Yiu Ming Temple | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Yiu Ming Temple

Item details

Name of item: Yiu Ming Temple
Other name/s: Yiu Ming Hung Fook Tong Temple, Chinese Temple, Hong Sheng Gong, Hung Sheng Gong
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Religion
Category: Shrine
Location: Lat: -33.9024702864 Long: 151.2007268590
Primary address: 16-22 Retreat Street, Alexandria, NSW 2015
Parish: Alexandria
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP197155
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
16-22 Retreat StreetAlexandriaSydneyAlexandriaCumberlandPrimary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Yiu Ming SocietyReligious Organisation 

Statement of significance:

The temple is of historical, architectural, religious and social significance to a section of Sydney's Chinese community. The Yiu Ming is one of the oldest and largest Chinese Societies. For approximately 130 years, the temple and its community and environment have provided practical assistance and spiritual support for community members seeking to establish themselves in Australia.
Architecturally, the building is significant for its blending of traditional design, local materials and Federation detailing. The building has not been significantly modified since construction. The most significant modifications, following recent fire damage, replicated original form and materials as much as possible.The elaborate fittings of the temple provide evidence of community commitment to the temple and also demonstrate the skill of Chinese artisans at the beginning of the 20 th century.
As many village temples in China no longer exist, this fine, intact example is considered to be of both local and international significance.
Date significance updated: 30 Jun 99
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Physical description: The temple remains much as it was when originally built. Most of the internal fittings date from this time. The temple walls are of red-faced brick, originally tuck pointed. The internal floor is of tessellated tiles with a white marble edging. Many internal details are of timber. The area is lit and ventilated by a 'roof lantern' over a sunken floor section designed for burning incense and oil. Doors and fittings, including the main altar, are original.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The physical condition of the Temple is sound and most associated objects are in stable condition.
Date condition updated:30 Jun 99
Modifications and dates: The following modifications to the temple and objects have been identified:

Following fire damage (Dec ’96) the temple and some associated objects were restored ( during 1997). The temple roof was replicated using imported Chinese tiles. Damaged timber panels from the temple interior were restored. Undamaged wooden items were cleaned. The main light fitting of the temple was reconstructed around the original frame. The altar table, which was completely destroyed, was replaced. The altar itself was cleaned and the central painting was re-painted. The temple was re-wired and repainted. The garden was tiled. The main burner of the temple has been moved outside to minimise smoke damage and the sunken floor area which housed it has been filled in by the addition of removable timber panels.

A number of earlier modifications have also been identified:
The roof of the temple was repaired, incorporating quad and square metal downpipes on the east and West sides, addition of concrete angled tiles and decorative ceramic tiles over the gateway. This is estimated to have been done in the 1950’ 0r 60’s. Electricity was fitted to the temple, most likely in the 1960’s or 70’s
Cracks in the external brickwork of the temple appear to have been repaired and patched, perhaps a number of times. The tiled surfaces of the temple show evidence of repair. Cement was used at some stage to repair the decorative ridge tiles. The community room and kitchen, built as an extension to the rear of the terrace closest to the temple, shows evidence of repeated modification, in 1930’s, 1950’s 1970’s and most recently in 1996, when the kitchen area was refurbished. The building was documented before the last modification. The pailou and tile capped perimeter wall were added in 198. The terrace houses and street are currently being refurbished 1998-9.
Further information: Associated objects that were not restored after fire damage in 1996, still show evidence of oil and smoke staining as a result of long exposure to burning oil and incense.
Current use: The temple is a place of worship, community activity and celebration.
Former use: Temple


