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SUN WAH LOONG, STOREKEEPER: THE CHINESE in QUEENSLAND

Once again, mail to Tattersalls in Hobart (via one of the many forwarding agents, the Commercial Bank) reveals an interesting story. The registered cover has a strip of three blue 2d ‘Figures in four corners’ Queensland stamps as well as the same design single orange vermilion 1d stamp. There are four strikes of the barred numeral ‘534', as well as a single strike of the unframed CLONCURRY/ NO 3/ 05/ QUEENSLAND postmark and the two line REGISTERED/ CLONCURRY (Figure 1).

The reverse has the sender’s name printed in blue, SUN WAH LOONG/ Storekeeper and Baker/ Men’s Old Clothing, Boots and Shoes/ Fancy Goods/ CLONCURRY, N. QUEENSLAND. There is an unframed transit mark T.P.O. N.W. CENTRAL RWAY/ DOWN/ NO 12/ 05/ QUEENSLAND, as well as an indistinct unframed postmark of another Queensland town (Figure 2).

You may imagine my surprise when I was able to find a person with the exact same name on the internet, not in Queensland but in the Northern Territory, but there must be an understanding that some Chinese names are frequent, and that Chinese names change. Three sections in the Northern Territory’s Hansard reports give considerable background to the Chinese immigrants:

"The Chinese were originally recruited as labourers to expand and develop our mining resources....One of Darwin’s largest injections of labourers from China arrived on the ship Vidar ...on 5 August 1874....By 1881, the number of Chinese in the Territory had increased to 4108 compared with only some 660 Europeans. As the Chinese numbers grew, they began to wield considerable influence in mining and trading. As the Chinese population on the goldfields increased.... the Chinese families (became) active in supplying food, clothing, building materials and various services..... The first advertisement by a Chinese merchant, Sun Wah Loong in the Northern Territory Times, appeared on 15 July 1882."

In another section of Hansard the name of Sun Wah Loong was mentioned first in a list of Chinese family names. In a third section of Hansard there was a description of the route how the Chinese families migrated from the Northern Territory. "Like all frontier territories, the Northern Territory had its share of hardship. Many of the Chinese died en route to the goldfields and, in the wet season, they died from fever. Quite a number died en route to Queensland (from Darwin to the goldfields at Pine Creek, N.T. and) down from Borroloola (Northern Territory) and Camooweal (Queensland, at the Northern Territory border)." Cloncurry, the site of Sun Wah Loong’s business is approximately 300km east of Camooweal, (now) on a main road route.

In 1887 there was an open air meeting at Brisbane, Queensland, which declared that the presence of Chinese in Queensland was "injurious to the moral, social and trading interests of the white population" and, similar views regarding the Chinese were entertained in the other Australian colonies. A chief concern was that of the competition and underselling of the European workman by the Chinese. This antagonism was shown in an 1895 Bulletin cartoon labelled as "The Yellow Trash Question" (Figure 3).

The historian, Graeme Davison, believes that the wave of anti-Chinese demonstrations which swept around Australia in late autumn of 1888 was possibly ‘the most concentrated attack of xenophobia in Australia’s colonial history.’ Queensland’s capital Brisbane was to host the ‘possibly Australia’s worst episode of mass violence’ in that year of racial strife. This took the form of a four hour race riot which spread across the city and Fortitude Valley, involving thousands of participants and attacking every Chinese business premise or residence in sight. As the weekly Queenslander newspaper noted ‘None of the Chinese establishments in town were left unvisited’.

A sad day and period in Australia’s grand history. I wonder whether Sun Wah Loong’s business in small town Cloncurry was similarly visited. Better relations between Chinese workers and Europeans are seen in Figure 4.


 
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