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Published on Mar 27, 2014
In 1888, as Sydney celebrated its centenary, several boats carrying Chinese immigrants sailed through Sydney Heads into a crisis that would shape the nation. Chinese people had been arriving in Sydney for over 30 years, but by 1888 growing ill-will towards them had broken out into open hostility, and the tide turned against the immigrants aboard the SS Afghan, Menmuir and Guthrie. They were detained and deported under harsh new immigration laws hastily rushed through Parliament.
The 'Afghan incident' was catalysed by the threat of cheap Chinese labour, compounded by prejudices demonising the Chinese and their way of life. It was a turning point in the history of the Chinese in Australia, paving the way for the White Australia policy and the exclusion of Asian immigrants for the next 80 years.
Celestial City explores the background to and consequences of this nation-defining crisis through the stories of Sydney's Chinese people who were there before, during and after this crucial moment in our history.
It celebrates the diversity of experiences and successes within the Chinese community by recognising the perseverance and achievement of individuals and families and the legacy this has given Sydney with such a strong and vibrant Chinese community today.