Ring the bells that still can ring

I attended an interesting function today in the Chinatown Mall in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. It was the unveiling of a commemorative Chinese bell, dedicated to all Australian military service personnel of Chinese heritage, past and present. The bell is 1.41 meters tall and 0.91 metres in diameter. Weighing in at 1080 kilograms, I think it is reasonable to describe it as a big bell. It is engraved with the English and Chinese words of ‘Loyalty’, ‘Courage’, ‘Sacrifice’, Honour’, ‘Service to the Nation’ and ‘Lest We Forget’.

I think commemorative projects like this are very valuable. As I’ve mentioned before, I think being more aware of our own history is important. The long-standing role of people of Chinese background in Australian history is one of many aspects which is not widely acknowledged. It is probably has some extra importance given that Pauline Hanson has announced that she is again going to run for the Senate in Queensland – something I’m more conscious of that most, given that my Senate seat is the one that she would win. Hanson came to national prominence in her first speech to Parliament when she said that Australia “was in danger of being swamped by Asians.”

In the context of such comments, it is of particular importance to note the long and varied roles people of Chinese heritage have played in Australia. They have not only been part of the settlement of Brisbane right from the earliest days, but in areas further north, they comprised significant proportions of the community. Indeed, Chinese and other people from south-east Asia had continuing cultural and economic contact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in northern Australia well before the British arrived here.

Billy SingThis article from the SMH five years ago about a similar memorial planned for Sydney mentions a figure of around 400 Australian military veterans of Chinese descent, including Billy Sing, recognised as one the top Australian snipers at Gallipoli. You can read more about Billy Sing if you click on this link. I was interested to read it mentions the address of the boarding house in Brisbane’s West End where he died in 1943 – just a few blocks from where I once lived.

The ceremony today also made special mention of the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles – the only Australian army militia unit raised, mobilised, fought and disbanded overseas in the Territory of New Guinea during World War II – as a unit, it never set foot on the Australian mainland. Click here to read more on the history on the NGVR.

The unit was centred in Rabaul, which like many other places to the north of Australia, had people of Chinese heritage living there. According to this site, “on the formation of the NGVR in Sep 1939, the Chinese Community of New Guinea were very keen to play a part in it. There was no provision for their enrolment with the Unit. The Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) Maj Norman Bennington WATCH, suggested they form an Auxiliary Stretcher Bearer Unit which could be unofficially attached to NGVR. This was organised early in 1940 under the guidance of the RMO and his most efficient medical WO2 Bob Kennedy MSM. It was a most capable and efficient Unit of about 40 young Chinese Residents of Rabaul.”

This photo is from the Australian War Memorial archives, from July 1942.
(Australian War Memorial)
It shows Chinese women and children evacuated from Lae (New Guinea), standing on the deck of the ship that carried them to safety. “The Chinese played a vital role in the pre-war economy of New Guinea, dominating the small businesses of its townships (in so far as they existed). While many escaped, and some Chinese men fought alongside NGVR units in the hills, other Chinese stayed behind and were interned by the Japanese.”

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27 Comments

  1. Andrew Bartlett:
    Excellent post. Long-overdue recognition of finer service.

    Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, it was ordinary Chinese in Australia who warned white Autralians around them of the coming inferno by confirming the horrific reports of what was happening under IMPERIAL Japanese rule in China. Reports that were poo-hooed by those in positions of influence here right up until the Imperial Japanese sank two of Britain’s mightiest warships.

    Megan:
    Even more amazing was that Billy Sing’s mother was English and his father Chinese …. which sort of spoils the usual unchallenged Aussie-bashing myth that all Australians of that time were nothing but a mob of rabid racists. There was indeed racism but most of it was economic and it was almost entirely top-down racism. Among working-class Australians there was a lot more tolerance than is admitted by today’s academics and commentators …. religion, proficiency in English and a willingness to work were more important than “race” alone.

  2. Good historical brief.The sadness of todays society how individuals like Pauline Hanson get a lot of publicity,and for what? Now that she has realised by being in prison herself their problems,and some not wise around Inverell like to portray her as a patriot,I cannot see anything in all that time of huge amounts of publicity that met that word at all.If they were commercialised words she would have a intellectual property right case against her, and, up her nose. Here in N.S.W. Rev.Fred is playing up again.THESE type of people are embittered by something that remains outside of my experiences. I may have had a few problems with a uncle who fought the Japanese in China,but,his ethnicity isnt what annoyed me about him.Australians may have to ask all media organisation to only report Pauline if she pays for it,otherwise, a special Bill of parliament should be introduced and media organisations fined,for letting her get away with it again.I have more skills than her,have lived on a lower income than her,and my bitch about her is ,without being expressed often, more common,and more patriotic than the underpants with the red hair and her supporters who should simply know better.

