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Image Chinese workers at the Croydon Court House, c1905

TLF ID R8174

This black-and-white photograph shows two lines of Chinese men, about 19 in all, squatting on the bare ground and eating a meal outside Croydon Court House in northern Queensland. The men are wearing Western-style long-sleeved shirts and trousers, and their queues (plaits) are wound around their heads. Plates and mugs are laid out on a mat in front of them. Two European men, one dressed in a military uniform, and a uniformed Indigenous man stand nearby and appear to be supervising the proceedings.

Educational details

Educational value
  • These men probably arrived in Croydon at the height of the gold rush to work as cooks, gardeners or carriers and would have been part of one of the largest regional Chinese communities in Qld. By 1888, 300 of the town's population of 3,500 were Chinese. Chinese market gardeners who sold fresh fruit and vegetables were particularly important for the health of isolated communities such as Croydon, which at the time had 70 ha of market gardens.
  • Although most Chinese migrants in Australia worked for some years and then returned to China, Croydon remained a centre of Chinese settlement after gold production peaked, and a 'Chinatown' emerged on the outskirts of the town. Evidence that Chinese migrants decided to stay include their descendents who still live in the area, graves at the Croydon Cemetery, a Chinese temple in the town and the remains of large ovens.
  • It has been suggested that the group pictured had been gathered at the Court House so that they could be checked for leprosy - it was popularly believed at the time that Chinese and Pacific Islander labourers carried diseases. A history of incarceration and segregation of leprosy sufferers, legitimised by the 1892 Leprosy Act, began in Qld in 1889 with the removal of seven Chinese men to an island in the Torres Strait.
  • The men are wearing their hair in a queue wound around their heads, an obvious cultural difference that led to suspicion in Australia. In China, Han Chinese men had long been forced to shave the front of their head and wear their remaining hair in a queue as a symbol of their subjugation to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Chinese migrants in Australia generally continued to wear their hair in the same way as they had in China.
  • These men undoubtedly experienced legalised discrimination in Australia. Qld legislation in 1878, for example, excluded Chinese people from new gold fields for three years unless they had discovered the field themselves, so it is unlikely these men were miners. Australian Government legislation in 1901-03 prohibited Chinese migrants from gaining Australian citizenship and if they were already British subjects made it difficult for them to return from visits to China.
  • Croydon's Chinese workers formed a tight-knit community, but only minor racial incidents occurred between the Chinese and Europeans as the Chinese were not heavily involved in mining and Europeans had no wish to operate as market gardeners. In 1888 Chinese people were ejected from Croydon by the Minister for Mines, but were soon allowed to return because of the town's dependence on their fresh produce.
Year level


Learning area
  • History

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements