Asiatics’ Quarters: qualitative differentiation in detention

The construction of the Asiatics’ Quarters at the North Head Quarantine Station began in 1902. An equivalent set-up was also constructed at the Point Nepean Quarantine Station on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. The model of the Asiatics’ Quarters was significant in that it was an early institutionalised example of immigration detention in Australian history. Although the buildings in the Asiatics’ Quarters served the overall quarantine purposes at both North Head and Point Nepean, and on that level, one can argue that in terms of their function they were no different from other buildings for internees at Australian quarantine stations. However, the Asiatics’ Quarters served another purpose, which was very important for the government at the time: they acted as the site of segregation of non-European internees from European internees of the three passenger classes. In that particular aspect the Asiatics’ Quarters were an architectural as well as institutional expression of the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, one of the first legislations passed in the new Federal Parliament. As a new nation formed by the federation of the six former self-governing colonies of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia, Australia firmly believed – and in good faith – that it was in its national interests to keep itself British and white and non-Europeans such as Chinese and Pacific Islanders, who had already made themselves quite noticeable in the former colonies through their significant presence in numbers as well as in economic activity, should be resolutely excluded from settlement.

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