Monday, 27 September 2010

Number Two Home

Reading Nobuko Adachi’s recent essay on “Japanese and Nikkei at Home and Abroad” over at Japan Focus prompted me to dig out my copy of Noreen Jones’ Number Two Home: The Story of Japanese Pioneers in Australia.

I found Number Two Home at the second-hand book fair during the Marxism conference in Melbourne last Easter – for $1, no less! - and got caught up in its story during the flight home. Plenty of Victorian and wild, almost Dickensian detail to this history – the first Japanese to visit Australia were acrobats; pearl diving was the main trade the community built around in Western Australia in its early years – and plenty of reminders of the grubbiness of the colonial settler state’s racist history, those petty and mean little details that sustained White Australia.

Jones reproduces documents from stories that range from the tragic (families separated and imprisoned through the war, businesses seized). the frustrating and vexatious (Murakami Yasuichi denied a driver's license to use his car as a taxi in 1912, for reasons which seemed to be all about the council's meanness).

I love local detail like this, and I hope I learn from it. Whatever the fantasies of White Australia, the continent's working class has never been 'racially' homogenous. The only constant, it seems, has been the hypocrisy of its enemies:

The Japanese who traveled or ventured inland tended to work in itinerant occupations, for example as cooks or labourers, whilst those who stayed in the smaller towns either operated or worked in small businesses such as market gardens or laundries. They were often mistakenly thought to be Chinese by the European population. There were indeed also many Chinese in those occupations. For example, at Marble Bar there were both Chinese and Japanese market gardeners. When the Anglo-Australians in the district met around 1893 to discuss the removal of Asians from the settlement, the proposal excluded those employed as gardeners and domestic servants. The white population objected to the Asiatic presence, but did not want to be deprived of their fresh vegetables, cooks, and laundrymen.

Noreen Jones, Number Two Home: the Story of Japanese Pioneers in Australia (Freemantle Arts Centre Press, 2002), p. 37.

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