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How love triumphs over White Australian Policy

Gamboa4 (2) (558x800) Gamboa1Gamboa2 (353x468)The Filipino-Australian couple credited for dismantling the racist White Australia Policy

(From a new book – Connecting Two Cultures: Australia and the Philippines by Renato Perdon)


The basic principle governing the immigration policy of Australia for over a century was ‘White Australia’. Just before Federation, various Colonies introduced Anti-Chinese immigration restriction acts to prevent the influx of the Chinese during the Gold Rush. When Federation came, the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, popularly known as the White Australia policy was enacted and became the single law followed by the newly Federated Australian states. As a consequence of the Act, the Kanakas (Pacific Islander labourers), the black labour from the Pacific Islands, were deported and they were prohibited to work in the sugar plantations anymore. The Chinese were also restricted, same with Filipinos known then as ‘manillamen’, because all of them belong to the group called the ‘Asiatics’.

Only white people were welcome in Australia from that time on. This policy continued until the early 1970s when the White Australia policy was formally abolished by the Whitlam government.

More than sixty years ago a racial issue strained the developing relations between the Philippines and Australia occurred. International media coverage of the events unfolding at that time linked the case to the much criticised ‘White Australia Policy’ of the Chifley government.
The policy was pursued vigorously by then Australian Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell, the government minister who was quoted as saying that ‘two Wongs don’t make a white’. The cause of the controversy was the refusal of Minister Calwell to allow Sgt. Lorenzo Gamboa, a Philippine-born US citizen, back to Australia to visit his wife, Joyce Gamboa, and their two children, Julie and Raymond, who were residing in Melbourne.
The decision to bar Sgt. Gamboa from entering Australia brought a hard hitting attack from the members of the Philippine Congress in Manila. The newly independent Filipino lawmakers decided to pass a resolution protesting against Australia’s exclusion of Asiatic immigrants. There was even a ‘profound and vigorous opposition to Philippine participation in the [Olympic] Games’ scheduled in Melbourne in 1956 because of Australia’s immigration policy.
An incident in Manila was reported by The Sydney Morning Herald about an attack on two Australian officers of streamer Nellore in the Port Area of Manila. The attack was witnessed by Captain A. Angrave of Melbourne, who was a passenger on the ship. According to the report, a group of Filipinos confronted two visiting Australians walking through the Manila docks and told them ‘You Australians. You don’t want us down there – we don’t want you here.’ A scuffle ensued and the Australians were cut about their faces.
The seriousness of the Sgt. Gamboa case even threatened the closure of the four year old Philippine Consulate General in Sydney when members of the Philippine Congress voted to delete the £11,000 allocation for the operation of the consular office in Sydney, thereby effectively severing relations between the two countries.
The issue continued to attract media interests in Manila, particularly when the Philippine Senate unanimously passed a Reciprocal Rights Immigration Bill, retaliation against the Australian government’s refusal to allow Sgt. Lorenzo Gamboa to enter Australia to visit his family. The bill prohibits the admission of aliens [into the Philippines] whose countries do not grant reciprocal rights to Filipinos’.
Meanwhile, Sgt. Gamboa who was desperate to see his wife and children in Australia told the United Press about his plan to take his case to the United Nations Organisation. Sgt. Gamboa planned to go straight to New York after the expiration of his tour of duty in Japan in August of 1949. He planned to talk to American First Lady Eleonor Roosevelt and General Carlos P. Romulo the Philippine delegate to the UNO, to raise the question on whether the White Australia Policy was a violation of the UNO Charter.
Lorenzo Gamboa hails from Mangaldan, Pangasinan and was serving in the US Army when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941. While recuperating from a hernia operation, he was brought to Australia, arriving in Northern Australia early in 1942, and later hewas posted to a military camp in Melbourne’s Royal Park where he was introduced to a 17-year old Joyce Cain whom he married at the end of 1942.
A year after, a baby boy, Raymond, was born while Gamboa was then fighting the war in the Philippines, New Guinea and Japan.  His wife gave birth to another baby, a girl, but it would take six years before he would see his new baby—the main reason was the White Australia Policy.
The problem of the Gamboa Family came when the military man was refused re-entry to Australia to visit his wife and two children. Prior to this incident, when the war ended, he took his discharge from the US Army and re-joined his wife and for the first time saw his son. He settled in Melbourne and worked in the Victorian railways.
His trouble began when he was told by the Immigration Department that as a war-time evacuee, he had to leave Australia and was given three months to leave the country.
He went to the US and in 1946 became a naturalised American citizen, thinking that his American citizenship would entitle him to enter Australia without a problem.
He also rejoined the US Army and was again posted to Tokyo. In 1948, thinking of his discharge from the US Army the following year, he applied for permission to enter Australia ‘to see his wife and children.’
His application was rejected on the grounds that he was a non-European and making an exception to his case, it was pointed out, would open the gates to other Asian war refugees married to Australians to seek permanent residency in Australia. In reply to Mrs. Gamboa’s letter of appeal to the Federal government on behalf of her husband, Minister Calwell said: ‘… I regret that I am unable to grant authority for your husband’s entry to Australia, as it would be contrary to the established policy of the Commonwealth government to do so.’
A ray of hope came when the Labor Party lost and there was a change of government. Sgt. Gamboa and other Asian victims of Calwell’s zealousness to make Australia pure were allowed entry to Australia by the new Immigration Minister Harold Holt.
In a 1992 interview Joyce Gamboa said: ‘It had to happen. If not to Lory [Lorenzo Gamboa] then to someone else. I believe Asians can get in now because of what we did. We took a stand for what we believe in’.
Historian  Rodney Sullivan, writing about the plight of the Gamboas credited them for the change in immigration policy in Australia and said that the Gamboas ‘take and deserve some credit for the immigration law reforms of the 1960s and 1970s which removed both explicit and implicit racial criteria, and for Australia’s contemporary ideology of multiculturalism.’
The proud patriarch of three generations of Australians, the Gamboa couple moved to Coombabah on the Gold Coast, for their retirement in 1977.
The last public engagement of Sgt. Lorenzo Gamboa, with his doting wife, the most popular victims of the insidious White Australia policy, was in 2001 when the Filipino Communities Council of Australia (FILCCA), the peak national organisation of Filipino-Australians awarded him with a citation of ‘Filipino-Australian of the Millennium’. At awards Gala Night held at the Unity Grand Ballroom of the Sebel Hotel, Rosehill, NSW, Gamboa accepted the award with Australian wife Joyce, whose youthful love and eventual separation from Gamboa due to the government’s strict immigration policy made the newspaper headlines in the 1950s.
For information about the new book Connecting Two Cultures: Australia and the Philippines, contact Manila Prints, PO Box 1267, Darlinghurst, NSW, Australia. Or email to