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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Cultural Studies »

Mark Wang about his great grandfathers' arrivals in Victoria in the 1850s

Mara Moustafine and Mark Wang.

Chinese Museum deputy chair Mark Wang describes his great grandfathers' arrivals in Victoria in the 1850s



Date Added:

03 February 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

10.9 MB






My great grandfather came out in 1854 and he was part of the story where the Chinese had to move from Melbourne around to Robe, they had to land there because of the poll tax that the Victorian government imposed on the ship’s captains. The poll tax was about trying to prevent Chinese people landing at the port of Melbourne because they thought there were too many Chinese people here already so they imposed 10 shillings on every Chinese member who landed. And obviously the ship’s captains didn’t want to pay that money so they said, “Oh well look, we’ll offload you at the next port.” Which happened to be Robe around in South Australia.


Then my great grandfather was one of those people who trekked back from Robe, South Australia 500 kilometres back to the gold fields, so – which is quite a sort of interesting story. He was from Quandong (sp?) province – we have a village there – his surname was Chen and there’s a Chen family village in the See-up (sounds like) district which is a three – three districts of – in Quandong province. And he was there and came out as a labourer working for a clansman who then got them to look for gold. But what happened when he came onto the gold fields, he became quite enterprising and became a road contractor over many years, he became a road contractor for the New South Wales Government.


And settled in a place called- well which became Wilcannia which was on the border on the Murray River opposite Corowa and we – my mother was invited a few years ago back to the town for the sesquicentenary and they said he was the founder of that town, one of the founders of that town which we didn’t know. So..


What was his name?



His – Chen Akyu (sp?) and so we were quite honoured back and so since that time we’ve found quite a bit of historical you know, reference to him. In the local newspaper it actually explains his wedding, there’s half a page on how his wedding was held and what people wore and what people ate and it was quite an unusual event because of the fact that it was very Chinese and the people were quite intrigued about the whole event. So that’s quite an interesting piece of history in that newspaper that we –


His wife came from China as a young bride, an arranged bride, he stayed in Australia for about 20 to 30 – maybe close to 30 years before he got married and he arranged the bride to come out when he was about 50 and he got married then and he was – he had a general store by then because he had sort of settled in Wilcannia because he had done all the road contracting around southern New South Wales, all the country roads were actually cleared by Chinese people, that was a very sort of – having to cut through the bush and create roads was quite an ordeal so that’s what they did as gangs after the gold rush.


In his 50s he hadn’t been back to China since he was a teenager so he decided to go back to China to probably I don’t think he ended up wanting to come back to Australia – I think he went there to stay there to his homeland where he’d sort of missed for most of his life. And so he took his wife and had five children in the meantime, which one was my grandfather. And he went back to China and I don’t – I’m not sure how many years later he died soon thereafter and my great grandmother decided – I don’t know why but she decided to come back to Australia to live with the five children so.. I think they would have had quite a set up in Wilcannia and so you know, coming back here wouldn’t have been such an ordeal because she would have – her husband probably would have had quite a network of friends.


End transcript