Houseboys: A transcolonial history of domestic service in the Asia-Pacific
Dr Julia Martinez (UOW), Assoc. Prof. Victoria Haskins (Newcastle), Dr Frances Steel (UOW), and Dr Claire Lowrie (Newcastle).
Julia Martinez has been working in the field of colonial race and labour studies since 2000 when she completed her doctoral thesis on the tropical town of Darwin including a study of domestic service. In Darwin, Chinese and Aboriginal servants were employed by white colonists who sought to emulate other British colonies such as Singapore and India in their reliance on ‘coloured’ domestic servants. Expanding on this work, in 2009 Julia published an article in Gender and History with Claire Lowrie on the construction of Aboriginal men as ‘houseboys’ in Darwin. Claire completed her doctoral thesis titled: In Service of Empire: Domestic Service and Colonial Mastery in Singapore and Darwin, 1890s-1930s.
In 2007 Julia was awarded, as lead CI together with Adrian Vickers, an ARC Discovery on Indonesian labour migration to Australia. This project emphasized the transcolonial connections between the Dutch East Indies and Australia. Taking the notion of transcolonial to the study of domestic service was initially conceived in 2008 for a CAPSTRANS panel at the International Convention of Asia Scholars in Kuala Lumpur. The panel included Victoria Haskins, a current Future Fellow at the University of Newcastle, working on domestic service, Claire Lowrie and Christine de Matos. The question for the panel was whether there was common ‘transcolonial’ culture of domestic service which cut across colonial borders in both British and French colonies. Julia’s contribution of a Vietnamese case study, explored how French colonists wrote about Vietnamese 'houseboys' and how the working men themselves were influenced by 20th century anti-colonial politics. In 2010, again working with Claire, they extended this study to include the Philippines with the aid of a University of Wollongong Research Grant.
The Houseboys ARC project takes a broad geographical sweep, examining the history of male domestic servants in the Asia-Pacific, considering the extent towhich a transcolonial culture of domestic service was developed. In addition to case study of Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indochina and the Philippines, the project includes the Pacific colonies with Dr Frances Steel contributing a study of Fiji. Frances’ work on the Pacific Ocean and colonial mobilities brings an exciting new dimension to this study of ‘connected’ histories.