February is the 200th anniversary of the first Chinese migrant in Australia

February, 2018 marks 200 years since the since the first recorded Chinese migrant, Mak Sai Ying, arrived in Australia. 

Chinese Australian’s history in Wagga can be dated to the 1870s and 1880s, when there was a large Chinese Camp at the lower end of Fitzmaurice Street. Now, 1.2 per cent of Wagga’s residents have Chinese heritage. 

The Gold Rush of the 1850s saw a large influx of migrants come to New South Wales in search of wealth, a large proportion of whom were from China. 

When the frenzy of the Gold Rush died down in the Riverina, several thousand Chinese men left the dig sites and were employed in land clearing, market gardening and general labouring. These men lived in camps outside towns and on pastoral properties.

The total Chinese population of the camps was 869. The largest camps were located at Narrandera, Wagga, Deniliquin, Hay and Albury.

John Xie, who moved to Wagga last year after living in Brisbane for seven years, said for him, Australia is perfect. 

“Originally I am from China but moved to New Zealand and then I came from New Zealand in 2011 to Brisbane, Australia,” he said.

RIGHT AT HOME: John Xie has a Chinese background but considers Australia the perfect home for himself. Picture: Les Smith.

RIGHT AT HOME: John Xie has a Chinese background but considers Australia the perfect home for himself. Picture: Les Smith.

“In China, I was born in and I grew up in a subtropical area. I was in the mainland side of southern China, close to Hong Kong.”

Mr Xie decided to make the move to Australia with his family after it was decided his son would pursue a course in actuary studies and also because he was a fan of the Aussie climate. 

“I didn't have any jobs when I first came to Australia, I just came,” he said. 

Mr Xie worked casually before being offered a three-year post doctoral fellowship full-time job at Griffith University.

“After that I spent some more time doing casual work before being offered full time work as a statistician at Charles Sturt University in Wagga,” he said. 

Mr Xie loves the weather in Wagga and would call Australia the perfect home for him. 

“I feel I have been treated quite well in most cases, I am not saying all my experiences in Australia have been perfect but anywhere in the world you’ll see the nice people, you’ll see the bad people,” he said. 

“In this sense Australia is perfect!”

Mark Wang, Deputy Chairman of the Museum of Chinese Australian History, said that the milestone of 200 years was not a well known one. 

“The Chinese Museum is the first organisation to realise this Mak Sai Ying came in February 1818, so to the week he arrived 200 years ago” he said.

“The Chinese Museum, which represents Chinese Australians across the nation, wants to celebrate that.”

Mr Wang said that often the history of Chinese Australians can be oversimplified, often narrowed down to merely the events of the Gold Rush and the White Australian Policy. 

“We often promote the Gold Rush in Victoria and New South Wales, and a few other major events of Chinese history but we don’t cover the breadth of Chinese Australian history there is” he said. 

“They were mining phosphate in Christmas island, mining tin in Tasmania, and they started banana plantations in Queensland.

“There are Chinese enterprises all over Australia from 200 years ago, and we don’t recognise that.” 


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