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Research Guides

More People Imperative: Immigration to Australia, 1901–39

8. Vocational Immigration

Image 31: Young immigrants disembarking, 1921.

Image 31: Young immigrants disembarking, 1921.
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Immigrants were very often assisted between 1901 and 1939 in order to satisfy particular labour market needs. While unskilled urban workers were rarely encouraged, farm labourers and domestic servants were greatly sought after and therefore assisted. The majority came from England.

Domestic servants, being mainly women, are covered in Chapter 6 on Female Immigration while farm labourers are treated in Chapter 3 under Immigration Encouragement Policy. State governments in the 1920s frequently requisitioned for immigrants who followed these and other vocations thought to be in particular demand.

More particularly, employers could nominate immigrants with particular skills. In accordance with the Contract Immigrants' Act 1905, skilled workers could be introduced if they did not threaten the jobs of Australian workers, were paid award wages, and were not used as strike-breakers in industrial disputes. (See Appendix 2 – Chronology – under the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and the Contract Immigrants' Act 1905.) Approval had to be sought and granted from the responsible Minister. This was the Minister for External Affairs from 1901 to 1916, the Minister for Home and Territories from 1916 to 1927, the Minister for Home Affairs from 1927 to 1932, and the Minister for the Interior from 1932 to 1945.

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.

