Located 13km from the CBD, Sunnybank is recognised by all who know it as Brisbane’s ‘real Chinatown’. An epicentre for Asian cuisine, culture and business, it’s home to many ethnic groups, including the Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and, most noticeably, Chinese. The 2011 census found that 15 per cent of the suburb’s population is made up of Chinese-born residents, with more than 20 per cent of people speaking Mandarin, and seven per cent Cantonese, as their first language.
Sunnybank’s main shopping and eating precinct sprawls across three corners at one of the suburb’s major intersections. Far from just a literal junction, the area is a crossroads for cultural celebration and exchange. Sunnybank Plaza food tour guide Tony Ching agrees. “It is a melting pot,” says the chef and cooking teacher, who hosts monthly tours through the centre (sunnybankplaza.com.au). “There are so many cultures under the one roof. To a certain degree, they’re competing against each other, but they’re doing it in a great, positive way.”
The Brisbane township of Sunnybank was established in 1885, after the construction of the South Coast railway line. Previously an agricultural reserve, the district drew its name from one of the early settler properties, Sunnybrae. The new railway system meant farmers could send fruit and vegetables to Brisbane Markets in a far timelier manner than horse and cart allowed. Sunnybank soon became known as the city’s ‘fruit bowl’, with a string of small-crop farms, including Chinese market gardens, popping up in the area in the 1920s.
By the end of World War II, farming was on the decline. Storms in the 1940s destroyed large quantities of crops, plus changes in subdivision laws, the growth of other agriculture districts and a dispute between farmers and a local cannery led to its demise. A new side of Sunnybank began to emerge as residential estates were developed, along with a local resort, The Oasis. With its tropical gardens, pools and a mini zoo, it attracted tourists to the suburb.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that a flux of educated, urbane and relatively affluent Chinese immigrants started settling in the area. One new arrival was Henry Leung, a silver service restaurant captain from Hong Kong. “I knew many people who came to Australia,” Henry says. “Most lived in Sunnybank and encouraged me to join them, saying they’d help me find a job and somewhere to stay.” Henry first worked as a waiter before becoming the manager of Landmark Restaurant, one of Sunnybank’s largest, longest-running and most popular Chinese eateries, in 1997. Later, he joined as a partner. Despite his long history with the restaurant, Henry still enjoys overseeing the daily yum cha sittings. He adds with a laugh, “I know all of our customers!”