This is another World War One service record. It belongs to Charlie Allen. Charlie enlisted three times in the AIF and was discharged on medical grounds each time. It seems he had a problem with his ankle.
Charlie’s service record notes a tattoo, proclaiming his love for ‘Maud Gordon’. He married Maud in Sydney in 1917 and had two daughters soon after.
Charlie survived the war without further injury, but was not so lucky in peace. On 11 March 1938, Charlie was crushed to death between two railway cars. The accident happened at the Bunnerong Power Station, only a short distance from his home in Matraville. He was buried nearby in the Botany Cemetery.
We also know quite a bit about Charlie’s early life. Why? Because Charlie’s father was Chinese and he was therefore categorised as a ‘half-caste’, as someone who was not white, and therefore fell under the restrictions imposed by the White Australia Policy.
Charlie was born in Sydney in 1896. His mother was Frances Allen (sometime sweet shop owner and brothel keeper), his father Charlie Gum (a buyer for Wing On company). Charlie was raised by his mother, but in 1909, at the age of 13, he was taken to China by his father.
This certificate granted Charlie an exemption to the Dictation Test. Without it, he may not have been allowed back into the country.
Every time one of many thousands of non-Europeans resident in Australia sought to travel overseas and return home again they needed one of these certificates.
Charlie’s father returned to Sydney, leaving him in China. He lived with relatives in the town of Shekki (inland from Hong Kong). Charlie was naturally homesick, but had no means of getting back to Australia. He wrote to his mother in 1910:
Do try and bring me home every minute I think of you and long for a piece of bread and butter this tucker is not doing me well.
His mother wrote to the Prime Minister Billy Hughes in an attempt to enlist government help but to no avail. Charlie finally returned to Australia in 1915.
Despite this experience, Charlie visited China again in 1922 for 7 months. Once again carrying papers to grant him re-entry to the country of his birth.
These fragments of Charlie’s life have been assembled by my partner, Kate Bagnall, a historian of Chinese-Australia. They are remarkable, and yet not so, because there are many thousands of stories like Charlie’s contained within the voluminous records generated by the administration of the White Australia Policy.