The China-Australia Migration Corridor [eds] Denis Byrne, Ien Ang, Phillip Mar

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

In a park in the City of Bendigo Victoria sits a small building that represents an enduring link within the annals of Australian history. I refer to the Joss House Temple that was opened in 1871 as a place of worship for the Chinese community who came to Bendigo in search of gold.

Though it is outside the remit of this volume edited by Denis Byrne, Ien Ang and Phillip Mar, it is a tangible reminder of how long and far the links between China and Australia have existed. These links began well before Federation in 1901 and the beginnings of the “White Australia” policy that restricted the entry of non-white migrants into the newly federated nation and to deport ‘undesirable’ migrants who were already in Australia.

The period covered by Bryne, Ang and Mar is from 1840 to 1940. It concentrates on the footprint of migration between Zhongshan county in southern China and Australia. It further focuses on those who ended up settling in New South Wales and Victoria especially in Syndey and Melbourne.

It was usual for the males of various villages within Zhongshan to travel to Australia to try and make their fortune for the benefit of the families who remained behind. Some found success in the goldfields of the time while others found more success in establishing businesses of various types including greengrocer shops, convenience stores and import and export businesses. Some became commission agents where people could organise the transfer of funds to their families back home. These funds called remittances assisted families to have a better life and education. They also funded the building of better housing and the establishment of schools. The value of remittances was seen as important as the political and governing fortunes of the Chinese mainland moved from the Qing dynasty to the Provisional Government of Sun Yat-sen, the Nationalist government that began in 1925 and the rise of the Communist Party Government in 1949.

It was not easy for the Chinese immigrants from Zhongshan as they grappled with life in Australia. Racism and the various policies of state and federal governments challenged the desire of many to have a secure life and to ultimately have their families join them. The various articles within the book cover these challenges in detail. They also show the persistence that was needed if Chinese immigrants were going to succeed and continue to have ongoing links with their villages and extended families in China. Despite the challenges the descendants of those early immigrants have made lasting and valuable contributions to Australian life.

The articles reiterate something that occurs across the world when people move from one country to another. The first generation keeps close contact and is able to send monetary support as well as coming for the occasional visit. As the years rolled by though the contact as well as the remittance payments slowly declined as each succeeding generation became more Australian in their life and culture. Some of this was the result of the White Australia policy while intermarriage, two World Wars and the changing fortunes of China played their part.

Byrne, Ang and Mar draw on the lived experience of people through interviews and family histories. They show that while, in the past few years, some Chinese born and living in Australia have shown an interest in their family history making the trip back to the home villages is not easy because the familial links have gone over time and the remembrances of past generations isn’t as clear as it once was.

The book is more for the academic researcher than the ordinary reader. It contains though a lot of good information about life in Australia as seen through non-European eyes. It also assists in our understanding of Chinese culture and the challenges of living when they come to a foreign land seeking a better way of life.

Denis Byrne is professor of archaeology and heritage studies at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University.

Ien Ang is distinguished professor of Cultural Studies at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University.

Phillip Mar is an anthropologist and adjunct researcher at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University.

The China-Australia Migration Corridor: History and Heritage

Denis Byrne, Ien Ang and Phillip Mar (eds)

(2023)

MUP

ISBN 978 052288 022 9

$40.00; 279pp

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