Category: Talks

‘Returning home alone’: my paper for the Lilith Conference

On 10 May, I will be speaking at the Lilith Conference: ‘Women without men: Spinsters, widows and deserted wives in the nineteenth century and beyond’, at the ANU. It sounds like such a great conference, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Here’s what I’m going to be talking about.

Title: Returning home alone: marital breakdown and the voluntary repatriation of Australian wives from south China

Abstract: Between the 1860s and 1930s dozens of white wives of Chinese men travelled with their husbands and children from Australia and New Zealand to southern China. This paper will examine the decision made by a number of these women to subsequently leave their husbands and marriages, and sometimes also their children, to return to Australia. One of the main reasons they did so was the discovery that their husband had a Chinese wife. British and Australian commentators made much of the ‘cruel treatment’ white wives received from their Chinese families, with newspapers publishing periodic warnings of the dangers of a return to China. This paper will refigure such narratives of cruelty and abandonment to consider the deliberate and courageous decisions white wives made—first in leaving their Australian homes for new lives in China and second in choosing to return home alone, as ‘abandoned’ wives and mothers. It will explore the circumstances in which white wives left China, the physical and emotional journeys they made, and the sometimes devastating consequences these had upon their lives.

Migrants ‘on the wing’ at Visible Immigrants Seven

Yesterday I spoke at Visible Immigrants Seven, a small conference organised by Flinders University and the Migration Museum in Adelaide. The conference aimed to explore the idea of migrant mobility before and after the major act of migration. Most of the papers focused on nineteenth-century migrants from Ireland, Scotland and England, including convicts. My paper looked at the return migration of Chinese men and their Australian families.

Transcultural Chinese at the Australian Historical Association conference 2012

There is a great line-up of Chinese Australian history papers on offer at the Australian Historical Association conference this year. The three sessions – all to be held on Tuesday, 10 July 2012 – have been organised by Paul Macgregor and bring together historians from Tasmania, Victoria, Canberra, New South Wales and Queensland. The conference’s opening plenary session will also be of interest.

I’m a late inclusion in the program after Derham Groves had to pull out, and I’ll be giving a version of the paper I presented at the WCILCOS conference in Vancouver in May.

Details of the ‘Transcultural Chinese’ sessions are below and other information can be found in the AHA program.

9.00am to 11.00am

Opening plenary panel: ‘Australian History in its Asian Contexts’
Speakers: Ms Sophie Loy-Wilson (University of Sydney), Dr Agnieszka Sobocinska (Monash University), Dr Julia Martinez (University of Wollongong).
Discussant: Professor David Walker (Deakin University)

11.30am to 1.00pm

Transcultural Chinese #1 – Modern Lives
Chair: Mobo Gao
1. Paul Macgregor – Islands of Chinese Modernity 1786-1949 – From Singapore and Shanghai to Sydney and San Francisco
2. Kate Bagnall – ‘I’m an Australian’: Anglo-Chinese and the Immigration Restriction Act in New South Wales, 1902–1920
3. Paul Jones – Gordon Lum Bo Wah, Australian-Chinese Tennis Ace

2.00pm to 3.30pm

Transcultural Chinese #2 – Material Connections
Chair: Julia Martinez
1. Virginia Esposito – The Archaeology of a Chinese camp in a European goldfield – Jembaicumbene, NSW
2. Melissa Dunk – Exploring Chinese interactions through material culture: Atherton Chinatown, Queensland 1880-1920
3. Joanna Boileau – The belongings of Georgie Ah Ling: pieces of the life of a Chinese market gardener

4.00pm to 5.00pm

Transcultural Chinese #3 – Sojourners to Settlers
Chair: Paul Macgregor
1. Mobo Gao – Sojourners, Where is Home?
2. Darryl Low Choy – Sojourners, Settlers, Selectors and Subjects: Interpreting a Queensland Chinese Australian family history through a palimpsest approach

Chinese Australian family history talks, Sydney, August 2012

The Chinese Heritage Association of Australia is presenting an interesting series of talks at the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Darling Harbour, Sydney, in August 2012. The talks will be held each Sunday afternoon in August from 2–3pm. Talks are free, but there is an admission fee to enter the garden.

