If you are all interested, here is an Asian Australian history lesson for you. You may or may not be aware, but Australia had extremely draconian and discriminating legislation from 1901 to the early 1970s called the “Immigration Restrictions Act” or the “White Australian Policy”. This pretty much meant if you were not white then you wouldn’t be allowed in Australia and if you were not white and already in Australia, well racism was allowed and legislated.
Anyways, ABC News Australia has written an article to share some history of a Chinese Australian trailblazer who fought these draconian and racist legislation of the early 1900s to becoming the first Asian Australian barrister to be admitted in Australia. His name is WILLIAM AH KET and in 1904 he signed the bar roll, officially becoming a barrister. Fighting all social barriers and exclusion, he really achieved great things at a time where Chinese Australians were seen as not even being human.
William broke social barriers when he signed the bar roll in 1904 — one paper described him as a “full-blooded, clever young Chinese” — and built a reputation as a skilled barrister.
That in itself was an “impressive feat”, says Reynah Tang, the founding president of the Asian-Australian Lawyers’ Association.
“If you think about someone who’s a first-generation Australian … trying to break into a white, Anglo-Saxon dominated legal profession, it would’ve taken a fair bit of work to build up his reputation, get to be known and respected,” he says.
On top of that work, William also had to deal with racism.
His great grand-daughter, Blossom Ah Ket, recalls a family story of a white Australian man taunting the barrister on a train on the way to court.
William was born in 1876, in the north-east Victorian town of Wangaratta — one of eight children.
His father Mah Ket had arrived in Australia in the 1850s, during the gold rush era, and his mother in the 1860s.
His mother, Hing Ung, had bound feet and spoke no English. She was sent to the Beechworth Lunatic Asylum and diagnosed with mania when William was five, and she lived there until she died in 1896.
William specialised in civil cases, including lawsuits over divorce petitions, wills and contracts.
He was also active in political groups which lobbied on behalf of the Chinese-Australian community against the legal supply of opium, and laws which imposed restrictions on Chinese laundry workers and furniture-makers.
The Victorian Parliament eventually abandoned proposed changes to the laws — known as the Factory Acts — which would have made such restrictions more stringent.
Dr Couchman says the changes William spoke out against were “very invasive”.
“They were about making sure Chinese were on view, they were really pretty abhorrent,” she says.
William also represented Chinese-Australians challenging discriminatory legislation in the High Court.
One case he was involved in successfully challenged the Immigration Restriction Act — better known as the White Australia policy — in 1908.
William’s client, James Minahan, was born in Australia to an Anglo-Australian mother and Chinese father.
It is a very interesting article to read, so I hope you will click on the original link and read up about this history coming from Australia. WILLIAM AH KET is definitely a trailblazer and has set the precedent for the rest of us Asian Australians to follow and reach the same heights.
Images via ABC News
To read the original article, please click on: The story of William Ah Ket, the first Chinese-Australian barrister