Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pioneering spirit lives

PROUD DESCENDANTS: Grandsons of early Chinese immigrant Thomas Wong Doo, from left: Selwyn Wong Doo, Thomas Wong Doo III, and Dennis Doo.
Thomas Wong Doo
MADE A DIFFERENCE: Thomas Wong Doo helped a number of Chinese into New Zealand in the early 1900s.

The descendants of a 19th century immigrant have flocked to the North Shore 125 years after his arrival.

Up to 100 descendants of Thomas Wong Doo, some from as far as New York, celebrated their Kiwi and Chinese heritage with a reunion lunch at New Dragon World Restaurant in Birkenhead.

Thomas Wong Doo joined his brothers in the "New Gold Mountain" of New Zealand in 1884 when he was about 15.

"He came over in virtually his shirt and pants and took over the market garden," grandson Thomas Wong Doo III says.

Mr Wong Doo eventually returned to China and married, later bringing his wife Unui to New Zealand where she was one of the first female Chinese immigrants.

He loaned others £100 for the poll tax Chinese immigrants had to pay – the equivalent of a year’s wages, his grandson says.

Mr Wong Doo even sponsored a large group of people to migrate in the lead up to the closing date for Asian immigration in the early 1900s.

"He helped the Chinese when they came in, fed them, housed them, helped them look for jobs. The Chinese live in clans. Thomas looked after the Wong clan."

Even now family members still offer their help to new immigrants through the Kwong Cheu Club which Mr Wong Doo founded in 1923.

"To further the dynasty we’ve got to do good in this world, charity, not just looking after ourselves. It’s good for the whole family."

After making their fortunes and the family were established, the couple returned to China but were forced to come back after the Japanese invasion, Mr Wong Doo III says.

Their Chinese properties and land was lost in the Japanese invasion, civil war, and take over by communism in 1949.

The market gardens where Mr Wong Doo worked in Grey Lynn were named Chinaman’s Hill after him.

His son Norman Wong Doo went on to be Auckland Grammar School’s first Chinese student during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Norman’s son, North Shore resident Dennis Doo, says.

"He used to tell me he had his shirt ripped off his back because of racial discrimination."

Mr Wong Doo III says such behaviour was not uncommon.

"When you’re an immigrant in any country you’ve got to prove yourself, you’ve got to put up with all these things. This is what the Doo family have done – work hard, get integrated into society, get involved with charities."

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