This work is an exploration of The Dalfram Dispute and The Nanjing Massacre. Our artistic director, Zebastian Hunter and dramaturg, Jenevieve Chang are exploring the narrative, themes, individuals and events in Australia and China. Our initial research phase has been supported by The Arts Centre Melbourne's AsiaTOPA Lab.
The Nanjing Project – Creative Development Historical Background
By the 1930’s, Japanese Imperial Forces (JLF) were entrenched in Korea, Manchuria and Taiwan. By 1937, JIF had occupied much of northern China as well as attacking key port cities including Shanghai. By the end of 1937 and into 1938, JLF were perpetrating one of the 20th century’s most notorious war crimes, the ‘Rape of Nanking’ in which Chinese civilians were assaulted, violated and slaughtered en masse and their properties looted and destroyed.
Following the massacre, The Australian Council of Trade Unions called for a boycott of Japanese goods and an embargo on the export of Australian iron to be used by Japan’s munitions manufacturers in their Chinese invasion.
In November 1938, the Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia, refused to load pig iron ore onto the British steamship SS Dalfram docked at Port Kembla and bound for Japan. The federal government sought to force the workers back but the strikers held out for twelve weeks during which time Sydney’s Chinese community sent truckloads of fruit and vegetables to feed the striker’s families. Indian national sailors on board the SS Dalfram refused to cooperate with the port authorities who sought to break the strike with ‘scab labour’.
Viewed against the backdrop of the White Australia Policy – one of the very first acts passed by our Federated Parliament in 1901 and not repealed until the 1960’s - this powerful act of industrial resistance by working class Australians in support of the Chinese community (who constituted less than 0.25% of the Australian population at the time) encourages us to rethink historical narratives of racism.
While presuming to represent and speak for the views of the masses, those with elected and industrial power revealed regressive positions and agendas in direct contradiction to the empathy felt by working Australians for the invaded Chinese. Through the Virtual LAB Creative Development, Zebastian Hunter and aXis productions, which is based in Wollongong, will explore this event from numerous local, national and international perspectives giving attention to the historical, political, social and cultural implications and consequences of the story.