  3. Pauline Hanson’s comments about Australia being swamped by Asians echoed Professor Geoffrey Blainey’s 1984 speech, in which he stated: “Rarely in the history of the modern world has a nation given such preference to a tiny ethnic minority of its population as the Australian Government has done in the past few years, making that minority the favoured majority in its immigration policy.” According to Blainey: “In the past 30 years the government of Australia has moved from the extreme of wanting a white Australia to the extreme of saying that we will have an Asian Australia and that the quicker we move towards it the better.”

    Considering the majority of new immigrants to Australia are being sourced from Asian countries, the demographic reality is that Australia has indeed been swamped by Asians since the 1970s. Irrespective of whether this is part of some systematic grand plan to gradually ‘Asianise’ Australia, my prime concern is that this large influx of people from non-Western cultural backgrounds, in combination with the divisive ideology of multiculturalism, is causing the ethnic Balkanisation and cultural de-Westernisation of Australia. Unlike Mr. Bartlett, I actually value Australia’s Western culture and institutions. I believe our overwhelmingly European heritage is worthy of consideration.

    Perhaps it is high time we replaced cultural cringers like the minority-centric Mr. Bartlett with politicians more attune to the concerns of mainstream Australia.

  4. Ralph

    The majority of new immigrants are coming from New Zealand and Great Britian. The below source was copied from: http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/02key.htm#c

    July 2004 to June 2005 settler arrivals, by country of birth

    United Kingdom 18200 14.8%
    New Zealand 17300 14.1%
    China(excludes SARs and Taiwan Province)
    11100 9.0%
    India 9400 7.6%
    Sudan 5700 4.6%
    South Africa 4600 3.7%
    Philippines 4200 3.4%
    Singapore 3000 2.5%
    Malaysia 2900 2.4%
    Sri Lanka 2300 1.9%.

  5. Firstly, those figures above are out of date.

    Secondly, the United Kingdom and New Zealand are the only Western countries on that list. I’d like to know how Britons (14.8%) and New Zealanders (14.1%) constitute a “majority”, as opposed to the 35.1% who come from the non-Western countries on that list.

    According to an article by The Age’s Tim Colebatch from last month:

    “Almost half of Australia’s new settlers last year came from Asia and the Middle East. The number of Asian migrants jumped by more than 5000 to 54,200, with another 10,730 coming from the Middle East and North Africa.”

    http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/india-main-source-of-new-settlers/2007/02/06/1170524094667.html

    If you break down the settler arrivals by region of origin, immigrants from Asia constitute the largest group.

  6. Ralph

    The South Africans that are included in those statistics are white. A large majority of them come over on a business visa. The rest are skilled.

    Point taken on accumulating the other ‘Asian’ countries. But they are Western representative of their respective countries Ralph. More Western than you and I will ever be. Their skin may be a different colour, but their values are Western. And you and I don’t know what Western means unless you have had the opportunity to mix with the global elite.

    You might be heartened to hear that Singaporeans are quite capable of leaving Pauline Hanson dead in the racist stakes.

  7. People can have concerns about multi-culturalism and its effects on a society without necessarily being racist.

    I think Ralph raises some excellent points.

    In the last 15 years, more Asians have come here than any other race of people.

    In my area, we have had a lot of people coming from Sudan (very black Africans) and from England in recent times. They mostly seem like very well-to-do people.

    Three white families from South Africa moved into our street between 1985 and 1990. They were mostly English and German, with the same general values and skills that we have.

    It has been proven by experiences in other countries that the more multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-racial and multi-religious a nation becomes, the greater the chance of civil unrest.

    A person who expresses concern about the demise of the Western society is a person in touch with the reality he sees around him.

  8. ‘It has been proven by experiences in other countries that the more multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-racial and multi-religious a nation becomes, the greater the chance of civil unrest’

    Can you give examples Coral, based on research that indicated the socio-economic status of the varying cultural populations, and who is wielding the power?

  9. It is ironic that only committed ‘anti-racism’ proponents & ‘multi-kulti’ supporters would even think to single out or mention Billy by race. If race isn’t an issue, why is everyone talking about it here?

    Billy Sing was a gifted shooter who accounted for many a Turk, & by accounts was a good bloke too. That’s got nothing to do with his race though.

    Not unless, I guess, one wishes to dog-whistle up some race-based support against a perceived political threat at the ballot box.

