A market gardener delivering vegetables at Fairymead ca1880s. Photo: contributed
A market gardener delivering vegetables at Fairymead ca1880s. Photo: contributed contributed

Chinese past explored

CHINESE New Year celebrations, set to be held on Sunday are an opportunity for residents to celebrate the region's well-established Chinese heritage.

Research undertaken by Bundaberg Regional Libraries Heritage Team has revealed the first recorded mention of Chinese immigrants in the Bundaberg region was in the Bundaberg & Mount Perry Mail in 1878.

Many of the early mentions in this publication relate to conflict within the region as Chinese culture was integrated in the community.

Local historian Neville Rackemann, in his book The Growing Harvest, mentions an area of Bourbong St that was popularly known as China Town, with the land between Tantitha St and Saltwater Creek predominantly market gardens and shops selling Chinese delicacies.

North Bundaberg also hosted Chinese market gardens between Hinkler Ave and Fairymead and Waterview Rds, where crops grown included peanuts, bananas, plantains and watermelons

. In The Growing Harvest, Rackemann reports that market gardens were also along the flats by Paddy's Creek, and deep holes known as Chinaman's Holes were dug into the creek bed to have a water supply in case of drought.

One of the most respected Chinese gardeners was Mah Wah, who had cultivated gardens in North Bundaberg off Hinkler Avenue since 1887.

His horse and cart was a familiar sight around Bundaberg streets.

In July 1894 The Western Champion reported "...there are Chinamen and Chinamen, and Mah Wah of Bundaberg, evidently belongs to the class at the opposite pole from that of some of his countrymen. Mah Wah won £3 6s. in prizes for vegetables at the Bundaberg Show, and not only gave the whole of his exhibits to the hospital, but offered a guinea also on receiving his prize money."

Bundaberg resident Austen Whitaker can still remember many of the Chinese shopkeepers at the eastern end of Bourbong St.

Of particular note was the Que Hee brothers who owned a fruit and vegetable shop on the corner of Bourbong and Walla Sts and specialised in the sale of fireworks leading up to Guy Fawkes Night.

The Que Hee name is still remembered in Bundaberg with a street named after the brothers, and the grave of Yen See Que Hee (1868-1927) at Bundaberg General Cemetery.

Chinese names mentioned in early Bundaberg history include Kwong Fat, Peter Mew, Willy Yick, Tommy Ping, Yip Gee, Billy Lee King, Davie See Chin, Chan Bun Yung, Ah Why and Ah Gong.

The Library Heritage Team's search of the records at the National Archives turned up many references to workers, farm labourers and gardeners in Bundaberg from the 1880s onwards.

In the early days of the Bundaberg Cemetery, burials of Chinese, South Sea Islanders and other denominations were situated in the far part of the cemetery, in a section called PSA (Portion Set Aside).

The people who are buried here have no headstones, just a listing on the cemetery records of a name and a date.

As part of this year's Chinese New Year celebrations, residents can learn more about the region's Chinese history with a Chinese Heritage Cemetery Tour.

Tour guide and cemetery volunteer Rhonda Harris said the tour, from 6pm to 8pm on Friday provided an insight into the beginnings of Chinese culture in the region.

"It's actually a fascinating way to learn about a significant part of our region's history," Rhonda said.

"We not only talk about the graves and people but also Chinese customs."

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