Australia and the Dictation Test

At the beginning of Federation in 1901, the Australian government had an ideal of maintaining a population that had an overwhelming British origin. Politicians and legislators of the time had a vision that would see Australia maintaining a predominately ‘pure’, white population. The British element, on which the country was founded, was the greatest impetus for introducing new policies to exclude all non-European migrants from the growing nation. Central to Australia’s developing national identity, the Immigration Act 1901, was comprised of complicated legislation that worked to contain the migration of non-white and non-Europeans into the country, and to deport those already residing in Australia.[1]

An important component of the Immigration Act was the Dictation Test. The test was a very successful means of excluding unwanted migrants from either entering or residing in Australia. It consisted of a fifty word paragraph, to be written out in a language that was completely unknown to the immigrant, for the sole purpose of failure. The test could be administered in any language that the custom officer chose. If you were Chinese, the test could be in French, Greeks were tested in Japanese, and so on. Upon failing, the person would either be gaoled for six months and /or deported. Non-European, Australian residents were able to obtain a Certificate of Exemption from the Dictation Test, however custom officers could forfeit these at anytime.[2]

The Immigration Act and Dictation Test were abolished in 1958 due to its overtly racist legislation and the realisation after two World Wars, that Australia would depend on immigration to increase its population in the ensuing years.

 

[1] D. Day, ‘The White Australia Policy’ in Carl Bridge & Bernard Attard (eds), Between Empire and Nation: Australia’s External Relations from Federation to the Second World War, (Victoria: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2000), pp. 31-46.

 

[2] Barry York, ‘White Australia and the Dictation Test’, Voices, Vol. 6, No. 3, (1996), pp. 27-33.

 

Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test for Maudie Kim Kow, 1920.   Photo: National Archives of Australia.   Photo Search:  E752, 20/24 .  http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/snapshots/chinese-australians/kim-kow.aspx

Certificate Exempting from Dictation Test for Maudie Kim Kow, 1920. Photo: National Archives of Australia. Photo Search: E752, 20/24. http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/snapshots/chinese-australians/kim-kow.aspx