    And if Phillip Travers is referring to Fred’s call for a moratorium on islamic immigration, maybe he should carve ‘islam is not a race’ into the side of the kitchen door, & then forcefully slam his head into three times. It might sink in that way…

  10. Gabor:

    Since we are living in a democracy, Fred can call for a moratorium on anything he likes, without Phil being blamed for any of it.

    I’m sure both Phil and Fred are both aware that Islam is not a race without anyone wanting to inflict damage on either of their heads.

    Donna:

    You will need to find the statistics you require yourself, if you wish to evaluate socio-economic status or power bases independent of, or codependent with, civil unrest.

  11. I’m not aware of any studies which demonstrate, let alone “prove” that “the more multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-racial and multi-religious a nation becomes, the greater the chance of civil unrest.”

    Canada and Australia are two of the most mutlicultural, multi ethnic nations on earth and seem to have done better than most in avoiding serious civil unrest. Israel may be cited to demonstrate the alternative, as it has one of the highest proportions of overseas born residents of any country, but I think it has some fairly unique circumstances, which I won’t go into here lest the thread divert into Middle East politics.

    Gabor: The post was about Australians of Chinese heritage who have served in the armed forces. It would be the height of absurdity not to mention someone like Billy Sing in that context, just so as not to offend the new political correctness which seeks to ignore the reality of Australia’s enormous cultural diversity.

    Ralph’s comment (#4) is typical of the smearing that is done under this new version of political correctness – apparently the simple action of acknowledging the unadorned fact that people with Chinese heritage have had made a long and positive contribution to Australia means that I don’t “value Australia’s Western culture and institutions” and am a “cultural cringer”! Go figure?

    I would have thought ‘cultural cringe’ is more aptly applied to those who refuse to acknowledge large parts of Australian society and culture – such as those which have been influenced by people of non-Anglo origin – and only want to value one part of the whole.

  12. As one of this blog’s two resident pedants, I take great pleasure in reminding everyone that the term ‘cultural cringe’ refers to those who believe that Australian cultural output is – by definition – inferior to that of Western Europe. From memory, it dates back to the Fifties and the perceived necessity for bright young Australians to make their mark in the UK.

    At best, Ralph can be said to be using the term in a metaphoric sense. At worst, its just another instance of a RWDB redefining the English language in an attempt to score a trivial point.

    BTW I’m a big fan of Western culture – my heart goes a pitter-patter at the mere mention of Calvino, Kazantzakis, Shostakovich, Euler and Tatiana Nikolayeva – but I’m also enthralled by what the rest of the world has been up to these last few thousand years.

  13. Andrew, thank you for a reply. Let me make it unequivocally clear than I am not denigrating Billy Sing or his contributions to this country. Rather, my comments were in response to your mention of Pauline Hanson and her views on Asian immigration. Therefore, please don’t feign shocked indignation that I decided to comment on the issue.

    I wholeheartedly agree that we should be more aware of our own history. You may be correct in asserting that the “long-standing role of people of Chinese background in Australian history is one of many aspects which is not widely acknowledged.” However, that could be applied to a number of people from various ethnic backgrounds. For example, the early contribution and subsequent wartime persecution of German Australians is largely overlooked by modern Australian historians. In fact, I’d even argue that so is the legacy of the post-war “Ten Pound Poms”.

  14. Andrew,

    we definitely wouldn’t want you soaring up into the heights of absurdity… for any reason.

    I’d say your post ostensibly delivers some information about Chinese, ethnic Chinese & part Chinese people who whether Australian citizens or not served in our Army or alongside us, against a common enemy – yet there is obviously a subtext. I am proud of Australian history & proud of the men who served Australia, I do not like seeing it unnecessarily cheapeneded for political purposes.

    I’m happy the Chinese community in Brisbane dedicated a bell. I would imagine they did it because they are proud of that contribution, not because they wish to distinguish themselves by the primary virtue of race. That is the point… wherever the Chinese are they certainly don’t have to fall back on that nor are they so lacking in confidence that they must.

    I’m early 40’s, that’s not that old; any Australian history I picked up along the way & especially as a kid – school, spoken, written, hand-me-down etc commonly had this stuff you’re dusting off as some new fangled object d’art. It’s common knowledge. In fact, if it was suppressed at all – that came after with the introduction of multi-kulti & the pc subjugation & burying of real Australian history, from pioneer days up till present.

    Now, you’ve reminded the Chinese (and everyone else) of the important fact that they should vote for you because of their racial characteristics, as the other candidate is a racist. If you’d just stuck to the historical fact I feel it could’ve been an ok read.

