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The Filipino-Australian couple credited for dismantling the racist White Australia Policy

By Renato Perdon
July 7, 2014


(From a new book – Connecting Two Cultures: Australia and the Philippines by Renato Perdon)

The basic principle governing the immigration policy of Australia for over a century was ‘White Australia’. Just before Federation, various Colonies introduced Anti-Chinese immigration  restriction acts to prevent the influx of the Chinese during the Gold Rush. When Federation came, the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, popularly known as the White Australia policy was enacted and became the single law followed by the newly Federated Australian states.

As a consequence of the Act, the Kanakas (Pacific Islander labourers), the black labour from the Pacific Islands, were deported and they were prohibited to work in the sugar plantations anymore. The Chinese were also restricted, same with Filipinos known then as ‘manillamen’, because all of them belong to the group called the ‘Asiatics’. Only white people were welcome in Australia from that time on. This policy continued until the early 1970s when the White Australia policy was formally abolished by the Whitlam government.

An incident in Manila was reported by The Sydney Morning Herald about an attack on two Australian officers of streamer Nellore in the Port Area of Manila. The attack was witnessed by Captain A. Angrave of Melbourne, who was a passenger on the ship. According to the report, a group of Filipinos confronted the two visiting Australians walking through the Manila docks and told them ‘You Australians. You don’t want us down there – we don’t want you here.’ A scuffle ensued and the Australians were cut about their faces.

The seriousness of the Sgt. Gamboa case even threatened the closure of the four year old Philippine Consulate General in Sydney when members of the Philippine Congress voted to delete the £11,000 allocation for the operation of the consular office in Sydney, thereby effectively severing relations between the two countries.

The issue continued to attract media interests in Manila, particularly when the Philippine Senate unanimously passed a Reciprocal Rights Immigration Bill, retaliation against the Australian government’s refusal to allow Sgt. Lorenzo Gamboa to enter Australia to visit his family. The bill prohibits the admission of aliens [into the Philippines] whose countries do not grant reciprocal rights to Filipinos’.

Meanwhile, Sgt. Gamboa who was desperate to see his wife and children in Australia told the United Press about his plan to take his case to the United Nations Organisation. Sgt. Gamboa planned to go straight to New York after the expiration of his tour of duty in Japan in August of 1949. He planned to talk to American First Lady Eleonor Roosevelt and General Carlos P. Romulo the Philippine delegate to the UNO, to raise the question on whether the White Australia Policy was a violation of the UNO Charter.

Lorenzo Gamboa hails from Mangaldan, Pangasinan and was serving in the US Army when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941. While recuperating from a hernia operation, he was brought to Australia, arriving in Northern Australia early in 1942, and later he was posted to a military camp in Melbourne’s Royal Park where he was introduced to a 17-year old Joyce Cain whom he married at the end of 1942. A year after, a baby boy, Raymond, was born while Gamboa was then fighting the war in the Philippines, New Guinea and Japan.  His wife gave birth to another baby, a girl, but it would take six years before he would see his new baby—the main reason was the White Australia Policy.

His application was rejected on the grounds that he was a non-European and making an exception to his case, it was pointed out, would open the gates to other Asian war refugees married to Australians to seek permanent residency in Australia. In reply to Mrs. Gamboa’s letter of appeal to the Federal government on behalf of her husband, Minister Calwell said: ‘... I regret that I am unable to grant authority for your husband’s entry to Australia, as it would be contrary to the established policy of the Commonwealth government to do so.’

A ray of hope came when the Labor Party lost and there was a change of government. Sgt. Gamboa and other Asian victims of Calwell’s zealousness to make Australia pure were allowed entry to Australia by the new Immigration Minister Harold Holt.

For information about the new book Connecting Two Cultures: Australia and the Philippines, contact Manila Prints, PO Box 1267, Darlinghurst, NSW, Australia.

See also related article:

Connecting Two Cultures: Australia and the Philippines

    Write a Comment
    Charlie de la Torre
    Thu 10th July 2014
    Wildwood, Florida
    Australia’s All White Policy is disgraceful to the whole world when under this law it directly discriminate particular race and culture to enjoy their right of pursuit of happiness. Here in America there was this dark history of similar discrimination too and many african-americans endured the same faith as the Gamboas. But through God’s plan, those who suffered this injustice and inequality became the patriots and leaders to change the laws of the lands of these countries and they prevailed. I particularly admire the perseverance and tenacity of the Gamboa couple dealing with the tremendous persecution under this land law. Mabuhay kayong mga pilipino sa ibang bansa sa pagtataguyod ng inyong mga karapatan at pananalig sa ating panginoon Diyos. At pagpalain ang pamilya ni Gamboa ng Australia.
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