Australian industrial standards. (See also A461, AA349/3/5, described later in this chapter.)
A433, 1939/2/909
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CLASS 1 (GENERAL, PASSPORTS), 1939–50
Canberra
The description of this series will extend beyond 1939 because of its potential interest to immigration researchers. It contains the general correspondence files of the Department of the Interior [II] until late 1945, and from mid-1945 the miscellaneous and passport files of the then newly-created Department of Immigration. From 1930 to 1945, the series covers a wide range of subjects including assisted migration and naturalisations (until 31 December 1943). Naturalisation applications reached a peak during 1941. With the establishment of the Department of Immigration in July 1945, the series was recorded jointly by Interior and Immigration for the rest of that year. From 1946, the series relates exclusively to Immigration matters as that Department took over several functions previously administered by the Department of the Interior. General subjects included: the internal organisation of the Department; details of organisations such as the International Refugee Organisation, United Nations Organisation and immigration bodies; the administration of the Children's Overseas Reception Board; whereabouts cases, general control of passports and grants of travel facilities to certain areas and miscellaneous subjects.
Series: A659
Quantity: 101.25 metres
Recorded by: 1939: Department of the Interior [I] (CA 27); 1939–45: Department of the Interior [II] (CA 31)
Department of Immigration, 'Report and proposals by Mr T H Garrett. Refugees from Europe – Selection of etc. (1939)' [136 pages, 1939]
This file is dealt with more fully in Chapter 9 on Refugees. However, the report by T H Garrett, Assistant Secretary, Department of the Interior, entitled 'Alien Immigration and Organisation at Australia House', August 1939, and accompanying correspondence between Garrett and J A Carrodus, Secretary, Department of the Interior, Canberra, is relevant here also in relation to attitudes to various racial and religious groups.
A659, 1947/1/2109
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH YEAR PREFIX, 1916–27, AND 'C' PREFIX, 1927–53
Canberra
This series consists of bundles of general correspondence, reports, copies of forms, dossiers, history sheets etc. all of which reflect the activities of the former Commonwealth Investigation Service in respect of inquiries into applications for naturalisation, the admission into Australia of friends and relatives, visitors, substitutes for businessmen (Chinese), claims relating to National Security (War Damage and Property) Regulations. In most cases these investigations conform with the terms of the Nationality Act 1920–36. The series contains policy and precedent, as well as main case files, the majority of which were retained by the agency for future reference.
Series: A367
Quantity: 64.08 metres
Recorded by: 1916–19: Special Intelligence Bureau, (Central Office) Melbourne (CA 746); 1919–46: Investigation Branch, Central Office, Melbourne and Canberra (CA 747)
Attorney-General's Department, Investigation Branch, 'Resolution passed by Queensland Cane Growers' Council urging controlled British and European Migration' [6 pages plus published report, 1937]
This file contains a letter to the Commonwealth Investigation Branch from A R Peters of the Department of the Interior, April 1937, drawing attention to a resolution of the Queensland Cane Growers' Council which recommended a vigorous scheme by the Commonwealth Government to control British and European migration. The Director of the Investigation Branch, H E Jones, requested that the Acting Inspector-in-Charge discreetly ascertain the reasons behind the resolution, whether it had any bearing on employment in the sugar-cane industry, and who made up the Council. The reply indicated that the resolution had emanated from cane growers in the Cairns district, who wanted an increase in 'alien' migration in order to keep down labour costs and increase the population of the state, but believed that strict control was necessary to keep out undesirables.
A367, C3075H
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'H' INFIX, 1926–50
Perth
This series contains general records of functions in connection with migration, covering reports by the Boarding Branch, Customs Department, in respect of all vessels, showing persons coming under notice through the provisions of the Immigration Act; details of the activities of the Social Welfare Branch; applications for naturalisation; applications for Certificates of Exemption from the Dictation Test; applications for admission to Australia as a migrant; nominal rolls of migrants supplied by overseas posts on the departure of vessels; reports on unsuitable migrants and action taken in respect of deportees; general correspondence; reports on immigration centres, Northam and Cunderdin; and applications for permanent residence by persons who have entered the country illegally. From May 1926 to May 1946 all immigration work was carried out by the Customs Department and records were maintained by them. With the establishment of the Immigration Department in Perth in May 1946, all files were transferred from Customs to Immigration. Files prior to 1926 are believed to have been destroyed.
