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Author: Kate Follington
The Museum of Democracy’s exhibition about successful early Chinese settlers to Australia will close in July. Chinese Fortunes in Colonial Australia celebrates early Chinese settler entrepreneurs and adventurers who found success via or because of the goldfields of Australia.
The discrimination perpetrated against Chinese gold miners from the mid 1800s has often overshadowed other research undertaken into the positive contribution early Chinese settlers made to regional towns in and around the goldfields of Australia.
This exhibition shines a light on the success stories of those who thrived from hard work and ingenuity. One example is merchant Mei Quong Tart of NSW, who arrived in 1860 at the tender age of 9, and by 18 had made enough money from the Bells Creek goldfields to be a successful merchant and well known philanthropist.
Petitions Uncovered in the Archive
The exhibition features records from various private and public collections, including a number of important petitions, signed with Chinese characters, that have been preserved within Public Record Office Victoria. Curator of the exhibition, Cash Brown, says the petitions are important evidence of the active role Chinese settlers played in Australian society.
“There’s a long held stereotype that the miners came in and then camped and went home. These petitions demonstrate a high level of civic engagement. The language structured is really interesting, they’re saying things like ‘we pay our taxes, we pay on time, why aren’t you fixing our roads?’ Or they’re petitioning against unfair taxes”.
Brown felt it was important to include petitions in the exhibition, not only as evidence of early Chinese civic engagement, but also as a demonstration of democracy, “as a museum of democracy it’s important all our exhibitions relate back to it, and petitions play an important role”.
Cash shows an admiration toward Chinese settlers who continued to advocate for fairer working conditions for many years. The resistance campaign lasted up until 1862, a seven year campaign of petitions which proves they never gave up trying to be heard.
For Ballarat residents, many proud of their gold mining history, these early petitions and the Chinese Fortunes exhibition reflects the rich diversity of the town from its very earliest days.
Until Sun 16 Jul 2017
Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Ballarat
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