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Ballarat - The Chinese

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The Chinese in Ballarat
In 1854, not long after the news of the Gold discoveries in Victoria had reached the British Colony of Hong Kong, large numbers of Chinese diggers were arriving in Ballarat to seek their fortune on the Gold Fields. Unlike the Europeans who paid their own way to the diggings, the Chinese were financed by wealthy Chinese from cities such as Canton and Hong Kong. Many were also sent by their villages and families in the hope of striking it rich in the New Gold Mountain as distinct from California’s, the Gold Mountain.

Most of the Chinese came from the four counties of Hoi Ping, Sun Hui, Toishan and Yan Ping south of Canton (Sze Yap), never intending to stay in Australia beyond the period of their indenture. These miners were not the first Chinese in rural Victoria, as there were Chinese shepherds on the large sheep runs during the 1830’s.

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By 1857 the Chinese in Victoria numbered some 25,400, and approximately one third of Ballarat’s population at that time were Chinese. The Chinese lived in the camps on the Ballarat fields and surrounding district, with the main camp being on the site of the present athletics track, Llanberris Reserve, just off Main Road. The newspaper of the period often spoke of the Chinese music and circuses that provided entertainment for all miners, not only the Chinese, in the streets of these camps.

In Ballarat today, there is little to remind us of such a substantial population. By the end of the 19th century, the numbers had dwindled as low as 1,000. Sovereign Hill recreation of those times include the Chinese links through the Chinese Camp and the Joss House.

A visit to the cemeteries is where we gain a greater appreciation of the size of the early Chinese population and an understanding of some their culture and customs. Scholars have transliterated and translated the burial stones in both cemeteries, yielding detailed information on the many who did not make it back to their homeland for their spirits to rest in peace. In recent years in the New Cemetery at the top of Lydiard Street North, the Chinese graves have been blessed and a traditional Chinese garden has been built as a memorial to those early diggers who did not make it back to China.

In the surrounding districts there are still reminders of a Chinese presence; graves in disrepair, some that in an earlier time were robbed; old round mineshafts; water ways and market gardens. The Chinese contribution to the health and well-being of all miners was significant through herbal medicine and fresh vegetables from the market gardens. Chinese technology in shallow mining and water use were significant element in mine’s development.

Other towns in the Victorian gold field have significant reminders of a Chinese past. Bendigo has its Joss House and gardens; Ararat has the Gum San Museum. In Ballarat, it is the children of the City who have done much to remind us of the City’s Chinese heritage. The creation of the new dragon, Gum Loon and the development of the memorial garden at the New Cemetery are a result of their work and interest in the Chinese of the 19th Century.


  • The Cemeteries
    The Chinese sections of the two cemeteries, with their ceremonial ovens and graves, offer the visitor a rich insight into Chinese burial and religious customs.

    The work of Linda Brumley, Liu Bingqun and Zhao Xueru, “Fading Links to China”, published in 1992, is a valuable record of the Ballarat Chinese gravestones and associated records and enhances a visit to these cemeteries.

    Their work of transcription and translation of the gravestones add a unique dimension to the visit. The name, age, date and place of birth and reason for death provide an understanding of each person. Only one gravestone is inscribed in English —O Cheong, who for 9 years was the government interpret4er in the colony. His gravestone is at the Old Cemetery.

    A full history of both cemeteries, including that of the Chinese, is available on the touch screen at the Old Cemetery in the building near the main gate.
  • Sovereign Hill and the Gold Museum
    — Secret Chamber
    — Chinese Village
    — The Joss House
    — Chinese Protector’s Office
    — Woah Hawp Canton Mine
    — John Alloo’s Restaurant

    The Gold Museum exhibition “An Australian in China” features a selection of artefacts from the Arnott-Rogers Collection of Chinese decorative arts and textiles. Gathered by George and Robina Arnott-Rogers, Australian missionaries in China at the turn of the 20th century, this extensive collection includes ceramics, clothing, artworks, photographs and rare examples of the blue and white embroidery of Sichuan.

    *The Sovereign Hill entrance fee applies to see these exhibits.
  • Gum Loon
    Gum Loong is an authentic Chinese fortune dragon and was awakened at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat, on the 11th March, 1995. Gum Loong was created by the Canadian Lead, Mt Blowhard  and Sebastopol Primary School communities, with support from the Ballarat Chinese Community Association, the Australia-China Friendship Society – Ballarat, the Asia Education Foundation and Department of Education, Employment and Training.

    A Dragon team of 100 students, representing the three schools, assist Gum Loong on his outings. Gum Loong, accompanied by the Lions of the Ballarat Chinese Association, appears at the Ballarat Begonia Festival in March each year. He usually lives at Canadian Lead Primary School or Sebastopol Primary School along with his family of Vietnamese Puppy Lions and Unicorn. Viewing of this family can be arranged by contracting either of the two schools.

Brochure and Heritage Trail
You can pick up the brochure from the Ballarat Visitor Information Centre and follow the Ballarat Chinese Heritage Trail:

  • New Ballaarat Cemetery
    — Moon Gate
    — Chinese Garden
    — Burning Altar
  • Old Ballaarat Cemetery
    — Burning Altar
    — Grave of O-Cheong
    — Touch Screen Information
  • Main Road
    — Former site of Old Joss House (Len T. Fraser Reserve)
    — Site of the original Red Lion Hotel (display in the Red Lion’s Convention Centre)
    — Former site of the largest Ballarat Chinese camp (Llanberris Reserve)
  • The Gold Museum
    — Arnott-Rogers Collection of Chinese decorative arts and textiles
  • Sovereign Hill
    — Joss House
    — Chinese Village
    — Woah Hawp Canton Mine
    — Secret Chamber
  • Gum Loong
    — Chinese Dragon (Gum Loong) at Sebastopol /  Canadian Lead Primary Schools

Source: Ballarat Visitor Information Centre brochure, acknowledgements:
City of Ballarat, Ballaarat Cemetery Trust, Ballarat Chinese Community Association,
Australia - China Friendship Society (Ballarat Branch).

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