Helene Chung Martin | Monash Asia Institute In 1901, the year of Federation, my maternal grandfather, Gin Chung, arrived in the northeast Tasmanian mining town of Weldborough. In the 1880s my great grandfather was lured by the prospect of tin to risk the arduous journey from the southern Chinese county of Taishan (or Toishan) to Weldborough.
In this thriving Chinese village, Chinese dominated tin mining and outnumbered Europeans by up to 10 to 1.
At its peak, Weldborough had about 700 Chinese miners: most of the State’s 1,000 to 1,300 or so Chinese. Not roulette but mahjong and fan tan were played in the island’s first casino.
A lottery was part of gambling and a Chinese man was murdered while taking the proceeds to the bank at nearby Moorina.
In 1893 a visiting Chinese opera company performed at Weldborough and I imagine great grandfather under the tent with the excited crowd.
Perhaps he worshipped at the elaborate local temple, burning incense sticks and seeking guidance from the deity.
Weldborough’s joss house – with its ornately dressed figures, intricate carving, scrolls and plaques – is now at the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston.
In the Chinese tradition, grandfather saved hard from his meagre earnings for a steerage passage for his father to go home to Toishan to die.
Great grandfather hadn’t done well and failed to send any remittances home.
Like most of his generation alone for years on the mining fields, at Weldborough he took to smoking and drifted off into the land of dreams through the haze of an opium den.
He returned to his wife in Guangdong province an addict. Grandfather was addicted to work and prospered in Australia.
After three years in Weldborough and with mining in decline, he left to take up market gardening in Launceston. He began a laundry, branched into tobacco and fancy goods, and later established a wholesale and retail fruit and vegetable business, Henry & Co.