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Frederick John Rose was the founder of Deaf Children Australia, a tireless advocate for the education and rights of the deaf community in Australia. Chloë Okolihas explored his heart for justice, as he responded to the Immigration Restriction Act. These events can also be found in the National Archives of Australia file on Frederick J. Rose.

‘Falling On Deaf Ears’

In 1903, Frederick John Rose, an advocate for the deaf, sent a letter to the Commonwealth Government asking whether the “deaf and dumb” were under the “ban” of the Immigration Restriction Act? This question not only concerned Rose as an advocate, it was personal. Rose was profoundly deaf himself. Rose became deaf from scarlet fever when he was a child. In 1852 he came to Australia with his younger brother, Francis. Moving between Melbourne and Bendigo, working in carpentry and trying his luck on the goldfields, he became interested in establishing a school for deaf children In Melbourne. From 1860, when he opened a small school for deaf children in Prahran, he continued to grow his vision, and with the support of Reverend William Moss, was able to open the Victoria Deaf and Dumb Institution in 1866. 

Rose wrote that he knew of deaf people who could not buy tickets to travel by ship between the states of Australia. Individual shipping companies were refusing to sell tickets to deaf people. The shipping companies feared that under the new Immigration Restriction Act, if they were caught carrying a deaf person he or she might be declared a prohibited immigrant. If so, then the shipping company was liable for a fine for transporting a prohibited immigrant. It was a risk they were not willing to take.

So Rose asked Atlee Hunt, the Secretary for the Department of External Affairs, who along with Prime Minister Edmund Barton, administered the Immigration Restriction Act, the foundation of the White Australia Policy. Hunt replied that he was quite unsure what Rose meant by his question. The Immigration Restriction Act did not apply to people who lived in Australia, only to those entering the Commonwealth from abroad. If Rose was asking this question, then surely Hunt believed he must have an example in mind, and if so, he should share it. Rose replied that he did have an example. He had three. First, Rose went to the office of a notable, but unnamed, shipping company and asked the agent at the booking desk his question by writing it down with a pencil and paper.

“If I wanted to go to Sydney, or elsewhere, for a trip and pay any passage, would you section me as one of the prohibited immigrant?”

The ticketing officer took up the pencil and wrote:

“Yes – on presentation of a certificate from the Immigration Agent at the port at which you wish to land. This can no doubt be obtained by writing to him.”

Secondly, Rose went to Customs House in Melbourne. Again, with his pencil and paper, he wrote:

“Are the deaf and dumb under the ban of prohibited immigrant?”

The clerk took up the pencil and wrote:

“In certain cases, perhaps might be considered so, Vide Sec 3 (b) and would only probably apply to new arrivals who had been formerly domiciled in the Commonwealth on State Vide Sec 3 (n).”

Lastly, Rose referenced a section of a White Star Line pamphlet.

“The Company reserve the right of rejecting any person who may be found when embarking to be …deaf, dumb…, or any person… whose condition is such as to appear likely to involve the owners, master, or agents of the ship in liability for his or her maintenance or support, or otherwise, under or by virtue of any Colonial or other law or regulation.”

These cases were proof of the discrimination that deaf people faced in Australia, and Rose waited for Hunt’s reply. Hunt did reply, and told Rose that there was no basis at all in the Immigration Restriction Act for these acts of discrimination. If any restrictions had been applied they had not been imposed by direction of his Department or under the Immigration Restriction Act. If anything, the discrimination was illegal under section 92 of the Constitution that guaranteed the right of free passage between the States of the Commonwealth.

NAA: A1, 1903/7366 F.J. Rose re Deaf and Dumb of Australia and Immigration Restriction Act.