You can make reservations through the Darling Harbour website.

5 August: Marilyn Dooley on ‘My family’s Chinese and Irish connections’
Marilyn will talk about her research into her fascinating family history, starting from the 1860s in Central Queensland.

12 August: Cheryl Cumines on ‘The Life of a Chinese Australian family living in The Rocks’
The Cumines family history in Australia dates back 135 years. For many years they played a significant role in the life of The Rocks.

19 August: Brad Powe on ‘From gold-seeker Gwok Ah Poo to market gardener George Harper’
Brad’s Chinese ancestors arrived in NSW 150 years ago. The family has retained a comprehensive collection of photographs and documents.

26 August: Sally Pang Rippingale on ‘My father’s passion – penjing’
Sally Pang’s family operated one of the early Chinatown Chinese restaurants, the Modern China Café. Sally inherited her father’s penjing (miniature trees and landscapes) collection.

‘Paper trails’: my presentation at the 5th WCILCOS conference

I’m still digesting all that I heard at the 5th WCILCOS conference and cogitating about the exciting possibilities for international collaborative work that have emerged from it. I’m hoping to pull together some more thoughts about my discussions with folk from Canada and the US about mixed-race overseas Chinese families and children.

In the mean time, though, here are the slides of my talk and the first (and much longer) version of the paper I wrote a couple of months ago: Paper trails: Anglo-Chinese Australians and the White Australia Policy (pdf, 1.9mb).

‘Chinese through the Americas’: a beginning to the 5th WCILCOS conference

I’m writing from the beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, where tonight I’ve been to the opening dinner of the 5th International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies. Henry Yu from the Department of History at UBC gave a really good keynote address (more on that in a minute) and we had great view – all rhododendrons and sea and sunset and distant snowy mountains. Being here in Vancouver is a bit like being in a slightly odd version of home – the mountains are pointier and snowier, the cars are on the wrong side of the street, the newspapers are a funny shape and ‘veggie burgers’ don’t seem to be vegetarian … but a lot of the ads on TV are the same, people are friendly and helpful and the Queen is still on the money. Perhaps Vancouver’s apparent familiarity is really a reflection of the fact that, over the past decade, my only foreign destination has been Guangdong, and Guangdong, and Guangdong again and again.

I spent some time this afternoon wandering in the UBC bookshop and was impressed that in the four shelves on Canadian history, there were seven books that specifically discussed Chinese Canadian history. I bought one of them – Colonial Proximities: Crossracial Encounters and Juridical Truths in British Columbia, 1871–1921 by Renisa Mawani, which looks at crossracial encounters particularly between aboriginal peoples and the Chinese. I will be interested to see if it mentions intimate relationships between Chinese men and white women at all; there seems to be quite a lot of interest in relationships between First Nations women and Chinese men, including a couple of sessions at the conference, but I haven’t yet heard any discussion of Anglo-Chinese relationships.

In Henry Yu’s talk tonight – titled ‘ The rhythms of the Cantonese Pacific and the making of nations’ – he set out to do two main things: introduce the major themes of the ‘Chinese through the Americas’ conference and tell us something of the $1.2 million ‘Chinese Canadian Stories’ project he has been leading. Henry used the term ‘Cantonese Pacific’ to talk about the ways in which Chinese in BC (and Canada more generally) were part of a network of nodes that stretched out from Hong Kong, including Sydney, Yokohama, Vancouver, San Francisco, Mexico and Hawaii, and of how this network was made up of people from a particular cultural and linguistic background. This was not a ‘Chinese’ world, but a ‘Cantonese’ one, with migrants coming from about eight different counties in the Pearl River Delta.

Henry spoke of how we need to try to understand the history of the Chinese in settler nations around the Pacific from their perspective, with an understanding of their terms of reference and their imaginaries. As an example, he discussed the idea of ‘gum saan’ (gold mountain). Each new Pacific settler society, as a destination for migrating Chinese, was called ‘gum saan’ – not because Chinese migrants didn’t have proper names for these places, but because ‘gum saan’ was naming a dream and a set of aspirations for life; it was not really the name of a place but that of a geographic imaginary where dreams of wealth, prosperity and a successful return home could be realised. Henry also discussed the importance of understanding the linguistic background of these early Chinese migrants – their letters make no sense and their poems don’t rhyme if you read them in Mandarin. An important part of the Chinese Canadian Stories project has been to draw on community knowledge to help with particular activities where dialect language skills are essential, such as making connections between the places of origin (or sending villages, as Henry called them) that are given in the head tax records with their proper Chinese names and locations.

