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Stories of the Unknown, 2023

Ink on Basford coated lining, salvaged floorboards and MDF pane.
220 x 126 x 244cm.

The dictation test was one of the primary ways that Australia’s Immigration Restriction Act (1901) was implemented. According to the National Archives of Australia, anyone failing to write the dictated passage correctly could be deported under the Act (the cornerstone of the unofficial White Australia policy).  An article published in 2018 by the Australian National Maritime Museum commemorated the 60th anniversary of the test’s abolishment. It told the story of the steamship SS Clan Ranald, shipwrecked off the coast of South Australia in 1909, and the Asian crew members who survived.
Amongst the twenty-four survivors, Luciano Orico, a Filipino quartermaster, controversially passed the rigorous first test in English at Port Adelaide. Known as “no.18”, he failed the second test through discriminatory measures (the test could be given in any European language) and was denied entry to Australia. Stories of The Unknown unveils one of the myriad unheard stories of Filipino migrants/workers who were fundamental to the Australian fishing and shipbuilding economy of the early twentieth century. This installation reflects on the real-life effects of White Australia policy, inviting discussion around its lingering consequences.
The installation text has been developed from a sentence written in English by Orico in his dictation text (the hospital problem has for save), translated into a Philippine language, Tagalog (ang problema sa ospital ay para iligtas), and then transcribed in Baybayin (a pre-colonial Philippine script). These layers of translation and the final installation reverse the power dynamics inherent in Orico’s story and coerce viewers into confronting a language with which they are unacquainted. 

Source: National Archives of Australia

Title: Wreck of SS Clan Ranald [dictation test]

Item detail: Government paper files and documents (allocated at series level), in digitised format

Series number: D596

Series number title: Correspondence files, annual single number series

Contents date range: 1909-1909

Pages: 44

Location: document held in Canberra, ACT

Date registration: 18 Jul 1995


*crediting page 31; transliterated dictation test answers into Baybayin.

Thank you to Albert Del Rosario, Flora Del Rosario, Angela Del Rosario, Francis Del Rosario, Frances Barrett, Matt Huppatz, Riley O'Keefe, Sam Gold and Kelly Drake

This work was created on Kaurna Country.

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