Japanese women were often less welcome than the men. “Most of the literature says they worked as prostitutes,” Tianna says. “But I'm trying to find out if there was a bit more to that. Women often worked with their partners or on their own. They ran laundries and other businesses. There was a lady and her family who had a café, or others who ran a silk store.”
Some women in the Torres Strait were even involved in buying pearling luggers, the sailing boats that were used by the pearl divers. This was a bit tricky, but not impossible to do. “There were all sorts of laws that would limit luggers to only white pearling masters,” Tianna says. “But there were ways around them. Japanese migrants would put someone else's name on the deed, but they would own it.”
Migrants in Queensland: together but not always friendly
North Queensland was a sparsely populated area. In 1891 Townsville had a population of only around 13,000 people, whereas in 1897 Thursday Island alone had a population of approximately 800 to 1,000 Japanese migrants.
White Australians and Asian migrants did not always get along well. “At times the relationship was tense, because of the White Australia policy — and there was definitely racism,” Tianna says. There was also a certain worry about Japan, which was a powerful nation around 1900. “At the turn of the 20th century you've got the war with China,” she says. "And then in 1905 the war with Russia — and Japan wins both of them.”
This is why Queenslanders were divided about the Japanese migrants in the country. “They were saying, ‘we don't really want the Japanese people coming here. But also, we don't want to cause offence to the Japanese government or risk invasion’,” Tianna says.
Getting along with the neighbours
However, there were also brighter sides to the Australian-Japanese relationship. Because of Australia’s remoteness and its geography, North Queensland communities had to be cooperative and to help each other out. “There's a family I researched who lived in Cairns. They were a Japanese couple and they adopted a Chinese girl who was orphaned,” Tianna says.
“In Innisfail, there was a man who owned a silk store. He was quite friendly with a lot of the Italian migrants there who worked on the sugarcane farms. Even on Thursday Island people were cooperative, even though they were supposedly segregated into separate areas.” However, not everyone was happy with having the Japanese around. "The relationship was often complicated and tense,” Tianna says.