Scene 6 (right to left)
Here, workers are tending a market garden. Fresh produce is being sold and musicians are playing traditional Chinese instruments. Many people of Chinese origin had difficulty finding regular work. They performed odd jobs to ‘get by’, including, as depicted, looking after Anglo-Australian children and working as shearers’ cooks.
Chinese primary producers
Between 1900 and 1914 a large number of Chinese people in eastern Australia were primary producers. Market gardens were concentrated in and around the cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns and Perth.
In 1901 there were 799 Chinese storekeepers in New South Wales, more than half of whom operated in the Sydney area, usually as greengrocers. For their owner-operators, Chinese market gardens provided a comfortable return to the knowledge attained over thousands of years.
Market gardeners mostly sold their fresh produce at the large fruit and vegetable markets. Venues included the Victoria markets in Melbourne and the Belmore markets in Sydney. However, the suppliers weren’t limited to these large markets. Many set up stores in the suburbs and country towns that surrounded the major cities, or sold their produce door to door.
Searching for work
Many Chinese people found that to survive it was best to find the sort of temporary employment not generally wanted by Anglo-Australians. Working on stations as household and shearers’ cooks was quite common. Before and after the gold rush, many Chinese people took on labouring jobs such as clearing the bush, fruit picking, building, tin mining and working on the railways.
These positions were often underpaid and did not require the ability to speak English. Anti-Chinese sentiment also made it difficult to find stable work, and many turned to begging.