In 1901 the Parliament of Australia passed the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. This law basically gave immigration officials a lot of power to deny entry into Australia of people whom they felt should not enter the country.
Who did immigration officials feel should not enter the country? Well, non-whites for one. And one way that they tried to keep non-whites out was by making people pass a dictation test in order to be allowed admittance into Australia. (You can try taking the dictation test here. Good luck!!)
By 1901 there were already non-whites living in Australia. Thursday Island in Queensland, for instance, had a significant Asian population, as many people had come there from such places as Japan and India in the late nineteenth century to work in the pearl industry (diving for pearls, etc.). What is more, some of these people took trips
Now what would happen after 1901 if you were an Asian living in Australia and you left on a trip? Would you be allowed back in? Or would you be given the dictation test and fail?
Apparently in order to make sure that they would be allowed to re-enter the country if they went on a trip abroad, people would apply for a certificate exempting them from the dictation test before they left, and would carry this with them and present it to the immigration officials upon their return.
Many of these certificates have been digitized by the National Archives of Australia, and they are fascinating to look at.
I found this one here, for instance. It is for Simplicia Gar from Thursday Island. She is 17 years old, and her nationality is listed as “1/2 cast Filipino (Australian born).”
In November 1917 Simplicia embarked on a trip with her 15 year-old sister, Teresa. I’m not sure where they went. I’m assuming that it was to the Philippines.