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The Rise of Labor: A Chinese-Australian Participates in Bendigo Local Politics at a Formative Moment, 1904–1905

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AbstractChinese-Australian and son of an entrepreneur, Edward Ni Gan, a successful lawyer and would-be politician, was, in 1904, the first candidate in a Bendigo municipal election to tie his campaign to the Labor Party platform. Labor had just achieved the significant victory of three months in power at a federal level, and, although Ni Gan did not win in 1904, his support for the movement was well-received in Bendigo. When he tried to stand the following year as the endorsed Labor candidate, however, he was quickly disillusioned by procedural rules and his inadequate trade union networks. His speeches as an independent candidate showed his political position recast as a radical liberal in the Deakinite mode. In both campaigns, Ni Gan’s colour was a difference which could be accommodated since he otherwise so happily embodied the young, white, “fair and square” sportsman who was an ideal progressive Bendigonian. His engagement with Labor politics in the first decade of the twentieth century shows that the drive for “White Australia” which often dominated the national conversation, could be less powerful at local levels.


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