Australia in the 1860s


Cameleers helped to open up the Australian outback. Although they originated from diverse areas including India, Iran, Egypt and Turkey, at the time they were all called 'Afghans'. The first 'Afghans' came to South Australia as camel handlers for the Burke and Wills expedition. The cameleers travelled over vast distances with their camel-trains laden with provisions for isolated outback stations.

The Protection and Anti-Immigration League was established in 1861, formed to reduce Chinese immigration. In 1861, the Chinese community comprised the third-largest group in Australia following the British (including the Irish) and the Germans. Anti-Chinese legislation was introduced when the New South Wales Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Restriction and Regulation Act 1861, which imposed a poll tax on Chinese people entering the colony. In the same year anti-Chinese sentiment reached new heights when about 3,000 miners attacked about 1,000 Chinese miners at Lambing Flat on the Burrangong goldfields in New South Wales. In the attack some Chinese people had their queues cut off, which was an insult and a humiliation; their goods were burnt or stolen, and many suffered serious injuries and were driven off the goldfields.

In the 1860s, South Pacific Islanders were indentured as labourers for the Queensland agricultural industry. They came mainly from New Guinea and New Britain. Many Queenslanders protested against the trading of South Pacific Islanders but this sentiment was opposed by Captain Robert Towns (17941873), after whom Townsville is named, as he wanted to form a colony of Islanders on his plantations. Eventually, the Polynesian Labourers Act 1868 (Qld), made employing Islanders more expensive than employing Europeans and many 'blackbirders' abandoned the practice. In 1869, Captain John Daggett of the ship Daphne was tried for kidnapping Pacific Islanders for sugar and cotton plantations, but no conviction was recorded.

In the 1860s, the pearling industry began using Aboriginal divers in Western Australia. After Aboriginal people were banned from diving, most of the divers were Javanese, Timorese and Japanese.


A snapshot of 1868

  • January
    • Transportation of convicts to Western Australia ended.

  • March
    • The Queensland Parliament passed the Polynesian Labourers Act 1868 (Qld) to regulate the employment of Pacific Islanders recruited through 'blackbirding'.
    • The attempted assassination of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, by Henry James O'Farrell at Clontarf, a suburb of Sydney.

  • May
    • An Indigenous Australian cricket team became the first Australian sports team to tour overseas.

  • September
    • John King, the only surviving member of the Burke and Wills exhibition, was found living with an Aboriginal group.
    • Public Schools Act introduced compulsory schooling in Tasmania.


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