Culture and heritage

Heritage of NSW

Chinese market gardens

Three market gardens in La Perouse, among the oldest in the State, have been listed on the State Heritage Register for their significant heritage values, particularly to Sydney's Chinese community.

Working farms with links to the life of 19th century Sydney, they are the last surviving examples of the market gardens which were originally fairly widespread in the Randwick area. For over 150 years the land has been used for market gardens, firstly by European settlers and then by Chinese.

The gardens were nominated as part of a Heritage Office program established in 1997 to encourage ethnic communities to nominate sites of heritage value in NSW. This will mean that the State Heritage Register can provide a more accurate picture of Australia's culturally diverse heritage.

Market gardens played an important role in supplying the food needs of the growing settlements of NSW. By the end of the 19th century, these labour intensive farms had become almost synonymous with the Chinese and were part of the everyday life of many towns and cities.

The earliest farms in the La Perouse area were recorded in 1830. At first the gardens were tended by Europeans and supplied vegetables to some of the wealthiest homes in Randwick. But this changed after the gold rushes.

Karl Zhao, Chinese Heritage Officer at the NSW Heritage Office, explains:

"Chinese immigrants came to prospect for gold but soon realised not everyone could get rich from the gold fields and so started growing vegetables. At the end of the 1850s gold rushes, many Chinese came to the Sydney metropolitan area and became involved in market gardening."

Market gardens at La Perouse

Market gardens at La Perouse

Many of the gardens in the La Perouse area survived well into the 20th century. Older residents still recall the market gardeners who worked on the farms and lived in corrugated iron huts.

The La Perouse gardens have special significance for the Chinese community.

"For many people, especially those from the Yiu Ming district of Guangdong, market gardens were their starting point in Australia. They worked hard and saved and then opened restaurants, grocery shops, their own businesses" says Karl Zhao.

"This particular garden is important because it is so old. Many generations, many owners, many gardeners have connections with the La Perouse market gardens."

The gardens have been managed by members of the Chinese community for over 90 years, passing from one generation to another without a break. The still working gardens have maintained features of a traditional market garden and even today, most of the work is done by manual labour with simple tools. Nowhere else so close to the modern, busy centre of Sydney is land still worked in this way.

Gordan Ha's family have been involved with the La Perouse market gardens for over 40 years.

"My father came from overseas and worked on this farm with his cousin. He worked and studied English at the same time" said Mr Ha.

The market gardens continue to be a part of Sydney life. In fact, with the increasing number of Asian immigrants over the last 20 years, long forgotten Chinese vegetables have been reintroduced to the Australian diet. "When my Dad started on the farm 40 years ago, they grew mostly Australian vegetables such as celery" says Gordan Ha. "Now with the demand for new vegetables, we are growing Chinese vegetables like Bok Choy, Cho Sum and Chinese broccoli."

Page last updated: 01 September 2012