Tag: heritage

Hometown Heritage Tour survey results

Earlier in the year I conducted a survey of people who had registered their interest in my Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour. I received 40 responses, which is great! Feedback I’ve received so far about the tour is very positive, and I look forward to putting together a tour that hopefully fulfils what most people would like to get out of it.

One of the survey respondents asked why I was interested in running the tour. Over the past 20-odd years I’ve had contact with many Australians who know little or nothing about their Chinese heritage, often because the social stigma of racial mixing in the era of White Australia resulted in deliberate ‘forgetting’ and hiding of non-European heritage. Others know more, but have never been to China before. The time I’ve been lucky enough to spend in Guangdong has helped me to better understand the historical lives of those who migrated to Australia, the culture and landscape they came from, and the social worlds they inhabited. I’m hoping that the tour will provide others with the same sort of experience and understanding. I also love to travel, and especially love travelling in the weird and wonderful world of south China!

I’m very aware that the itinerary I’m planning, which includes Zhongshan and the Sze Yup counties of Xinhui, Kaiping and Taishan, leaves out some major hometown districts such as Dongguan and Zengcheng in Guangdong and Xiamen (Amoy) in Fujian province. The tour destinations reflect the areas in which I’ve spent most time and where I have contacts. The first tour in March 2016 will be a bit of an experiment, and if things go well I hope to offer more tours in the future (if the demand exists!).

Here’s a summary of the results of the survey. I’ll be working with this in mind as I put together a firm itinerary and program of activities in the next few months.

You can still subscribe for updates about the tour.

What is the main reason for your interest in the tour?
Seventy-five per cent of respondents were descended from a Chinese migrant to Australia or New Zealand, with a further 15 per cent related to someone descended from a Chinese migrant to Australia or New Zealand.

Have you been to mainland China before?
Respondents were divided into three main groups: 45 per cent had lived or travelled in mainland China, 30 per cent had never been to mainland China or Hong Kong, and 25 per cent had been to Hong Kong but not to the mainland.

The tour is currently planned for March 2016, with a possible second tour in November 2016. Which date would suit you best?
Either or both dates suited all respondents. One respondent requested that the tour take place during school holidays, but due to the differences in Australian school holiday dates between the states this may not be possible.

The tour is planned to last 10 days, starting and finishing in Hong Kong. Transfers (ferry, private minibus), accommodation and most meals would be included, as well as entry to sites, talks and workshops. How much would you expect to pay?
Almost 40 per cent respondents felt that between $2000 and $2500 would be the expected cost for the tour, including land transfers, accommodation, most meals, site entry, talks and workshops. Almost equal numbers said they would be prepared to pay up to $3000 or over $3000.

How do you feel about the quality and price of the tour?
Nearly 80 per cent of respondents stated that they would prefer ‘comfortable accommodation, meals and transport at a reasonable cost’, with almost 20 per cent stating that they would prefer basic standards to keep costs as low as possible.

How do you feel about meals and eating on the tour?
Most respondents said that they would like to try local foods and specialities, including eating at street stalls or markets. A smaller number said that they would like to eat local foods, but only in restaurants that met Australian standards. One indicated that they had dietary restrictions.

Would you join the tour by yourself or as part of a group?
Most respondents indicated that they would travel as part of a couple, with friends or family (over 60 per cent). Almost 40 per cent said that they would be travelling alone. I will give the option of sharing accommodation with someone of the same gender, or of paying a single supplement.

What is your level of interest in possible tour destinations and activities?
The most popular activity suggestions were:

  • visiting ancestral villages of early Chinese who migrated to Australia (100 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • visiting World Heritage-listed diaolou in Kaiping (85 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • visiting other heritage sites with connections to overseas migration (95 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • visiting overseas Chinese history museums (over 90 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • hearing expert talks on overseas Chinese history and heritage (over 95 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • eating local foods, such as dim sum and cakes (over 95 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
  • doing independent activities, such as free time to explore a town or city by yourself (over 80 per cent of respondents said ‘definitely yes’ or ‘ sounds good’)
  • taking evening shopping walks (80 per cent said ‘definitely yes’ or ‘sounds good’).

