The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 included a clause allowing the wives and children of anyone who was not a prohibited immigrant to enter the country in the company of their husband or parent. However, the clause itself was able to be suspended by proclamation at any time.
Page from the Immigration Restriction Act 1901
NAA: A1559, 1901/17 p.4
In combination with the subsequent clause, which permitted entry to anyone who could prove they were legally domiciled, this should have allowed non-Europeans who arrived in Australia before Federation to bring their families to join them. But only a small number of Certificates of Domicile were issued before the clause relating to wives and children was suspended in March 1903. As a result, few families were able to take advantage of the provision, which was finally removed from the Act in 1905.
Page from the Immigration Restriction Amendment Act 1905
NAA: A2863, 1905/17, p.9
The introduction of wives and children was limited because government policy was aimed at reducing the overall numbers of Asians in Australia. In debating the 1905 amendments to the Act, Alfred Deakin argued: 'If we were to throw open the door to an influx of Chinese women and children we should reverse the policy of the Act and undo all the good we have accomplished'. He did, however, admit that cases of hardship would be dealt with fairly.
A further compromise was introduced in 1906, when the wives of long-standing residents of good character were permitted to visit their husbands for periods of up to six months.
Page from the draft 'Immigration Restriction Act 1901–1910 – Confidential notes for the guidance of officers', 1911
NAA: A1, 1917/16266, p.49
In 1910, Abdul Rahman Khan's brother died, leaving 16 year-old Israil an orphan. Abdul Rahman Khan returned to India and adopted the boy, planning to bring him to Australia. His solicitor in Bendigo wrote to the government seeking his admission, noting that there was 'no one in India to bring up and look after the boy'. The request was refused.
Letter from CF Neal to the Minister for External Affairs, 5 September 1910
NAA: A1, 1913/5476, p.22–3
Department of External Affairs memorandum summarising the case of Abdul Rahman Khan, 26 January 1911
NAA: A1, 1913/5476 p.15
In the meantime, Abdul Rahman Khan had married, and so his solicitor tried again, asking under what conditions his wife and son might be allowed into the country. The Department of External Affairs informed him that while his wife could be admitted for a maximum of six months, Israil could not be exempted from the dictation test.
Letter from Atlee Hunt, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, to CF Neal relating to the application by Abdul Rahman Khan, 27 February 1911
NAA: A1, 1913/5476, p.8
As was often the case in the administration of the White Australia Policy, the legislative flexibility which proved so powerful in restricting immigration also allowed exceptions to made where the government deemed it warranted or convenient. In 1907, Aziz Dean applied for permission for his wife to enter Australia. She was granted a Certificate of Exemption for 12 months, but told to expect no extension. The following year, Aziz Dean asked that his wife be allowed to remain permanently. His application was supported by testimonials from influential supporters, including the Premier of Western Australia. The request was approved.
Letter from Newton Moore, Premier of Western Australia, to the Prime Minister, 14 November 1908
NAA: A1, 1913/16437, p.7–8
Authorities were also free to exercise their discretion as to whether relatives could be admitted temporarily to help look after a business. Perooz was a camel owner in Bourke. His character was excellent, and he was said to have '60 working and 20 young camels'. In 1912 he had to visit India to fulfill his obligations as executor of his brother's will, and asked that either his brother Delail or nephew Eurooz, or both, be allowed into the country to mind his affairs.
Department of External Affairs memorandum relating to the application by Perooz to bring his brother to Australia, 7 February 1912
NAA: A1, 1912/6069, p.5
His application was initially refused. But Perooz's solicitors pressed the matter, explaining the circumstances of Perooz's planned visit overseas. The government finally agreed that one of the relatives would be allowed entry for a period of twelve months, with the option of applying for a further year 'if the work of winding up the estate is not complete'. However, a note on the file indicates that the offer was never taken up.
Department of External Affairs memorandum recording additional information about the application of Perooz, 28 March 1912
NAA: A1, 1912/6069, p.4
Letter from Atlee Hunt, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, to the Collector of Customs, Sydney, 4 April 1912
NAA: A1, 1912/6069, p.5
Other applications were simply rejected. Abdul Aziz Molla ran a drapery business in Perth. He was planning to visit India, and applied to the Collector of Customs to allow his brother, Abdul Hamid, to enter the country to look after the business in his absence. 'I cannot get any of my countrymen suitable whom I could trust', he explained, 'last time when I was away on a similar visit I left a man in charge of my business [the] result was that he acted very dishonestly toward me'.
