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Chinese people and political change in Australia

Fong, K. From: A White Australia to a multicultural society 1997

When I arrived in Sydney in 1946 as a 8 year old student, Australia's Immigration Policy was under the White Australia legislation which was passed by the Australian Commonwealth Parliament in 1901. Chinese from China began arriving into Melbourne and Sydney in the 1850's and by 1861 there were 38 300 Chinese Males in Australia and eleven Chinese Females. California, USA was known as the Old Gold Mountain and Australia became to be known as the New Gold Mountain. However, in 1861 in the gold mining town of Lambing Flat a Riot took place against the Chinese miners and the Anti-Chinese movement continued in other mining places throughout the States of Victoria and New South Wales. In 1901 the White Australia Policy was adopted. In 1901 the Chinese male population in Australia was 32 700 and 474 Chinese females. In 1946 when I arrived in Sydney there were about 12 000 Chinese males and about 2 500 Chinese females in Australia. After the gold rush period in the 1880s most of the Chinese miners went into business in the local towns and gradually many who were able to save enough money were allowed to sponsor their wife and son or sons. They had to survive under the restrictive Immigration Policy. Many became outstanding citizens and played important commercial roles in the Community.

In Sydney, Chinatown in the 1860s was based along Wentworth avenue and Wexford Street, Surry Hills. Gradually when the Markets were built in Campbell Street (currently the Capital Theatre site) Chinese were concentrated in Campbell Street and became Sydney's Chinatown from the 1920s. When the Paddy's Markets and the large Wholesale Markets were built in the late 1930s, a new shift of the Chinese businesses were concentrated along Dixon Street, Hay and Lackey Streets.

In 1966 the Australian government saw the need to improve relations with the Asian countries specially for trade as England was more involved in the European Common Market. Gradually the White Australia Policy was being phased out and more skilled, professional and large investors from South East Asia were allowed. In 1975 after the Vietnam War, many Refugees from South Vietnam were allowed into Australia and our Australian population continued to increase. The social needs also increased and Australia became a more dominant country in the Asian and Pacific region.

Sydney's Dixon Street became Sydney's Chinatown in 1980 after negotiations by the Sydney City Council and the Dixon Street property Owners and business Owners jointly raised funds to build the Ceremonial Archways, Lions, pavilion, seats, garden beds etc. Mr. Henry Tsang (our current Deputy Lord Mayor) was our Honorary Architect. Our Dixon Street Chinese Committee Chairman was Mr Stanley Wong, MBE with great support from Mr. Bernard Chan, Mr. Alen Lai, Mr. Henry Ming Lai, and Mr. Siu Wah Wong, MBE etc.

The Australian Census shows in 1947 there were 12 100 Chinese in Australia with 3 300 living in Sydney. In 1966, 26 700 Chinese were in Australia with 9 943 living in Sydney. In 1986 there were 172 000 of Chinese ancestry in Australia with 58 500 living in Sydney. In 1991 the total using the Chinese language at home total over 251 000 in Australia with 125 000 living in Sydney. In the latest Census, there were 324 000 persons using the Chinese language at home with about 170 000 in Sydney. An interesting comparison shows in the 1996 census, 48.8% of the total Chinese speaking population lives in New South Wales (probably 75% in Sydney) compared to 28% living in Victoria (75% in 9.1 % living in Queensland and 8.4% living in Western Australia. Other States have smaller percentages.

Therefore, our role in society is increasing and the importance of our Multicultural Society is becoming more dominant as we reach the Year 2000 with the Olympics and hopefully continuous economic progress. In Australia, we have three tiers of Government and we are becoming more aware of the various needs to liaise with the three tiers of Government. Election time is always a new challenge and we should think carefully when we exercise our democratic opportunity to elect our Members of Parliament…

King Fong, OAM., JP.

Public Relations Consultant,

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