This series covers a wide range of subjects dealt with by the Prime Minister. The registry practice is at first haphazard but becomes increasingly formalised. A number of files were converted after 1917 into the first and thereafter into the second Secret and Confidential series of the Prime Minister's Department.
Series: A2
Quantity: 20.32 metres
Recorded by: 1904-11: Prime Minister's Office (CA 588); 1911–20: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration, Woollen Workers for Tasmania' [8 pages, 1920]
This file concerns a request in 1920 from Kelsall and Kemp Ltd., Rochdale, England, to the Director of the Bureau of Commerce and Industry for free passages to Australia for 15–20 skilled operatives for their new woollen mill in Tasmania. The question of assistance to industrial immigrants nominated by manufacturers for employment in their establishments in Australia was therefore raised. Under the Contract Immigrants Act 1905, formal approval was necessary from the Minister for Home and Territories to bring in manual labourers under contract. The matter was referred to the State government to make the necessary requisitions under the new Joint Commonwealth and State Immigration scheme.
A2, 1920/2963
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. Woollen Workers' [6 pages, 1921]
This contains a request by the Directors of Stawell Woollen Mills for free or subsidised passages for the immigration of about twenty woollen workers and their families to Victoria and the replies. The use of the nomination system was suggested and the question of the applicability of the Contract Immigrants' Act was raised.
A457, O400/5
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement Particular Classes. Boot Operators' [1 pages, 1921]
This file consists of a telegram from the High Commissioner asking advice from the Prime Minister about a request from McMurtrie & Co., Sydney, for 150 male and female boot operators, and stating that ex-servicemen could be recruited; women would require loans with a firm guarantee of repayment.
A457, R400/5
Prime Minister's Department, Immigration Encouragement. Cotton Growers' [2 cm, 1922–23]
This contains an interstate proposal for a conference on the cotton industry and proposals for the development of the Capella district in Queensland and the assistance of suitable immigrants. There is also an inquiry from Colonel John Leader, press representative and president of a business corporation in the United Kingdom, on the possibilities of cotton growing in Australia; correspondence on the availability of suitable land in various parts of Australia; a booklet on Gossypium Park Estates Company, a cotton plantation near Cairns; and a folder on a scheme for the settlement in two years of 20 000 cotton farmers on Australian lands with a price guarantee by the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation (not including parts of Australia already covered by a Queensland guarantee). The establishment of a cotton industry on a large scale was a subject for discussion at the Premiers' Conference in January 1922 and subsequent correspondence, press cuttings, circulars, Hansard extracts and a printed report by the Hon. Crawford Vaughan and H C Armstrong, joint Managing Directors of the Australian Cotton Growers' Association, are included.
A457, S400/5 part 1
Prime Minister's Department, ' Immigration Encouragement, Tobacco Growers for Victoria' [2 pages, 1923]
This contains correspondence between the Deputy Director, Commonwealth Immigration Office and the Prime Minister's Department, March 1923, relating to the visit by Mr Temple Smith, a tobacco growing expert, to the United States, to recruit 12 tobacco growers for the Victorian government. A rebate on the fares of the men and their families was requested since the assisted passage scheme at the time did not apply to migrants from the United States except to residents nominated by close relatives in Australia. In those cases a rebate of £11 or one third of the minimum third class fare, whichever was the lower, was granted, the cost being borne by the Commonwealth alone and not shared with the British government as was the case with migrants from the United Kingdom. The recommendation was that the request be granted.
A457, AC400/5
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Department. Particular Classes. Share Farmers for Mr Charles Binnie' [42 pages, 1923]
This contains a letter from Mr Charles Binnie to Percy Hunter, Australia House, in 1923 in relation to his application to the New South Wales Department of Labour and Industry, for indentured share farmers for his dairying and wheat farms near Boggabri. His preference was for Scottish immigrant families and he made an arrangement with Major Cyril Bavin of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) Migration Branch, London, to select the farmers. Hunter was diffident since new settlers were invariably advised against entering into such propositions without first seeing the land and had no guarantee against adverse circumstances. He suggested Binnie approach new immigrants to New South Wales already on the spot. Further correspondence indicates, however, that after further investigation of the scheme, Binnie's nomination for suitable families proceeded.
A457, AI400/5
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 Encouragement. Policies. NEI. Lace-Makers' [13 pages, 1923–24]
This file contains a request from Clyde D Butler, a manufacturer from Nottingham in 1923, to commence a new lace finishing industry in New South Wales and to contract 35 skilled British operatives. The matter came under the jurisdiction of the Minister for Home and Territories who was responsible for the administration of the Contracts' Immigrants Act 1905. Questions of assisted passages for the workers, their rates of pay and conditions were raised in correspondence before approval was granted by the Minister.
A458, I154/16
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Encouragement. Morning Post Migration Agreement' [23 pages, 1926]
This refers to increased applications for assisted passages from miners in 1926, owing to the industrial trouble in the British coal industry. Correspondence relates to pressure on the Migration Department in London to give miners preference over other immigrants when ordinary requisitions favoured agriculturalists. Press cuttings and Hansard extracts refer to a committee formed by The Morning Post to assist 200 miners to emigrate to Australia, a scheme to which the British government contributed. A copy of the Agreement is included. The Salvation Army also requisitioned for 13 families of miners. Other correspondence relates to the expenses of The Morning Post's representative while in Australia.
A458, L154/16
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 metres
Recorded by: 1934–50: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration. Artisans' [1 cm, 1923–47]
This refers to a number of requisitions and nominations for artisans from State governments and firms between 1923 and 1927. It includes a request to the Commonwealth Immigration Office from the South Australian Immigration Department for 200 artisans in 1923 at a time when the declared policy of the Commonwealth government was to develop immigration only in connection with rural industries. The file contains press cuttings on bricklayers from Britain (and Barnardo girls), and correspondence regarding requests in 1923 from Victoria for 800 selected skilled tradesmen for the building industry and 12 plumbers for sewerage work in Bendigo, nominations for 30 furniture manufacturers and a number of bricklayers for South Australia. The conditions under which these artisans emigrated, for example, their marital status, the need for landing money, guarantees of work, etc. are discussed. These requisitions and advertisements in London for boiler-makers by an Australian company in 1926 gave rise to concerns within the State Labour Exchange. Allegations from the Shop Assistants & Warehouse Employees Federation of Australia that shop assistants were being recruited in London in batches of six, brought out as assisted immigrants and employed immediately at Grace Bros. led to enquiries into indented labour in 1927. The shop-assistants, however, were not classed as manual labourers within the meaning of the Contract Immigrants' Act 1905. Approval was requested from the responsible Minister for 10 weavers under contract in 1927, 2 skilled potters in 1930, for surgical and dental instrument makers in 1938, and an industrial nomination for 15 female machinists by David Jones & Co Ltd. [See also British Tube Mills (Australasia) Ltd, A461, P349/1/6].
A461, E349/1/6
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Artisans. Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation' [23 pages, 1938]
In January 1938, the Managing Director of General Motors-Holden Ltd wrote to the Prime Minister on behalf of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, pointing out that the aircraft industry was handicapped owing to the lack of skilled tradesmen. He suggested that the assisted passage scheme, the resumption of which was then under consideration, might be utilised to overcome the shortage and, if the operatives were unavailable in Great Britain, Northern Europe might be tried. The Corporation guaranteed 8–12 months' employment although this was considered insufficient to induce skilled men to emigrate with their families. In view of the importance of the aircraft industry to Australia's defence, assisted passages were granted to selected artisans from the United Kingdom; however, since the men were manual labourers coming to Australia under contract, it was necessary that the terms of engagement were acceptable to the Minister for the Interior in accordance with the Contract Immigrants' Act. The Minister required the Corporation to guarantee employment for at least three years at not less than award rates.
A461, N349/1/6
Prime Minister's Department, 'Immigration Artisans. Davies, Coop & Co. Pty. Ltd' [52 pages, 1938–43]
This contains a request in 1938 from Davies, Coop & Co. Ltd, to import skilled English textile workers from the United Kingdom to set up a tyre and condenser plant for their new mills in Collingwood, Melbourne. As the immigrants would come to Australia under contract to perform manual labour, it was necessary for the employer to comply with the requirements of the Contract Immigrants' Act 1905. The Minister for the Interior approved assisted passages for 30 female operatives provided each was guaranteed employment for three years at not less than award rates. The company argued that they did not displace Australian workers since there was no tyre yarn spun in Australia at the time and the skilled staff were required to train others. A further nomination for four male textile operatives (and their families) followed. The same conditions applied. Copies of the agreements between employer ('the company') and employee ('the servant'), the wage conditions and other letters and cables are included.
A461, O349/1/6
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 Immigration, 'Contract Immigration. Arrival Returns Presented to Parliament' [51 pages, 1936–44]
This contains returns under the Contract Immigrants' Act 1905, showing the number of contract immigrants admitted to the Commonwealth, their nationality and occupation; the numbers of employers engaging such contract immigrants, and the number engaged by each employer; the places at which the immigrants worked; the number of contracts disapproved; the number of contract immigrants refused admission and the reasons for such refusal, between 1936 and 1944. A copy of the Contract Immigrants' Act 1905 is included.
A433, 1944/2/45
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: 10.16 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, 'Admission to Australia from England of refugee household workers'. [5 pages, 1939]
This contains a memorandum from the Department of the Interior, January 1939, to the Collector of Customs on non-Aryan Christian Refugees (Domestics) in England. One hundred selected domestics were sponsored by the Church of England Migration Council in Sydney. In conjunction with the Department of Labour and Industry, the Council guaranteed to place them in employment in New South Wales. Landing money of £5 each was required. Other letters referred to the granting of permits for a further 25 domestics for New South Wales under the auspices of the Salvation Army (April 1939) and 20 for Western Australia under the auspices of the Church of England Provincial Immigration Committee (March 1939). This file also relates to other chapters on women (Chapter 6), refugees (Chapter 9) and non-government organisations (Chapter 10).
PP6/1, 1939/H/98