Other activities were a bit less popular (with between 70 and 80 per cent of respondents who said ‘definitely yes’ or ‘sounds good’): visiting general history museums, introduction to Cantonese language, village cooking classes and village cultural performances.

The least popular activity suggestion was cycling through the countryside between heritage sites (60 per cent of respondents said ‘take it or leave it’ or ‘not interested at all’).

Is there a particular ancestral village or county in Guangdong you would like to visit?
Thirty per cent of respondents said they had a particular village or town they wanted to visit, while nearly 40 per cent said they knew of the county they wanted to visit but not a particular village. The places respondents listed included: Shekki (Zhongshan), Zhuhai, Hoiping (Kaiping), Sunwui (Xinhui), Taishan, Jiangmen, and Amoy. Over 30 per cent didn’t have a particular place they wanted to visit.

A Chinese bunkhouse in Richmond, BC

I’ve really been struck during my visit to Vancouver by the similarities between Australia and Canada (or this bit of it, at least), particularly regarding the ‘big’ themes in the historical experience of Chinese people in these two far-distant places. But it’s also very cool to consider the differences that geographical location and physical landscape bring to that experience. (Note gratuitous photo showing how glorious Vancouver looks in the spring. Yes, I like it here.)

Today I went to the Britannia Shipyard National Historical Site at Steveston in Richmond, just south of Vancouver. It is located on the Fraser River, where there once was a salmon run that supported 15 canneries in Richmond alone. The canneries there and further up the Fraser River employed Chinese workers to process the fish – paying them a fraction of what they would pay Anglo-Canadian employees. A skilled Chinese butcher would process between 1500–2000 fish in a 10-hour day.

At the Britannia Shipyard site is a Chinese bunkhouse that was built in around 1920 by the Anglo British Canadian Packing Company at Knight’s Bend, further along the river. It was moved down the river by barge to Steveston in 1951, after which it was used to store nets and lumber. In 1992 it was relocated to its present site at Britannia after being donated to the City of Richmond.

The 2000-square-foot two-storey timber building was restored in 2007. It, and the timber houses around it, is built on pilings and accessed by a wooden boardwalk over the water. The downstairs of the bunkhouse is now used as a funtion/meeting space, while the upstairs has been recreated to suggest the living conditions of it original Chinese residents and to provide a display on the history of the Chinese cannery workers. Although there are no photographs of the inside of the building in its original use, they have based the interior fit-out on contemporary descriptions. And they’ve done a really nice job of it.

I’m looking forward to exploring more of Vancouver’s Chinese history when I visit Chinatown in the coming days. I only wish that I also had the time to also visit British Columbia’s oldest Chinatown, which is in the provincial captial, Victoria, located a couple of hours away on Vancouver Island west of Vancouver city. Lots of buildings there are listed on Canada’s register of historic places. Oh well, I’ll just have to come back another time!

La Perouse market gardens under threat

Chinese community and heritage groups are opposing the planned resumption of heritage-listed market gardens at La Perouse in southern Sydney for use as a cemetery. The land on which the market gardens sit has been used for food production for more than 150 years, and managed by Chinese gardeners for more than a century. They are one of the very few remaining examples of the productive gardens which used to be found all around the Sydney suburbs.

Media release – Chinese Heritage Association of Australia Inc.

Resumption of Heritage-listed Market Gardens alarms community

Chinese community leaders were shocked to learn about a plan to resume 60% of the heritage-listed Chinese Market Gardens at La Perouse, which was presented by representatives from the adjacent Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park Botany Cemetery, at a Chinese Community Consultations meeting on 26 July 2010, organised by the Community Relations Commission and the Land and Property Management Authority.

