Chinese migrants were treated like slaves during the gold rush era

The Premier of Australian state Victoria has apologised to the Chinese community for the racist and unjust policies implemented during the gold rush era.

According to ABC, Premier Daniel Andrews issued the apology to a crowd of Chinese community leaders on Thursday. Several descendants of the first wave of Chinese migrants who came to Victoria 160 years ago to mine were part of the crowd.

“It is never too late to say sorry,” Mr Andrews said. “To every Chinese Victorian … on behalf of the Victorian Parliament, of behalf of the Victorian Government, I express our deepest sorrow and I say to you we are profoundly sorry.”

Chinese migrants were charged 10 pounds each when they arrived in Victoria in the 1850s. “That would be many years’ wages in those days,” said Adrian Hem, a descendent of one of the Chinese migrants from the era.

“They were … very much like slaves, they had to work off the amount of money they were loaned to come to Australia,” he added, saying that the migrants were often left with heavy debts.

Some miners disembarked in Robe, South Australia, to avoid the tax. These migrants would then make their way through the hundreds of kilometres through the wilderness to reach Victoria’s goldfields. On the way, some would die from starvation or exhaustion.

PHOTO: A drawing from 1854 shows Chinese miners walking to the goldfields carrying their bundles of belongings. (Supplied: State Library of Victoria)

Those who survived and made it to Victoria were then exposed to racism and segregation.

Marking the 160th anniversary of the Chinese migrants’ journey, a group of Chinese-Australians walked from Robe to Melbourne to meet the Premier at the Victorian Parliament.

“It was a very shameful act,” he said.

“But with such a dedicated focus on hard work, family, on giving back … I don’t think anyone has made a bigger contribution … to the modern multiculturalism that we cherish and value so very much.”

“Our multiculturalism and our diversity is what sets us apart. It makes us stronger, it makes us safer.”

However, some felt the apology was not as important as ensuring that history does not repeate itself.

“It gives us a great sense of pride, in what our forebears did,” Adrian Hem said.

“History is a great teacher. The present teaches us what a great country we have and the future will show, hopefully, that we can all live together in harmony.”