'Annamese Coolies' at Australian Ports: Charting Colonial Geographies of Emotion, and Settler Memory, from French Vietnam to New Caledonia via Interwar Australia.

In 1927, a ship carrying indentured Vietnamese workers travelled down the eastern coast of Australia on its way to New Caledonia. The movement of the Ville d’Amiens steamer through Australian waters sparked protests against alleged ‘French slavery’
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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found athttp://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=rahs20 Download by:  [La Trobe University] Date:  31 July 2017, At: 19:12 Australian Historical Studies ISSN: 1031-461X (Print) 1940-5049 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rahs20 ‘Annamese Coolies’ at Australian Ports: ChartingColonial Geographies of Emotion, and SettlerMemory, from French Vietnam to New Caledoniavia Interwar Australia Nadia Rhook To cite this article:  Nadia Rhook (2017) ‘Annamese Coolies’ at Australian Ports: Charting ColonialGeographies of Emotion, and Settler Memory, from French Vietnam to New Caledonia via Interwar Australia, Australian Historical Studies, 48:3, 399-415, DOI: 10.1080/1031461X.2017.1338740 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1031461X.2017.1338740 Published online: 31 Jul 2017.Submit your article to this journal View related articles View Crossmark data  ‘ Annamese Coolies ’  at Australian Ports: ChartingColonial Geographies of Emotion, and SettlerMemory, from French Vietnam to New Caledoniavia Interwar Australia NADIA RHOOK In 1927, a ship carrying indentured Vietnamese workers travelled down the eastern coast of Australia on its way to New Caledonia. The movement of the  Ville d ’ Amiens  steamer through Australian waters sparked protests against alleged   ‘ French slavery ’  and,eventually, moved politicians to recall the  ‘ injustice ’  of the  ‘  pre-White Australia ’  era. Thisarticle uses the  Ville d ’ Amiens  episode as a portal through which to explore the nexusbetween geographies of colonialism and of emotion. It argues that colonial and national  power operated in pervasively  ‘ triangular  ’  ways, via the interplay of an affective triangle  –  of guilt, shame and pride  –   and a geo-political triangle  –   of French Vietnam, Australia and New Caledonia. Further, the article calls for greater exploration of the historical, geo- spatial contingencies of memory, motion and emotion. On 7 July 1927, the  Ville d  ’  Amiens  steamer docked at the town of Townsville innortheast Australia. On board were approximately four hundred indentured ‘ coolies ’ , reportedly from the French protectorate of Annam, current-daycentralVietnam,ontheirwaytoNewCaledonia.Theglaringwintersunrenderedthe deck-dwelling coolies visible to voyeuristic Australian onlookers, and thesight of this mass of  ‘ starved and bedless ’  labourers-in-waiting inspireddamning headlines of  ‘ French slavery ’ . 1 White and Chinese unionists organisedmass meetings but despite strong opposition to the passage of the vesselthrough Australian waters the steamer continued on its route, making normalportcallsthatwereanythingbutnormalinemotionalandpoliticalconsequence. 2 As the  Ville d  ’  Amiens  steamed away from Townsville to dock, deliver passengers,and refuel at Sydney, continue south to Melbourne and then west to Adelaide The author would like to thank Antoinette Burton for reading earlier versions of this article, TraceyBanivanua Mar and for their moral and intellectual encouragement, the anonymous reviewers fortheir generous feedback, and the La Trobe University Research Focus Area, Transforming HumanSocieties, for seed funding that supported research for this article.No potential con fl ict of interest was reported by the author. 1 Thepressslippedbetweenreferringtothecooliesas ‘ Chinese ’ , ‘ Tonkinese ’ and ‘ Annamese ’ ,butthevast majority reported they were from Annam.  ‘ Chinese Coolies Shanghaied ’ ,  The AustralianWorker  , 13 July 1927, 6. 2 ‘ These Coolie Ships ’ ,  Worker  , 20 July 1927, 19. 399  and Fremantle, an interplay between physical and emotional movementemerged. 3 The Vietnamese passengers were moving further away from theirhomes in Indochina and closer to their new lives in New Caledonia. At thesame time, Australian nationals were moved to anger over the alleged Frenchenslavement of the  ‘ Annamese ’  and, eventually, to recall shameful memoriesof what contemporary South Australian politicians periodised as the  ‘ pre-WhiteAustralia ’  era.The intensity of Australian indignation over so-called  ‘ French slavery ’  is, at fi rst read, jarring. As a few contemporaries would eventually note, the employ-ment of indentured labour was by no means peculiar to French colonialism.Two decades earlier, the Australian Commonwealth had passed the 1906Paci fi c Islander Act, and banned the use of indentured labour as part of a broader attempt to create Australia as a white working man ’ s  ‘ paradise ’ . 4 Yetunder the White Australia Policy, managers were continuing to indenturecoloured labourers in the Northern Australian sugar and pearling industries, aswell as in the territory of New Guinea, mandated to Australia under a 1920League of Nations agreement. 5 Australia ’ s ongoing history of indentured labour is not the only reason theresponse of moral indignation warrants explanation. A week prior to the  Villed  ’  Amiens ’  arrival, another French ship had docked in Townsville, carryinglabourers from the French protectorate of Hainan Island, in southern China.Then, a  Sydney Morning Herald   report had stated that indentured labour, knownas  ‘  blackbirding ’ , remained in living memory.  ‘ The arrival of the steamer  Hai Hum , carrying coolies to the French concession in the New He brides ’ , they told, ‘ reminded old residents of theold kanaka  “  blackbirding days ”’ . 6 This report expli-citly avowed Australia ’ s past use of indentured Islander labour. In marked con-trast, when the  Ville d  ’  Amiens  arrived, the press would present no suchrecollections. Until the steamer reached Port Adelaide, the  fl ood of more thaneighty reports about the  Ville d  ’  Amiens  that circulated around the nation afterthe steamer ’ s arrival elided reference to the past and ongoing use of indenturedlabour in Australia. As such, I argue here, in affectively condemning theFrench treatment of the Vietnamese passengers, various white male interlocutors –  including politicians, journalists, unionists and lay commentators  –  disavowedAustralia ’ s own past and present use of indentured labour. 7 This article, then, 3 Idiscussaframeworkthatpaysattentiontotheroleofstoppingandmobilityinmakingsettlercolo-nial power in  ‘ Speech, Sex and Mobility: Norwegians in an  “ English-speaking ”  settler colony ’ , Journal of Women ’  s History  28, no. 2 (2016). 4 ‘ Paci fi c Island Labourers: An Act to Amend the Paci fi c Islanders Labourers Act 1901 ’ , Melbourne,Commonwealth of Australia, 1906. 5 Julia Martínez,  ‘ Belated Labour Reform: Australia and the Abolition of Asian indenture ’ , in  Trans- forming Labour: Work, Workers, Struggle and Change: Proceedings of the Eighth National Labour HistoryConference , eds B. Bowden and J. Kellett (Brisbane: Grif fi th University, 2003), 227. 6 ‘ Chinese Coolies. For New Hebrides. Conditions on Steamer ’ ,  Sydney Morning Herald  , 9 July 1927,16. 7 In the 1920s,Indians,Chineseand South Sea Islanders wereemployed in the AustralianNorth andin the mandated territories of Papua and New Guinea. 400  Australian Historical Studies ,  48  ,  2017   has three related purposes. First, to establish the triangular colonial relationship between French Vietnam, Australia and New Caledonia. Second, to demonstratethat the dynamic interplay between motion, emotion, and memory shaped thepolitics of labour transportation in the interwar period. And third, to argue thata triangular framework  –  at once geo-spatial and affective  –  is a productive lens by which to view the makings and maintenance of Australian-French colonialpower, and potentially colonial and imperial power more broadly.Numerous critical scholars have noted the importance of disavowal of thecolonial era to the imagining and construction of nations. Perhaps most in fl uen-tiallyinAustralia,LorenzoVeracinihastheorisedthatsettlerstatesincludingAus-tralia, New Zealand and New Caledonia have sought to disavow the violence thatenabled their creation, particularly the violence enacted against Indigenouspeople which has, and does, enable white and coloured settlers to maintaincontrol over Indigenous lands, including Aboriginal land in Australia andKanak land in New Caledonia. 8 Here, I take on the Lacanian understanding ofdisavowal as a denial of reality that is  ‘ neither fully repressed nor fully acknowl-edged ’ , and, crucially, a form of not knowing that allows a subject to avoid con-fronting a negative emotion such as guilt or shame. 9 Scholars have yet to explore thoroughly the spatial dynamics of settler colo-nial strategies of disavowal, let alone how they related to the emotional geogra-phies of French colonialism, and to the movement of Vietnamese indenturedlabourers via Australian ports. In this article, I attempt to use the  Ville d  ’  Amiens episode as a portal to explore the relationship between memory, motion andemotion, lexicon related both in theory and, demonstrated here, in social andcolonial practice. I do so in ways closely attentive to the geo-political formationthat underscored the transportation of Vietnamese labour; at base, a triad of Aus-tralian and French colonial regimes, connected by ports, ships and oceans and byimperatives of land, labour and capital. As the arrival of the steamer brought intosensual contact subjects