Friday 31 January 2020

The Chinese Settlers of Ararat

Just before Christmas, Narrelle and I headed to Dunkeld to enjoy a stay at the Royal Mail Hotel. To return to Melbourne, we caught a V/Line bus first to Ararat.

We had a few hours to kill before the afternoon train back to Melbourne, so we walked around to the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre (pictured above).

Like the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo and the Chinese Museum in Melbourne, the Gum San tells the story of Chinese migrants who sailed to Australia to join the 1850s gold rush.

But in Ararat that story comes with an interesting twist, because Chinese men landing at Melbourne were charged a head tax of £10 from 1855 (a hefty amount back then).

As a result, prospective Chinese gold miners began landing instead in South Australia and walking hundreds of kilometres to the diggings in Victoria.

In the case of Ararat, a group of these marching Chinese migrants were camped in the area on their way to the goldfields, and by luck discovered a gold lead.

Though they tried to keep it quiet, word spread and soon the area was crowded with diggers, giving birth to the Ararat township.

Thus, Ararat is said to be the only town in Australia to be founded by the Chinese - and this well-organised museum tells their story, from the gold rush days onwards.

It's a good reminder that Victoria was multicultural from its very earliest days as a British colony, as its gold rush era drew a huge, diverse crowd of prospectors from around the world, bringing their cultures with them.

It's a tradition that lives on... even in a place as far from the 'big smoke' as Ararat.

The Gum San Heritage Centre is at 31 Lambert St, Ararat, Victoria, Australia. Open daily 11am-4pm, adult entry $12. See its website for more details.

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