Photographs of Abdul Hamid submitted with an application to allow him to mind the drapery business of his brother Abdul Aziz Molla, c. 1912
NAA: A1, 1912/9314, p.6
Letter from Abdul Aziz Molla to the Collector of Customs, Fremantle, 30 January 1912
NAA: A1, 1912/9314, p.12
The authorities gathered further information about Abdul Aziz Molla. While he bore 'a good character', he owned no property. The Collector of Customs in Fremantle considered that his business was 'practically that of a hawker' and recommended that the 'his application should not be entertained'. The Department of External Affairs agreed.
Department of External Affairs memorandum summarising the case of Abdul Aziz Molla, 5 June 1912
NAA: A1, 1912/9314, p.3
The Indian people's support for the British cause in World War I garnered support for their claims for fair treatment under the immigration laws of British Commonwealth. The Reciprocity Resolution, passed at the Imperial War Conferences of 1917 and 1918, affirmed the right of domiciled Indians to be joined by their wives and minor children.
In October 1918, Gola Singh, who was probably a Sikh, sought entry for his wife from the Collector of Customs in Sydney. A note on his file remarks, 'This is first appln for a wife's admission'. The matter was deferred until 1919, when Cabinet formally agreed to the admission of wives and children under the terms of the Reciprocity Resolution. Gola Singh's application, however, was not deemed to be 'altogether satisfactory', as he had no permanent home and was unable to demonstrate that he had the means to properly support his wife.
File note, 10 December 1918
NAA: A1, 1919/14332, p.6
Memorandum concerning Gola Singh's application to bring his wife to Australia, 10 April 1919
NAA: A1, 1919/14332, p.5
Indians seeking to bring their wives and children to Australia were required to show evidence of their ability to maintain a family. They also needed proof of their relationship, furnished by the Indian authorities. The details of these arrangements were still being negotiated in 1921.
Government of India circular informing local administrators of the procedures to be followed by Indians resident in Australia wishing to arrange admission of their wives and children, 8 July 1921
NAA: A11804, 1921/266, p.6–8
The concessions introduced under the Reciprocity Resolution raised questions about the admission of other relatives. By the 1920s, many Indian residents were growing old and wished to retire from business. Could they arrange for an adult son or brother to enter the country and take over the business permanently? This matter was raised by the Diwan Bahadur T Rangachariar, an Indian dignatory visiting Australia for the opening of Parliament House in 1927.
Government officials preferred to assess such requests on a case by case basis, fearing that the Indian population would continue to grow. 'If this concession be extended to brothers, nephews +c', a file note comments, 'these latter would in due course want wives +c +c and their families in due course would want wives +c and the thing would go on "ad infinitum"'.
Department of Home and Territories memorandum commenting on representations by Diwan T Rangachariar on behalf of Indian residents of Australia, 27 August 1927
NAA: A1, 1927/12853, p.8
European Muslims, such as Albanians, did not suffer the same restrictions. Once established, they were free to sponsor relatives to join them in Australia. Suleman Ymer arrived in Australia in 1928, working in Western Australia before taking up cotton growing at Biloela in Queensland. He became naturalised in 1936.
Statutory declaration submitted by Suleman Ymer with his application for naturalisation, 23 December 1935
NAA: A1, 1935/11731, p.6
Established as a share farmer with tidy sum in the bank, Suleman Ymer successfully sponsored the immigration of his brother Ramadan in 1937. The following year he was also joined by his cousin, Besim Demir.
Application by Suleman Ymer for the admission of his brother Ramadan Ymer, 3 August 1936
NAA: A1, 1938/2219, p.1
Application by Suleman Ymer for the admission of his cousin Besim Demir, 25 March 1937
NAA: A261, 1938/2220, p.1
By 1938 Suleman Ymer had purchased his own property and was looking forward to £400 profit in the coming season. The process of family reunion continued as he sponsored the arrival of his parents, Suleman and Hanife.
Application by Suleman Ymer for admission of his parents, Suleman and Hanife Ymer, 16 May 1938
NAA: A261, 1938/2218, p.1