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Thursday, February 10, 2005

CNY: Chinatown History Tour

We joined the free Chinatown History Tour today, conducted by the City of Sydney council as part of Chinese New Year celebrations.

The tour was led by 1988 Order of Australia recipient Mr King Fong, who revealed much of Sydney's Chinese history through facts as well as stories.

Mr Fong, a small but spritely man probably in his 60s, arrived in Australia as an 8-year-old, and his enthusiasm for reminiscing and telling us anecdotes in his broad Aussie accent was endearing.

Some of the more interesting relevations included:

  • There were two Chinese cooks registered on the original First Fleet in 1788.
  • The first wave of Chinese arrived in 1848 as cheap labour.
  • The second wave arrived in 1851 following the discovery of gold, particularly in Ballarat.
  • In 1861 there were an estimated 38,000 Chinese men and only 2 Chinese women.
  • Origins of Dixon Street

  • Originally part of Cockle Creek, the area known as Dixon Street was given to John Dickson, a business-owner in Goulburn Street.
  • In 1835 it was registered and sub-divided but incorrectly named as Dixon, not Dickson Street. His attempts to correct this were rejected over claims it would be too expensive to change all the maps (bureaucratic red tape even then!)
  • The street was originally developed as timber yards with timber transported from Cockle Bay, Darling Harbour.
  • By 1910 the timber yards started to pack up and buildings began to be built. Much of Dixon Street was built 1915-1916. The Live Crafts Centre Tea House is the oldest building on Dixon Street.

  • Other trivia

  • Chinese from different villages set up 'home' streets in Chinatown providing support for new migrants and a promise to send their bones home to be buried, as was the custom eg. Campbell Street was originally the base for those from the village of Sze Yup. This explains the steadfast loyalty of some older Chinese to particular streets or businesses for their roast duck or soya sauce chicken!
  • Margaret Fulton's original trumpeting of Asian cuisine had a lot to do with the fact that she was an AGL spokesperson, whose portfolio included pushing the use of woks, and therefore, gas!

  • Campbell Street, Sydney

    All in all, an interesting tour. It's certainly made me stop and look above the ground floor shopfronts and ponder.

    There is one more History Tour running next week.

    Thurs 17 Feb 10.30am-11.30am.
    Bookings essential.
    Tel: 02 9265 9880

    Related GrabYourFork posts:
    Links for all Chinese New Year 2005 pics

    4 comments - Add some comment love

    posted by Helen (AugustusGloop) on 2/10/2005 10:30:00 am


    • At 2/14/2005 2:09 am, Blogger Ben said…

      Interesting tour. I thought the "only 2 women" stat was interesting - it helps to explain why there so much resentment in that era towards Chinese men who had "stolen" the local women away. I seem to recall reading a section in Leviathan by John Birmingham that I think described the local efforts to rouse ant-Chinese sentiment in the 1970s. There was a chilling bit about a riot that ranged from Hyde Park to Chinatown, beating up any Chinese people that were unlucky enough to be in their way. It seems that Sydney has a much grubbier history than we'd like to admit - it's not just the Tank Stream that was concreted over.

    • At 2/14/2005 10:39 am, Blogger pinkcocoa said…

      hiya AG
      Thanks for sharing Sydney's Chinese History. Never really know much about it until now. It amazed me how much stuff you remember from the tour!
      I didnt know Sydney has a large Sze Yup community and even with a Sze Yup temple in Glebe! How interesting.
      The riot BHR mentioned is just horrible. Luckily, it has improved quite a bit ever since. But then again, I still encountered some really unfriendly caucasions sometimes...:-(

    • At 2/14/2005 10:03 pm, Blogger Ms One Boobie said…

      I should've found a man in Sydney.. and not Canada..???hhehehe!!

    • At 2/14/2005 11:33 pm, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

      Hi BHR - Yes, the tour guide did say that that was a contributing factor to local aminosity to the Chinese (in addition to their cheap labour and resourcefulness and dogged determination).

      Australia purports itself to be multicultural but then our White Australia policy was apparently used as a blueprint to create South Africa's institution of apartheid.

      It is a great country, but it has its weaknesses (and skeletons in the closet) too.

      Hi pinkcocoa - Yes I was amazed by how much I learnt too. And yes I didn't realise there was a Sze Yup temple either. Amazing what you discover in your own home town.

      I agree. There is still an element of insularity amongst some Australians. But then, you get that everywhere in the world I guess.

      Hi MrsT - You could have met an Eskimo! Or is that the same thing! :P


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