The exhibition, which runs until the end of July, features 63 historical items, including a 1950s wedding necklace, a 1970s Chinese opera helmet, a head costume associated with the Lunar New Year, as well as photographs, restaurant menus, documents and certificates from the Lee family who emigrated to Australia and have been based in Hurstville since the 1920s.
Claire Baddeley, acting coordinator of cultural services at the Georges River Council, said Chinese migrants settling in the Georges River area came not only from mainland China, but also from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
“This area has a long history of Chinese migration, basically from the post-gold rush era starting in the 1860s, and this exhibit explores that up to the early 2000s,” she told SBS Chinese.
According to Council statistics, 27 percent of residents in the region today are of Chinese ancestry, with nearly 70 percent born in mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan.
“The exhibition explores the many stories and experiences of Chinese migrants in the region,” she said.
Contribution of Chinese migrants to household dining tables as well as society in general
Ms Baddeley said that after the gold rush period in the 1850s, many Chinese miners stayed in Australia and developed market gardens in the Georges River area to earn a living.
Some of their tools, including a garden plough, a ceramic teapot and a woven basket, have been preserved and are now on display as part of the exhibition.
“Almost all vegetables sold in Sydney markets at the end of the 19e and at the beginning of the 20e centuries have been grown and produced from Chinese market gardens,” Ms Baddeley said.
“It was commonly referred to as the ‘salad bowl of Sydney’.”
Since then, an increasing number of Chinese migrants have arrived in the region, including international students, restaurateurs, artists and opera singers, she said.
Ms Baddeley said the exhibit focused on the stories of particular individuals, many of whom had a long and ongoing connection to the region.
“There are a lot of people in the Chinese migrant community who live and work here, who raised their children here, who run businesses here and it’s important to recognize that contribution,” Ms Baddeley said.
Present the immigration journeys of particular individuals and families
Among the historical items on display is an Arnott’s biscuit tin, which dates back to the period of King George V. The tin belonged to Lee Wun, the first member of the Lee family to emigrate to Australia in the 1920s as part of a student visa program.
“While he was here in Australia he bought this box of biscuits which he brought back to his family as some sort of treasured item reflecting his success during his time in Australia,” Ms Baddeley explained.
She said many of the pieces had special meaning to the family, including a number of important items and documents relating to other family members who later emigrated to Australia in the 1950s and 1950s after the end of the “white Australia policy”.
These items include Susan Lee Moon Hing’s vaccination records and travel papers.
“These elements give you insight into the sometimes complicated and extensive processes that were part of the migration experience of Chinese migrants at that time,” Ms Baddeley said.
“They obviously tell the personal story of an individual’s experience, but reflect the broader experience of many Chinese immigrants.”
Telling social history alongside contemporary art
Along with historical artifacts, the exhibition also features new works by internationally acclaimed contemporary Chinese Australian artists, Cindy Yuen-Zhe Chen, Guo Jian, Lindy Lee, Xiao Lu, Jason Phu and Guan Wei.
“When the exhibition was in development, we wanted to combine both historical material and the work of contemporary Chinese Australian artists,” Ms Baddeley said.
“We wanted works that would really reflect a range of different perspectives in relation to Chinese migration history.
“These include paintings, photographic works and also video works. So a range of diverse and contemporary responses.
One of the pieces, created by Sydney artist Guan Wei, is based on the story of Chinese migrant Tiy Sing and some of his belongings, which are displayed alongside the artwork.
Reflecting on historical materials such as documents and pictures, Mr Guan said he had created a folding panel display, depicting Tiy Sing’s journey to start a new life in Sydney’s southern region.
“In this screen, I recorded how he arrived in Australia – this ‘southern land’ – and landed at Dolls Point, and started farming in the market gardens,” Mr Guan told SBS Chinese.
“I also painted two birds and indigenous people to represent the land of Australia.
“So the front of the panel depicted a map and his journey settling in, while on the back of the panel there is the sign of the farm with his name on it.”
He said the meaning of his works is to encourage viewers to understand the history of Chinese migrants, so as to inspire future generations.
“Only by understanding history can you move forward, shaping the path of future development,” Guan said.
“What I want to express here is the vision that people who live here can be loving and tolerant of each other, and collaboratively create a wonderful and harmonious society.”
Also on display, as part of the historical artifact collection, are personal and family letters from the child of a local resident who was separated from her mother for six years when her mother first emigrated to Australia. in 1990.
“Our travels I Our storiesis currently on display at the Hurstville Museum & Gallery through July 24 and is open to the public free of charge Tuesday through Sunday.
A series of programs including bilingual tours in English and Cantonese/Mandarin as well as workshops with artist Cindy Yuen-Zhe Chen were also organized to support the exhibition.
For more information visit georgesriver.nsw.gov.au/OJOS.