Indonesians challenging White Australia



Publication Details

Martinez, J. T. 2012, 'Indonesians challenging White Australia', Indonesia and the Malay World, vol. 40, no. 117, pp. 231-248.


"Between the 1870s and the 1950s the north Australian pearl-shell industry relied on the labour of thousands of Indonesians who were employed as divers and crew on pearling luggers. While these men were referred to as Malays or Koepangers they were drawn from many different locations in eastern Indonesia, including Nusa Tenggara Timur, Maluku and southern Sulawesi. As indentured labourers, they were supposed to be temporary residents in Australia. Their migration was permitted as a rare exemption from the White Australia policy, based on the presumption that as maritime workers they would spend most of their time in the waters that connected Australia and the Dutch East Indies. During the limited time they spent in Australian ports they were to be strictly monitored. Despite these intended restrictions, a number of Indonesians were able to build lives in Australia by renewing their contracts for a period of 20 years or more. By the late 1950s those that remained successfully lobbied to be granted Australian citizenship. The pearl-shell industry, though notorious for its exploitation of labour, was responsible for developing and maintaining a long-term connection between eastern Indonesia and Australia and challenging the isolationism of White Australia."

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