Thursday, 26 February 2009


Our family have used chopsticks at home for many years. I think we started it while our children were growing up and we'd purchase Chinese food for home use, and often went to Chinese restaurants for a meal.

I'm not as clever as the Chinese students, but I manage and manage well.

When I arrived in China we discovered that it was to be the way we ate food there. The university canteen provided wooden chopsticks or a metal spoon (for the soups etc). Not a soup spoon but what we would call a "dessert spoon."

Students would come and speak with me and praise me for using chopsticks, although I had many suggestions of improving my use of the two sticks to pick up food. I tried the methods suggested but somehow came back to the way I always used them.

They were surprised that I knew about Chinese food, and rather stunned to learn that we have been eating Chinese food in Australia (although not quite the same as in China) for many years. Chinese students often have little knowledge of history or geography outside China.

When I told the students that there have been Chinese people living in Australia for many years and that Chinese workers came to Australia in the earliest history especially to work in the goldfields they were mos surprised.

Yesterday I attended a function at the Brisbane Australian National Archives for an open day focusing on "Shake your Family Tree" which was excellent although I was not able to stay for the full program. Luckily the Archives are only a few minutes from where I live in Brisbane, and I have visited often.

They have a publication called "Memento" and I was thrilled to find an article about the early history of Chinese Restauants in China. I will send a copy to some students in China.

An academic, Barbara Nichol, reports on the history of Chinese Restaurants in Australia. It appears that the first Chinese restaurants appeared on the Victorian goldfields, which is not surprising as there were so many Chinese nationals there. It is reported that "By the late 19th centure, despite restrictive immigration policies, and a declining Chinese populations many were operating in major centres."

If anyone has visited Melbourne and seen the Chinese restaurants around Little Bourke Street, will not be surprised to learn that this is where they started. Inthe late 1800's they were called "cookshops".

Barbara writes that most of the Chinese immigrants came from "Kwangtung Province in Southern China", which modern day Chinese maps would call "Guangdong" or in English "Canton" so the emphasis was on Cantonese cooking.

Barbara reports that by 1920 there were 18 Chinese restaurants recorded. During World War II Chinese restaurants were very popular.

I know from my childhood in South Australia that there were quite a few Chinese restaurants, but my veryconservative parents would not have taken me to one. I think I was in my 20's before I actually went to one.

The full article on this can be found in Issue 34 of Momento which is available free from the National Archives. The magazine is full of wonderful information about Australia, and a visit to the Archives is most fascinating.

1 comment:

Kiwi Riverman - The Writer said...

Interesting post, Di. We have had a similary history with chinese in the goldfields and chinese cooking.

Probably all on a slightly smaller scale.

I'm a spoon man, myself!