The cemetery and the market gardens are on Crown land. Two years ago, in response to representations to acquire this land by the Botany Cemetery and Eastern Suburbs Crematorium Trusts, the Department of Lands, prepared a Draft Assessment of Crown Land – Chinese Market Gardens, Phillip Bay and called for submissions. Many submissions (including ones from the National Trust and Randwick Council) were lodged in July 2008 for the retention of these seven (7) hectares to remain as heritage-listed Chinese market gardens.

The Draft Assessment identified three (3) suitable uses for this land:

  • Environmental Protection
  • Agriculture
  • Nature Conservation

It stated that ‘the site currently has a very high capability for agriculture and is functioning very successfully in this purpose’. (p.35)

It further states in relation to the cemetery proposal: ‘The site in its current state would most likely require significant engineering works to overcome the current constraints such as a high water table and flooding issues. Given the current environmental constraints and current state of the subject land, the site is considered not suitable for the establishment of a cemetery. As per the Australasian Cemeteries and Crematoria Association (2004) ‘Guidelines for the Establishment of a Cemetery’, if the water table is too high burials may not be possible.’ (p.36)

Daphne Lowe Kelley, president of the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia says, ‘The community recognises that with a growing population, there is increased demand for burial space but urges the State government not to acquiesce to this demand to turn unsuitable land into burial plots. I am sure that no one wants to have their dearly departed spending their afterlife in a former swamp.’

Contact: Daphne Lowe Kelley – 0417 655 233 – lowekelley@bigpond.com

Media release – Australian Heritage Institute

From Andrew Woodhouse
President, Australian Heritage Institute, a non-profit, Australia-wide group of local heritage societies
Suite 12, 3 McDonald Street Potts Point NSW 2011
Phone: 0415 949 506

Wednesday 28th July, 2010

State Government moves to evict Chinese market gardeners at historic La Perouse site and downgrade heritage based on hidden report. Calls for Kristina Keneally to intervene.

‘NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, should intervene to provide Sydney with more sustainable food sources and stop her Land Property Management Authority from evicting second-generation Chinese market gardeners from their Bunnerong Road, La Perouse, Crown Lease, just to increase profits and plots for a nearby cemetery,’ Andrew Woodhouse said today.

Mr Woodhouse was invited with about 50–60 members of the Chinese community to a meeting yesterday called by NSW Community Relations Commission to discuss land use changes at the controversial market gardens site.

The scheme, supported by the authority and promoted by the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Cemetery Trust, calls for eviction by 2013 of two of three lease holders, and resumption of 60% of the current market gardens, according to information provided at the meeting (agenda available).

However, no guarantee is provided of any future site for two leaseholders and no guarantee the remaining 40% will be not be resumed at a later date.

Former Labor Party Minister-turned paid lobbyist, Gary Punch, spoke for his clients, the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Trust (ESMT), who aim to purloin public land for their commercial benefit.

The ESMT is owned by the NSW state government and has been the subject of previous public concerns about conflicts of interest. (See ‘State Buys into Funeral Service’, by Paul Bibby, SMH, 27 November 2009, p.9.)

‘The whole rationale of this proposal is a house of cards, with the area’s heritage, dating back to land use by Count La Perouse in 1788 according to the NSW Heritage Council, to be handed over to fill state government coffers depleted by financial mismanagement,’ Woodhouse says.

‘According to Glen Blaxland, a local historian and once a member of the local historical society in the Municipality, Count de La Perouse cleared a piece of land and established a vegetable garden in Phillip Bay to prepare vegetables for his return journey back to France.

The first known name of this suburb area was the Frenchman’s Gardens. It is believed that this vegetable garden was Australia’s first primary industry site and the site was more or less the same site as the Chinese Market Gardens.

According to Randwick – A Social History, published by Randwick Council in 1985, ‘…until 1859, the market gardens were owned and tended by Europeans…’

‘Clearly, the ESMT is guilty of re-writing history to suit itself, claiming in their heritage report there has been no market gardening on the site until after 1904.

‘Show us your evidence,’ Woodhouse says.

