Golden Threads - Exhibition - Leaving & Staying

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

Leaving & staying

During the second half of the nineteenth century over 30,000 Chinese men came to work and live in regional NSW. The majority returned to their home villages in China to be reunited with family and ancestors. Others stayed in Australia: some stayed alone while some created Australian dynasties with Chinese, Aboriginal or European wives. Many who remained in Australia retained links with China via visits, letters, and remittances, until these links were fractured by the Sino-Japanese war of the 1930s, the Second World War, and the Communist Revolution in China.

For those who stayed in Australia, one of the greatest challenges was to negotiate Australian racism. Chinese-Australians were denied citizenship, and were often regarded as, at best, exotic and, at worst, a threat. Their tenuous status was enshrined in the 'White Australia Policy' which was one of the cornerstones of Federation.

Trunk and clothing belonging to Alice Ling (Sing Yin Ean) of Wellington, 1930s. (Oxley Museum, Wellington)

Alice Ling packed a number of trunks with the intention of visiting China. The trip did not eventuate. The trunks remained in Wellington until unpacked by Alice Ling’s great niece, Carole Gass, in the mid-1990s. Alice Ling's trunks symbolise the tensions between staying in Australia and leaving to return to China which characterised the lives and movements of many Chinese immigrants in Australia between 1850 and 1950.

Choose a subtheme to learn more:


intermarriage | new arrivals | visits to China | families | staying alone | in the armed forces | citizenship