Cash Brown Full Interview
Cash Brown, conservator | curator, interviewed by Lucinda Horrocks. Digital audio, Many Roads: Stories of the Chinese on the Goldfields of Victoria, Jary Nemo (director), Lucinda Horrocks and Jary Nemo (producers), Wind & Sky Productions, 2017.Contributors
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In this extended audio interview Cash Brown, conservator and curator of the ‘Chinese Fortunes’ exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka in Ballarat talks to producer Lucinda Horrocks.
Cash talks about what personally draws her to the story of the Chinese on the Goldfields, tells us some of her favourite Chinese identities, some of the untold stories of the Chinese community in 19th century Australia, what motivated Chinese goldseekers to voyage here, the sorts of journeys Chinese people took to get here, and why it is important for museums to play a role in revisiting history.
The interview took place at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka in Ballarat on the 20th April 2017.
Lucinda: Tell me, what personally draws you to the story of the Chinese on the goldfields?
Cash: That's a really big question. There are so many stories, and I think that when you are asked to put on an exhibition like this, and you come at it from a background that has absolutely no idea to start with, you come in fresh. One of the things that you can look for is, I feel like if I get excited about something, if I'm uncovering something, then I hope that that's transferred to the general public and to the people who engage with the exhibition material.
Right from the start in developing this kind of body of work, there are some biased filters. I think that when you find yourself surprised or moved, and when you think, "Gosh, this is a really big story. Everybody should know about this, because it changes the way that we see ourselves." And I think to me that there was a view of, "Yes, it was just a bunch of sad Chinese labourers and miners coming out, and they had a really hard time, and we were rotten to them, and then they picked over tailings and went home," isn't really anywhere near the full story, or it's a part of it.
Then when we just hear about things like the riots at Lambing Flat, or the Clunes Riot, and the Buckland River Riots, and things like that, there's just such a big focus on those stories, and yet just by looking at those alone, which is often what happens, it doesn't allow for the richness of the contributions that the Chinese have actually made to Australian culture. I think that to me, with digging around, we came up with some absolute gems. They're really surprising, and they're very moving. It's not just one story that's in amongst the tapestry. There are a lot.
Lucinda: Maybe we could contextualise by you telling us a little bit about the Chinese Fortunes exhibition and what it is.
Cash: Okay. The Chinese Fortunes exhibition was conceived as an opportunity to tell untold stories, to actually broaden people's idea and perspective of Chinese diaspora in Australia in the 19th century. As a museum, one of the things that we like to do, is to present a more fair vision of what the past was like. Part of that is because we often feel, especially white Europeans often feel, that a lot of our past and past behaviours and things are actually really embarrassing. We cringe at them. We can't own them. We are told that we are inherently racist and things like that.
It's not really the case. When you start digging around and you start looking at what scholars have recently researched, and what they've recently written and why, it becomes apparent fairly quickly that history, although we know it is always being revised, and it depends what kind of lens it's put under, that when we start looking at, for example, the Chinese voice, where is that in all of this? Then you start to uncover a very different kind of story, and a lot richer and deeper things that contribute to our identity. Not just our collective identity, but also to engage Chinese audiences, too, in what their ancestors really got up to, and that they weren't just victims of a bunch of thugs.
Lucinda: Okay. Starting with these people who aren't just victims, who are they?
Cash: There were already Chinese in Australia prior to the gold rush era. Some of them came out freely, even as early as 1820. There were gardeners in western Sydney and out in Parramatta, and all sorts of just different individuals. Diaspora in Australia, people came from everywhere. Then you had a situation where, when the convict transportation ceased, that there was a shortfall in cheap or free labour, and so indentured labourers were actually sent out from China. That was a system that was already established, had already been established, with sending miners to places like Borneo in the early part of the 19th century. It was already an established kind of thing, and so when the gold rushes hit, then more indentured labourers were sent out as a result of that, but also a lot of free men and people that came out, self-funded and that kind of thing.
When the miners or when these groups came out, we imagine that, "Yes, it was 100 people that came out just to mine," but it had to be much more organised than that. You'd have a group where you'd have quite large groups of people. There would be a scribe. There would be a barber. There would be someone who could do the washing. There'd be people that could be doing the cooking and the market gardening, so that they could have very, very coordinated efforts. Part of that is, it's that if you're really coordinated in your effort, you can do things far more economically and you can pay off your debt faster, because you've gone into debt to get there in the first place.
