Funds for research into NT Chinese merchants and women in Australian politics

Media release: Thursday, 16 February 2017

The National Archives of Australia and the Australian Historical Association (AHA) have awarded two new scholarships to support research into unexplored aspects of Australia's history.

The latest winners of the twice-yearly joint scholarship are PhD candidates Natalie Fong from Griffith University in Brisbane, and Bethany Phillips-Peddlesden from the University of Melbourne.

Natalie Fong's thesis focuses on Chinese merchants who were prominent in the tiny multicultural community of Darwin between 1880 and 1920. She is a descendant of one of those she is researching, Wing Wah Loong.

'In the late 1800s to early 1900s Chinese merchants from the southern Guangdong region of China dispersed all over the world, thanks to the busy port of Hong Kong,' she said.

'One place that they established businesses was the Northern Territory of Australia where, by the late 1800s, they had become numerically and economically dominant. Chinese merchants capitalised on the long history of trade between northern Australia and southeast Asia, as well as Darwin's accessibility from Hong Kong by steamship to import and export goods.

'Important records held by the National Archives of Australia include family records of Chinese merchants, and correspondence between the merchants and Australian officials, including applications for staff immigration and protests against discrimination. Other immigration documents include certificates of exemption from the Dictation Test and alien registration.'

Inspired by the feminist movement within contemporary historical scholarship, Bethany Phillips-Peddlesden is studying the ways women have participated in national parliamentary politics as part of a broader project on gender, political authority and prime ministers in Australia. Her research using records in the National Archives' collection will focus on women political candidates and Enid Lyons as a prime ministerial wife and first female member of the House of Representatives.

'No prime ministerial wife had made such an impact as Dame Enid Lyons, at a time when women were absent from representative politics. Despite their best efforts, political women had been marginalised by the assumption of male perspectives and experiences as a neutral norm in Australian political cultures and institutions. No woman was elected federally until Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tagney in1943.

'I intend to examine the demographics of women nominating for federal seats to provide a better understanding of how dominant narratives of femininity and gender relations - as well as political structures - shaped mainstream politics and understandings of political authority in Australian history,' she said.

The scholarships support researchers with the cost of digitising records held in the National Archives' various locations across Australia.

'As always, we are very happy to support archival research by talented postgraduate scholars,' said National Archives Assistant Director-General Louise Doyle. 'The National Archives' collection holds documents that are key to Australia's history so any research into the nation's past needs to include our records. This scholarship, which gives researchers access online to records, saves them the need to travel throughout Australia to undertake research.'

Joint partner the Australian Historical Association also acknowledges the importance of archival resources in enabling postgraduate research into Australian history.

'We are again delighted to team with the National Archives to help talented postgraduate historians gain access to valuable sources, said Professor Lynette Russell, President of the AHA. 'Archival research is the cornerstone of historical research, and, as the topics and approaches of the recipients of these scholarships reflect, can be used to enrich our knowledge of many varied areas of our past and present.'

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters ()
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0417 247 157 e
  • Professor Tim Rowse (Australian Historical Association)
    t 02 9772 6543 e

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