  15. I see – so people such as Ms Hanson, a candidate at this election, openly calls for reduced migration from Asia, but I’m not supposed to mention that, or to highlight positive contributions that one group of people with Asian heritage have made to Australia! Sounds like “pc subjugation” to me.

  16. You can mention whatever you like, whenever you like, Mr Bartlett. As Ms Hanson also can. That in itself is one of the virtues of our society. Listeners likewise have the prerogative to realise their own opinion based upon the substance of what is said.

    Please do not infer I object either to the mention or the essence itself of any Australian community’s success. Regardless of race. That is false.

    Rather, I do object on some levels to someone using the race of one of those communities to make a personal appeal for support/votes.

    As far as I personally am concerned, running a race-based appeal, in the name of your oponent & attempting to capitalise on it yourself… is still using a race-based appeal.

    That said, you are as entitled as Ms Hanson to decide on which basis you will appeal to the community & which denominator you shall use to achieve it.

    Or to put it another way – & I don’t mind whether you print this paragraph or not – IF you represented a wine-growing area of Australia & your opposing number visited industry functions trumpeting the virtues & successes of honestly-bought wine, you might reasonably infer their campaign of highlighting the positive was in fact a negative campaign carried out in the absence of real policy.

  17. Everyone:
    I am sorry to see that such a positive post, one about the valuable contribution made by those of Chinese descent and heritage to the defence of Australia, descend into the usual squabble over race and immigration.

    It is heartening to see that, in contributing money for this memorial bell, more wealthy and recent immigrants …. especially those from the former Japanese Imperial colony of Taiwan, from the former Japanese Imperial puppet state of Manshukoku, from the former collaborator Wang Jingwei’s northern China and from Hong Kong …. have done much to restore native-born patriotic Australians of Chinese descent and heritage to the position they so richly deserved. Let’s hope that this has put an end forever to any ignorant and careless scorn some of them may have had towards the “A.B.C.s” and “bananas”, fair dinkum Aussies who put their lives right on the line defending the country of their birth or adoption.

    b.t.w. You might find that quite a few descendents of the N.G.V.R. soldiers are now living in Brisbane.

  18. Is there a link available to Pauline Hanson’s speech about reducing immigration from Asia?

    I’d like to evaluate her reasoning against the claim of racism.

  19. As the official photographer for QLD Chinese Forum at the Launch, I was overwhelmed by the pride and enthusiasm demonostrated by the participants, esp the veterans.

    Australia has contributed into the peace and defence of the Pacific region more than what the mainstream contemporary history has credited for.
    One example is the contribution made by Chinese descandants living in the Pacific islands.
    A visit to 75 Ultimo, Sydney will show you all the evidence: Chinese lads joined anti-Japanese war, their loved ones are sowing blankets and shirts to be sent to the island nations, the business raised funds regularly to purchase medicines to save the injury soldiers and kept the Japanese at bay, etc.
    The bell is a good acknowledgement and testimony.

  20. Stephen Lin:
    Good one!

    One vignette I always remember is the response by an elderly gentleman of Chinese descent to a pompous fool’s remarks about patriotism …. “Fair go, sport! When I was a kid, my old man and I went down to the wharf and gave away oranges to all the Diggers sailing off to fight the Kaiser – and that was before you were even born!” ….. and there was no reply.:-)

    Ralph:
    Shame is the reason that it will be another generation before any specific memorial is unveiled honouring the service and the sacrifices of Australians of German heritage. Shame that while some Australian soldiers were fighting overseas, their families back in Australia were abused, attacked, forced to change their names, thrown into internment camps, had their farms and homes looted. Shame too that some people enriched themselves by encouraging these racist attacks on innocent ethnic Germans half-a-planet and half-a-century away from their former homeland. The book of Australian History is not yet complete.

  21. Ralph:

    Thanks for the links, but they are from old speeches.

    I think Pauline Hanson made some excellent points which are conducive to maintaining a good set of values and equality for all, but some of her ideas were also pretty tough.

    Her criticism of the UN for not doing their job was very much warranted, and even more valid today.

    I’d like to know what Pauline Hanson is saying in 2007.

  22. Coral

    The speech is a web page on her current web site. You can read the lady’s thoughts as written in recent weeks.

    Why don’t you offer to be a volunteer editor? She could do with your help.

  23. No thanks, Donna. Like a lot of other people, I don’t like Pauline Hanson as a person – never mind her politics.

    I have enough voluntary work to do for much nicer people than Pauline – but I’ll still take a look at her website to see if any of her ideas have changed.

    I think the concept of ONE NATION is good, but how she would put it into practice might be quite different.

    Thanks.

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