One of the most astounding stories of Australian immigration is told right here in Melbourne, at the Chinese Museum. In the mid-1800s, during the Gold Rush period, hundreds of Chinese people walked over 1000 kilometres through mountains and deserts from South Australia to the Victorian gold fields. A 10 pound tax was placed on new immigrants entering Victoria, so the only way to get around this was to board a boat from Shanghai, sail for two months, arrive in Adelaide and make the long trek to Victoria’s border. “People lost their lives, but locals also helped them along the way,” says the Museum’s communications coordinator Charlene Wu.
In the ‘Finding Gold’ exhibition at the Chinese Museum you can enter the bowels of a cargo ship, which rocks side-to-side as the simulated ocean swells underneath. The nausea-inducing experience isn’t one you could endure for five minutes, let alone two months. Wu told Time Out that the aim of the museum is to “preserve the culture and history of Chinese people in Australia”. The Chinese Museum is a reminder that people from the far reaches of the world have risked their lives to be here, and generations after their settlement Melbourne is the exciting multicultural city we know and love.
A highlight of the museum is the largest processional dragon in the world, which coils around the walls of the Dragon Gallery. “It requires 63 people to carry it through the streets” during Chinese New Year celebrations, Wu explains. Up close you can see the intricate handspan-sized scales that make up the dragon – each comprising of six different pieces of fabric, gold piping, mirrors, and rabbit fur. After spending quality time with the dragon check out The Gallery of Chinese Australians which chronicles Australia’s 200-year Chinese history.
Since the beginning of colonial settlement, we’ve seen Australia grow rich with the influence of Chinese culture: delicious food, spellbinding architecture, beautiful art and sparkly fireworks. The Chinese Museum looks at the influence of Melbourne’s Chinese heritage and celebrates the Lunar New Year – which continues for 38 days with traditional events to bring happiness, prosperity and peace. Pay a visit to the museum followed by a piping hot bowl of chicken congee at David’s and marvel at the neon-lit Chinese arches – which were handmade in China, and reassembled in Melbourne under the supervision of Chinese craftworkers.