Australia’s first Japanese settler was recorded in 1871, an acrobat in the Royal Tycoon Troup, who went on to run a travelling circus in rural Queensland in the 1880s and ‘90s.

From 1885, around 3,000 Japanese labourers began to migrate to Hawaii annually, which encouraged Japanese companies to set up and begin trading in emigration. Between1891 and 1900, almost 6000 passports were issued for immigration into Australia.

Japanese pearlers were recruited between 1883 and ‘85 to three Australian pearling regions – Thursday Island, Darwin and Western Australia. They would spend up to four months at sea and complete 50 dives. The Japanese attempted to enter into into the pearling business on Thursday Island, starting off by owning 22 luggers and renting 46 out of the 231 that were in operation. But this enterprise was cut short in 1898. The Queensland Government introduced legislation prohibiting any “alien” from owning or leasing a pearling vessel.

In 1911, Japanese males also came to Queensland to work in the sugar industry. They were remnants of the 2,561 indentured labourers brought in by emigration companies on three-year contracts. However, the White Australia policy had an impact on the labourers. Mill hands and labourers were also driven from their respective industries by State awards prohibiting employment of “coloured labour” in cane cutting and on cane farms of more than 18 ha.

The service sector in Australia also received an influx of Japanese in 1911, to work as laundrymen, hotel employees and house citizens. There is documentation that Japanese women generally took up prostitution in Australia.

When the White Australia policy was in full force, the only Japanese admitted were crew and divers contracted to Australian pearlers and a handful of merchants, tourists and students on temporary entry permits.

The Pacific War in 1941 forced most of the Japanese population living in Australia into camps and at the end of the war they were deported. Their assets were forfeited under Article XV of the Peace Treaty to create a fund for Australian prisoners of war. In 1948, Japanese women and wives of Australians serving in the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces were prevented from entering Australia. It was not until 1952 that the ban was lifted and around 200 Japanese ‘war brides’ entered Australia over the next two years.

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