Of course, luck is like luck anywhere in the gold fields. If you haven't struck it rich, or if your group hasn't made a lot of money, you haven't got enough money to go home, or you might not want to go home. You might actually think, "This is actually better than going back to the drought or the starvation or the Opium Wars," and all the horrible things that were going on in southern China at the time. How those decisions were actually made by individuals, we can only speculate on that a lot of the time. A lot of those men actually did stay and marry, and married European women, and established businesses and families, but using the transferrable skills that they already had.
We have to remember, it's an incredibly sophisticated culture that they've come from, and that their skills and their adaptability and ability to survive in this incredibly bizarre and harsh land is remarkable in its own right. We often hear about people going into market gardening and furniture-making and laundries and fishing and all of these sorts of things, but we don't often hear about the incredible business people that came out, and that actually were supplying not only the Chinese miners but supplying, for example, all sorts of luxury goods and things to the burgeoning marvellous Melbourne, and all that kind of stuff. They were often part of the Dutch East Indies trade routes and that kind of thing, and of course opium was quite a big deal, as well.
The incredible efforts by some of the Chinese merchants and the influence that they had on trade in the region is quite remarkable. You start digging around those stories and think, "Wow." They were very active citizens. They would lobby and petition governments for reform, and not just on behalf of Chinese people but on behalf of all people in Australia. Yeah, I think those sorts of stories, of the people like Lowe Kong Meng and Mei Quong Tart, they're some of the big characters, but a lot of the small characters, the more everyday people, the people that ran the local general store, the people that delivered fruit and vegetables door to door to people, the people that would make life a lot easier for people, particularly in regional towns, is incredible.
There are many, many, many of them. We've only just skimmed the surface of it. We've got about 50 stories in this exhibition, and most of those stories interlace. They come across a lot of different topics, from intercultural relationships through to fitting in and wanting to fit into this rapidly evolving multicultural landscape. A lot of it's quite hard to track, too. People forget, too, that Victorian society was highly mobile. People were mobilised. They were driven. They'd move around a lot, often following gold, but sometimes they'd be following water even, or following other business opportunities and things like that. If the gold runs out, you might think, "Great, we'll go up to Queensland and grow peanuts and bananas or something."
Lucinda: We've touched a little bit about my next question, which is journeys that these Chinese migrants have taken. What are their journeys? Where are they travelling from? How are they travelling? Where do they go to?
Cash: That's a really good question. I suppose it depends who you are from China, whether you are an indentured labourer, whether you've gone into debt with the threat of perhaps having your wife and family sold if you can't repay your debt, or whether you have had your own money to come out. There are two different kinds of journeys.
To start with, the indentured labourers would be recruited through teahouses and what have you in the southern provinces. Some of them may have actually been sold a bit of a dream. "Come to the new gold mountain, and make your fortune, and come back as a gold mountain man, and you can help provide schools and temples and things for your local village. If you go with your brothers and a few other people, then it'll all be fabulous." They would go into debt for that, and then they would pack up their belongings and some of the things that they thought that they would need to survive here, often buying those from the same agents and what have you. They would put them in baskets on a pole, and then walk.
The first thing starts with a trek. The first part starts with a trek for them. Then they would walk to the nearest port. That would often have a shantytown kind of situation in it. Then they would get onto a junk, and that would take them to Hong Kong. Then from Hong Kong, they would sail out. They would have gone into Canton or Amoy as one of their first two ports. Then, in Hong Kong, there were shantytowns as well, and then that was often where they would be sitting around waiting for the next boat. Sometimes there would be gambling and opium, which they might not have been involved in beforehand, and then that gets them into more debt, and that kind of thing. That side of the system isn't very nice.
Then they would get onto these boats. Some of them weren't really, in the early days especially, very fast. They weren't very well equipped for human cargo. The journeys were often rough. Approximately 11,000 died on their way, that we know of. Statistics can be interesting things, but there were a lot of wrecks. Those figures actually do include people who died onboard from illnesses and ones that died soon after arriving. Pretty quickly, the ships' captains and things would have worked out, "We don't want our cargo to die, because we're not going to get our debts repaid. We want them to go more quickly, and that kind of thing."
