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Image Chinese men on the road to the Palmer River gold field, 1875

TLF ID R8175

This black-and-white wood engraving shows a stereotypical image of Chinese men walking in a line to the Palmer River gold field in northern Queensland. It appeared in the Australasian Sketcher with the title 'CHINESE ON THE ROAD TO THE PALMER'. The six men in the foreground are wearing a variety of traditional clothing and carrying their belongings, including woven baskets and boxes, on poles over their shoulders. Some of the men use paper umbrellas and fans as they wend their way across the hillside. The engraving accompanied a short article.



Educational details

Educational value
  • The wood engraving and accompanying article served to foster prejudice and hostility against Chinese people in Australia by emphasising their cultural differences from Europeans and by encouraging uneasiness in the rest of the Australian population at the likelihood of Cooktown becoming a non-Christian 'second Canton'. The contemptuous and racist attitudes displayed in the image and article were very common at the time among Australia's British population.
  • The image illustrates part of a tremendous population movement - up to 30,000 people travelled to the isolated Palmer River gold field in Cape York Peninsula. Chinese migrants sailed from Hong Kong and Singapore to Cooktown and then walked to the gold field, arriving in large numbers after a new gold rush sent most of the European miners to the nearby Hodgkinson River in 1876. There were about 18,000 Chinese people at Palmer River by 1877.
  • Palmer River was declared a gold field in 1873 and the Qld colonial government unwittingly facilitated Chinese migration to the area when it established the port of Cooktown and cut a road through unexplored country. The lure of the Palmer River gold field for all prospectors and miners was what turned out to be Qld's richest alluvial gold deposits, yielding ore worth more than $500 million in 2008 values.
  • By publishing items such as the one shown the Australasian Sketcher appeared more than willing to promote the views of European miners, many of whom were doing less well than the Chinese and bitterly resented their success and diligence. When working at Palmer River, the Chinese miners achieved high yields by mining in cooperative teams and thoroughly reworking abandoned claims. Europeans worked individually or in much smaller teams.
  • Such images escalated existing prejudice, leading in turn to discriminatory legislation such as the 1878 Queensland Gold Fields Amendment Act, which largely excluded Chinese people from new gold fields for three years. The colonial government was unable to ban all Chinese people from entering Qld because of treaties between Britain and China but once the colonies federated and became a nation in 1901, Asians were almost entirely barred from entering Australia.
  • The would-be miners in the image carry their belongings on poles over their shoulders, a Chinese custom that placed the load evenly and was a convenient way of transporting goods in the absence of wheeled transport or animals. The accompanying article lists the loads as including mining tools, tents, tinware, tea, flour and clothing and states that these formed part of the 'necessary equipment for mining life'.
Year level

3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

Contributors
  • Contributor
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • URL: http://www.slq.qld.gov.au
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL: www.esa.edu.au
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
Rights
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements