Publication Details

Bagnall, K. (2018). Potter v. Minahan: Chinese Australians, the law and belonging in White Australia. History Australia, 15 (3), 458-474.


This article tells the story of James Minahan, the Melbourne-born son of a Chinese father and a white Australian mother who was arrested as a prohibited immigrant under the Immigration Restriction Act in 1908. Minahan had been taken to China by his father as a five-year-old boy in 1882 and failed the Dictation Test on his return to Australia 26 years later. After Minahan defeated the charge in the lower courts, the Commonwealth appealed to the High Court - an appeal they lost on the grounds that, despite his years overseas, Minahan had remained a member of the Australian community. Although the case is well known in historical and legal scholarship on Australian immigration and citizenship, existing work has focused primarily on the High Court judgements. This article provides a new perspective by following the progression of the case as a whole, from Minahan's return to Australia in January 1908 to the High Court ruling in October that year, and placing it in the context of the transnational lives of Minahan, his father and their fellow Chinese Australians.

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