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Retrospectives

Fifty-two

Not a transport post, but if you haven’t seen it, the PTUA State Election scorecard is out now.

My paternal grandmother was born in Townsville to Chinese immigrant parents. My paternal grandfather was born in China but emigrated around 1900, prior to the White Australia Policy.

So that they could travel overseas and be admitted back into Australia, their photos, descriptions and thumbprints were taken on departure, and they were issued with a “Certificate Exempting From Dictation Test” – the test was used to keep out “undesirables”.

Decades later, this institutional racism has a silver lining. Thanks to the documentation being in the National Archives of Australia, we now have some good quality government photos of my grandparents and uncles and aunts, many of whom I never met.

One or more of them travelled in 1911, 1920, 1931, 1934 and 1940.

I dug out the 1934 document, in which it says my grandfather is 52, the same age I am now – and took some comparison photos.

Me (2022) and my paternal grandfather (1934) at 52 (ish)
Myself and my grandfather at 52(ish).
1934 photos from the National Archive of Australia

I’ve picked up some features from that side of the family, but others – including the receding hairline ahem high forehead – from my mother’s side.

It was only after I had taken the photos that I noticed an error: the 1934 document with the photos says he was 52. But it’s wrong – in 1934 he was 55 or 56. The 1931 document also says he was 52, but the photos have been removed.

Oh well, it’s still an interesting comparison. Maybe I’ll try again in three years.

If you’ve got relatives who may have been subject to these policies, do a search – it’s worth your while.

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