Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Tales from the past – The Chinese in Albany

The occupation of Western Australia by the British was closley linked to the fortunes of The British East India Company which was making the usual 1000% profit on trade between South East Asia and Britain. Stirling, who was instrumental in founding Perth(and was it's first Governor) was married to the daughter of one of the Companies major shareholders. The direct route from Perth to Singapore and Jakarta was one reason why Albany(on the south coast) was not chosen as the capital of the new Colony.
In the 1860's
Messrs Stweart & Nairne, a commercial firm trading at Penang wished to establish trade with Albany and to purchase ship runs and town lots – the trade was to be carried on by means of two vessels from Penang to Sydney and regularly calling at Albany. These gentlemen expressed their willingness to import Chinese mechanics and labourers on reasonable terms either for private individuals

John Hassell, who, by then had control of a large sheep run at Jerramungup, took up their offer and requested a dozen, specifying the numbers of each trade that he required.

He was by no means the first of the Colonists to import Chinese labour. The Rev Wollaston who arrived and died in Albany in 1855, bought with him an adaptable gardener named Ah Quin. His grave along with about 20 other Chinese bought to Albany between 1850 and 1900 is identifiable at the Albany Cemetery.

Two brothers, Ah Kit and Ah Loo, who were employed at Strawberry Hill Farm in 1890, married Noongar women. The Loo family prospered and has descendants living in Albany and around the Great Southern. The Ah Kit's had only one son, who became a well known footballer during the 1920's. At a time when being Aboriginal and playing football still required one to jump a few hurdles, most Albany football clubs seem to have maintained a quiet integrity in their treatment and respect for Noongar players.

His father, Ah Kit senior, was the gardener at the Hassell town house, Hillside, in Albany. Ethel White(nee Hassell), recalled him keeping the chooks in three separate groups with a stock whip. As a child she was fascinated by the fact that he could tell which chook belonged in which flock.

In the 1890's the Chinese became a significant economic force in Albany establishing market gardens at Gledhow and on the Kalgan River to supply vegetables for the booming goldfields at Kalgoorlie.

Mr Chip, as he was known to locals, was one such. In those days there was no bridge across the lower Kalgan River where he maintained several gardens. So he had a "tiny" coracle which he would row across the river. One fine day the coracle was loaded with some chickens and several bottles of whisky along with Mr Chip when it capsized in the river. Fortunately, their were other's about, waiting for the ferry pontoon perhaps, and their heroics were evenly divided between assisting to keep Mr Chip's chickens afloat and trying to find where the bottles had sunk. The chickens survived but the bottles, so it is said, were never found.
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