Tonight's speaker is Dr Barry McGowan on Families, friendship and the Aboriginal connection: the Wellington district of NSW and beyond
The close relationship between the Chinese and Aboriginal people in the Wellington district of NSW, and other nearby districts such as Orange and Blayney is little known. Much has been written on Chinese-Aboriginal relationships in Northern Australia, but much less on similar relationships elsewhere in Australia, in particular NSW.
Dating back at least to the 1870s, the Chinese people were pioneers in large scale market gardening in the Wellington district, and their community was one of the largest Chinese communities in rural NSW, if not rural Australia. It had linkages to many other nearby Chinese communities in central west NSW, and more distant communities such as Mudgee, Coolah, Bourke and Cobar.
The Wellington Chinese community had very strong relationships with the Aboriginal community and many members of the European community. Aboriginal labour, including the labour of women and children, was of critical importance to the market gardeners, and the Aboriginal elders regarded the Chinese as their saviours, as they paid and treated them fairly and often gave them produce free of charge. Many Aboriginal people lived on the Chinese farms, and some in their homes. Of particular interest in this saga are the ubiquitous Ah See family and the Coon, Sing Lee, Lousick, Mow Funn and Ling families.
Dr Barry McGowan is a Canberra-based heritage consultant and historian, and an Honorary Staff Member of the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. He has written extensively on the history and heritage of Australian mining communities and the Chinese people in Australia. His best known books are Ghost Towns of Australia and Fool’s Gold. Myths and Legends of gold-seeking in Australia.
Barry has also written several thematic histories of the Chinese people in regional and rural Australia. These include Tracking the Dragon. A history of the Chinese in the Riverina (2010), Tracking the Dragon: Thematic History of the Chinese people in the Rutherglen/Wahgunyah region of the Indigo Shire, Victoria, (2015), and True Australians and Pioneers: Chinese Migration to the Orange Region of NSW, published in August 2017.
In October and November 2017 Barry presented papers on the Chinese people in Australia at Xian and Beijing universities in China and at Nagasaki University in Japan. He is currently writing a biography of the Chinese-Australian WWI sniper, Billy Sing, and researching further the history of the Chinese and Chinese-Aboriginal people in central and western NSW.