‘Claims that heritage plaques or other interpretation will be installed on the site post-resumption are tokenism,’ Woodhouse said.

In yesterday’s one-sided meeting conflicting claims from Gary Punch and George Passas (ESMT) about whether work will begin in 3 or 7 years, the actual costs, perhaps up to $40 million in five $8 million stages, and information contained in a heritage report by an architect, Paul Rappaport, which the ESMT refuses to release, all point to a lack of transparency and accountability.

‘The meeting was presentation, not consultation,’ Woodhouse says. ‘It lacked credibility.’

‘This is not a “public good versus private interests” battle, as Gary Punch claims,’ Woodhouse says, “it’s a 7-hectare land grab based on unknown heritage evidence to remove private, profitable, sustainable businesses to make profits from the dead for the government.’

‘Offers to set aside 20% of new burial plots for Chinese community and a temple are simply bribes,’ Woodhouse says with further comments by Gary Punch that ‘Quite frankly, if you were not Chinese but English Australians there would be no problem with all this’ being not only factually incorrect but prejudiced, perhaps even racist.

Mr Woodhouse has applied under FOI laws for the disputed heritage report.

‘This whole dodgy project should be referred to an Independent Commission of Enquiry,’ Woodhouse says.

For further comments please also phone:

Ms Daphne Lowe-Kelly, President
Chinese Heritage Association of Australia Inc.
Phone: 0417 655 233
Email: lowekelley@bigpond.com

Mr Terry Ha, Chinese market gardener & leaseholder
President, Australian Chinese Growers’ Association of NSW
Phone: 0419 218 794
Email: terry8ha@hotmail.com

Campaign to save Quong Lee’s store, Forbes NSW

Back in October I mentioned the impending destruction of the old Quong Lee store in Forbes. Merrill Findlay, of the Kate Kelly Project in Forbes, has started a campaign to save Quong Lee’s.

She is asking for people to write to the developers, AusPacific Property Group, and to Forbes Shire Council to ask that the historic store be integrated into the design for the shopping centre they will build on the site. Development approval has already been given.

Nomchong building in Braidwood destroyed

The Canberra Times this morning is reporting the destruction of an 1850s building that was once used by the Chinese family, the Nomchongs. The single-storey wooden building stood in the main street of heritage-listed Braidwood, near Canberra and was demolished apparently in error. The Canberra Times says that the demolition was approved by the local Palerang Council, but there had been a mix-up over the address of the building.

The Nomchong brothers first settled in Braidwood in the 1860s–70s, and the descendants of one of the brothers still live and run businesses in the town today. The first Nomchong in the Braidwood area was Sheong Foon Nomchong (his name was spelt in a range of ways), who established a business at Mongarlowe and then Braidwood, and married Ellen Lupton, a woman of Irish-English descent. As his business grew he called for his brother Chee Doc to come to Australia from California. It is Chee Doc’s descendants who remain in the area today.

Read the Canberra Times article:

Historic Braidwood building’s ‘appalling’ demolition by Megan Doherty

More on the Nomchong family:

Shoon Foon Nom Chong from the Golden Threads database

Chee Doc Nom Chong from the Golden Threads database

Golden Threads also lists objects and sites associated with the Nomchong family in the Braidwood area.

The National Library of Australia holds the Nomchong family photograph collection (PIC/7659), the photographs from which are digitised and can be viewed online. The NLA also has oral history interviews with Nomchong family members.

The National Archives of Australia has a range of records about various members of the Nomchong family, including war service records, naturalisation applications and files relating to migration to Australia and travel out of Australia. Some of these can be found in the RecordSearch database by doing a keyword search for ‘nom chong’ or ‘nomchong’.

The Braidwood Historical Society has a collection of Nomchong family material, including the ‘Nomchong Room’ at the Braidwood Museum (Wallace Street, Braidwood).

And more generally on the history of the Chinese, including the Nomchongs, in the Braidwood area, see the extensive work of Dr Barry McGowan.