Culture Victoria project Many Roads: Chinese on the Goldfields shows both the hardships and successes of mining

The stories of Chinese migrants who moved to Bendigo during the gold rush of the mid-19th century have been collected online so future generations can learn from their experiences of both hardship and prosperity.

Documentary maker Lucinda Horrocks worked for two years on Culture Victoria project Many Roads: Chinese on the Goldfields, which brings together some of Victoria’s foremost experts on the subject.

Among those interviewed in the 11-minute documentary at the centre of the online resource is Anita Jack, general manager of Bendigo’s Golden Dragon Museum. 

The resource reveals not only the size of the Chinese community – as many as one in five people on Victorian goldfields in the 1850s were from the Asian nation – but the discrimination they confronted from the moment of their arrival.

Ships were hit with a £10 poll tax per Chinese passenger, meaning captains began dropping the newcomers at distant ports and forcing them to walk to their destination.

Ill will often spilled into violence too.

But while the treatment their community endured led many to drug abuse and even suicide, Ms Horrocks said it was not all doom and gloom for the Chinese.

Among her favourite finds of her research were details of the Chinese entertainers who performed in the goldfields.  

“In the big communities in the goldfields, there are actually theatres, actors, opera singers and entertainers, big tents in the Chinese precinct,” she said.

ON SHOW: 'Chinese Theatricals in Melbourne', an etching from 1872, shows the goldfields were not always glum.

ON SHOW: 'Chinese Theatricals in Melbourne', an etching from 1872, shows the goldfields were not always glum.

Ms Horrocks hoped the online resource would encourage Victorians to discover parts of their region’s history with which they might not yet be familiar. 

However, the experience of Chinese gold miners contained lessons for Australians today, she said.

“Migration and immigration is still a very hotly contested topic in the 21st century,” she said.

“It's interesting to go back and see what motivated people in the 1850s; there were pull factors like wanting to win gold, wanting material wealth.

“But they were also running from things – in southern China there was poverty, violence, famine.”

Many Roads: Chinese on the Goldfields is available for free at https://cv.vic.gov.au/stories/immigrants-and-emigrants/many-roads-chinese-on-the-goldfields.

LONG WALK: Artist Charles Brees' impression of Chinese goldseekers arriving on foot.

LONG WALK: Artist Charles Brees' impression of Chinese goldseekers arriving on foot.