Historical notes: 1870’s Earliest temple records (of the Yiu Ming Hung Fook Tong) list members. Members then, as now, come from two counties, Gaoyao/Gouyiu and Gaoming/Gouming , in the province of Guandong (formerly known as Canton). 1880’s Alexandria council rate books list many Chinese community members. By 1890 it was estimated that about 100 Chinese community members lived in Retreat Street. In 1908, construction of the temple begins. In 1907, 1909 and 1917, the commissioned works for the interior of the temple date from these years. Two private companies, Tiy Loy and Co. and Wah Hing and Co. were established by society members, with premises on Botany Road, adjacent to Retreat Street. In 1910 Society records list members in Rose Bay, Botany, Waterloo, Kogarah, Northern Sydney, Canberra, Bombala and Newcastle. The figurative ceramic roof tiles were imported from Foshan ceramic works. In 1949 Chinese Revolution bans return of the bones of Chinese who die overseas. In 1950 Society members are able to apply for Naturalisation and are able to bring family members to live in Australia. 15 years residency in Australia is a prerequisite. In 1980’s Society membership increases dramatically as a result increasing immigration. This growth pattern continues. In May 1981 Addition of pailou and tile capped wall , enclosing Retreat Street. In 1990 Committee for the Yiu Ming Society is formed and the committee members are elected. Previously officials were not elected. The name of the Society was changed and shortened from Yiu Ming Hung Fook Tong Society to Yiu Ming Society. In 1995/6 Conservation documentation of the Temple and Retreat Street is done. In December 19996 fire at temple is quickly extinguished and smoke and water damage minimised by fire brigade crew who recognise the special nature of the building and associated objects. In 1996 the Women’s Committee is formed and members are selected/ elected by the Yiu Ming Committee. In 1997/8 building and associated objects are restored and cleaned. Project worked on by community artisans and architects as well as Powerhouse Museum staff. Conservation documentation informs this work. In 1998/99 temple re-opened around Chinese New Year. The terrace houses are refurbished, improving living conditions for the elderly residents.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Ethnic influences-Activities associated with common cultural traditions and peoples of shared descent, and with exchanges between such traditions and peoples. Chinese religious practices-
7. Governing-Governing Welfare-Activities and process associated with the provision of social services by the state or philanthropic organisations (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Religion-Activities associated with particular systems of faith and worship (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The site has a recorded history of continuous Chinese occupation since the 1870's.
The temple and many fittings and associated objects have remained substantially intact. The site and the temple are associated with many significant Chinese community members. These include Sam Warley, who operated a large import business with branches in Perth and Hong Kong, John Hoe, who operated a large timber business and formed the NSW Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Deen Bong, a successful cabinet maker who was an early manager of Tiy Loy and Co.
Many society members have been influential in the introduction, growing, marketing and distribution of Chinese vegetables and food. Society members have also helped to maintain Chinese festivals and celebrations, including the lion dance
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
It represents a unique blend of Chinese temple design and Federation detailing. It seems likely that Federation detailing drew heavily on the decorative elements of the Chinese building tradition. The building is an example of the aesthetic of village temples. Standardised building codes and systems meant that temples build outside China strongly resemble those built within China. Exposed rafters and purlins demonstrate traditional Chinese roof structure and demonstrate the flexibility of this system. The highly coloured decorative paintwork used throughout is a very strong aesthetic statement the figurative ceramic roof ridge tiles are a very strong element of the external architecture of the temple. The interior fittings and objects, commissioned from China, represent excellent examples of Chinese decorative arts at the time the temple was built. Many similar pieces have been destroyed in China so that the aesthetic significance of this material is very high.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The complex has remained a cultural, religious and social centre for the community.
The temple Society has assisted community members, especially those newly arrived in Australia, by providing low cost housing, financial support and employment opportunities. This support was especially important when government policy meant that many community members were forced to live with only irregular contact with partners and families, who were still in China. Before the practice was banned, following the Chinese Revolution of 1949, Society members also arranged to return the bones of dead members to China for burial. Painted panels inside the temple list donors at the time of construction of the temple. These panels often refer to loyalty, brotherhood and the wish for happiness, prosperity and longevity. Many current Society members are able to identify the names of grandfathers, great uncles and other forebears on these panels and in the written records of the Society. The temple strongly communicates a sense of community identity and continuity. The Yiu Ming temple siting, orientation and layout follow principles of Chinese cosmology commonly known as feng shui. The main deity of the temple is Hong Sheng. "god of the southern seas". Hong Sheng is not a common deity either for Chinese Australians or for people from southern China. Cai Shen and Guan Di are other gods represented in the temple. The temple iconography includes much Daoist symbolism, including representations of the 8 Immortals and 8 precious things. There is also reference to Buddha.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The temple illustrates various technical adaptations to local conditions and materials. It also demonstrates the internationally recognised versatility and innovative skills of Chinese carpenters during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Given the scarcity of examples of this scale of 'village' temple, even in China, the general adherence to traditional design principles is also of technical interest.
Inscriptions on the painted panels inside the temple provide much information about society members enabling further research into the history of the Society and its members. The records and documents of the Society appear to have been maintained. The Society's relationship to business, market gardening and the Chinese cemetery area at Rookwood are all significant areas for further research.
SHR Criteria f)
This temple is one of only a small number (9?) of Chinese temples that survive in Australia. It also illustrates traditional Chinese architecture in transition, displaying various adaptations to local conditions and materials. The temple houses a range of movable objects that were specially commissioned by the community from artists and craftsmen in Guandong at the time that the temple was constructed. In mainland China, many village temples of this period have either been destroyed or are used for other purposes.
SHR Criteria g)
The building is an example of Chinese village temple design with distinctive local elements. Retreat Street represents a community approach to survival and adaptation to life in a new country.
Integrity/Intactness: The physical fabric of the temple and its associated objects retain evidence of the historical, architectural, social and spiritual significance of this site.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0129724 Sep 99 1119209

References, internet links & images


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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5044695
File number: H99/00041

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