|Title:||Directions for applying the dictation test|
|Subtitle:||Circular to the Collector of Customs, Fremantle|
|Date:||04 March 1927|
|Content creator:||FJ Quinlan, Assistant Secretary, Home and Territories Department|
|Keywords:||dictation test, immigration, White Australia Policy, prohibited, European, immigrant, languages, opportunity, instructions, precaution|
|Record creator:||Collector of Customs, Western Australia|
COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA.
HOME AND TERRITORIES DEPARTMENT.
61 SPRING STREET.
4th March, 1927.
No. 5374. EK.
IN REPLY PLEASE QUOTE
The Collector of Customs,
IMMIGRATION ACT 1901–1925.
Re I.A.I.'s 52-56:
The following directions should be observed in connection with the application of the dictation test:
(a) Test, when applied, to be effective: As indicated in I.A.I.56, the test when applied to an immigrant, is intended to serve as an absolute bar to such person's entry into Australia, or as a means of depriving him of the right to remain in the Commonwealth if he has landed. The test should therefore be applied in a language with which the immigrant is not sufficiently acquainted to be able to write out at dictation.
(b) Languages: Section 3, paragraph (a), of the Act requires that the test applied shall consist of not less than fifty words in any prescribed language. No languages have yet been specially prescribed by Regulation, But the Act permits of any European language being used, as authorised by Section 3 of the Principal Act – see footnote (b) under Section 3 of the Consolidated Act 1901–1925. In ordinary circumstances, the tests furnished from this Department should be used.
NOTE: The question has been raised as to whether it would be allowable to abandon the application of a dictation test before completing the fifty words and to choose a fresh passage in another language, in any case where an immigrant, after admitting inability to write in the language first chosen, commences to write in such a manner as to indicate the likelihood of his passing the test. The Crown Law authorities, however, definitely advise that once the test has been started it should be gone on with and carried to completion. It is therefore desirable that every possible precaution should be taken beforehand in doubtful cases to ascertain whether the person concerned is likely to be able to write in the language chosen.
(c) Method of application: Various Court cases have been lost through evidence being furnished that the test had not been correctly applied. The main point to remember is that, although a language may be chosen with which the immigrant is not acquainted, the test should be applied in such a way that he would be afforded a reasonable opportunity to write the passage out if he were literate and knew the language. The following precautions should therefore be taken, viz:–
(i) Pencil and paper should be handed to the person to be tested.
(ii) It should be clearly explained to him what he is required to do, viz.: to write out the passage dictated to him (if necessary, an interpreter should be employed to explain the requirement).
(iii) The whole passage should be read over once to indicate what the passage is, and then repeated more slowly as the actual test, a few words at a time, right to the end of the passage, whether the person attempts to write or not.
(iv) If the Officer has good reason to believe that the person to be tested could write in English, a passage of not less than fifty words in some other European language may be selected. If an Officer is not available to read the passage correctly in the language chosen, a person acquainted with the language may be authorised in writing by an Officer to dictate the passage, see paragraph (a), Section 3, of the Act.
F. J. Quinlan
This is a circular, dated 4 March 1927, from FJ Quinlan, Assistant Secretary of the Australian Government's Home and Territories Department, giving detailed directions on how to apply the dictation test. The test was used to control non-European immigration and the entry of 'undesirables' to Australia. The circular was sent from the department's Melbourne office to the Collector of Customs in Fremantle, Western Australia.
These instructions are a significant historical record, demonstrating that the intended purpose of the dictation test was to arbitrarily exclude certain groups while complying with due legal process. The dictation test, introduced with the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, was a key instrument of the White Australia Policy in preventing immigration by so-called 'undesirables', particularly people from Asia, between 1901 and 1958.
The dictation test, which required a person to write down not less than 50 words in a language chosen precisely because of its unfamiliarity to them, enabled literacy to be used as a means of restricting immigration. The dictation test allowed the government to prevent unwanted races from entering Australia without overtly using race as a basis for their rejection, something that would have caused offence to Britain’s ally, Japan, and to non-white British subjects.
This circular, written in 1927, reveals the effect of various legal challenges against the federal government that had been lost 'through evidence being furnished that the test had not been correctly applied'. It advises that the dictation test should be applied in such a way that the would-be immigrant would be able to pass it if he or she knew the language. It also advises the use of an interpreter if necessary to outline the requirements.
This circular is written to the Collector of Customs in Fremantle because the dictation test was conducted by Customs officers, usually on the arrival of passengers to Australia. The Collector of Customs in each state was responsible for issuing certificates of exemption from the dictation test, either to allow non-Europeans to enter Australia temporarily or to allow those resident in Australia to return after travelling overseas.
The dictation test was an effective part of the White Australia Policy. It was used 805 times between 1902 and 1903, with 46 people passing, and 554 times between 1904 and 1909, with only six people passing. The test was designed to be failed and by 1927, when this circular was written, it had been 18 years since anyone had passed.
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