Note: This object includes a derogatory slur and derogatory references to particular cultural groups. Such depictions are not condoned by Museums Victoria which considers them to be racist. Historical distance and context does not excuse or erase this fact.
Printed notice of motion dated February 9, 1893, headed 'Avon Shire'. Addressed to the Mayor and Councillors of the Town of Northcote. The notice protests 'against the present system of issuing Hawkers' Licences in Melbourne to Syrians, Afghans, Hindoos and other colored races, thereby flooding the country districts with a most objectionable roving population, without country residents having any voice in the matter. And this Council considers the time has now arrived when the 'Indian Hawker' nuisance should be put a stop to, as it is an increasing source of terror to females and children, and grave anxiety to heads of families whose avocations take them from their homes in the daytime, and thus leave their families unprotected from the growing insolence of these Hawkers'.
The paper asks the Mayor and Councillors of the Town of Northcote to consider this resolution from the Avon Shire, and request their Parliamentary representatives to 'abolish or modify this dangerous and menacing evil' by suggesting that hawkers' licences should not be issued for the whole colony, but at certain country centres, or that Shires should give their assent to such a licence before a hawker could work within the shire boundaries.
Avon Shire in Gippsland (centered on the town of Stratford) sent this notice to every council in Victoria, seeking support for legislation to give shire councils more control over the issuing of hawker licences. The Shire's argument focuses on licences currently being issued to Middle Eastern and Asian migrants. At the time, hawkers' licences were issued by local magistrates.
The notice appears to have been removed from within the archives of the Northcote Town Council, where it was placed on 17 February 1893.
Printed notice, on paper, headed 'Avon Shire'. Addressed to the Mayor and Councillors of the Town of Northcote in hand-writing.
The notice provides an interesting insight into racism against dark-skinned hawkers within the district of Stratford in 1893; and the attempts by a Shire Council to seek legislative redress to what was seen as a threat to social and family security.
Hundreds of hawkers' licences were issued in Victoria each year. For instance, according to the National Archives of Australia, 120 hawkers' licences were issued by magistrates in 1898 in Victorian towns such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Echuca, Shepparton and Geelong. The licences were issued on a single, annual licensing day - a crowded and noisy event. In Melbourne alone 300 licences were issued in 1900. Indian hawkers and merchants generally came from Karachi, Peshawar, Baluchistan, the Punjab and Bengal. The tradition of hawking was common throughout rural India. Hawking was expecially popular with the younger Indian men because they needed very little capital and could walk until they could afford a horse and cart. When they arrived in Australia, older men provided advice on hawking and sold them goods to get started. The hawkers travelled through city and country areas, selling to city-dwellers and remote settlers alike. They were commonly Muslim, and withdrew from work during the fasting month of Ramadan. By the 1930s, hawkers were often immigrants from Europe.
Hawkers were sometimes feared and maligned. For example, some press reports suggested that they menaced women and children on isolated homesteads. In 1901 and 1903, parliamentary debates referred disparagingly to the practice of hawking.
The Gippsland Standard, 21 March 1894, reports that at the Foster Police Court held last Friday, before Messrs Clark and Thompson, a hawker's licence was refused to Asher Ashe, at the instigation of Constable Mackay, who informed the Bench that he had been instructed to oppose hawkers' licences to Asiatics, Indians and Assyrians.
Purchase from Abra-Card-Abra, 11 Mar 2004
Text: 'AVON SHIRE / Council Chambers, Stratford, Feb. 9, 1893/Gentlemen, / RE THE INDIAN HAWKER NUISANCE / By direction of the Avon Shire Council I have / the honor to bring under your notice the following / Resolution, unanimously carried on the 6th inst.' Stamped: received at Northcote on 17 February 1893.
Type of item
26.6 cm (Length), 21.1 cm (Width)
Information on hawkers' licences in turn-of-the-century Victoria - [Link 1] accessed 7/1/2009. Christine Stevens, 'Afghan camel drivers: Founders of Islam in Australia', in Mary Lucille Jones (ed.), An Australian Pilgrimage: Muslims in Australia from the Seventeenth Century to the Present, Victoria Press in association with the Museum of Victoria, Melbourne, 1993, pp. 49-62. Atholl Brewster, 1990. 'The Indian Hawker Nuscience 1890-1900', Hons thesis, University of Melbourne. Merri Hogan has conducted a study of Sikh hawkers in Victoria (details unavailable). The Gippsland Standard, 21 March 1894. Meredith Fletcher, 1988. Avon to the Alps. A History of the Shire of Avon. John Wilson (ed.), 1951.The Official History of the Avon Shire, 1840-1900.