Henry said a lot more about the Chinese Canadian Stories project and showed us some of the nifty visualisations they’ve developed from the head tax record data (they’ve got info on 97,123 individuals). Good stuff. I’m looking forward to hearing more about it in the following days.

Something Australian at WCILCOS 2012 (Vancouver, Canada)

In a bit over a week, I’ll be heading (a long way) north to the 5th WCILCOS International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies in Vancouver, Canada. The conference theme is ‘Chinese through the Americas’, but there is a small Australasian representation among the papers. I’m particularly excited to be going to Vancouver because I’m hoping to hear lots about the work that Henry Yu and others have been doing with the Chinese Canadian Stories project at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Here’s the abstract of the paper I’ll be presenting. A version of the paper will be available on the UBC website after the conference.

Paper trails: Anglo-Chinese Australians and the White Australia Policy

This paper discusses the overseas travels of Australians of Anglo-Chinese descent in the early decades of the 20th century. It explores their experience of overseas travel and their negotiation of bureaucratic processes under the White Australia Policy.

In the early 20th century, Anglo-Chinese Australians travelled overseas, primarily to Hong Kong and China, on holidays, for education, business and to visit family. Like other ‘non-white’ Australians, they were subject to the regulations of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, under which they did not have an automatic right of return to Australia, even though they were Australian-born British subjects.

Australia’s early immigration regulations were designed to keep out unwanted ‘non-white’ arrivals, most famously through use of the Dictation Test, and the legislation was not clear on how officials should deal with those who were both Australian-born and of mixed race. Consequently, over the following decades officials developed a set of administrative practices in which their ideas of community belonging and cultural knowledge, as well as race, determined the outcomes of cases involving Anglo-Chinese Australians. The development of these administrative practices was an iterative process, where officials responded to the actions of Chinese and Anglo-Chinese Australians who, in turn, responded to and negotiated changing legislation and government policies.

NSW History Week 2011: EAT (Chinese Australian) History

The theme for this year’s NSW History Week is EAT History – the edible, appetising and tasty history of food. Not surprisingly there are a number of events highlighting the connection between Chinese Australian history and food. It may not be possible to attend them all, but here’s a listing of all the ‘Chinese’ events.

Saving the La Perouse Chinese Market Gardens

Organisation: Chinese Heritage Association of Australia Inc
History Week Event Type: Talk/Lecture
The heritage-listed Chinese Market Gardens at La Perouse have been producing food for over 150 years. The adjacent Eastern Suburbs Cemetery Trust wants these seven hectares of Crown Land for extra graves. For the past three years there has been a battle to retain the Chinese Market Gardens. Guest speaker Christa Ludlow, National Trust (NSW) Landscapes Advocacy Committee member.
When: 3 September 2011
Open: 2:30pm
Close: 4:30pm
Where: Sydney Mechanics School of Arts
280 Pitt Street (between Park & Bathurst Streets)
Sydney, NSW 2000
Cost: $10.00
Members/Concessions $5.00.
Refreshments included.
Are bookings essential?: Bookings essential
Name: Kathie Blunt
Phone: 9449 2453

King Fong’s Chinatown Food Tour

Organisation: Chinese Australian Historical Society Inc.
History Week Event Type: Tour
Cross generational merchant, King Fong, will take you through the streets, eateries and grocery stores of Chinatown to showcase the different types of Chinese cuisine and imported delicacies which marked the growth in richness of Sino-Australian food culture. Join King Fong afterwards for Yum Cha at a local restaurant. Bookings essential, 30 places available only.
When: 6 September 2011
Open: 10:15am for 10:30am start
Where: Sydney’s Chinatown
Corner Dixon and Hay Streets
Haymarket, NSW
Cost: $5.00
Optional lunch $18.00
Are bookings essential?: Bookings essential
Name: King Fong
Phone: 9452 3761

