Culture and heritage

Heritage of NSW

Charting the Chinese heritage of New England

The history of the Chinese in NSW is long and fascinating and not only found in Sydney's bustling Chinatown. Investigating Chinese heritage outside metropolitan Sydney, Heritage Office staff Karl Zhao and Elizabeth Fowler travelled to New England to visit local Chinese heritage places and museums with Chinese collections. The trip included visits to the towns of Armidale, Uralla, Tingha, Inverell and Glen Innes.

The Chinese first came to country areas of NSW to work as shepherds, cooks and farm labourers in the early 19th century. With the discovery of gold in the 1850s their numbers increased dramatically.

Tin was discovered in the 1870s in the northern tablelands and by the 1890s this particular area had one of the highest concentrations of Chinese in NSW. After the mining boom, many Chinese remained working as market gardeners, storekeepers, farm labourers and cooks.

Much of the evidence of the Chinese presence in the New England region is held by local museums. In Armidale Karl and Elizabeth met with Janis Wilton who is working on Golden Threads: Chinese in Regional NSW, a project funded by the NSW Ministry for the Arts. Ms Wilton is establishing a database of Chinese heritage objects and through her work with local museums is discovering a huge number of Chinese heritage items.

Chinese stores were included in the visit, such as the century old Wing Hing Long store in Tingha (a project funded by the Heritage Office), the Hong Yuen Store in Inverell and Kwong Sing Store in Glen Innes.

The Kwong Sing Store in Glen Innes has been owned and managed by the Young family for over 100 years. Photographs by Karl Zhao.

The Kwong Sing Store in Glen Innes has been owned and managed by the Young family for over 100 years. Photographs by Karl Zhao.

 Remains from the old Tingha Joss House on display at the Pioneer Village, Inverell, include Chinese hats, yokes, cookware and scales. Left: Soy sauce barrel, McCrossins Mill, Uralla. Photographs by Karl Zhao.

Remains from the old Tingha Joss House on display at the Pioneer Village, Inverell, include Chinese hats, yokes, cookware and scales. Left: Soy sauce barrel, McCrossins Mill, Uralla. Photographs by Karl Zhao.

Karl Zhao says that recognising Chinese heritage places is one of the first steps in understanding the contribution of Chinese to Australia. "There is just so much Chinese heritage in NSW. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg. It's important that local communities are aware of the extent of this heritage and take measures to promote and conserve what is significant."

"As our movable Chinese heritage is being documented we need to ensure Chinese heritage sites also continue to be looked at as part of the picture. These may include mines, temples, market gardens, ovens, kitchens attached to homesteads, shops, graveyards, roads and houses - all items reflecting the Chinese contribution to NSW."

Page last updated: 01 September 2012