Anti-Chinese prejudice and the tabloid press: 1901-1915

In 1901, a market gardener in Jandakot complained that two landowners at Bibra Lake were trying to divert money away from Forrest Road, a main road serving at least 40 European settlers, to the 'minor Warthwyke Road, principally inhabited by Chinese gardeners'. G.J. Morgan of 'Sheoak Farm, Jandakot', was outraged that not only the 40 current residents, but a 'host of would-be settlers' were being shortchanged in favour of established Chinese growers, and he made his displeasure known.  

Warthwyke Road is now Progress Drive, and runs along the western shore of Bibra Lake. The landowners would undoubtedly have profited from improving roads in their own area, but what residents took particular offence to was the fact that they were trying to improve the lot of Chinese gardeners over that of white men. As one commentator put it, these ‘evil-smelling aliens’ were ‘commencing to oust the white worker from the position of pre-eminence he should occupy in the locality’.

Tabloid press prejudice

‘Pig-tailed pirates’, ‘leprous yellow vagabonds’, ‘slant-eyed Confucians’, ‘cabbage-cultivating Chows’, ‘almond-eyed Mongolians’, ‘the yellow agony’ - just some of the slurs thrown at Chinese gardeners and grocers in Western Australian papers in 1905 alone, and frequently directed specifically at Chinese gardeners in the Bibra Lake and Jandakot districts. 

European growers had begun voicing their displeasure at having to share a profession with ‘members of the Asiatic races’, and the tabloid press picked up on this dissatisfaction with gusto. 

The Perth newspaper Truth, a notorious tabloid with a colourful and viciously colloquial reporting style, took up the call in an editorial about the prevalence of Chinese growers at Jandakot, saying: 

"Truth" deeply sympathises with all who are deprived of their livelihood through the greedy and grasping landowners giving these mongrel Chows the right of annexing the eyes of the country, to the detriment and ruin of the sweated white.

Chinese 'monopoly' in market gardening

In the early 1900s it was a commonly-held belief that the Chinese had a virtual monopoly on market gardening in Western Australia. Whenever groups of white market gardeners gathered - at agricultural shows, political deputations, or local meetings, someone would congratulate them on showing that white men could hold out against the Chinese. Though this does seem to have been true in some places, particularly rural towns where competition was hard to sustain, the Cockburn district was always dominated by white (or European) growers.

At the opening of the Coogee-Spearwood Agricultural Show in 1907 the state Minister for Works made a speech: ‘It had been said that the gardening and fruit growing industries were bound to go into the hands of the Chinaman, but the exhibition that day proved that with suitable soil and fair conditions the white man could compete with the Chinaman.’ The crowd cheered.

'Fair conditions'

These ‘fair conditions’ mentioned by the Minister were a point of contention. White growers resented the lack of respect the Chinese had for Sundays as the day of rest, meaning that they got an unfair advantage at the markets on Mondays.

A prominent Jandakot gardener remarked in 1909 that

under fair conditions, the white market gardener can beat the Chinaman... [but] the white settler, with his family, goes to church on Sundays, and on the way passes the gardens of the Chinese where the men are at work loading up their carts in readiness for the early morning market on Monday. The white man has to get his cart ready on the Saturday night, consequently his vegetables are not so fresh as those of the Chinaman when they reach the market.

Serious proposals were made for a ban on market trading on Mondays, and in some cases for banning Chinese from the markets altogether, but they gained no real traction.

Political support for white growers

Jandakot growers wrote to the papers about their Chinese problems and the rallying cry was picked up and echoed by politicians all the way up the chain. At the opening of the Jandakot Agricultural Show in 1912, Premier John Scaddan made a speech praising the district and noting how the success of the produce grown showed that white men could grow vegetables just as well as the Chinese. 

He had, he said, a ‘strong objection to Chinese-grown produce’, that it would be ‘a splendid move to have markets from which the Chinese would be excluded so that only vegetables grown and sold by Europeans might be procured’, and that such proposals would be the best way of ‘ridding themselves of the Chinese market gardener’.

Throughout the 1910s, it was Jandakot and Bibra Lake that felt the impact of the Chinese. Spearwood, Hamilton Hill and Coogee prided themselves on being free of the scourge, with settlers convening meetings to express disapproval at landowners leasing to Chinese growers. In 1915, a column of local news announced triumphantly ‘Chinamen gardeners do not exist in either Spearwood or Coogee’.

References

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