What did the chinese wear on the goldfields

The Chinese who came to the goldfields wore a wide variety of clothing. Some wore traditional Chinese clothes, and others adopted more Western-style clothing as they lived in Australia for longer.

In 1858, when the first Chinese migrants arrived in Australia, they brought with them their traditional clothing. This included long dresses for women and loose trousers for men. Over time, however, many Chinese people adopted Western-style clothing as well as other things from the culture of their host country.

The most common type of Chinese dress in Australia was a long jacket that covered both the front and back of the body. It had buttons down the front and a hood that could be pulled over the head in bad weather or when working outside on farms or mining sites. This style of jacket was known as a “brogue” because it resembled shoes made from leather called brogues (or brogues).

By the early 1850s, news of a gold rush in Australia had reached southern China, sparking an influx in Chinese migration to Australia.

It is thought that approximately 7000 Chinese people came to work at the Araluen gold fields in southern NSW. The Chinese miners often worked in organised groups of 30 to 100 men under the direction of a leader, which resulted in their gold digging efforts being very successful.

Conflict between the Chinese and Europeans on the goldfields stemmed from the European miners’ resentment of  these successes.

This ongoing tension and resentment from the European gold miners came to a head in the Lambing Flat Riots, a series of violent anti-Chinese demonstrations in the Burrangong region of NSW.

Goldmining at that time was a man’s game, no more so than among the Chinese. By 1880, there were still less than a hundred Chinese women in the colony, alongside a population of 10,000 Chinese men. However, Chinese men were not necessarily without female company.

By the 1880s, in NSW, there was a strong anti-Chinese sentiment and many people didn’t want Chinese immigrants to live here.

There were many reasons for this, they might have not wanted them to work on the goldfields, taking the fortunes of Europeans, or they might not have wanted them to start furniture factories that competed with European jobs.

One of the concerns that Sydneysiders had during this period of time about Chinese immigrants was that they were bringing disease and smallpox into the country.

Newspapers at that time often ran inflammatory materials, designed to be shocking, scary and give Chinese immigrants a bad reputation. It is discriminatory and racist, but during the 19th century people had different values and attitudes about what was acceptable.

It’s also important to understand that not all people thought this way; there were people who also thought Chinese immigrants were upstanding citizens – people who worked hard, started businesses, employed Europeans and showed exceptional generosity.


Until 1750s China had been a mysteriously isolated nation from the rest of the world when the Chinese Emperor first allowed foreign traders to establish warehouses in Canton.

China’s tea, silk and sugar were also in high-demand in European countries, but the Chinese wanted very little of what the Europeans could offer in return – they wanted silver. The British economy was based on gold, so it meant they had to buy the silver (which was expensive) before they could trade.

This created a trade imbalance, and China had a strong upper hand. To try and reverse this imbalance the British began to increase the amount of the addictive drug opium that they sold to China because there was a local demand for it. Opium came from British controlled India, so it was easy and cheap for them to access.

The Chinese Emperor saw this as a threat to his people and tried to ban it, ordering the seizure of the goods and restricting foreign trade. This led to war with European powers (known as the Opium Wars) in which the Chinese were heavily defeated by strong and industrialised military forces.

As a result European powers forced their way into new areas of China (Hong Kong), dramatically expanding their control over trade in and out of that region.

Chinese immigration to NSW & reaction (1840-60)

By the 1840s Chinese men were trying to come to Australia because war, political instability and environmental conditions were making life hard in southern China.

Once here they did a lot of the hard, physical agricultural work that was required as the colony continued to grow – work that had previously been done by convicts. The first contracted workers arrived in 1848 and all up around 3000 had arrived by 1853.

This practice of importing cheap labour was not unique to Australia during the 19th century – for example the Transcontinental Railway in the USA was built by Chinese labourers on work contracts as was the Canadian Pacific Railway.

After gold was discovered in NSW thousands more Chinese tried to come; as their numbers continued to grow, sections of the European population resented and questioned their presence in the colony.

From the 1860s government legislation was used to try and restrict Chinese people arriving and in 1861 the NSW Gov. passed the ‘Chinese Migration Act’, which introduced a tariff for Chinese people only.

Anti-Chinese legislation in NSW (1861-1880s)

By the 1880s anti-Chinese sentiment in NSW was very strong. For example, the premier at the time – Henry Parkes – reflected the view held by many when he stated:  “There can be no…intermarriage or social communion between the British and the Chinese.” (H. Parkes – 1888)

In 1888 his government passed The Chinese Restriction and Regulation Act –‘to [protect] the Colony from dangers of Chinese immigration’.

