In the early twentieth century, Australia wanted to be identified as, “the white man’s country”. This pursuit involved many racist tactics and propaganda erasing those identified as “non-white” from the country’s narrative. The Australian government incorporated large-scale oppressive policies on Non-European immigrants and Indigenous Australians that monitored their every move. The Invisible Australians project was created to give a voice to the many Australians that faced these discriminatory laws and policies that denied them the full liberties and rights of their white Australian counterparts.
The project uses the same documentation that was once used to surveillance the lives of immigrants and indigenous Australians, to share their stories. Using facial detection software, Tim Sherratt and Kate Bagnall extracted thousands of portraits from Certificates of Exemption from the Dictation Test, Certificates of Domicile and other associated forms (CEDT) all found on the National Archives of Australia’s RecordSearch database. Sherratt shares in the real face of white australia the strenuous job of checking each portrait and removing duplicates. However, since the face detection extracted from a wide range of government documents and the Australian government kept several copies of the forms, many duplicates are still on the website. ( In my own search, I found three duplicates within ten minutes of browsing portraits)
There are a few other things I noticed while perusing the site to learn more about these amazing people. First, the site consists of predominately male portraits. There are women and children also present in the gallery, but very few compared to the plethora of male faces. Second, there is no particular order of the portraits. Not sure what was the intent of having the images randomized. Furthermore, I’m very interested in understanding why Sherratt and Bagnall chose to only focus on documents approved by Collectors of Customs? The overview of this project speaks on the discriminatory policies placed on Indigenous Australians, not just non-European immigrants. Still, the only records used for this project are from ST84/1, a series of immigration-related travel approvals. Lastly, the site may not provide user-generated contributions, but the overview does provide fun instructions on different ways to navigate through the gallery of portraits. “Reverse the order simply by adding‘?order=reverse’ to the url. You can also browse file by file by adding ‘?order=file’ I attempted both instructions and could not tell the significance of modifying my url. The order still appeared random and in no particular order.
Invisible Australians is a captivating project. Using the very documents that once restricted people of their liberties, is now the very tool to share their stories. It’s important to note that Sherratt states this project is, “ not an exhibit, it’s a finding aid.” The portraits are used to reel the user into wanting to learn more about these people. Each portrait is a small glimpse into the unnecessary monitoring many people had to endure under the Australian government’s authority.