Friday, September 18, 2009

Chinese reflect on colonial roots

Chinese reflect on colonial roots
4:00AM Friday Sep 18, 2009
By Bernard Orsman
David Wong (left) with Barry Wah Lee, whose grandfather opened a store around 1900. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Most Aucklanders associate the Wah Lee general store in Hobson St with fireworks for Guy Fawkes. What they probably don't realise is that the store is owned by one of the four founding Chinese families in Auckland.

Barry Wah Lee's grandfather opened the store in about 1900 at the old Chinatown in Grey's Ave, or Grey St as it was then known.

The area became home to boarding houses, opium dens and gambling houses.

Auckland's first and only Chinatown was replaced by multi-storey flats and later the Auckland City Council Civic Building, and Wah Lee's moved to Hobson St in 1966.

The history of the Chinese community in colonial Auckland is the subject of a talk tomorrow by a member of the Chinese community, David Wong, as part of the Auckland Heritage Festival.

The festival, the sixth held by the Auckland City Council, starts tonight with a display of historical images projected on to Shed 10 at Queens Wharf.

There will be a public viewing from behind the "Red Gates" on Quay St from 6.30pm.

The theme of this year's festival is living heritage and features more than 100 diverse and interactive events. They include an Auckland Heritage pub quiz night, cruises on the historic William C Daldy steam tug and a concert celebrating the 40th anniversary of the liberation by university students of Albert Park in 1969.

Mr Wong said the first Chinese arrived in Auckland from the Otago goldfields in the 1860s. Among them was Thomas Quoi who had a stall in the city markets behind where the Civic Theatre was later built.

Early Chinese settlers turned their hand to market gardening, among them Mr Wong's great-grandfather who named his area at Carlaw Park "the garden of prosperity".

The Chinese also opened laundry and fruit shops.

Mr Wong said the Chinese population throughout New Zealand in 1900 was about 3000, of which there were only eight or 10 women. Auckland's Chinese population was between 112 and 120.

Today, there are more than 130,000 Chinese in Auckland, of which about 25,000 were born in New Zealand.

Mr Wong will be giving two talks at the Auckland Art Gallery tomorrow - at 1pm in English and 3pm in Mandarin. Bookings can be made on 307-7700.

For more details on the festival, which runs until October 4, go to:

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