- Re-imagining Australia: Voices of Indigenous Australians of Filipino Descent by Deborah Ruiz Wall with Christine Choo
Re-imagining Australia: Voices of Indigenous Australians of Filipino Descent
Southport, Queensland: Keeaira Press, 2016. 160 pages.
That native males from the Philippines, then known in the Anglophone world as Manilamen, migrated to tropical Australia during the second half of the nineteenth century to work primarily in the pearl-shell industry is known in the literature. That some of them married indigenous women is also known. But what happened to them subsequently is largely unknown. For the first time the narratives of descendants of the Manilamen who remained there after the imposition of migration restrictions in 1901, which commenced the White Australia policy, are told in this volume.
The initiator of this oral history project is Filipina Deborah Ruiz Wall, who moved to Australia in 1974, together with her husband and first child, after a year's work in Papua New Guinea. In Sydney she joined the staff of the New South Wales Technical and Further Education (TAFE) system, teaching Communication and Social Sciences until 2004, while becoming active in assisting migrants access government services and deal with racism. In 2004 she received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in recognition of her contributions to social justice, reconciliation, and multiculturalism. Together with a small team of collaborators, she recorded the stories of Indigenous Australians of Filipino descent in Broome, Western Australia, in 2008 and 2015 and on Hammond Island, Thursday Island, and Horn Island in the Torres Strait in 2015. The narratives comprise the bulk of this book, which is meant for a general, rather than an academic, readership. The book is divided into three parts: Part 1, Filipino Descendants Speak; Part 2, Salient Themes; and Part 3, History of Filipino Pearl Divers in Torres Strait and Broome.
Part 1 includes nine sets of narratives from Broome and another nine from the Torres Strait. Accompanied by several photographs, some from personal collections, the narratives are rich in detail, but have a raw quality and do not follow a standard format. They pertain mainly to the informants' lives. As in the Philippines, the narrators have strong recollections of their parents and grandparents but not of their great grandparents, the generation of their Manilamen ancestors. But the narratives contain snippets of the lives of Manilamen who came from different parts of the Philippines, which offer a precious glimpse of the past. [End Page 411]
In part 2 the author provides an abbreviated analysis of these narratives, which highlight three themes. The first theme revolves around the timing of the Manilamen's application for naturalization. Before Federation a number of Manilamen were naturalized, which settled their own legal status in later years as well as those of their descendants; after Federation legal obstacles prevented naturalization, reducing these Manilamen to the status of aliens and subjecting them and their descendants to great difficulties in obtaining citizenship rights. The book's conclusion reiterates that naturalization became "emblematic of inclusion or exclusion" within Australia as an "emerging nation state" (147). Nevertheless, Manilamen as aliens were able to remain in Australia, work, raise families, and be active in community affairs. Why they were not deported is not explained.
The second theme emphasizes that "the Filipino descendants considered that their forebears helped build the social and economic foundations of Broome, Horn Island, Hammond Island, and Thursday Island communities. There are numerous stories [in the informants' narratives] of the rich social and family life of the Filipinos, the music, song and laughter in spite of the presence of pain in their lives" (129). For instance, Filomeno Rodriguez, who arrived on Thursday Island in the 1880s, moved to Western Australia, where he became wealthy after he stumbled upon an area in Cossack that teemed with mother-of-pearl oysters and large pearl shells (30). In 1890 he married a woman of Cornish origin, the only non-indigenous wife in this collection of stories (32). He later moved to Broome, where he built a hotel in the late 1890s, and in the early 1900s became a local councilor (30–31).