Publication Details

Lowrie, C. (2006). Sold and stolen: domestic ''slaves'' and the rhetoric of ''protection'' in Darwin and Singapore during the 1920s and 1930s. In A. Vickers & M. Hanlon (Eds.), Asia Reconstructed: Proceedings of the 16th Biennial Conference of the ASAA, 2006 Canberra: Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) Inc and the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies.


Introduction: This paper contemplates the similarities in the working lives of two very different girls.1 It focuses on part descent Aboriginal girls of Darwin working as domestic servants in European homes, and the mui tsai or girl slaves2 of Singapore working for Chinese families. These girls share the common experience of being removed from their families, trafficked a great distance from their homes and forced into domestic service. This paper will consider the common governmental responses to these girls in terms of “protection”. For the mui tsai protection involved potential rescue from forced domestic service. For part-Aboriginal girls, protection resulted in enlistment into forced domestic service. The reasons behind the strikingly different outcomes of protection in Singapore and Darwin in the 1920s and 1930s can be attributed to the different issues which the administrators in Darwin and Singapore faced, culminating out their distinct colonial experiences.