Most major cities around the world have a Chinatown. These are often areas where Chinese settlement first took shape outside of China. They reflect a history of hope and hardship when many migrants left their homes for a new life offshore. Let’s explore Chinatown’s changing meaning in Australia.
From 1851 during Australia’s gold rush period, Chinatowns in Australia were established as areas where Chinese migrants and workers could congregate. Surrounded by their fellow countrymen, these early Chinese settlers found a sense of belonging in a strange new land.
Ien Ang is a cultural studies professor at the University of Western Sydney. She says these 19th century Chinatowns were a refuge when anti-Chinese sentiments in the wider population were high.
Chinatown Tour Guide George Wingkee was born in Australia of Chinese descent. He says Chinatown was where he discovered his roots. He says there weren’t many other Chinese families when he was growing up. He was overcome when he saw Sydney’s Chinatown for the first time. He says the area was an important social and economic hub for the Chinese community.
Back then Chinatown looked nothing like it does today. It wasn’t until the end of the White Australia policy in the early1970’s that Chinese centres like Sydney’s Haymarket started to experience a makeover. Professor Ang says changing social attitudes brought new customers into Chinatowns across Australia.
Established in 1851, Melbourne’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in the West. Its internationally renowned Chinese cuisine continues to attract visitors from all over the world. Chair of Melbourne’s Chinatown Precinct, Danny Doon, says working with other communities has helped the area stay relevant over time.
Queensland’s Gold Coast is hoping to revitalise its tourism industry with a new Chinatown development in Southport, in the city’s central business district. Head of the Gold Coast Chinatown Association, Ted Fong says the Chinatown will encourage business growth.
Meanwhile, shopping centres in Queensland suburbs with large Chinese populations are becoming the new local Chinatowns. Brisbane’s Sunnybank has a prominent Chinese community. 28 per cent of Sunnybank residents speak either Mandarin or Cantonese, according to the 2011 Census. Local resident Christina Li says more and more people are choosing to shop and dine there.
Throughout February, Chinatowns across Australia are hosting events for the Lunar New Year Festival, which is celebrated by Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities.