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Kashiwagi, Taira (1868–1954)

by D. C. S. Sissons

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Taira Kashiwagi (1868-1954), was born on 23 June 1868 at Shioya, Wakayama prefecture, Japan, son of Heibei Kashiwagi and his wife Ito, née Nishikaze. He is known to some as the Japanese catechist who, even in midsummer, would never address his Maker in his shirtsleeves; and to others as one of the witnesses who drew to the attention of the Mackay royal commission (1908) the unpalatable fact that the viability of the pearling industry rested on the courage and perseverance of the Japanese diver. He represents those among the Japanese community in Queensland (3247 in 1898) who remained after the enactment of the Immigration Restriction Act and made Queensland their home. About 550 of these remained in Queensland in 1921.

On graduating from Wakayama Teachers' College Kashiwagi taught for some years at Izumo primary school at Shionomisaki and then joined the stream of younger sons from that village emigrating to Thursday Island, where he arrived on 2 March 1895. After two years as a shop-assistant he established a general store for the Japanese community. Meanwhile under the tutelage of 'The Little Deaconess', Florence Buchanan, he gained a good command of English and was able to derive additional income as an interpreter. Later he also acquired a boat-building yard. His influence among the local Japanese steadily increased and by 1908 he had become president of Thursday Island Japanese Club, a powerful body which among its other activities negotiated the annual contracts between the Japanese divers and the Caucasian master-pearlers. He was a member of the Anglican parish council and under his leadership his compatriots raised the funds to erect a school building in the church grounds, in which they received religious instruction in English.

About 1910 Kashiwagi left Thursday Island, intending to become a planter in Papua. When, however, a personal reconnaissance of the Oriomo and Fly rivers failed to reveal suitable land, he withdrew to Brisbane where he opened a Japanese fancy-goods store and on 13 June 1914 married an Australian, Marguerite Kilner. By 1927 he had become one of the mainstays of Brisbane's Japanese Association of which he was president in December 1941 when, together with all other Japanese in Australia, he was interned. He was released in December 1943, having suffered three heart attacks. He died at Rockdale, Sydney, on 2 July 1954, and was cremated.

In Kashiwagi's life some of the difficulties implicit in membership of two societies are visible. At Thursday Island, as a Japanese, he was associated with measures to make the Japanese community commercially self-sufficient and to strengthen the voice of the Japanese Club. He supported those divers who on Japanese national holidays flew Japanese ensigns on the luggers (British vessels) above the British flag. In Brisbane, in the years preceding the outbreak of war he contributed not only to Australian charities but also to Japanese patriotic funds which solicited from Japanese residents overseas. In May 1942, when the Aliens Tribunal asked him 'Is it that you have lost all your interest in Japan?', he replied 'I am still interested in my own country'. On the other hand when, three months later, he was offered immediate repatriation to Japan, he elected to remain in internment.

Kashiwagi was atypical of the other Japanese settlers in that he achieved more than a bare subsistence. As well as putting his daughter through the University of Queensland, he was able to amass some savings: at the time of his internment his wife owned real estate worth about £3000.

Select Bibliography

  • Wakayama-ken, Wakayama-ken iminshi (Wakayama-shi, 1957)
  • A367 34044, BP 242/1 Q24602, BP 4/3, MP529/3 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

D. C. S. Sissons, 'Kashiwagi, Taira (1868–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kashiwagi-taira-6895/text11955, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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