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ANU Japan Institute Seminar Series - The Foreign Minister’s messengers: Japan-Australia relations in the 1890s, and the role of ‘immigration societies’ (殖民協会)
This story begins with an anonymous photo album, acquired by the National Library of Australia. ‘Photos of Northern Australia’ and ‘gift’ along with the date (1894) were the only clues on the cover. Inside, a series of sepia photographs of various landmarks around Cairns, Cooktown, and Thursday Island. All the captions were handwritten in Japanese and Japanese people appeared to be the subject of a number of photos.
Looking through the pages, there was something familiar about some of the photos—a scene on a pearling boat, crew about to send down a diver in a cumbersome diving suit; two labourers standing outside a shed—as well as familiar landmarks along the Queensland coast, with a sepia sheen.
The stories of Japanese pearlers in Northern Australia in the late 19th and 20th centuries are increasingly well-documented. Something about these photographs suggested a backstory, a documenting of the lives of Japanese people in Australia in the early 1890s. But by whom and for what purpose? This history documents the ‘accidental’ discovery of the group of highly-placed Japanese intellectuals who were behind this photo album, the contributions they sought to make to early modern Japanese state-building and the role colonial Australia had in their plans.
Several years later and after extensive archival research in Japan and Queensland, it appears we can confirm the identity of the photographer of the 1894 album in the library’s collection. That in turn has led to an investigation of Japanese Government-backed ‘colonial immigration societies’, quasi-government organisations which set out to study the conditions of Japanese indentured labour overseas. That photo album, it turns out, reveals a new layer of the emerging history of early Japanese-Australian relations.

Presenter: Donna Weeks, PhD,
Director (Dean) of International Relations
Professor of Political Science, Musashino University, Tokyo

Mar 23, 2023 05:00 PM in Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney

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