In the first instances when the Victorian gold rushes started in 1851, by 1852 there were only a couple of thousand that came out. They would march from Melbourne. They'd land in Port Melbourne. They would be helped by a headman, who would help translate for them and things like that, and point them in the right direction. They would often be sold more bits and pieces, or pick up bits and pieces here. Then they'd head to whichever diggings they were destined for. It was highly organised. There's nothing random about it.
The individual Chinese that came out for opportunities, I think in Ballarat here we've got a wonderful example of John Alloo, who was actually here before the gold rushes. An interesting character, he actually had a restaurant here at Eureka, on the Eureka diggings, and then by late 1854, he'd moved that to Main Road in Ballarat. He also had a coach business. He was able to organise coaches between here and Geelong. A pretty remarkable character. You can see in the wonderful S.T. Gill drawings the interior of his restaurant, where it doesn't look very Chinese at all. It looks like all European fare, but he was clearly quite successful in that.
He obviously benefited greatly when the gold rush came out, but also because he could speak English quite well, he became an interpreter, and he also became a policeman here. He wasn't paid as a policeman, and so he was poached by the Kiwis. He ended up going to central Otago and was in Otago as a policeman and then as a detective. He rose quite high up the ranks, took his children and wife with him, and his wife actually opened the Ballarat Hotel in Otago. That's where they ended up staying. That's a unique trail, and I think that that gives you a bit of an idea that for those that stayed, that didn't go back in their various groups and things, everyone's trail was different.
Then, after there were some difficulties and riots and things like that, the Chinese Question was addressed in Victorian Parliament, for example. Really harsh taxes were placed, not just on the Chinese but also on the ships' captains that were bringing them into Victoria. They were restricted in really financially what was reasonable. Think about the level of debt that they were already in. The first ships diverted to Sydney and to Adelaide, Port Adelaide. That meant that those mining groups had to walk over 800 kilometres to get to either Ballarat or Bendigo.
Two completely different routes with two completely different sets of issues. There were rumours that there were cannibalistic Aboriginals on the track from Sydney to Bendigo. I don't know if anyone's actually substantiated those claims, or whether they were rumours to just stop them coming. That seems more likely to me.
Then the treks from South Australia are really interesting, because at first they took the Tolmers gold route, which was a gold escort route, where gold was being take from Ballarat and Bendigo, but mainly Ballarat, back to South Australia. That's a whole other story. That route was very dry, though, so a lot of people died on those early treks. Then they redirected themselves down via the Coorong, because they knew that there would be reliable water sources. There still is a Chinaman's Well in Coorong, which is in the very southeastern part of South Australia.
Then there were different routes depending on the weather. Just over the South Australian-Victorian border, it becomes a massive swamp from even in March, so it depends when the ships landed and what was going on, how they actually went. It also depended on whether they could find bullockies to carry things for them, or whether they could pay those bullockies. It depended on all sorts of things. It starts to get quite complex quite quickly.
After the first few trips from Adelaide, then the port in Guichen Bay in Robe was a little bit more well developed, and then the first ship, the Land of Cakes, landed there in January in 1857. Over the following couple of years, it was just under 20,000 that arrived there. In fact, at one point, which is coming up around about this time 160 years ago, there was one week where there would have been over 4000 Chinese guys camped all around Robe. They were often of different dialects, and they came from different parts of the southern districts in southern China. The local doctor there attempted to segregate them into different groups so that there wouldn't be infighting and things like that.
Apparently there was never any real trouble, even though troops had been sent from Adelaide. There were reports of them flying kites and singing and drying out seaweed for their journey and things like that. They also set up different market gardens on the way. They'd mark trees so that the people behind them would know where to go. They would hang coins from trees to mark the paths. They would often hitch rides with the bullockies, because of course the bullockies would have come in with things to load onto the ships. They'd be going back with empty carts and things, so all sorts of things.
Yeah, and they'd be waylaid by different things. They'd be distracted by different things, like finding gold in Ararat, for example. No need to march on to Mount Alexander or Ballarat when you've found the Canton Lead outside Ararat. It becomes very rich and very diverse very quickly.
