Wat Ah Che, sculpture, Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre, Ararat. Image by Jary Nemo.
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Interpreters were often well-educated and well respected leaders.
Government protectorates appointed Chinese interpreters to translate for official purposes.
They were usually well-respected men of the scholar class who often became community leaders in their own right.
One such leader was Wat Ah Che who was born in Canton (Guangzhou) in 1837. Arriving in Australia in 1857, he was soon appointed official interpreter to the Ararat goldfields where he was much loved and played a prominent role in raising funds for the first hospital there.
Naturalised in 1859, in 1863 he was promoted to the position of interpreter to the Bendigo goldfields. Later, he returned to Canton to marry Tong Chay Lye before bringing his new bride back to Bendigo. Chinese-born Mrs Ah Che was the subject of great community interest as Chinese women on the goldfields were a very rare sight. Their son, Victor Frederick Wat On Pong, was born in Bendigo in 1867.
Wat Ah Che and his family returned permanently to China in 1868.
Research courtesy of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka ‘Chinese Fortunes’ exhibition curator Cash Brown.