Series: PP6/1
Quantity: 20.16 metres
Recorded by: 1926–45: Collector of Customs, WA, (from 1985) Australian Customs Service, WA (CA 808); 1945–50: Department of Immigration, Western Australian Branch (CA 962)
Department of Immigration, Western Australian Branch, General Correspondence File, 'Furniture workers/Objections to Refugees' [13 pages, 1939]
This contains a press cutting headed 'Furniture Workers, Objection to Refugees' in The West Australian, 5 April 1939. It concerns a protest from the United Furniture Trades Union to the Minister for the Interior alleging that furniture factories were finding work for unskilled refugees despite unemployment in the trade. Correspondence relating to the inquiries being made, copies of particular applications for admission, a memorandum on Absorption of Refugees in the Furniture Industry to the Detriment of Australian Workers, May 1939, are included.
PP6/1, 1939/H/381
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES (POLICY MATTERS), 1922–68
Canberra
This series consists of Immigration policy files relating to the assimilation, welfare and education of migrants. The file subjects include Acts relating to immigration, migrant organisations, transport, sponsorship schemes, housing and accommodation, conferences, child-youth migration, refugees and restricted immigration policy.
Series: A445
Quantity: 22.50 metres
Recorded by: 1951–55: Department of Immigration, Central Office (CA 51)
Department of Immigration, 'Protests re Jewish Immigration' [1 cm, 1938–46]
This contains a number of letters from individuals rather than organisations, protesting against Jewish migration and the grounds on which they were admitted to Australia, together with replies explaining the position.
A445, 235/5/6
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'V' (VICTORIA) PREFIX, 1924–62
Melbourne
The series comprises files relating to the investigation of all criminal offences committed against the Commonwealth, the contravention of Commonwealth Acts or of State Acts committed on Commonwealth property; the pursuit of recalcitrant debtors to the Commonwealth; and inquiry into the whereabouts of persons requested to be traced by government departments, organisations such as the Red Cross, International Tracing Service, Australia House, private persons or by diplomatic or consular representation. Investigations carried out at the request of government departments include areas such as impersonation, ships' deserters, enemy 'aliens' in wartime, prohibited immigrants and naturalisation, among others. In most cases a separate file was raised for each particular case requested to be investigated.
Series: B741
Quantity: 29.88 metres
Recorded by: 1927–46: Investigation Branch, Victoria (CA 907); 1946–60: Commonwealth Investigation Service (CA 916); 1960-62: Commonwealth Police Force (CA 955)
Commonwealth Investigation Branch, 'Jewish Immigration and land Settlement Scheme [Press cuttings relating to the proposed Jewish settlement in the Kimberleys area]' [10 pages, 1928–45]
This file contains a number of press cuttings one from The Age, dated 1928, others from The Jewish Herald, the Australian Jewish NewsThe Ageand the Argus dated 1944 and 1945, on proposals for Jewish settlement in Australia, particularly in the Kimberleys. A variety of public opinion is reflected in the articles.
B741, V/4901
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1934–50
Canberra
This series consists of general correspondence files which cover the wide range of subjects that came to the Prime Minister's attention. Many earlier papers from the previous general correspondence of the Department have been top-numbered into this series. The series also contains constitutional material dating back to 1901.
Series: A461
Quantity: 143.82 mettres
Recorded by: 1934–50: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Prime Minister's Department, 'Refugees. Representations by Sir Frank Clarke' [47 pages, 1939]
The file relates to allegations made by Sir Frank Clarke regarding the type of 'alien' coming to Australia and the conditions governing their admission. (See also A433, 1939/2/909 described earlier in this chapter.) As a result of the allegations, a government inquiry was conducted. The file includes letters, press cuttings, extracts from Hansard and two reports on Clarke's allegations. The first was submitted by the Industrial Registrar, Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, May 1939, requested by the Department on the incidence of 'sweating' and avoidance of awards as a result of refugee immigration. The other was supplied by Roland S Browne, Inspector, Commonwealth Investigation Branch. Notes re Alien Migrants, copies of application forms to enter Australia and to bring in relatives or friends, and a copy of a parliamentary statement by the Minister on the results of the inquiry are included.
A461, AA349/3/5

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