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Making multicultural Australia

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KLA/Subject: English | History

Stage: Stage 4 | Stage 5

Chinese History of Australia – Harvest of Endurance


  • 4.1 responds to and composes tests for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis and pleasure
  • 4.2 uses a range of processes for responding to and composing texts
  • 4.4 uses and describes language forms and features, and structures of texts appropriate to purposes, audiences and contexts
  • 4.5 makes informed language choices to shape meaning with accuracy clarity and coherence
History – Stage 4
  • 4.1 describes and explains the nature of history, the main features of past societies and periods and their legacy
  • 4.3 explains the ways indigenous and non-indigenous peoples of the world have responded to contact with each other
  • 4.4 identifies major periods of historical time and sequences people and events within specific periods of time
  • 4.7 identifies different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the past
History – Stage 5
  • 5.1 explains social, political and cultural developments and events and evaluates their impact on Australian life
  • 5.4 sequences major historical events to show an understanding of continuity, change and causation
  • 5.8 locates, selects and organises relevant historical information from a number of sources, including ICT, to undertake historical inquiry


The purpose of these lessons is to discover more about the Chinese community in Australia. These lessons provide students with an opportunity to investigate the history of the Chinese community in Australia from the perspective of a Chinese art work. The "Harvest of Endurance" is the Australian Museum's 50-metre long scroll of Chinese-Australian History and was a gift for Australia’s bicentenary. The associated questions require students to interpret the visual information in terms of perceived relationship to being in Australia, historical period of Australian history and historical implications. They encourage students to consider alternative perspectives on Australian history as well as address the question of the contribution of the Chinese community to Australian history and culture.

Material to Download

Worksheet: Chinese History - Worksheet

History: Harvest of Endurance: A History of the Chinese in Australia 1788-1988

Suggested Activities

  1. Ask students to work in pairs or small groups. Give each group a section/sections of the text that accompanies the Harvest of Endurance scroll (see Preparation Checklist below) and ask students to read through it.
  2. Distribute to each group the relevant pages from the Worksheet, corresponding to the text they reviewed. Ask groups to answer the questions relating to the section of text they have read and to prepare to share that information with the rest of the class.
  3. Class presentation: Using a computer and projector, display relevant sections of the scroll as each group shares with the class their findings. Work through the scroll chronologically elaborating, if necessary, on the meaning of prejudice and racism as defined in page 3 of the worksheet 'Harvest of Endurance'.
  4. As a class, discuss the historical implications derived from all these observations and how they are interpreted. Ask students to consider the implications of the activities depicted in relation to Australian history and culture.

Preparation Checklist

  1. Download the text from Harvest of Endurance: A History of the Chinese in Australia 1788-1988. Cut it into 14 sections as follows:
    • Chinese activities in the early period
    • Chinese miners
    • Anti-Chinese violence/ Australian refuge for Chinese miners
    • Homesickness, gambling and bananas
    • Market gardening, odd jobs and shearers’ cooks/ Laundries, cabinet makers and retailers
    • Chinese monarchist and anti-opium movements/ Response to Chinese Revolution of 1911
    • The Healing Herbalist and social life
    • Religion/ Railways, trades, commerce, farming and river boats
    • Mango lady, shipping director and Senator
    • Support for China’s anti-Japanese War/ Serving in the Second World War
    • Celebrating New China, participation of Peace Conference/ Chinese Olympic teams and Olympic hero
    • Post-War Influxes, abolition of the White Australia Policy, Uncle Bill, and diplomatic relations
    • Rising to the top, entering the professions
    • Towards a future of Multiculturalism
  2. Download and make a few copies of the Worksheet. The Worksheet has 14 pages. Each page corresponds with one of the text sections of the scroll listed above.
  3. You will also need:
    • student access to computer terminals to be used in small groups or individually
    • a projector to display computer screens to the whole class


  1. Ask students to write a narrative of Chinese history in Australia from the point of view of a person of Chinese background.
  2. Students to discuss how the research, class discussion and the writing of the narrative may have influenced their perception of people from Chinese ancestry and how this may have influenced their perception of Australia as a multicultural society.
  3. As a class, compare the narrative with one from an Anglo-Australian perspective like the more traditional Australian histories e.g. Manning Clark’s, A Short History of Australia, or A.G.L. Shaw’s, The Story of Australia.
  4. Ask students to research a prominent Chinese Australian (from any time) and provide a report to the class.
  5. Ask students interview local Chinese Australians about their family history in Australia. Students to investigate the person's range of experiences, length of time in Australia, etc.

Related Resources

  1. Face the Facts: Statistics: Migration in Australia. See Activity 4: Migrants and Multiculturalism.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Search for "Australians of Chinese Ancestry".
  3. Statistics from the Racism. No way! site relating to "Languages Other Than English" and "Ancestry" may be used to support this activity.
  4. Manning Clark’s, 1969, A Short History of Australia, Mentor, New York or A.G.L. Shaw’s, 1967, The Story of Australia, Faber, London.
  5. Al Grassby essay: The Homogeneous Society (from Polycom Sampler Feb. 19870, in Pagone, M. & Rizzo, L. , 1990, The First Multicultural Resource Book, INT Press, Melbourne.

Lesson Notes

Australia has had a Chinese presence since the First Fleet according to Al Grassby (1987).

The significance of the Chinese community to Australia can be seen from the following quote from The Australian Bureau of Statistics:

“In 2001, the two most common ancestries of the Australian population were Australian (reported by 6.7 million people) and English (reported by 6.4 million). The third most common was Irish (1.9 million people), followed by Italian (800,000), German (742,000), Chinese (557,000) and Scottish (540,000)”

As far as possible, teachers should assess which text and questions will suit which students in terms of length of text and work required.

Teachers need to ensure that all students in the class are comfortable, especially Chinese students. Care should be taken not to cause discomfort by calling on Chinese students to give personal information as some students will find this confronting. Discussion should rather be in generalities unless information is offered or issues concern all students.

Care is needed in discussion of past atrocities such as Lambing Flat as some students in the class may have English or Chinese heritage and may even know of relatives from those times and places or have experienced atrocities themselves or their families elsewhere.

The statistic that Australians of Chinese ancestry number more than those of Scottish or Greek ancestry may seem surprising to some students, but so may the high number of Australians from German ancestry which is third highest after English and Italian.

The essay by Richard Waterhouse, Controversy in Australian History provides a useful discussion of the different perspectives in relation to historians like Russell Ward, Geoffrey Blainey and Keith Windschuttle.

Date Added:

11 December 2004