‘Who’s for Tonga?’ Tongan Visitors and Australian Escapism in the Summer of 1932–3

Ben Sacks

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1 Citation (Web of Science)


While historians have examined how Australians represented and imagined Asia, fewer scholars have considered their responses to Islanders–particularly Islanders visiting Australia. This paper explores a moment when Tonga was firmly in the minds of the Australian public. In December 1932, a group of 16 Tongan choristers arrived for an extended visit to raise spirits and funds for the Methodist Overseas Mission. A month later, Tonga’s Premier, Prince Viliami Tungī, commenced a tour of his own. Both Tungī and the choir presented an image of Tonga as Christianized, increasingly ‘civilized’ and confidently facing the future. This paper considers the extent to which their message resonated in Australia. It contends that while the Tongans attracted attention and admiration, outside of the church the intended meaning of their presence was often lost. More generally, their struggles demonstrate how such encounters could–and could not–alter entrenched ‘rumours’ and perceptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-479
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Pacific History
Issue number4
Early online date24 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2019


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