Lucinda: What numbers are we talking about in proportion to the numbers of other nations that are coming into Victoria at that point?
Cash: Depends when, and it depends which figures you look at. At its peak, about 40,000 in Chinese in Victoria in 1859-1860. In some of the towns, it's highly visible, because it looks like it's about 50% of the population, but in terms of overall population of Australia, we're still looking at somewhere like 3.8-4%, which is about what it is now. It just depends where.
Like I said, before it's so mobile, that society is so mobile, how you track where everyone's going and what they're doing and interstate and who's arrived by land and who's arrived by sea, and all those kinds of things, extremely difficult to track. We've got best guesses based on the information that we have. The shipping records are different in each state, but how that actually correlates to what's happening in any one particular point in time is quite difficult.
Lucinda: Tell me a little bit about the Chinese communities that formed in the gold fields townships. What were they like?
Cash: Depends where, again. I think we can look at Ararat as a really good example of something that's quite unique, in a sense, because it was the first permanent Chinese settlement in Australia. It was almost by accident. The Chinese had gone in there on their trek from Robe, on their way to the gold fields, and there was already mining activity in Ararat, but the Europeans basically booted the Chinese out and said, "Look, go over there. Go over the other side of the hill." They did that, and they went over there, and then basically stumbled across a huge and really significant lode.
As a result of that, a lot of them did actually stay on there, because there's no point in going any further. That Chinese community wasn't without its difficulties, socially and what have you, but it's interesting that by 1862, with all the really harsh taxes that are put on them, the Chinese are actually being driven out by these taxes. Then we've got this wonderful document, which is the Ararat petition of 1862, which basically says, "Please stop taxing them, because they're all leaving and our economy will collapse. We are stuffed without them." There's a pragmatism behind it. We'd like to think it's a lovely, romantic thing in some ways, but I suspect too that a lot of the rural Europeans would have actually been very attached to having the Chinese in town, because they're providing cheap fruit and veggies door to door. They're providing alternatives to Western medicine. They're also providing money to build hospitals, orphanages, and benevolent asylums, which is one of the most surprising things that has come about from looking at all the material that's available. Ararat in itself is a really unique story.
Then when you start looking at every single town that sprung up around the place, and which ones had their little mini Chinatowns and that kind of thing, the stories are all a little bit different. Sometimes it can revolve around particularly strong families in those areas. Sometimes it can revolve around them just being really prosperous, because the Europeans actually embraced having them around. I think that when we look at Braidwood, which is a town about 90 kilometres northeast of Canberra, remarkable town because you've got basically a monopoly of Chinese business going on, particularly in the final quarter of the 19th century. Where you've got Chinese businessmen that have established branches of the Oriental Bank where you've got a Chinese family that have brought the first truck ever into Australia, where you've got furniture businesses, general stores, trade, all sorts of things happening, and no records of any conflict. Remarkable.
Some of those families ... One of the Nomchong family, Eddie Nomchong's still running the electrical store in the main street now. Their family have been unique in that they have actually donated a lot of material to the historical society there. The great thing about that is, we've got absolutely secure provenance of these wonderful items that Mary Nomchong brought out from China with her after she married Chee Dock Nomchong. They were kept in the family because they thought it was important.
Then, all the stories that fall off that union, and all of the stories about his relationship not just with his brother but with someone like Mei Quong Tart. Once again, it becomes complex very quickly, but very, very, very rich, and it totally tips on its head some of these ideas that we have about they didn't want to assimilate, or they stuck to themselves. It seems to not be true at all.
Lucinda: Tell me more about the early philanthropy that you found about these Chinese communities in the gold fields.
Cash: As early as the mid-1860s, we've got records in Bendigo of some Chinese involvement in the Easter Parade there. Certainly, by 1879, it was more than just an involvement. There was fundraising in amongst the Chinese community, where they almost taxed themselves to raise money, to send that money back to China to have costumes and parade regalia made, so it would be brought back into Australia and then shared amongst different Chinese communities around the state, where they would be used for operas and parades and things like that. The aim of that fundraising was basically to assist Chinese people either to survive, so it's almost like a bit of a social security thing to survive, or sometimes to send them back to China, or to send their remains back to China so that they could be with their ancestors.
