Everyday Life for Chinese Workers on Nauru under Australian Administration | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online


The contracts of indenture signed by Chinese workers in the Australian mandated territory of Nauru after 1920 may have been permitted by the League of Nations and approved by Hong Kong officials, but they remained part of an inherently fraught colonial labour system. The act of signing up to work for a single colonial employer, in this case the British Phosphate Commission, for a period of three years, while accepting that the employer would the provide food, clothing and communal housing, meant that these men gave up many personal liberties, such as family life. Indentured contracts had been subject to important revisions during the first decades of the twentieth century in response to criticisms from Chinese officials over flogging and penal sanctions. They now made provisions for reasonable wages, working hours and holidays. But despite this, the Australian administrators and the British Phosphate Commission maintained a racialized worldview, still referring to Chinese workers as "coolies". In this paper I draw upon the annual reports produced for the League of Nations, as well as written accounts by officials, Chinese representatives and workers, in order to paint a picture of everyday life for Chinese workers. I pay attention to the constraints imposed by the system of racial segregation, and aim to understand how Chinese men on Nauru sought to improve their quality of life through more varied food, entertainment and sport.


Article metrics loading...

This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error