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Category: Interviews »

Subject: Cultural Studies »

Mark Wang about Chinese Museum

Mara Moustafine and Mark Wang.

Mark Wang describes the creation and work of the Chinese Museum



Date Added:

23 February 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

18 MB






I’m Mark Wang, I’m the deputy chairman of the Chinese Museum and my family’s been here since the gold rush and since – for that reason I’m involved in the museum quite a deal. The museum started in 1985 and my father was – or our family business had – was quite a large institution in Melbourne and we used to be always called on to support Chinese community activities and, you know anytime there was anything Chinese we’d be rung up to – the general public would ring us up to ask, you know, we’d be like the Chinese information centre.


So, because we used to sell Chinese goods. We were like an arts and crafts centre. So, and my father did a lot of civic work when he was alive and so when there was an idea of starting a Chinese museum, I was naturally one of the people in line to be asked to help establish it. And so, was through Don Dunstan who initiated – who stimulated the museum’s beginnings. He was the premier of South Australia and after he retired there he was appointed the director of tourism in Victoria and in that year he identified Chinatown as a potential tourism destination. Which was a lot of foresight and maybe Melbourne wasn’t quite ready for it then, but – or Chinatown mightn’t have been ready for it then.


Then we established the museum as the cultural centre of Chinatown so we needed to establish the heritage of Chinatown because it is the oldest area of continuous Chinese settlement in the Western world, that’s how we say it. In other words, there aren’t any other Chinatowns in San Francisco, Sydney, London or elsewhere that have survived for the – since the gold rush days of the 1850s. So the historic nature of this street is quite important to – not just Melbourne, but to Australia. So we decided to start a museum, to collect all of that information and talk about the heritage of Chinese – not just Melbourne’s Chinatown but the heritage of Chinese in Australia per se.


And so we’ve been – we will – very under-resourced at the beginning and we started with a – we were given a building and – with nothing in it and so from that –


This building?



This building, yes. When I say we were given it – to – it belongs to the Victorian Government but we were given it to use perpetually as a museum and we – we’ve just – every year we just build it up slowly to – we – we’ve developed a very big collection of artefacts, donated by Chinese and non-Chinese people. When the Her Majesty’s Theatre, was built, which is the building in front of us, on Exhibition Street, this was a prop – built as a prop store later in about 1910. As a prop store for Her Majesty’s Theatre, so they sort of took up the space of – behind their theatre and started building these prop stores, of which we’re next to two of them further down the street.


And then it was a prop store when we took it over, from Her Majesty’s, and we established the museum. The Chinese Museum plays an important role in educating people. We actually have three museums in Victoria and none in the rest of Australia. Primarily because Victoria was so influenced by the gold rush in Chinese people that, that has really been part of the Victorian history more so than any other state. We’ve got a Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo and we’ve got a Gum San Museum in Ararat and Ararat was founded on a big lump of gold, the biggest gold nugget was founded by Chinese people trekking from Robe and they found it at Ararat and that’s how Ararat was established.


So they – they’ve got – that Ararat museum is about the Robe trek and that Robe story. Which is halfway between Robe, South Australia and the gold fields. And then the Bendigo Museum is about the history of the Chinese in Bendigo which was a very big gold field at that time. And that is centred around the Golden Dragon Museum – sorry the Golden Dragon which is been parading there for you know, since the turn of the last century. This museum is about educating people, we have a very large collection that we’ve collected over 20 years of garments and –and objects and photos and memorabilia from people and businesses that has been part of this community. And we – we have an education program and about 25,000 school children visit the museum every year and we take them through that whole history aspect. And –


So we – education is one of our main – or school children is our main audience. And we also want to try to develop an Australia China cultural program where we exchange exhibitions and performances from Australia to China. We sent an exhibition over to China in May, last year, which was called, An Australian Way of Life. And it was about 12 prominent Chinese Australians. It was very well received in China and it went to four other states or – four other cities and it was shown over there.


And that exhibition was actually put on by the Australian Government and it’s an – I sort of feel it’s a new – it’s quite a breakthrough that the Australian government are showing Australia as being or promoting the idea that Australia is partly Chinese. So this is in China so, the idea is to promote China – promote Australia as a China-friendly country. And the idea of promoting the fact that Australian people – Chinese people have always lived in Australia harmoniously since the gold rush, is sort of a great sort of, profile for the Australian Government to put on. So that’s – that exhibition has been successful and now it’s gone into Taiwan, it’s being shown around Taiwan as part of the Australian Trade Commission. And the Chinese-speaking Lord Mayor in Melbourne and so on and so on, so you know, it’s quite a change in the focus of things.


End transcript