from a French franchise, British settlerand French settlercolony respectively, so does it bring a triangle of polities  –  Indochina, Australia,and New Caledonia  –  into a single and strikingly triangular frame.The form of the triangle, I hope to illustrate here, is not merely suggestive forits geometric neatness and apt description of the colonial con fi guration at play, but also a useful conceptual instrument for developing a methodology that com- bines historical and theoretical scholarship about empire and emotion withthat on settler colonialism. Sociologist and critical theorist Sara Ahmed hasargued that a three-pointed affective dynamic pervasively underscores white 8 Lorenzo Veracini,  ‘ Settler Collective, Founding Violence and Disavowal: The Settler Colonial Situ-ation ’ ,  Journal of Intercultural Studies  29, no. 4 (2008): 363 – 79. Tracey Banivanua Mar has observedthat the violence enacted against Paci fi c Island labourers in Australia ’ s North was often renderedinvisible in white settler society in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. See her  Violenceand Colonial Dialogue: The Australian-Paci   fi  c Indentured Labour Trade  (Honolulu: University of Hawai ’ iPress, 2007), 144, 185. 9 For discussion of Lacanian disavowal see Richard Halpern,  The Underside of Innocence  (Chicago: Uni-versity of Chicago Press, 2006), 8 – 9. Rhook:  ‘  Annamese coolies ’  at Australian ports  401  Australians ’  attempts to come to terms with the violence of the colonial past,which I here term the  ‘ guilt – shame – pride ’  triangle. White Australians, Ahmedhas observed, feel guilty about the dispossession of Absrcinal lands. They turna  ‘  bad feeling ’  into a good one via declaring their shame, and thus align  ‘ aswell meaning individuals ’ . 10 As Ahmed puts it:  ‘ non-indigenous Australiansexpress sorrow, sympathy and shame in order that they can  “ return ”  to theirpride in the nation ’ . 11 As will become clear, the  ‘ guilt – shame – pride ’  emotionaltriangle was, inthe case of the  Ville d  ’  Amiens , assigni fi cant asthe three-point geo-graphical formation, if not more so, in powering white Australians ’  responses tothe steamer ’ s arrival. It is the shifting, sore and sensitive nexus between trianglesof geography and of affect that drives this article. Thinking in triangles Inthe last decade, settler colonial historians andtheoristshave explicitly and con-sistently employed a triangular framework by which to describe racialised struc-tures. Following this lead, a number of historians now agree that the coloniser/colonised binary has failed to account for the logic that fundamentally underpinssettler colonialism; the  ‘ indigenous/settler/immigrant ’  triad that Patrick Wolfe,Lorenzo Veracini, Candace Fujikane, Jonathan Okamura and others have com-pellingly argued provides the guiding logic to settler colonialism. 12 The projectof settler colonialism in Australia, as in New Caledonia, Canada, New Zealandand the United States of America, this scholarship demonstrates, has been predi-cated on a triangular relationship  –  the displacement of Indigenous people fromthe land, the concomitant replacement of the Indigenous population with asettled  ‘ white ’  one, and the importation of  ‘ exogenous ’  or subordinate(d)coloured labour to enable white supremacy. 13 At the same time, but concerned with the  ‘ post ’  rather than  ‘ settler ’  colonialcondition, cultural theorists such as Beth Kramer and Eve Sedgwick have shownthat emotions and psychological dynamics have been structured in a powerfullytriangular way. These include the victim/perpetrator/saviour triangle, which, aswe will shortly see, in our case plays out that of the Vietnamese  ‘ coolie ’  victim/French colonist perpetrator/Australian nationalist saviour. 14 This article, then, builds on these connected schools of thought to attempt to navigate a 10 SeeSaraAhmed, ‘ ThePoliticsofBadFeeling ’ ,  Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies AssociationJournal   1 (2005): 72 – 85. 11 Ibid., 72. 12 PatrickWolfe, ‘ Land,LabourandDifference:ElementaryStructuresofRace ’ , The AmericanHistorical Review   106, no. 3 (2001): 866. See also Lorenzo Veracini,  ‘ Settler Colonialism and Decolonisation ’ , Borderlands  6, no. 2 (2007): 1 – 17. 13 A triangular framework has also underscored settler colonialism in Asian contexts. See CandaceFujikane and Jonathan Okamura, eds,  Asian Settler Colonialism: From Local Governance to the Habitsof Everyday Life in Hawai  ’ i   (Honolulu: University of Hawai ’ i Press, 2008), 10. 14 Beth Kramer,  ‘“ Post-Colonial Triangles ” : An Analysis of Homosexuality and Homosocial Desire inAchebe ’ s  A Man of the People  and Green ’ s  The Quiet American ’ ,  Postcolonial Text   4, no. 4 (2008): 27. 402  Australian Historical Studies ,  48  ,  2017 
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