The almost simultaneous abolition of the slave trade and the cessation of convict transportation to the colony of New South Wales—now eastern mainland Australia—started a quest by the squatter pastoralists for alternative sources of cheap labor for their vast sheep runs. Over a period of five years, beginning from 1848, around three thousand Chinese men and boys from Fujian Province were recruited under conditions little different from the slave trade.
In Among Australia’s Pioneers, author Margaret Slocomb focuses on the experiences of approximately two hundred of these Chinese laborers between 1848 and 1853. Her research examines their working conditions during the five-year indenture period and also traces the lives of several of the men who, at the end of their contract, chose to remain in those districts, which, by then, had become familiar to them. Perhaps they regarded themselves as pioneer immigrants.
Slocomb recounts the experiences of these men on the dangerous northern frontier of European settlement. While some succumbed to the despair and loneliness of a shepherd’s life, others survived their indenture and went on to play an important role in the emerging society of the new colony of Queensland. They may certainly be counted among the nation’s pioneers.