Golden Threads - Exhibition - Dress

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When Chinese immigrants arrived in the mid-nineteenth century, comments were made about the queues, wide pants and large hats they wore. In Australia, some continued to wear this clothing while others adapted to local customs. Dress remained a symbol of moving between two worlds.


Unidentified Chinese man, Tambaroora, about 1872. (Holtermann Collection, State Library of NSW)

This man has the shaved forehead and queue required of men who lived under the Manchu or Qing dynasty in China. His jacket and trousers are reminders of the clothing brought from his homeland.


Ruby Duck Chong, Tingha, about 1911. (Private collection)

In these photographs Ruby Duck Chong is dressed for the formal portrait required for her passport. The passport at the time consisted of her birth certificate with her handprints and photographs attached.


Harry and Ruby Fay, about 1916. (Private collection)

Harry Fay (Louie Mew Fay) married Ruby Wong Chee in Shanghai in about 1916. Following their marriage they returned to Inverell where Harry Fay became manager and owner of the Hong Yuen store.

One photograph shows them wearing the mixture of Chinese and western dress which was becoming popular in Shanghai at the time of their wedding. The other photograph captures them in the western clothing regarded as appropriate for a couple with their business interests and social status in an Australian country town.


Lin Chou, Bathurst, April 1919. Taken in the A.E. Gregory Photographic Studios, Bathurst. (Bathurst District Historical Society)

The photographer's records note 'Lin Chou gone to China'. It is likely that this photograph was taken for Lin Chou's application for exemption from the dictation test so that he could return to Australia. He is dressed in his 'best' clothes.


Henry Hong with his paternal grandmother, Tenterfield, about 1938. (Private collection)

Henry Hong's grandmother visited for a short time from China during the 1930s. She and her grandson did not have a common language. They understood and lived in quite different worlds. The differences are captured in their clothing. Henry Hong's grandmother is dressed in a cheungsam. Henry is in his western shorts and braces.


Sing Yin Ean (Alice Ling) and her daughter, Alice Ling, Wellington, about 1940. (Oxley Museum, Wellington)

Mother and daughter are wearing Chinese cheungsam or qipao. Similar clothing, which belonged to Sing Yin Ean, is in the Ling collection in the Oxley Museum at Wellington. In the collection there are also a number of western dresses dating from the 1920s and early 1930s which were owned and worn by Sing Yin Ean and her daughters.


Wedding of Heather Shung and Hector Kenn, Narrandera, 1947. (Parkside Cottage Museum, Narrandera) From left to right: Dolly Wilson, Hector Kenn, Heather Shung and William Curtis.

As Chinese settled in Australia, they adopted and adapted Australian cultural practices. By the 1930s and 1940s, Chinese-Australian weddings were often celebrated in Australian settings with the bride and groom dressed accordingly.