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Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Page: 124


Senator MOORE (7:32 PM) —This evening I want to talk about an exhibition that was formed in Queensland as part of the Queensland 150 years celebration. The 150 years celebration gave an opportunity for people across Queensland to engage in talking about their own histories and linking that into the history of our great state. The one I want to talk about this evening is one called ‘An Oriental Journey through Queensland’. That probably gives you a hint that it is to do with the role and the achievements and the dedication of people of Chinese descent and the work they have done for our state.

This exhibition was developed by my friend, Mr Chiu-Hing Chan, who was Young Queenslander of the Year and also the vice-chairman of the Australian-Chinese General Chamber of Business. It involved more than 30 people who were experts in a whole range of skills that go together to form an exhibition. It came forth with a very powerful display of 33 history panels featuring more than 100 personal photographs—which for me were really the key to the whole exhibition—and two wonderful DVDs, which in their own way captured so much of our history and the wonderful history of the Chinese community.

The exhibition focused on three regional areas: North Queensland and Cairns, Central Queensland around the Rockhampton area and Western Queensland. The skills of these people came together to bring this whole process alive. The North Queensland panels were created originally by Dr Maria Friend and her North Queensland team from the Queensland Museum. This is work that they have been doing with local community members and historical societies in the region. They show exactly how powerful and important the Chinese community were to that region. The 26 panels of this area are just covered with photographs from the many families of that area.

The Central Queensland panels were created by Marilyn Dooley, a former researcher with the National Film and Sound Archive here in Canberra. Her own personal study of oriental history in Rockhampton started this whole process. There are three great panels that look at the Rockhampton area and the area of Chinese people there. We are hoping that some of those panels will go back to the vibrant Chinese community centre in Rockhampton, which has been there since the turn of the century in the 1890s.

The Western Queensland panels were created by Ray Poon, a historian and researcher of Chinese heritage, who actually lives now close to my home town of Toowoomba. The regional Queensland panels from this part look at the role of Chinese people, particularly in the pastoral areas in that part of the world.

The historical records show that the first Chinese migration in Queensland was in 1847 with the arrival of six Chinese men to be employed as shepherds in the Darling Downs. There was a shortage of labour and pastoralists were forced to look for workers and financed a scheme to bring in Chinese workers on contract for up to five years. It really is amazing how history repeats itself. This scheme was not particularly successful and it did fall over.

The real focus of Chinese migration across Australia and in Queensland was the gold rushes. In Queensland in 1868 there was a record of 2,629 people, mainly in the areas of mining, around Claremont, Leyburn and Nanango in the region of Rockhampton. The real push into North Queensland came with the opening of the Palmer River goldfield in 1873. That caused a rush of people of all nationalities to go in search of the lure of the gold. A number of those were Chinese people. As the gold failed, as it always does, Chinese people moved into the areas mainly of agriculture and also into service industries as well as small business and extraordinarily skilled labour in some areas. Interestingly, the notes from the exhibition indicate that the Chinese people were an important factor in the survival of Cairns itself when the new settlement was actually in danger of being taken over by the nearby new town of Port Douglas. Chinese agriculture actually kept Cairns city alive. So that is something that I think many people of the area did not know.

A large part of the exhibition focused on the growth of agriculture and especially on bananas. Sugar cane had been a very popular crop in that area but was going into depression around the period of the 1890s. Chinese people, among others, took to the growing of bananas, and banana exports in fact saved Cairns at that time. So there is a great link there between the Chinese community and Cairns.

As we know, there was and still is in many cases an appreciation of the Chinese people for their genuine civic activities and contributions, particularly to charity. The historical records indicate that even in the 1890s and into the early 1900s Chinese merchants in particular were very high on the list of donors to a range of charities. Although the Chinese and English-speaking communities were significantly separate from each other, Chinese participation in civic life meant that there was a real acceptance of the local community at that time.

However, again, as was often the case and as we see even in our own time, there were years of political activity and a great deal of racism across the whole country, and it did flow across the Queensland border. In 1901, the Immigration Restriction Act was passed with the coming of Federation. That contracted further Chinese migration, and for many years after there was a great reduction in the Chinese population. People who had been living in the community for many years went back to China or elsewhere in the world and we lost them. Many people stayed, but so many people, from a high point of about 9,000, moved away.

For me, there is a poignancy about many of the stories that are put out in the displays. We get a glimpse into family histories, and I was particularly moved by so many of the stories. I wish to talk about one particular story, which is covered in detail, of a wonderful North Queensland family. It relates to Mr Taam Sze Pui—that was his name. He came with his dad and his brother to Cooktown at the age of 17 in 1877. It often happens in these cases that people lose their own names, and from what we know as his name—Taam Sze Pui—came the name of the very famous See Poy family in the area around Innisfail. I have not really got time to talk about his marvellous story at length this evening, but I encourage people to look at the story of this family, which reflects so much of the way that people came here and worked so hard and gave so much back to our community.

In 1925 Mr Sze Pui wrote his autobiography. It was called My Life and Work and was self-published in Innisfail. In that, amongst many other things, he talks about the ten rules for business. I will not name them all, but I do encourage people to check out what the Taam Sze Pui family said were the 10 rules for business. They could serve in any business lecture theatre now to illustrate how to run a successful business. When his autobiography was released, his friend’s son Chan Wen-Lung wrote about Taam Sze Pui:

He contents himself with simplicity and holds himself steadfastly to honesty. Kindness is what he loves to dispense and righteousness is what he lives for.

No-one could ask for a greater tribute than that.

There is also the story of his wife, whose name was Tue Chu Han and who was sent for. The family told Mr Taam Sze Pui that it would be ‘unfilial to have amassed great wealth and not to marry and produce children for posterity’. So the call went back home to China and this young woman was put on a boat all alone and sent across the world to a man she had never met. That was a common story of the women of those days and that really touched me. I found that particular part of the whole display the part that attracted me most and led me to think so much about the feelings and also the commitment of those that came to our country. We also saw how many people of Chinese descent signed up and fought in our armed forces during the wars, and again this was from the family perspective.

I really congratulate the teams that put together ‘An Oriental Journey’. To our shame, it is the first time that much of this history has been compiled. The wonderful exhibition was originally opened in Queensland parliament house on 17 November 2009 and then there was a wonderful launch in Brisbane Chinatown in Fortitude Valley on 21 January. The display will move next to the Museum of Chinese Australian History in Melbourne and, we are hoping, from there to a national tour. That would be extremely valuable in our learning much more about the contribution of the Chinese community and to our celebrating their passion, commitment and industry. This is a history we must know and it is part of our history.