No learning from fears, mistakes

Colourful: The Joss House in Finn Street will be hosting a festival of lanterns tomorrow to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
Colourful: The Joss House in Finn Street will be hosting a festival of lanterns tomorrow to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Down The Mall is always full of admiration for journalists who throw themselves into the battle against what we now know as ‘fake news’.

We’ve been doing it for generations, and DTM has discovered one shining example back in the very earliest days of Gold Rush Bendigo.

Bendigo’s beloved Joss House in Finn Street – one of the few remaining in Australia – is planning its 150th anniversary next year and will hold the Festival of Lanterns tomorrow for the Chinese New Year.

It is a celebrated asset of our city, and still a genuine place of worship for many.

But it wasn’t always that way.

We’ve been doing some backgrounding and it wasn’t hard to find newspaper references through the 1850s, 60s and even into the 20th century which, well, were less than favourable.

There were stories of power struggles, fights, at least one death, fires and general culturally-based suspicion about it.

Some of it sounded remarkably similar to recent hot-tempered views about a mosque for Bendigo.

“It’ll never last!” one letter writer thundered.

The Chinese would make their stash on the goldfields and then nick off back home. We wonder how he’d feel knowing it was about to celebrate its sesquicentary?

So, in an effort to quell the upset, a journalist from the Bendigo Mercury mounted a personal investigation into the Joss House, and the 1000-strong Chinese tent village which had grown up in the area.

He was very thorough.

Descriptions of his findings would indicate he spent some days there before declaring it a jolly fine part of the goldfields, full of smiling, courteous people, fabulous organisation and cleanliness, amazingly decorated homes – even if they were canvas roofed – well-stocked and maintained stores and vigorous hospitality.

His long report was published in the Mercury and the Melbourne Age.

The Mercury’s investigator gushed with praise about the standard of Chinese wines, the orderly running of welcoming opium houses, and the charm of the gambling houses.

All of which he sampled enthusiastically.


Just to give you some idea that we keep having the same arguments generation after generation, DTM offers you some comments from an 1859 letter to the editor of the Mount Alexander Mail, who signed himself “Iconoclast”.

“Sir, I am told by a respectable Chinese, who speaks English, that his countrymen intend to erect, both here and in Bendigo a Joss-house of much larger proportions than the one now built …”

After some easing into it, “Iconoclast” then really lets rip: “My informant is a Christian and views with deep regret the increase of heathen temples in this country … idolatrous practices …  pagan, heathen Asiatics etc etc etc.”