The Chinese Market Gardens of Ryde in the Early Twentieth Century

Organisation: Ryde Library Service
History Week Event Type: Talk/Lecture
Before we can EAT History we have to grow history. This illustrated talk will examine the story of the Chinese market gardens and gardeners from the earliest references to them in this area in the 1890s through to the middle of the twentieth century.
When: 6 September 2011
Open: 1:30pm
Close: 3:00pm
Where: Ryde Library
Corner Pope and Devlin Street
Ryde, NSW 2112
Cost: Free
Are bookings essential?: Bookings essential
Phone: 9952 8352

From Canton to courage: Australian Chinese in Parramatta and beyond – exhibition floor talk and seminar

When: 6 September 2011
Open: 9.15am
Close: 1.00pm
Program: Daphne Lowe Kelley, ‘The Chinese Australian experience: an overview’
Jack Brook, ‘Nineteenth-century Chinese Australians in Parramatta’
Brad Powe, ‘Sharing family stories’
Carloynne Wark, ‘Sharing family stories’
Where: Parramatta Heritage Centre, 346A Church Street, Parramatta

From Canton with courage 6 September 2011 (pdf, 389kb)

Potatoes in the Rice Cooker: Oral Histories of Asian-Australians Cooking at Home, Work and Play

Organisation: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology Sydney
History Week Event Type: Workshop
History Week comes alive with a workshop focused on real experience and oral history. Potatoes in the Rice Cooker will include short lectures on histories of Asian-Australian food encounters and the sharing of personal stories, objects, belongings, photos and recipes to do with the dynamics of the kitchen and the table around the preparation, cooking and eating of food in families, workplaces, recreational and community spaces.
When: 7 September 2011
Open: 9:30am
Close: 1:00pm
Join us for lunch at a local restaurant afterwards!
Where: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology
Building 10, 235 Jones Street, Broadway
Ultimo, NSW 2007
Cost: Free
Participants are invited to lunch at a local restaurant at their own cost.
Are bookings essential?: Bookings essential
Name: Dr Elaine Swan
Phone: 9514 3819

The Sydney Markets

Organisation: City of Sydney
History Week Event Type: Talk/Lecture
Allen Yip’s family has been associated with the Sydney Markets dating back to the 1880s. Join Allen as he talks about the history of the markets and his personal experience of this unique part of Sydney. Allen’s talk will be followed by a screening of the short film Out They Go, which beautifully captures the Sydney Markets in 1975 before it moved to Flemington. Presented with the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia Inc.
When: 7 September 2011
Open: 12:00pm
Close: 1:00pm
Where: Haymarket Library
744 George Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Cost: Free
Are bookings essential?: Bookings essential
Phone: 8019 6477

Chinese Food Trail

Organisation: Marrickville Library and History Services
History Week Event Type: Talk/Lecture
King Fong, President of the Chinese Historical Society, will explore the history of Chinese settlement since the 1850s. His talk will explore the significance of food in this history, from market gardens to Chinese grocery stores.
When: 8 September 2011
Open: 11:00am
Where: Marrickville Library
Corner Marrickville & Petersham Roads
Marrickville, NSW 2204
Cost: Free
Are bookings essential?: Bookings essential
Phone: 9335 2174

Robert Ho on Cantonese Cuisine in Sydney

Organisation: Chinese Australian Historical Society Inc
History Week Event Type: Talk/Lecture
Early Chinese migrants came mainly from Canton and brought with them the distinctive Cantonese style of cooking. Cantonese cuisine has therefore become the symbol of Chinese food to westerners. Drawing on his life experience, Chinatown Master Chef Robert Ho will talk about Cantonese cuisine in Sydney since the 1950s. Attendees will also make history – the traditional village style “Poon Choi” (Basin Feast) will be served first time in Sydney!
When: 11 September 2011
Open: 11:30am
Close: 1:30pm
Where: Hingara Chinese Restaurant
82 Dixon Street
Haymarket, NSW 1240
Cost: $25.00
Are bookings essential?: Bookings essential
Name: Anna Lee
Phone: 0412 334 398

Bringing the Chinese into Australian history: a 25-year collective endeavour – Melbourne Chinese Studies Group

Another Melbourne Chinese Studies Group talk that I wish I could attend!

