HistoryChinese heritage part of Bundaberg history

Chinese heritage part of Bundaberg history

Chinese heritage
The Bundaberg Region was home to Chinese market gardens. Pictured is a vegetable delivery at Fairymead, estimated 1880. Photo: Picture Bundaberg bun01949

From the local China Town to high profile street names, the Bundaberg Region has a long and culturally rich Chinese heritage.

Chinese New Year celebrations may have been subdued by international travel restrictions but it still presents an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate this history.

Research undertaken by Bundaberg Regional Libraries Heritage Team reveals the first recorded mention of Chinese immigrants in the region was in the Bundaberg & Mount Perry Mail in 1878.

Local historian Neville Rackemann, in his book The Growing Harvest, mentions an area of Bourbong Street that was popularly known as China Town.

The land between Tantitha Street and Saltwater Creek was predominantly market gardens and shops selling Chinese delicacies.

North Bundaberg also hosted Chinese market gardens between Hinkler Avenue, Fairymead and Waterview Roads, where crops grown included peanuts, bananas, plantains and watermelons.

In The Growing Harvest, Rackemann reports that market gardens were also along the flats by Paddy’s Creek.

Deep holes known as Chinaman’s Holes were dug into the creek bed to have a water supply in case of drought.

One of the most respected Chinese gardeners was Mah Wah, who had cultivated gardens in North Bundaberg off Hinkler Avenue since 1887.

His horse and cart was a familiar sight around Bundaberg streets.

In July 1894 The Western Champion reported “…there are Chinamen and Chinamen, and Mah Wah of Bundaberg, evidently belongs to the class at the opposite pole from that of some of his countrymen”.

“Mah Wah won £3 6s. in prizes for vegetables at the Bundaberg Show, and not only gave the whole of his exhibits to the hospital, but offered a guinea also on receiving his prize money.”

Bundaberg resident Austen Whitaker shared with the library’s heritage team his memories of the many Chinese shopkeepers at the eastern end of Bourbong Street.

Of particular note was the Que Hee brothers who owned a fruit and vegetable shop on the corner of Bourbong and Walla Streets and specialised in the sale of fireworks leading up to Guy Fawkes night.

The Que Hee name is still remembered in Bundaberg with a street named after the brothers, and the grave of Yen See Que Hee (1868-1927) at Bundaberg General Cemetery.

Chinese names mentioned in early Bundaberg history include Kwong Fat, Peter Mew, Willy Yick, Tommy Ping, Yip Gee, Billy Lee King, Davie See Chin, Chan Bun Yung, Ah Why and Ah Gong.

The library heritage team’s search of the records at the National Archives turned up many references to workers, farm labourers and gardeners in Bundaberg from the 1880s onwards.

In the early days of the Bundaberg Cemetery, burials of Chinese, South Sea Islanders and other denominations were situated in the far part of the cemetery, in a section called PSA (Portion Set Aside).

The people who are buried here have no headstones, just a listing on the cemetery records of a name and a date.