A lot of that money, though, was actually diverted directly into building hospitals, benevolent asylums, and orphanages. They of course are institutions that benefit anyone in the community. That level of highly visible, colourful engagement is probably, it is actually to me, the most remarkable story that has come out of the work that we've done here. We are so lucky that the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo has these costumes, the ones that were actually used in the parades and things. They were still, many of them, were being used right up until the 1930s. There's nothing like that in China. It's an internationally significant collection.
To just look at the love and the care with which they're made, and the beautiful gold couching, and all of the wonderful little mirrors, and the attention to detail, and the fact that different people would wear these things, men would wear women's costumes sometimes, and women would wear men's, and they'd mix it all up. It was a big mix and match thing. It's just incredible. You look at the old wood engravings that were in newspapers, the illustrations of these fairs and parades, and it's exuberant European audiences cheering and carrying on at this spectacle. That doesn't smack of racism to me. They're very powerful images. It actually shows not only a willingness to integrate, but also to support a broader common good. I think that's incredible. That's in spite of the horrible taxes and the horrible treatment that they were getting a lot of the time. It's in spite that, they've still got this incredible generosity of spirit. That does continue through in their culture today, and in aspects of 21st-century life in regional towns in Victoria and the rest of Australia.
Lucinda: The parades would actually physically put on entertainment and raise money for a town's hospital.
Lucinda: That would be a donation from the Chinese community for the town.
Cash: Yes, absolutely, and there are a lot of records of those donations still, in some of the hospital records and things like that.
The other side of that, there are a few sides to that story, and one is the sharing of the costumes. The same costumes might have been worn in Ararat and Beechworth and different places. That says there's this high level of organisation involved, and a great concern, too, for the kinds of things that they were raising the money for, but also there were troupes of performers that would come around and entertain not just Chinese, once again, but entertain Europeans as well. There's one lovely story about Zhan Shichai, who was Chang the Chinese Giant. He was an enormous character. He came out, and he was touring around the gold fields 1870-1871. Apparently, half of his earnings went to the benevolent societies and things like that. That's quite remarkable, I think.
There are many, many, many stories like that, of different operatic troupes and acrobatic troupes. They would also sometimes band together, so for example with the Easter Parade in Bendigo, after the parade there would be a carnival, and people would pay to get into the space to go and see all these different things. They might see furniture displays, or fashion displays, or things from the exotic Far East, and certainly performing arts as well. It'll be interesting to think about did that actually influence any of the local theatrical troupes, or maybe even amateur opera. Who knows, but yeah, it's an interesting side of it.
Lucinda: It's fascinating because the picture that you're painting is a very diverse community, but it's mucking in together and making up its culture together, drawing on all sorts of different cultural traditions, but it's together. It's not, as you said at the start, an isolated set of poor indentured labourers. It's a much more sophisticated intercultural exchange.
Cash: Yeah, it is, but I think a lot of that was driven by the different societies, like the See Yup Society or the different associations, whether they're through kinship or language or whatever. A lot of that organisation did actually stem from those, also some just inspired leadership on occasions. People who had certain skill sets, who had for example a really good command of English or that maybe understood a couple of different Cantonese dialects, were more than capable of advocating for not just Chinese needs but helping rally the troops with regard to lobbying governments for reform.
I think that it's all these different layers of levels of organisation that is really great, but it shouldn't surprise us. People are people. There were great levels of organisation with every kind of, whether it's a discrete or ethnic minority that's here. Everybody, apart from the Indigenous Australians, came from somewhere else. Everybody brought with them something from their own country and their own culture, and everybody hung onto bits of that, but you can't hang onto absolutely everything, because your diet's different, the landscape's different.
In fact, a lot of what happens culturally here is dictated by the physical landscape. There's also that basic need for survival, and that's another thing. A lot of the miners would have suffered from scurvy and beriberi had it not been for the Chinese being able to really quickly grow herbs and different fast crop veggies and things and help with the dietary requirements to keep people from just living solely on boiled mutton.
