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(2008-03-29 11:04:10)


分类: 各地口述历史计划介绍

Chinese Australian oral history: a project of the National Library of Australia

The Authors

Diana Giese, Co-ordinator of Post-War Chinese Australians, National Library of Australia


This article describes the National Library of Australia oral history project, Post-War Chinese Australians, its coverage, procedures and some outputs to date. The importance of community involvement in the project is emphasised. Its broader importance in leading to a re-examination of the mainstream historical record is also highlighted.

Article Type:

Case study


Australia; China; History; National cultures; Stories.


Asian Libraries











Post-War Chinese Australians is a collection of life stories and community histories told through oral history. The “old families” of Chinese Australia have lived and worked in this country for five generations. Many of the descendants of Chinese pioneers who came here to seek their fortunes on the goldfields or to start market gardens, stores or services have now spoken on tape as part of the project, begun in 1992. They have been joined by first-generation migrants from Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia or China itself, by those who came here from the 1960s for education, and by people who originally arrived with nothing, as refugees. There are stories of courage, risk-taking and entrepreneurial flair; of the prejudices of White Australia overcome by hard work and persistence; of quiet achievement and flamboyant success; and the rich and ancient cultural tradition that makes many proud Australians also keen to acknowledge their Chinese roots.

There are now over 80 voices on tape. I have talked to teenagers and to those in their 90s. Digital recordings are preserved and catalogued by staff in the Library’s Oral History section. Tapes and verbatim transcripts are made available to researchers. In the interviews, respected elders, business and community leaders, doctors, writers, painters, scientists, politicians, academics and sportspeople speak frankly about their lives. There are stories from Darwin to Melbourne, Cairns to Sydney, Alice Springs to Perth. Interviewees include Mr Russell and Mrs Joan Jack, Professor Mabel Lee, Mrs Dora See Poy, Councillor Henry Tsang, the five Members of Parliament of Chinese background, Mr Charles See-Kee, NSW Ombudsman Ms Irene Moss, Bishop George Tung Yep, artists Mr Shen Jiawei and Mr Zhou Xiaoping and media personality Ms Annette Shun Wah. Dr John Yu Am, former head of the New Children’s Hospital at Westmead and 1996 Australian of the Year, spoke on tape of his concept of a “total healing environment”, drawing on Eastern traditions and epitomised by the hospital he did so much to create: “Science and technology and drugs are not enough … things like building design, colour, light, space, art, gardens, entertainment, amusement are very, very important parts of getting better”. Monash University senior lecturer Dr Moni Lai Storz, who also runs her own communications business, observed after interview that:

Answers to eternal questions like “Who am I?” and what “being Chinese” in Australia means, are elusive. Previously, there were always reasons deep in the unconscious as to why I could not face them. When Diana started her oral history project, there was no escape. I had to move from the unconscious to the conscious to confront all the issues to do with being Chinese in Australia and in the world.

From the beginning efforts have been made to involve communities in the project. There have been presentations to community groups and historical associations, university, library and museum gatherings around Australia. Venues have included the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo, Parliament House in Darwin, James Cook University in Cairns, the University of Western Australia and the Museum of Sydney. On these occasions people have come forward with their own stories, pictures and artefacts. The ABC radio programmes “Top End Chinese” (1993) and “Reclaiming the Past” (1996) have been based on the work. In 1995 the Library published the book “Beyond Chinatown” and in 1997 the University of Queensland Press produced “Astronauts, Lost Souls and Dragons”. There has been media coverage on TV and radio and in newspapers and magazines in all states and territories and overseas. Community displays of pictures, tools and artefacts at the Northern Territory Library and the Cairns Regional Gallery have provided the material context of the taped voices.

During the life of the project Chinese Australian communities have moved from being interviewed and written about to becoming proactive in the reclamation of their own pasts. This is leading to a reexamination of the mainstream historical record from a different perspective. Chinese communities are now in many ways themselves leading this kind of history work. It can involve innovative uses of computer software for recording family histories; public exhibitions of family treasures kept safe for generations; and the revival by younger people of customs and traditions. Collaborative oral history projects have been initiated between the Library and the Darwin Chung Wah Society, and the Kwong Sue Duk family history video makers, showing how families, communities and institutions can work fruitfully together. From late 1996 interviews with senior members of prominent Darwin families have been jointly recorded by the Library and the Chung Wah Society. The process of the making of the Kwong Sue Duk video, down the east coast and back to Hong Kong, has been followed on tape and film, and the video itself, pictures and a diary in Chinese characters have been deposited with the Library. Oral history that taps into “insider” reclamation work has a special immediacy and excitement, drawing as it does on both the time remembered and its recreation. Many different approaches to the wealth of new sources now becoming available enrich what all Australians know about who we are and where we come from. As the Chung Wah participants have noted, “Everyone benefits from cooperative projects”.

Chinese Australian communities are now invited to join more formally with the National Library, through donations to a bank account, to extend the work in progress of reclaiming their heritage. The Library recognises the longstanding commitment of Chinese Australian society and business leaders to community projects. It foresees a mutually beneficial partnership between them and itself, a major Australian public institution and the nation’s premier collector of oral history. Funds contributed will be used to carry out additional interviews and workshops. They will assist the Library, with members of Chinese communities, to record further material in major cities and towns, and to move into areas so far unexplored, such as Tasmania, Victoria, Brisbane, Broome and the Kimberley region. As with post-war Chinese Australians, interviews recorded will be preserved for long-term use, catalogued and transcribed by Library specialists, and free copies provided to interviewees on request. Publicity throughout the project will acknowledge community and individual involvement and sponsorship. Library specialists will collaborate on publications and special events such as exhibitions, the nature of which will be jointly determined. The Library welcomes suggestions on directions for the project. Those who would like to see what has already been done, to meet Library staff and see first-hand how tapes and documents are processed, preserved and archived, are invited to visit.

The six years during which post-war Chinese Australians has been in operation have been challenging and exciting. Mark Cranfield, the Library’s head of Oral History, says that it “can operate at a very personal level, because interviews are built on empathy and trust and the non-judgemental goal of seeking a better understanding”. Each interview has added fine detail to the “big picture” of Chinese Australian experiences in this country, indicating their complexity and diversity. Strong interrelationships and networks have been built between the Library and communities country-wide. Cairns marine biologist, collaborator and interviewee Warren Lee Long says that:

People are now swapping information, ideas and material. Diana has pulled people together, from across a large country, to stir up a reclamation of our Chinese past. This is leading to exposure and recognition of things in Australia’s recent history which have been left up until now hidden under the bed, in boxes in the garage, or remained quiet in the minds of our elders.





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