In 1889 it passed the Immigration Restriction Act, which required any prospective immigrant to write out a passage in a ‘European language’ chosen by the immigration officer in order to be eligible. It could be ANY European language.

Federation 1901

In 1901 the now federal government of Australia passed the Immigration Restriction Act – unified national legislation that acknowledged state/ territory’s anti-Chinese stance.

The federal Act retained the clause that an immigrant must write out a passage in a European language to be allowed to enter. It also applied the term ‘prohibited immigrant’ to those who arrived illegally or were not able to meet the strict requirements.

The Immigration Restriction Act (1901) was the beginning of what is now known as the White Australia Policy; it was not fully repealed until the 1970s.

This Act had an enormous personal impact on the Chinese community living in Australia.


The Chinese on the Australian goldfields does not seem like much trouble now but back in the 1850’s it was. This changed Australia’s history because it was the start of Australian multiculturalism.

News reached  China in 1853 China that in Australia there was goldfields in Ballarat and Bathurst . At the time in China there was war and famine. Which made the Chinese desperate to come. To voyage from China to Melbourne was several months on a ship in crammed conditions on the voyage there was about 7 men and 1 woman because women would rarely come to goldfields. 

The Chinese were hated because they done a variety of things different for example:CLOTHING:

The Chinese would wear strange clothes compared to the other miners that would wear loose fitted clothing, trousers held up by braces, boots and a wide brimmed hat. The Chinese would wear long braids in their hair, walk around bare-footed and wear dress like robes.BELIEFS:

 The Chinese were very superstitious they made all the corners of their houses go down like a waterslide because they thought that if evil spirits land on the top of  their house they will fall down. They had a church like buliding called a Josh house which is like there church because of this the other miners made racist comments towards them.


In an attempt to limit the number of Chinese at the goldfields, a law was passed in 1885 that any Chinese person entering Victoria would pay ten pounds tax, and one pound for a protection fee, the right to mine and live in the colony. No one entering Victoria from any other country had to pay this tax. However, this did not reduce the numbers of Chinese. They landed in South Australia and walked several hundred kilometres to reach the Victorian goldfields. There was also two different camps one for the Chinese and the other one for the other miners.MINING TECNIQUES / GROUPS :

The Chinese miners used to work in groups. A couple of people from the group would mine, a couple of people would grow vegetables, some people would farm animals to eat and some people would clean the groups clothes and the houses (mostly the women). The mining tecniques were also different as the other miners would mine in squares and the Chinese would mine in circles because as I said they were very superstitious they thought that bad / evil spirits would be in the corners.

Step 1: Chinese Diggers

Read this introductionBy 1858, there were 33,667 Chinese on the Victorian goldfields. They were all male and six were children.With their different clothing and their long pigtails, the Chinese stood out.They tended to work over the areas the Europeans had already worked. They were very successful in finding any gold that the Europeans had missed and left behind. They worked very very hard.The other diggers didn’t like the Chinese coming and taking what they thought was their gold. The Chinese faced hostility from other miners. On the Buckland River in 1857 a violent clash occurred when the European miners tried to drive the Chinese off the goldfield.The Victorian government tried to stop so many Chines coming to the goldfields by placing a ten pound tax on each Chinese person as they arrived. So the Chinese would then land in South Australia and walk overland from that way instead.

Step 2: Watch this movie

Notice, that after the gold rushes, the Chinese that stayed behind to live in Australia, gradually became accepted. They are now a very important part of Australia.

Step 3: Racism on the goldfields

Chinese miners wore different clothes and preferred to stay in groups together. They prayed at Chinese Temples and smoked opium. Not many Chinese women came to the goldfields so white miners thought that they might attack white women.White miners didn’t like it when hard working and careful Chinese miners found gold in places that they had already worked on. White miners incorrectly believed that the Chinese took all the wealth back to China and that they spread disease.After a while, all these things caused a lot of bad feeling towards the Chinese. In 1858 about 400 white miners signed a petition that was very racist, asking the government to restrict the Chinese coming to the goldfields. It said that the Chinese had general filthy habits that are repulsive to the feelings of Christian people.If you click on the links below you will find some more information about the Chinese on the goldfields and the racism that it caused.


Step 4: Activity

Add two more slides to your Powerpoint.On the first slide add some facts about the Chinese coming to the goldfields. (For example, when they came, how many came, how they lived and what jobs they did on the goldfields)

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