Aboriginal people played a role in that, too. There's probably a whole other series of stories and scholarship on the relationships between Chinese and Aboriginal people, as well, particularly up around Cooktown and that area. That's a whole other series of chapters there too, I'm sure, but yeah, there's a far higher level of integration than most of us realise.
I think that that is reflected in the multicultural society that we're in now. It's easy to look at any group and say, "That's them over there, and they don't really mix." You have to.
Lucinda: What do you look at either in the landscape around you or in the artefacts that you curate and say, "I can see the legacy of the Chinese in this here today"?
Cash: As a self-confessed foodie, it might seem like an obvious thing, but in the food. I'm not talking about country town Chinese restaurants. That often bears no resemblance to what the food's actually like in China, but there's some kind of weird hybrid going on there. It's about how different foods have been introduced to our diet and into the kinds of things that we just take for granted.
In looking at the artefacts around that, I also think about these wonderful pots, like the ginger pots or the thousand-year-old egg pots. What kind of food did the miners actually bring with them? What's so special that you're going to carry something hundreds of kilometres through swamps and across desert in a ceramic pot? Is it delicious dried duck? Is it these preserved eggs? Is it preserved shrimp? What is it? Also, you'd be carrying rice with you, because there wasn't any rice being grown in Australia, and it's obviously your staple.
Then the trade thing that's set up, too, to support the Chinese miners, in bringing out things like rice and tea and those sorts of things. Those food legacies, they might seem a little bit obscure sometimes, and there's certainly more work to be done in that area, as well, but when we consider again the availability of fresh and plentiful and cheap fruit and veggies in our regional towns, it's a great thing, because they were just far more successful at it and far more economical about it than a lot of the European market gardeners and things. They were very, very, very good at redirecting water. They were very good at recycling waste. As we often think about, the Chinese don't waste anything.
There's actually one story about these types of Australian curries that were going around. I thought, "Oh, curry. We don't usually associate that with Chinese food," but apparently it was a thing. It was a spicy thing, and it's a way of just making mutton less vile, I suppose. Yeah, there are all sorts of things. In fact, there were a lot of fishermen in St. Kilda, for example, and they'd be catching the small shrimp and then drying and preserving those, and sending those out into the gold fields, and that kind of thing.
We've got beautiful images of Chinese hawkers within the fish markets and that kind of thing, selling birds. Of course, they were criticised for a lot of their activities, even though the Europeans were doing exactly the same thing. For some reason, if you were Chinese and doing these things, it wasn't quite as, I don't know, acceptable. Nonetheless, a lot of those people actually did really make fabulous businesses for themselves, and prospered greatly.
Lucinda: Thinking about this wonderful story, what is it that makes you saddest when you think about it?
Cash: I think the real sadness, for me personally, comes from the misconceptions that still exist about Chinese culture, and about the past, and about what really went on in that era. I think that there's a lot to be celebrated. We should never ignore the tragedies. I think it's really important to remember those. I think it is important to remember what happened at Clunes and Lambing Flat and Buckland River, and I can see why historically there has been a focus on those sorts of things, because finding information or finding the Chinese voice from the 19th century is an incredibly difficult thing to do, unless it's come down in family histories, and they're quite scarce. The sadness in that is how many Chinese wanted to hide their ancestry as a result of the White Australia policy, and as a result of being socially and economically marginalised, and as a result of being squeezed out of things.
That didn't happen everywhere. It didn't happen all the time, and if we keep seeing them as victims of that, it's not useful. It's not useful to Chinese Australians. It's not useful in honouring their ancestors, and it's not also useful in honouring a lot of the Europeans who actually genuinely and wholeheartedly fought very hard to reform.
Lucinda: I suppose that the natural follow-up question is, what should we find hope or joy, or what are the positive stories? What are the positive things we can reflect on from this story?
Cash: I think the most positive thing that we can reflect on is that stereotyping any group is dangerous and it's boring. It doesn't do anybody any favours. I think that when you actually really dig into the extraordinary contributions that Chinese people made in the face of the restrictive legislations and things that they faced, it's that incredible spirit.
