From Canton with courage

The Dictionary of Sydney has a lot of in-depth material about Sydney’s Chinese community, one of the oldest and most visible in the city. You can find out about Chinatown, Chinese New Year celebrations and the Chinese Gardens that grace Darling Harbour. We also have an entry on the Royal Commission into Alleged Chinese Gambling and Immorality, held in 1891, which didn’t produce the report some expected. References to Sydneysiders of Chinese heritage abound in articles as diverse as Smallpox epidemic 1881, Malaysians, Cambodians and East Timorese. Chinese gardeners pop up in suburb entries from Brookvale to Blakehurst, Roseville, Dulwich Hill, Elderslie, Thornleigh, Turramurra and  many more to come. Chinese market people can be found in Ultimo, Surry Hills and Haymarket. The impact of the Chinese community on the city is also covered in our essays on Immigration (by James Jupp) and Religion (by Hilary M Carey).

Chinese lion dancers at Sydney Town Hall for Pageant of Nations parade, February 1938 (State Library of NSW, hood_18144)

But we’re also interested in the Chinese presence outside the central city, which has been exhaustively researched by Jack Brook. Jack is one of our authors, having written for us a history of Seven Hills, and a biography of  Aboriginal student and landowner Maria Lock, and he’s been working on the history of the Chinese in western Sydney for some time.

Jack’s work has resulted in a great book, part history and part biographical register, called From Canton with Courage, which covers Chinese arrivals in Parramatta and points west from 1800 to 1900. He’s also been supported by the Parramatta Heritage Centre to produce an exhibition telling some of the stories he’s uncovered, which opened in July 2011 but runs at the Heritage Centre until 11 March 2012.

Jack is a tireless researcher, who has ferretted out all sorts of details and made contact with the descendants of many of his subjects, including families all over western Sydney and beyond in NSW and Australia. He’s persuaded some of them to lend their documents, artefacts and memories for the exhibition and the book, and it’s fascinating stuff.

You can buy the book from Jack for $35.00 plus postage and handling, by emailing him at jack @ brook. id. au  (take out the spaces or it won’t work). And of course you can see the fruits of his labours at the Parramatta Heritage Centre any time over the summer except for Christmas Day and Good Friday.

The Dictionary will be publishing an entry based on Jack’s work next year. We really hope it will inspire more articles about Sydney’s diverse communities in specific regions of the city, to deepen understanding about the diversity and complexity of migrant experience in Sydney.


About Emma Grahame

Emma Grahame has been Editorial Coordinator of the Dictionary of Sydney since May 2007.
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