Date: Friday, 3 December 2010
Time: 6pm
Admission: $2
Venue: Jenny Florence Room, 3rd Floor, Ross House, 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets)

Topic: Bringing the Chinese into Australian history: a 25-year collective endeavour

Speaker: Paul Macgregor

The field of Chinese Australian historical research over the last 25 years has been remarkably fertile and diverse. In my 15-year role as curator of Melbourne’s Chinese Museum, and then convenor of the Melbourne Chinese Studies Group, I have been highly involved in this exciting work. After hesitant starts in the 1980s, an active research network sprang into being from the early 1990s, drawing in academics, independent researchers, Chinese community members, family historians, archaeologists, heritage professionals and others. The level of enthusiasm generated through this network has led to much highly fruitful cross-disciplinary achievement, with, for instance, a score of national and international conferences, several major research projects, dozens of PhD and masters theses, hundreds of hours of oral history recorded, a wide range of books and articles, as well as several Chinese museums and permanent exhibitions around the country. Yet, for all this exciting intellectual ferment, Chinese-Australian-ness remains in the margins of mainstream professional Australian historical discourse, and is still barely recognised in the general public’s historical consciousness. In reflecting on the research efforts of a quarter century, I will ask whether it is just a matter of time; do we need new research strategies; or are there fundamental blocks to a national recognition of the true Chinese-ness of Australia?

Paul Macgregor is an historian who is the convenor of the Melbourne Chinese Studies Group, and was the curator of Melbourne’s Museum of Chinese Australian History from 1990 to 2005. He is the editor of Histories of the Chinese in Australasia and the South Pacific (1995), and joint editor of both Chinese in Oceania (2002) and After the Rush: Regulation, Participation and Chinese Communities in Australia 1860-1940 (2004). He has organised three international conferences on the Chinese diaspora in Australasia, and has curated numerous exhibitions on the history and material heritage of Chinese Australians. He was also involved in the development of five major research projects: the Australia-China Oral History Project, the Thematic Survey of Sites of Chinese Australian History, the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation project, the Chinese Historical Images in Australia project, and the (Chinese on the) Mt Alexander Diggings Project.

Talk followed by an informal, inexpensive meal in a nearby Chinatown restaurant.

Following seminar: This is the last Melbourne Chinese Studies Group seminar for 2010. The 2011 program will start on Friday, 4 March.

A transnational Chinese-Australian family and the ‘New China’ – Melbourne Chinese Studies Group

Date: Friday, 6 August 2010
Time: 6pm
Admission: $2
Venue: Jenny Florence Room, 3rd Floor, Ross House, 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets)

Topic: A transnational Chinese-Australian family and the ‘New China’

Speaker: Pauline Rule

Chung Mow Fung arrived in Melbourne in 1857 as a single man and left nearly forty years later in 1895 to settle in Hong Kong together with his Chinese wife and a large family of eight surviving colonial-born children. Twenty-five years of constructing a family in country Victoria had seen Chung Mow Fung and his wife Huish Huish negotiate between Australian and Chinese culture and between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ values especially in the area of gender roles. Settlement in the complicated liminal space of Anglo-Chinese Hong Kong allowed the family to identify to varying degrees with the different parts of their cultural formation. Their Australian background was acknowledged and their life-style was largely westernized but some members of the family became involved in the Republican era in the struggle to change aspects of Chinese culture, especially the role of women. This paper will examine how the Australian childhood of the family members played some part in how they, especially the women, lived out their adult lives while also retaining a strong commitment to their Chinese heritage.

Pauline Rule undertook postgraduate research on the Bengali intelligentsia and then the social history of Calcutta during the period of the British Raj. She worked in both the curriculum and assessment areas of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority and its prior manifestations. She has also researched and written extensively about the experiences of Irish women in nineteenth century Victoria. As part of this research she has examined marriages between Irish women and Chinese men in colonial Victoria and the outcomes for some of these families. This has lead to an interest in those Chinese women who came to Victoria in the colonial period.

Talk followed by an informal, inexpensive meal in a nearby Chinatown restaurant.