Australian Journal of Politics and History: Volume 64, Number 2, 2018, pp. 211-226.
© 2018. The Author.
Australian Journal of Politics and History © 2018 The University of Queensland and John Wiley &
Sons Australia, Ltd.
The Campaign for Japanese-Australian Children
to enter Australia, 1957-1968:
A History of Post-War Humanitarianism
University of Melbourne
Between 1957 and 1968, the Prime Minister Robert Menzies and several of his ministers,
including Alexander Downer, the Minister for Immigration from 1958 to 1963, were inundated
with hundreds of letters of protest demanding that action be taken to assist Japanese children
fathered by Australian soldiers who had been stationed in Japan during the Allied occupation
and beyond it between 1946 and 1956. The response from the Australian public forms the basis
of this article to consider how attempts for the transnational movement of children in the post-
war period point to understandings of humanitarianism at this time. The response to the
predicament of the Japanese-Australian children offers, I argue, an intriguing narrative of post-
war humanitarianism that articulates the beginning of several historic shifts. The incident points
to the growing challenge to the White Australia Policy, paradoxically on racialised and
paternalistic grounds to bring white Australian children to Australia. The government shifted the
discussion from one of immigration to foreign aid as a way of diffusing the public response and
in doing so positioned itself in the new narrative about supporting rehabilitation and
development. The media was crucial in evoking a response that depoliticized the issue of
responsibility by reducing it to an emotional reaction.
In May 1964, the Clift family — Mr. V. Clift, Mrs. M. Clift and Miss J. Clift — wrote
with a query and a complaint to Bill Snedden, the Attorney-General of Australia, from
the outer-Melbourne suburb of Noble Park: “We write to enquire what positive action
has been taken or will be taken to alleviate the distress of the Japanese Australian waifs
in Kure, Japan”. They were insistent that the Australian government had a moral
responsibility to assist Japanese children fathered by Australian soldiers who had been
stationed in Japan during and after the Allied occupation between 1946 and 1956. These
children, referred to at the time by the racially constructed term “mixed-blood”, had been
abandoned by their fathers and lived either with their Japanese mothers, or in orphanages.
The Clifts wrote with force and conviction of the disgrace they believed this situation
bestowed on Australia’s international standing.
We should bow our heads in shame when we learn how these waifs have been disowned by their
own kith and kin and whilst no doubt many people will take the easy way out by making a donation
and then forget all about the children it is up to the Federal Government to face up to your
I am indebted Rachel Stevens for her meticulous and thorough archival research on which this article
is based. I am grateful to Alexandra Dellios, Sarah Green, Niro Kandasamy, Jordana Silverstein, Rachel
Stevens, Shurlee Swain and Mary Tomsic, for their valuable and insightful comments on earlier
versions of this article. I express my thanks to the Australian Research Council which was made this
research possible through the ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellowship.