Nathan Gardner

Nathan Gardner (PhD in History, 2022), ‘Imagining the “Chinese Australian Community”: A History of Community Organisations, 1970–2020’

This study examines the concept of a unitary ‘Chinese Australian community’ through a comparative analysis of Chinese Australian community organisations and their responses to six major events or moments in recent history (1970–2020). These events and moments are: the end of the White Australia Policy and the beginning of multicultural Australia; the 1984 ‘Blainey debate’, the Tiananmen Massacre and Chinese Students’ campaign for permanent residency in Australia; the ‘Hanson debate’ and the rise of ‘Hansonism’, 1996–1998; the beginning of the so-called ‘Chinese century’; and the recent, on-going debate about the PRC’s influence in Australian politics and society. Over the course of this history, the study puts a special focus on community organisations’ assertions of belonging, (trans)national identity, and multicultural ideals.

This study draws on the English- and Chinese-language materials created by more than 15 community organisations over this 1970–2020 period from around Australia. These materials were found in public and private collections across the country in physical and digital formats. Usage of these materials is complemented by ten oral history interviews conducted by the researcher with past and present community leaders in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. These interviews were conducted in English and on the condition of anonymity.

This thesis suggests that a unitary, unified, or united Chinese Australian community is a recurring chimera in the socio-cultural space shared by Chinese Australians. Instead, community organisations adopted different positions on a spectrum of possible relationships to both their Australian and ancestral homes and political developments in either or both could compel unity or division among them. The intended result is a history that shows Chinese Australian community organisations practising a highly participatory style of multiculturalism over the decades, albeit with alterations to fit the ever dynamic and manifold imaginings of what constituted a ‘Chinese Australian community’.

Supervisors: Professor Antonia Finnane, Professor Sean Scalmer