Chinese Fortunes

Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Ballarat
28 January – 25 June 2017

The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) presents Chinese Fortunes, an exhibition exploring the stories of pioneering Chinese Australians – miners, merchants, storekeepers, furniture makers, detectives, interpreters, gardeners, philanthropists, entertainers and business people  – and the rich diversity of Chinese Australian history leading up to Federation.

There are long held stereotypes of Chinese miners in Australia – including the image of thousands of single Chinese men, many indentured labourers, who lived and worked in squalor, whilst surface mining and washing the tailings of gold mines. There are also long held stories about violence, opium addiction and gambling, endorsed by anti-Chinese immigration propaganda, that perpetuated images of the Chinese in Australia, especially during the gold rush era, as a homogenous and unsophisticated group.

Research has clearly shown that this image does not accurately reflect the life of the Chinese communities in Australia during the gold rush era, the diversity and complexities of their culture and the contributions they made to the development of our nation during what is known as the high colonial period during the second half of 19th Century. Like miners at the Eureka Stockade, Chinese miners also sought to rally against unfair taxes and restrictions, using protest and civil action including petitions and organised tax avoidance. These were sadly, less successful in bringing about the change in economic and political rights that they sought. Nonetheless, the Chinese in the goldfields continued to make significant contributions to the their broader communities supporting local community projects such as building hospitals, benevolent asylums and schools.

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