People often talk about Aussie spirit, and it's like, "Well," and mateship. I think that the idea of mateship is very interesting. The Chinese guys that came out in those big gangs, there's a lot of mateship that went on. They were intense, whether it be six of them in a tent, and they had to rely upon each other. In the literature, and in the historical records, it's like his mate, Louie's mate, so and so's mate. Even then, there might only be two or three of them, those really old men living together in the Mount Alexander diggings, they were still called mates. This idea of mateship, and this idea of a pioneering spirit, an Aussie spirit, is absolutely not unique to Europeans. I think that's really important to remember.
When we look at triumph in the face of adversity, and the triumphs might be modest. They might be small ones that yes, somebody established a market garden and had six kids, married a lovely young Irish girl, or whatever, or that they travelled around Australia with their own family band, or that they had pubs, or that they became interpreters, or that they maybe did go back to China. All those little things turn into ... It's all of those little tiny contributions that make up the bigger story, and the bigger picture. The bigger picture, when we put all of those things into it, is vastly different to the picture that most of us were brought up with.
It's sad in one way that we don't all acknowledge this, and we don't know these stories, and that this isn't part of the great Australian history, but it's our hope, and not just mine but many people who have dedicated tens of thousands of hours on researching many of these topics, is actually to be able to share these stories, and to give them some life, and to give them some love, and to give them a platform so that it can benefit everybody who comes along to engage with the material, to have a really good look at who we are and where we've come from, and what that means in terms of where we are now, and where we're going, and what our prevailing attitudes really are, and where does that information come from. Is it a broader picture, or is it just a very narrow perspective told through one or two protagonists' lenses? When we look at contemporary politics, and when we look at xenophobic attitudes, it becomes increasingly bizarre to me that anybody can have these ideas, because their ideas are so far removed from the truth.
Yeah, you can take from that what you will, but it's not meant to be a forced lesson in how to think. These are actually facts. They're facts, and it is part of Australian history that really can't be ignored.
Lucinda: Was there any particular point that you really wanted to make in today's conversation?
Cash: I think I've pretty much made them. A lot of my comments have been quite personal. I've said, "If I get excited and moved by things, and think gosh, that's a surprise, I had no idea, and wow, look at that over there," it's wonderful. I think that what would be really great for people to understand, though, is that it is a very complex and rich and diverse set of cultures and subcultures and discrete ethnic minorities that we're looking at. When we think about China, it's almost a bit like looking at a part of Europe, lots of different things going on, but also to remember that a lot of the people when they came out, they were escaping some pretty horrible situations, as well.
When we think about the boats that they came out on, and some of the parallels with contemporary global issues, nobody leaves home unless they really, really, really have to. Some of it's for the want of a better thing. Some, it's because there are great prospects somewhere else. For some of them, it's just a matter of survival. In a way, not a lot's changed, and I think that that's one of the fairly clear messages that you can take from the particular collection that we've put together here. Whether people agree with it or not is beside the point. It's really a series of stories that is designed to shine a light on aspects of history that we know so little about.
Lucinda: What would you like an audience that might be watching or looking at the gallery or coming and visiting the exhibition to come out thinking or questioning? What question or thought do you want in their minds?
Cash: I would hope that it encourages people to actually delve a bit further into aspects of Chinese culture, and then also to think about all of the other cultures, and all of the other stories in our past, and think, "Is that really the full picture? Is that really all there is?" To actually develop a bit of healthy cynicism around the tales that we're brought up with, about what we were taught in school, and sometimes what is still being taught in schools, how certain things are only touched upon, these keystone topics. They're not really the keystones. They're just the headline-grabbing things. Really to just take into consideration that we are a multicultural society. There are a lot of rich stories, and it's not just all from the white male perspective. There are a lot of different perspectives.
Then, when you start to do that, I found for me personally, it's softened things for me in a way. I hope that it softens people a bit, and that it opens their minds up a little bit and makes them think, "What else is out there?" And to think about the role of museums in that, think about the kind of resources that we have. Why do we do what we do? Go to places like the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo and see the amazing things that they've got there, and the incredible stories that they've got to tell. Go to your local historical society and see what they've got.
It's not just about Chinese stuff. It might be about the Swiss, Italians. It could be about indigenous Australians and indigenous people, and the kind of journeys that they had. All our lives are made up of journeys, and they're very complex things. Everyone's got their own story to tell. It's just what lens you put on that when you're listening that's important.