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Research Guides


Collections in Perth: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records


15. Immigration

Most Commonwealth Department of Immigration policy records are held in either the Melbourne Office or the Canberra Office of the National Archives because policy matters were generally decided in Melbourne or Canberra.

However, the Perth Office of the National Archives holds hundreds of thousands of records detailing how immigration policies affected individuals, families and groups of people. These records document Government policy and personal circumstance, and reveal how these different approaches interact. Case files, for example, may contain emotional letters from prospective migrants and their relatives juxtaposed against the candid and sometimes racist comments made by Government officials about how those applicants were likely to blend into the Australian way of life.

Access to some records may be restricted because they contain sensitive information about people. Many case files contain checks made by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization and signatures made by ASIO agents in the records have been masked.

The Agencies

The Department of Trade and Customs administered immigration matters in Western Australia until 1945 when the Department of Immigration took responsibility for the function.

The Department of Immigration was responsible for the admission of migrants, the registration and deportation of aliens and the emigration of children and Indigenous people. It was required to encourage migration and to control the immigration of indentured coloured labour. It was responsible for nationality and naturalisation matters, the issue of passports, the publication of foreign language newspapers and the repatriation of destitute Australians from overseas.

  • 1853–: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808)
  • 1945–74: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)

The Records

The Perth Office holds a great variety of records created by the Department of Immigration. Some of the more regularly accessed series are described below.

Passenger manifests

Image 5: Passenger manifest, 1922.

Image 5: Passenger manifest, 1922.
NAA: K269, 4 MAY 1922 ORSOVA
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The K269 series contains the inward passenger manifests (often called passenger lists) of ships and aircraft that arrived at the Port of Fremantle and Perth Airport between 1898 and 1978. Records of arrivals that predate 1898 can be found at the State Records Office of Western Australia, while microfilm copies of K269 are available at offices of the National Archives in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney and at the J S Battye Library in Perth.

The Western Australian Genealogical Society is currently undertaking an indexing project documenting arrivals up to 1925. This project also includes passengers listed as being 'in transit'. The manifests from different years vary in the information they provide – some include age, marital status and occupation of passengers, nationality and port of embarkation as well as intended destination, while other manifests merely state the name of the vessel, its arrival date and the names of its passengers.

The outward passenger manifests detailed below record the names of passengers boarding ships in WA for overseas and intra- and interstate travel until 1910. After 1910 only passengers proceeding overseas had their details recorded. The manifests record ship names, aircraft call signs, dates of departure from WA and the intended destination of each passenger. Personal information recorded about passengers varies over the years. Early manifests usually include age, occupation and nationality while later ones state only the name of the vessel, departure date, passenger name and destination.

OUTWARD PASSENGER LISTS, FREMANTLE, WA, CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER BY DEPARTURE, 1898–1923
Perth
Series: PP281/2
Quantity: 10 metres
Recorded by: 1898–1923: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808)
INWARD PASSENGER MANIFESTS FOR SHIPS AND AIRCRAFT (FREMANTLE PORT AND PERTH AIRPORT), CHRONOLOGICAL SERIES, 1898–1978
Perth
Series: K269
Quantity: 95 metres
Recorded by: 1898–1945: Controller of Customs, WA (CA 808); 1945–: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)
OUTWARD PASSENGER MANIFESTS FOR SHIPS AND AIRCRAFT DEPARTING FREMANTLE, PERTH AIRPORT AND OUTPORTS, CHRONOLOGICAL SERIES, 1898–1978
Perth
Series: K1142
Quantity: 2 metres
Recorded by: 1898–1945: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808); 1945–74: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)
OUTWARD PASSENGER LISTS, FREMANTLE, WA, CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER BY DEPARTURE, 1923–58
Perth
Series: PP240/2
Quantity: 11 metres
Recorded by: 1923–45: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808); 1945–58: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)

Ships' nominal rolls

Although the following collection contains large gaps, its records can sometimes supply a little more information than the passenger manifests. The details recorded usually include the date on which a ship left its previous port and reports of unusual happenings or problems that occurred during its voyage or on its arrival in port.

SHIPS' NOMINAL ROLLS, PASSENGER LISTS, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES (IMPOSED), 1926–54
Perth
This series contains ships' nominal rolls, reports and passenger lists of migrants disembarking at or in transit through the Port of Fremantle.
Series: PP482/1
Quantity: 3 metres
Recorded by: 1926–45: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808); 1945–52: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)

Crew lists

Lists of crew arriving in WA date from about 1900 although some earlier lists were written on the passenger manifests. Details supplied on the lists varied over the years. Records in this category include a register of deserters 1922–44 (K1354), certificates of discharge (PP182/2), a pearling register (PP363/2) and the official log book of the SS Cape Otway (PP345/1).

CREW LISTS (INWARD), CHRONOLOGICAL SERIES, 1897–1923
Perth
The forms contained in this series provide details about incoming crew. Information recorded includes the name, nationality, age and race of crew members, the date and place of engagement and capacity in which engaged, and remarks. Customs officials endorsed the forms, which also showed restrictions placed on crew members, the number of coloured and white alien crew members, the number of desertions (if any), and the previous and next port of entry.
Series: K271
Quantity: 24 metres
Recorded by: 1897–1923: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808)
CREW LISTS OF SHIPS ENTERING WA PORTS, 1923–54
Perth
Series: PP1/1
Quantity: 20 metres
Recorded by: 1923–45: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808); 1945–54: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)

Immigration case files

These files document a variety of immigration activities including applications for naturalisation, admission of relatives or friends to Australia, re-entry permits, passports and deportation cases. Nominal index cards such as those found in series PP513/4 can assist in locating case files, while the National Archives has a microfiche index to naturalisation, which Archives staff will search on behalf of members of the public as it is in closed access.

GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 'H' INFIX, 1926–50
Perth
Series: PP6/1
Quantity: 37 metres
Recorded by: 1926–45: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808); 1945–50: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)
GENERAL MIGRATION CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, YEAR PREFIX, 1951
Perth
Series: PP9/1
Quantity: 19 metres
Recorded by: 1951: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)

Migrant selection documents

Migrants completed these documents when they applied to come to Australia under a number of postwar schemes. The series in this category are usually ordered alphabetically within years and are separated according to category (eg Irish, Maltese or British assisted and unassisted migrants, child migrants and European migrants). The documents generally consist of medical examination results and information about the individual's (or family's) background. Other information might include previous addresses and employment, date and place of birth, nationality, physical description and/or photograph, religion, education standard and particulars about dependants. Although a number of series deal with migrant selection, the main series in this category is described below.

BRITISH MIGRANT SELECTION DOCUMENTS, ALPHABETICAL SERIES, 1948–56
Perth
Series: PP4/1
Quantity: 23 metres
Recorded by: 1948–56: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)

Dictation tests

Image 6: Certificate of exemption from the dictation test

Image 6: Certificate of exemption from the dictation test
NAA: K1145, 1913/146
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The dictation test was introduced in 1901 and consisted of a 50-word passage of dictation in any European language. The test was applied to people who were ineligible to apply for permanent residence in Australia. Certificates of exemption from the dictation test were issued to non-European, non-naturalised people who had lived in Australia for more than five years and wanted to leave temporarily. The certificates show the name, nationality, age, birthplace and physical description (a photograph was usually included), and travel details.

CERTIFICATES OF EXEMPTION FROM DICTATION TEST, ANNUAL CERTIFICATE NUMBER ORDER, 1901–55
Perth
Records in this series contain certificates of exemption from the dictation test for aliens who had left Australia temporarily. Details recorded about individuals include their name, nationality, birthplace, age and physical appearance. A photograph of the person was also included.
Series: K1145
Quantity: 7 metres
Recorded by: 1901–45: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808); 1945–55: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)

Alien registration documents

The records known as registered alien (RA) documents consist of forms and related correspondence used to register aliens between 1948 and 1965 under the Aliens Act 1947. This Act required the Department of Immigration to establish a register of aliens in each State to record details about aliens residing in and entering the Commonwealth. Under the legislation, every alien had to apply to be registered and was subsequently issued with a certificate of registration.

The documents record details such as the alien's arrival in Australia, changes of address and/or employment, notification of marriage and naturalisation, and application for registration as an alien. The forms also record nationality, physical appearance and passport details. A photograph of the applicant was normally attached to the registration application form.

REGISTER OF ALIENS MAINTAINED UNDER WAR PRECAUTIONS (ALIENS REGISTERED) REGULATIONS, 1916–30
Perth
Series: PP14/3
Quantity: 32 metres
Recorded by: 1916–19: Headquarters, 5th Military District [I], Commonwealth Military Forces, WA (CA 4811); 1919–20: Investigation Branch, WA (CA 808)
ALIEN REGISTRATION DOCUMENTS, ALPHABETICAL SERIES, 1948–65 (CONTENTS RANGE: 1916–65)
Perth
Series: K1331
Quantity: 57 metres
Recorded by: 1948–65: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)

Aliens' passports and travel documents

Until 1950 passports and travel documents were taken from aliens (ie non-British nationalities) entering Australia under the provisions of the Immigration Act 1920. The passports were returned when the individual departed the country. If a person remained in Australia and applied for naturalisation, the passport was usually attached to the naturalisation file when the application was made in the State in which the passport was held. If the naturalisation application was made in another State, the passport was generally forwarded to Central Office, Department of Immigration.

ALIEN PASSPORTS AND TRAVEL DOCUMENTS, LEXICOGRAPHICAL ARRANGEMENT, 1925–45
Perth
Series: PP9/4
Quantity: 13 metres
Recorded by: 1925–45: Collector of Customs, WA (CA 808); 1945: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)

Child migration selection documents

These documents for British, Irish and Maltese children are the authorities issued from Australia House in London for children to be sent to Western Australian institutions such as Fairbridge Farm School, St Joseph's Farm (Bindoon), St Vincent's Orphanage and Queens Park (Castledare). The documents were signed by a child's parent or guardian and provide a brief physical description (sometimes including an 'intelligence' assessment) as well as the details of a medical examination.

CHILD MIGRATION SELECTION DOCUMENTS, BRITISH CHILDREN, ORDERED BY SURNAME, 1947–59
Perth
Series: PP93/10
Quantity: 2 metres
Recorded by: 1947–59: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)
CHILD MIGRATION SELECTION DOCUMENTS, MALTESE CHILDREN, ORDERED BY SURNAME, 1947–59
Perth
Series: PP93/11
Quantity: 1 metre
Recorded by: 1947–59: Department of Immigration, WA Branch (CA 962)

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