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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
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13 February 2002
Good morning Professor Tay, Chairman and distinguished guests.
Before I go any further I would like to thank our wonderful Chinese lion for dancing for us today - the second day of the two-week Chinese New Year festivities. He not only adds colour and richness to the occasion, but I understand that his dance wards off bad spirits and brings good luck and happiness.
The lion's visit is very timely as we have many good things to celebrate with the launch of Tracking the Dragon.
Certainly Australia as a nation has already had much good fortune from the Chinese immigrants who have settled here and made this country their home.
Chinese Australians are among more than 140 national groups of migrants to make their home in Australia. Their combined contributions have made Australia the vibrant and culturally rich place it is today.
Through continuous research we now know that it was almost 200 years ago when the first Chinese person is believed to have arrived in Australia. He was a carpenter called Ahuto and there is little doubt that he would have worked hard in his new country, as have many subsequent generations of settlers from China.
Industry and endeavour have been hallmarks of the Chinese Australian attitude to life. In the earlier years Chinese immigrants toiled in a wide range of occupations such as mining, fishing, cooking, farming, storekeeping, commerce, market gardening, furniture making, medicine, construction and dressmaking.
As well as always working so industriously in their adopted land, subsequent generations of Chinese immigrants have continued to put much back into the community. Many of the places with which they have been associated are now an important part of our heritage, although often unrecognised for their Chinese links.
As one example, in my own state of Victoria, the Chinese community in Bendigo has a long tradition of doing charitable works for local hospitals. In 1871 it established the now-famous Bendigo Easter Fair to raise money for the Bendigo Base Hospital and the then Benevolent Asylum, or Home for the Aged.
Community members decided to do this on a grand scale. They raised a levy among the Chinese community to obtain the then huge sum of 750 pounds. Using this money they imported 100 wooden crates full of Chinese costumes for the parade.
These costumes remain today to tell a story about the significant contribution and rich life of the Chinese community in Bendigo. They are now safely housed in the Golden Dragon Museum for the benefit of future generations.
Such recognition and safety is not the case for all aspects of Chinese heritage. Unfortunately, many of the places that are part of the Chinese Australian story are not known or have been destroyed such as the Bendigo Base Hospital.
Heritage listings only include a relatively small number of places that reflect this heritage - mostly cemeteries, joss houses and temples, mining remnants and a few shops. After almost 200 years of settlement, this is not a lot to show.
So where are the furniture factories that tell the tale of Chinese furniture making in the late 1800s and early 1900s?
Where are the Chinese market gardens, the doctors' surgeries and the early restaurants that were hubs of enterprise for decades?
Where are the places like Bendigo's Home for the Aged that we may acknowledge as part of our community's heritage but may fail to recognise as part of our Chinese heritage?
We need to find the places that still remain - to help us understand and appreciate this part of our heritage. And that is why we are here today.
The publication I am launching today - Tracking the Dragon - a guide for finding and assessing Chinese Australian heritage places - is designed to help communities do just that.
It has been developed by the Australian Heritage Commission over several years, drawing on the expertise of heritage specialists such as Michael Pearson, Justin McCarthy, Peter Bell and Gordon Grimwade, with considerable input from members of a project steering committee chaired by Henry Chan, who I believe is here today. Congratulations to all of you for creating this important publication.
The 78 pages of this guide will be a resource for communities and individuals that are wanting to track the lost places of Chinese Australian heritage. It contains:
This guide is also available on the net together with a sister internet publication specifically for heritage practitioners, called A toolkit for researching and assessing Chinese Australian heritage places.
These documents are compatible with other more general material promoting migrant heritage produced recently by the Commission, but they are the first guides issued for a specific cultural group.
I am delighted to be able to launch these publications today. They are tools that can be used for years to come and could stand as models for other migrant communities in search of their heritage places.
I also have much pleasure in announcing the formation of a network of committees throughout Australia called the Chinese Australian Cultural Heritage Project Committees. Committee members include Chinese community representatives, heritage specialists, academics and interested individuals. This network will use the guides to help communities in each state to find their forgotten heritage places.
The driving force behind establishing these committees is Dr Henry Chan and he deserves congratulations for the energy and enthusiasm he has committed to this project.
Community involvement in the search for hidden places is the key to the success of these guides and ultimately, to finding out more about our rich Chinese Australian heritage.
There is a Chinese proverb which I think says it all:
Tell me and I'll forget;
Show me and I may remember;
Involve me and I'll understand.
I encourage individuals and communities to become involved in this search.
It now gives me great pleasure to officially launch Tracking the Dragon and the internet toolkit for heritage professionals. Thank you.