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In Chinese culture there are special foods for special occasions,
diets which balance hot and cold, and regional variations. Food
is a focus for meeting, hospitality, and business dealings.
In nineteenth and early twentieth century Australia, the challenge
was to maintain and adapt traditional cuisine in an environment
which lacked familiar ingredients and customs.
Ginger, preserved food and soy sauce jars. (Bathurst
and District Historical Museum, Griffith Pioneer Park and Inverell
Jars in a variety of shapes and sizes are among the objects relating
to the Chinese presence most commonly found in local museums. They
were used for food and liquid storage, especially preserved or pickled
foods and soy sauce. Most surviving jars have lost any labels, lids
The presence of these jars is a reminder that Chinese-Australians
from early on imported foodstuffs which were particular to their
diets. The records from importers and stores affirm that they regularly
supplied Chinese ingredients for Chinese residents throughout the
Ginger jar. (Bathurst District Historical
Pickling jar used
by Ruby Ah Yook, at Wellington. (Oxley Museum, Wellington)
Ruby Ah Yook's granddaughter, Carole Gass explained:
Grandmother would pickle everything from eggs to cabbages and
Chinese turnip. She had lids, round lids. She stuck a piece of hessian
and bricks on top. She used to dry the vegetables and then rub salt
into them, and put them in. She'd just leave them there. She always
knew when they were ready. She'd just take the brick off and she'd
have a squeeze or a taste of one and say 'it's ready'.
Soy sauce barrel. (McCrossins Mill Museum,
The Chinese characters inscribed on the side of the barrel tell
us that the barrel contained 'dark soy sauce' manufactured by the
Pun Chun Company. The Pun Chun Company, based in Hong Kong, still
manufactures soy sauce and, according to a company representative,
it stopped using the wooden barrels before the Second World War.
McCrossins Mill acquired the barrel from Eddie Walker in Tingha
who had found it in the locality.
Tray used for drying vegetables. (Corowa
Grinding mill. (Oxley Museum, Wellington).
The grinding mill was probably used by the Fong
Lee store, Wellington, for preparing food for Chinese staff. Carole
...my mother said it was used in the kitchen to grind rice.
Fong Lee's had a very large staff and employed a full-time cook
who cooked many dishes which had the ground rice flour.
Doris Yau-Chong Jones provided the following account of how the
grinding mill worked:
It is used to grind rice or beans. When I was a child [in Hong
Kong] I watched the servant putting sesame seed and rice in a grinder
like this. She put the rice or sesame seed from the top hole then
added some water to facilitate the movement of the grinder. The
mixture (a creamy texture) would come out from the joint between
the top (which can be detached) and the bottom. The broken part
facing the photograph is where all the thick liquid gathers to be
emptied into a container for cooking.
Edward and Lily Fong, Tingha, about 1945. (Private
collection) and Teapot and basket made in Kiangsi, China, used by
Lily Fong in Inverell and Tingha during the 1920s to 1940s. (Wing
Hing Long Store and Museum, Tingha)
Drinking tea was possibly the most common pastime among Chinese-Australians.
It was a mark of hospitality and provided an opportunity to meet
The Chinese characters on Lily Fong's teapot offer a number of
auspicious sayings: 'Very promising signs of future success'. (on
the lid). 'The teapot will last one hundred years or longer
while in your possession. Good fortune stays with the owner' (around
the top). 'Beauty and the spring complement each other'(on
Packet of Chinese tea.
(Oxley Museum, Wellington).
The packet was among goods stored in trunks in the mid 1930s in
the warehouse of the Fong Lee store in Wellington. The trunks were
unpacked in the mid-1990s.
The Chinese writing on the packet tells us that the tea was manufactured
by the Kum Tong Tea Factory and that it is a 'superior jasmine tea'.
The manufacturer asks the customer to accept the two stamps on the
packet as an indication of the genuineness of the product.
used by Chinese residents in the Inverell district, early twentieth
century. (Inverell Pioneer Village)
Today, eating a Chinese meal with bowls and chopsticks is a familiar
practice. In nineteenth century Australia, some European Australians
saw it as a peculiar habit. An 1882 commentator in Deniliquin, for
example, offered this description:
Upon the table is a dish common to all, though at times each
is supplied with a small cup from which he eats, it is almost an
invariable custom that the whole number digs indiscriminately into
the dish with their chop sticks.
Celadon refers to the blue-green glaze which distinguishes this
type of porcelain. Other examples of Chinese tableware commonly
used in Australia had a variety of named designs including 'four
seasons' and 'bamboo'.
Brass ladles used for cooking. (Inverell