Chinatown

During the 1850s-60s a large number of Chinese settled in Creswick. It was one area in particular that provided interest and entertainment for the boys of the town, the Government Chinese Camp, known as Black Lead and now Calembeen Park. Members of this community had a variety of occupations: miners, merchants, shop proprietors, farm labourers, cartage contractors, hawkers, publicans, joss house operators, opium dealers and Chinese doctors. They were also skilled market gardeners and supplied the community with fresh vegetables.

Their culture was evident: hair worn hanging in a long plait, broad-brimmed cane hat, their baskets swinging from a bamboo pole across the shoulders, gambling shops, sometimes they wore their traditional clothes, and their language would be heard wherever they were. Overall, the Chinese people were industrious and contributed to society.

Lionel, Norman and Daryl write about the Chinese in their books. Lionel describes in his book Comedy of Life “The Chinese camp was our Paradise. Here were two joss houses, from which the burning joss-sticks could be looted, and here lived a wizen old Chow called Sinkum who would match his inimitable  fi-shang  toffee against our pennies.” But he also went onto record “The Australian boy likes the Chinese, yet nothing will keep him from pelting a distant Chow. Now when I think of this great race, with its amazing art, its profound philosophy.  I know we were the barbarian atavistically impelled by our instinctive savagery. The honours were with the Chinese.”

Percy, Lionel and Norman have all produced illustrations of the camp but probably Percy’s “China Town 1894” being the most famous and is part of Ballarat Art Collection. One of the buildings that can be seen in the painting is Ah Foo’s business. Ah Foo was a friend of Dr Robert Lindsay.

By the end of the 19th century the Chinese camp was becoming a shanty town as can be seen in the Lindsay illustrations and pressure was being applied to condemn the camp by the shareholders of the Creswick Proprietary Sluicing Company in their search for gold.

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