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Scene 5 (right to left)

Life in Australia was strange and unfamiliar for Chinese miners, whose wives and families remained in China. In this scene a group of men are playing the game of mah-jong, and Chinese merchants are engaged in the banana trade.

Stitched panels of the Harvest of Endurance scroll featuring ‘Isolated and homesick’ and ‘Rise of merchants’.

After the gold rush

In the 1890s there were about 36,000 Chinese-born people in Australia, mostly living in New South Wales and Victoria. After the gold rush many stayed in rural areas and took up farming. Others turned to new mining enterprises such as tin mining on the border between Queensland and New South Wales and in north-eastern Tasmania.

Some Chinese settlers ran small businesses in towns and cities and many turned to market gardening, relying on skills and knowledge built up over centuries in China.

Many Chinese men had come to Australia to make enough money to support their impoverished families in China and then return home. They found themselves isolated within Australian society as they had limited knowledge of the English language and Western customs. Another factor contributing to their loneliness was that Chinese women were not allowed to migrate to Australia. All-male Chinese communities were treated with suspicion by Anglo-Australians.

Chinese traders

Not all Chinese immigrants were gold miners. Many of the merchants who had started businesses on the main streets of Sydney and Melbourne during the gold rushes were involved in the expansion of the import and export trade between Australia, Hong Kong, Guangzhou (Canton) and Shanghai.

Chinese traders established lucrative markets for bananas in Sydney, Melbourne and many country towns, and some expanded their enterprises by establishing banana plantations in Fiji. These Chinese merchants were highly regarded by the European community for their excellent business sense and reputation for honesty.

Three such merchants were Mei Quong Tart in Sydney, and Lowe Kong Meng and Louis Ah Mouy in Melbourne. Chinese traders dominated the banana market until the First World War. Today, they still retain about 10 per cent of the banana trade.

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