Golden Threads - Exhibition - Food


    Work | Leaving & staying | Leisure | Beliefs | Dress | Food



In Chinese culture there are special foods for special occasions, diets which balance hot and cold, and regional variations. Food is a focus for meeting, hospitality, and business dealings.

In nineteenth and early twentieth century Australia, the challenge was to maintain and adapt traditional cuisine in an environment which lacked familiar ingredients and customs.


Ginger, preserved food and soy sauce jars. (Bathurst and District Historical Museum, Griffith Pioneer Park and Inverell Pioneer Village)

Jars in a variety of shapes and sizes are among the objects relating to the Chinese presence most commonly found in local museums. They were used for food and liquid storage, especially preserved or pickled foods and soy sauce. Most surviving jars have lost any labels, lids or stoppers.

The presence of these jars is a reminder that Chinese-Australians from early on imported foodstuffs which were particular to their diets. The records from importers and stores affirm that they regularly supplied Chinese ingredients for Chinese residents throughout the state.


Ginger jar. (Bathurst District Historical Society Museum)



Pickling jar used by Ruby Ah Yook, at Wellington. (Oxley Museum, Wellington)

Ruby Ah Yook's granddaughter, Carole Gass explained:

Grandmother would pickle everything from eggs to cabbages and Chinese turnip. She had lids, round lids. She stuck a piece of hessian and bricks on top. She used to dry the vegetables and then rub salt into them, and put them in. She'd just leave them there. She always knew when they were ready. She'd just take the brick off and she'd have a squeeze or a taste of one and say 'it's ready'.


Soy sauce barrel. (McCrossins Mill Museum, Uralla).

The Chinese characters inscribed on the side of the barrel tell us that the barrel contained 'dark soy sauce' manufactured by the Pun Chun Company. The Pun Chun Company, based in Hong Kong, still manufactures soy sauce and, according to a company representative, it stopped using the wooden barrels before the Second World War.

McCrossins Mill acquired the barrel from Eddie Walker in Tingha who had found it in the locality.


Tray used for drying vegetables. (Corowa Federation Museum).



Grinding mill. (Oxley Museum, Wellington).

The grinding mill was probably used by the Fong Lee store, Wellington, for preparing food for Chinese staff. Carole Gass explained: mother said it was used in the kitchen to grind rice. Fong Lee's had a very large staff and employed a full-time cook who cooked many dishes which had the ground rice flour.

Doris Yau-Chong Jones provided the following account of how the grinding mill worked:

It is used to grind rice or beans. When I was a child [in Hong Kong] I watched the servant putting sesame seed and rice in a grinder like this. She put the rice or sesame seed from the top hole then added some water to facilitate the movement of the grinder. The mixture (a creamy texture) would come out from the joint between the top (which can be detached) and the bottom. The broken part facing the photograph is where all the thick liquid gathers to be emptied into a container for cooking.


Edward and Lily Fong, Tingha, about 1945. (Private collection) and Teapot and basket made in Kiangsi, China, used by Lily Fong in Inverell and Tingha during the 1920s to 1940s. (Wing Hing Long Store and Museum, Tingha)

Drinking tea was possibly the most common pastime among Chinese-Australians. It was a mark of hospitality and provided an opportunity to meet and talk.

The Chinese characters on Lily Fong's teapot offer a number of auspicious sayings: 'Very promising signs of future success'. (on the lid). 'The teapot will last one hundred years or longer while in your possession. Good fortune stays with the owner' (around the top). 'Beauty and the spring complement each other'(on the side).


Packet of Chinese tea. (Oxley Museum, Wellington).

The packet was among goods stored in trunks in the mid 1930s in the warehouse of the Fong Lee store in Wellington. The trunks were unpacked in the mid-1990s.

The Chinese writing on the packet tells us that the tea was manufactured by the Kum Tong Tea Factory and that it is a 'superior jasmine tea'. The manufacturer asks the customer to accept the two stamps on the packet as an indication of the genuineness of the product.


Celadon tableware used by Chinese residents in the Inverell district, early twentieth century. (Inverell Pioneer Village)

Today, eating a Chinese meal with bowls and chopsticks is a familiar practice. In nineteenth century Australia, some European Australians saw it as a peculiar habit. An 1882 commentator in Deniliquin, for example, offered this description:

Upon the table is a dish common to all, though at times each is supplied with a small cup from which he eats, it is almost an invariable custom that the whole number digs indiscriminately into the dish with their chop sticks.

Celadon refers to the blue-green glaze which distinguishes this type of porcelain. Other examples of Chinese tableware commonly used in Australia had a variety of named designs including 'four seasons' and 'bamboo'.


Brass ladles used for cooking. (Inverell Pioneer Village)