Culture and heritage

Heritage of NSW

Sze Yup temple

For 100 years the Sze Yup temple has been a spiritual and cultural centre for the Chinese community in Sydney. One of a handful of temples of this type in Australia, it is protected by a Permanent Conservation Order. This year the community celebrates the temple's centenary.

When Chinese settlers in Sydney decided to build a temple dedicated to the Chinese folk hero and god, Kwung Ti, they prayed for a sign showing where the temple should be built. This led them to a market garden in Francis Street (now Edward Street) in Glebe which they purchased from the owner for £325. The temple was funded by immigrants from the area known as Sze Yup in the province of Kwongtung, China.

The renowned Sze Yup Temple is dedicated to Kwun Ti, a warrior and patriot in the era of the Three Kingdoms 220 - 265 AD. Kwung Ti is famous for his loyalty, physical prowess and masculinity. In Australia, immigrant Chinese worshipped him as a wise judge, a guide and a protector. Many important business decisions, for example, were not made until Kwung Ti had been consulted for his guidance and blessing.

The central temple in the Sze Yup complex was built in 1898. The simple red brick cottage was designed with the principles of Feng Shui in mind; it was located on land that sloped from the temple to the waters of Rozelle Bay. Inside the central temple is an altar with embroidered images of Kwun Ti and his guards, racks which hold Kwun Ti's Red Hair Horse and weapons, engraved couplets, prayers, a huge drum and gong and two beautiful carved columns which date from 1898. In 1904 the temple was flanked by two chapels, the Chapel of Departed Friends and the Chapel of Good Fortune.

For the Chinese community in Sydney the Sze Yup Temple was a cultural centre as well as a place for worship. It was here that they could find social contact and companionship, material assistance or accommodation for travellers, new migrants and the sick. Celebrations and festivals such as the colourful and lively Chinese New Year took place at the temple. It was also used to house the bones of the deceased, before they were taken to China in urns for permanent burial, as tradition demanded.

In 1978 the temple was restored following a fund raising appeal. The newly renovated temple had a green tiled roof and a traditional Chinese architectural combination of red and green. In 1982 an archway was added to the temple complex with two stone lions guarding the huge entrance. In 1985 the temple was covered by a Permanent Conservation Order.

After 100 years, the Sze Yup Temple remains a sacred place to the Chinese community. Worshippers now include new arrivals from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, China and, in particular, Indo-China.

Entrance to the central temple which was built in 1898. Photograph by Karl Zhao.

Entrance to the central temple which was built in 1898. Photograph by Karl Zhao.

Page last updated: 01 September 2012