2022 Chinese Australian History Online Seminar Session 4 - Australia's Dictation Test: A Gross Piece of Chicanery

The last person to ‘pass’ White Australia’s Dictation Test did so in 1907 by submitting a watercolour entitled ‘Advance Australia Fair’. For the next 50 years of its existence the now more carefully trained officials ensured no one ever passed again. Dr Michael Williams will detail how Australian immigration came to have a fake test of dictation at the heart of its administration. Beginning as an inspired piece of hypocrisy designed to preserve the semblance of Imperial equality, in the hands of the Commonwealth of Australia this ‘education’ test quickly evolved into a test it was impossible to pass and a crime to fail.

Despite its long history and being largely directed at Chinese people, confusion about what the dictation test was and how it was implemented continued throughout its existence and much confusion remains even today. This confusion and ignorance is no coincidence, and throughout its more than 50-year history, administrators, police, magistrates, lawmakers and journalists, not to mention aspiring immigrants, and museum curators and historians today, have continued to mistake the nature of this ‘test’. Based on his recent publication – Australia’s Dictation Test - Michael will explore the history of this fake test to tease out some of the many issues and contradictions this ‘test’ generated.

Date:  Wednesday, 9 November 2022

Time: 4:00pm - 5:00pm  (Sydney time)

Dr Michael Williams, Adjunct Professor, WSU, is a scholar of Chinese-Australian history and a founding memichael headshot imagember of the Chinese-Australian Historical Society. He is the author of Returning Home with Glory (HKU Press, 2018) and Australia’s Dictation Test: The test it was a Crime to Fail (Brill, 2021). His website: Chinese Australian History in 88 Objects was shortlisted for the 2022 Premiers Digital History Prize. Michael is currently working on a history of the Robe Chinese goldfield walkers entitled: Every requisite for a campaign upon the gold-fields.