19 May 2004

Townsville's Native Labor Co. (Chinese)

If you're like me, you've lost a bit of sleep wondering what happened to the many foreign laborers on Nauru and Ocean Island (Banaba) during the Pacific War. Well, the first volume of The Bayonet of Australia has ended those worries for me.
The original name of the "Native Labor Company (Chinese)", Base Two, was "Chinese Civilian Labor Company", Base Two. The group of Chinese who are working in this organization were evacuated from Nauru and Ocean Islands in the Central Pacific during February 1942. They had been firstly employed by the Australian Government for the Mine Department for a period of over eighteen months. During November 1943, they signed themselves over for employment with the U.S. Army through the Chinese Consul. They came to Townsville, Queensland from Hatches Creek, Wauchope and Alice Spring by army trucks as far as Mt Isa and after putting up a night there embarked by train for Townsville. The trip took about four days. After arriving in this town, they were camped at Armstrong Paddock (U.S. Army Camp).

Among the Chinese Company there are a good many skilled carpenters, fitters, turners, motor mechanics, plumbers, electricians, blacksmiths, moulders, interpreters, clerks, cooks and labourers. The initial company consisted of 515 Chinese under the command of Captain Ferne M. Schmalle, who was assisted by eight enlisted men. The Chinese prefer the American treatment to any other in the world. They are being well fed, well clothed, well quartered and well paid, in fact they are better treated than the soldiers. In addition they enjoy the privileges of free hospitalisation, free transport to and from work and free movie shows.
Hmm. Was The Bayonet of Australia edited by Americans? Although no self-respecting Yank would write "firstly employed" I can't believe any self-respecting Ocker would write, "the Chinese prefer American treatment to any other in the world." (Maybe hoping they wouldn't stay after the war was over?) Judging from the inconsistent spellings, I'd guess the 1942 Bayonet must have been written by a bilateral committee.

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