Young Chinese in Cairns post WWII had to navigate between two vastly different worlds – on one side their traditional, exceptionally hard working and strict families and on the other, the liberal, sometimes intolerant but exciting modern Australia.
An exhibition at Cairns Museum shows how this formidable generation of local Chinese-Australians steered between their two worlds, sometimes with difficulty but ultimately with great aplomb and incredible success.
Suzanne Gibson, manager of Cairns Museum, described Two Worlds as a lively retelling of six families’ stories by the children of Chinese immigrants who came of age in Cairns between WWII and the 1960s.
It is also the story of Australia, developing from a monocultural ex-English colony to a confident multicultural country with a character all of its own.
“Often our understanding of the community is based on the early history of Chinatown, but this exhibition explores the lives of the subsequent generations of Chinese-Australians in Cairns.
“This was after the implementation of the White Australia policies when Australia turned its back on Asian migration,” Ms Gibson added.
The photos displayed in the exhibit show self-assured and stylish young people enjoying family and social life in Cairns, from meals and parties to work and sport and recreation.
“They were obedient to their families and worked incredibly hard but also made huge contributions to the commercial and cultural life of Cairns,” Ms Gibson said.
Quite a daunting task in retrospect but the exhibition also shows that despite the discriminatory laws of the time, this generation of young Chinese-Australians not just survived but thrived.
It is both personal and political – from the story of one young Chinese Australian woman falling in love with a non-Chinese young man, to the eventual demise of the White Australia policy and all its limitations.
Two Worlds will be open to the public from January 25, coinciding with Chinese New Year.
It is a collaboration between the museum and Cairns and District Chinese Association (CADCAI).
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MEDIA OPPORTUNITIES FRIDAY, JANUARY 24
1) Suzanne Gibson and Mary Low (CADCAI) are available for any interviews / photographs Friday, January 24 between 10.30am and 12.30pm.
Time: 10am – 12pm
Interviews: Suzanne Gibson / Mary Low
2) The exhibit will be officially launched at 4pm, Friday, January 24 to coincide with Chinese New Year. There is opportunity to interview / meet the Chinese elders of the community as well as museum curator Suzanne Gibson and Mary Low, heritage coordinator of CADCAI. *This will be a large gathering of people and will provide good opportunity for vision and shots to officially kick off the Chinese New Year celebrations.
Time: 4pm – 5pm
Interviews: Chinese Elders / Suzanne Gibson / Mary Low
For media enquiries, images or interviews contact:
P 0417 202 663