ACAUCH symposium: keynote on Corrugated Iron and Industry in tropical Australian Spaces / 24 Nov

As part of  The 5th Annual International Symposium of ACAHUCH, Navigating Encounters and Exchanges: Intercolonial trade, industry and labour mobility in Asia Pacific, 1800s – 1950s, we will be hosting our public keynote on Wednesday 24.11.2021 6:30-8pm AEDT.

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Keynote Headshots

CORRUGATED IRON AND INDUSTRY IN TROPICAL AUSTRALIAN SPACES, the keynote by Prof. Adrian Vickers and A/Prof Julia Martínez, will examine the below:

Industrial heritage mainly consists of now-absent buildings, the kinds of temporary structures built for a season or perhaps the length of a period of indenture. Made from the cheapest available materials for transient labour forces, the structures created by Australian enterprises in the Asia-Pacific between the early- to mid-twentieth century have left few records. These were structures for living, work and entertainment. In Aru, Broome, Cairns, Darwin and Nauru, Australian industries such as pearling, plantations and mining found various ways to cater for the mobile work-forces they hired.

In some cases, these workforces had to innovate with materials at hand, while in others, employers provided the materials. Workers often lived on boats or on the beach, so their needs varied. In these industrial sites, corrugated iron was the major preferred material. The post-war reconstruction of facilities for Chinese indentured labourers on Australian- administered Nauru transferred the make-shift pre-War structures into a planned environment. The buildings were made from easy to assemble corrugated iron sheeting, transported from Australia. Consideration for the tropical climate resulted in ample shading and ventilation. Under scrutiny from the United Nations and the Hong Kong authorities, worker living conditions were defined in terms of living quarters, food and entertainment and hospital facilities.

But, as had been the case since the first Chinese labourers arrived in 1906, there remained a policy of racial segregation between indigenous Nauruans, Chinese and Europeans, with distinct buildings required for each group. 


  • Assoc. Prof. Julia Martínez (University of Wollongong) and Prof. Adrian Vickers (University of Sydney); Joint Keynote

Julia T. Martínez is an Associate Professor at the University of Wollongong and was an Australian Research Council Future Fellow (2013-17). She explores histories of transcolonial mobilities across the Asia Pacific region, and themes of labour, trade and gender. Her books are The Pearl Frontier: Indonesian Labor and Indigenous Encounters in Australia’s Northern Trading Network (with Adrian Vickers, 2015); Colonialism and Male Domestic Service Across the Asia Pacific (with Claire Lowrie, Frances Steel & Victoria Haskins, 2019) and Locating Chinese Women: Historical mobility between China and Australia (Kate Bagnall & Martínez eds, 2021).

Adrian Vickers is a Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Sydney. He researches the cultural history of Southeast Asia. He has held a series of Australian Research Council grants (Discovery and Linkage), the most recent looking at modern and contemporary Indonesian art, Cold War history, and labour and industry in Southeast Asia. Alongside The Pearl Frontier (with Julia T. Martínez, 2015), his books include Bali: A Paradise Created (2012), A History of Modern Indonesia (2013) and Balinese Art: Paintings and Drawings of Bali, 1800-2010 (2012).

Contact and Zoom Details

Zoom details will be updated in the weeks leading up to the Symposium. You will receive a notification email with your Eventbrite registration.

The symposium team is Amanda Achmadi (coordinator), Soon-Tzu Speechley, Hannah Lewi, Paul Walker and Theo Blankley. For further details, please contact Theo Blankley, Hub Coordinator, ACAHUCH