25 Aug 21 Feb 2018
Occasionally you bump into something awesomely interesting in surprising places. I like to visit the Chinese Museum when in Melbourne. On a recent visit I encountered the work of Zhou Xiaoping there and was wowed by the inspiring story of a Chinese artist working with Australian Indigenous artists in the western deserts. The artists influenced each other and the resulting works were new and inspiring. There was a video that tracked the development of the relationship through to an exhibition in the major national gallery in Beijing. The web page is below.
As a member of the invading peoples since 1788 the story of the arrivals and their background and experience always stirs something in my heart. The pain we have inflicted and continue to inflict on the indigenous people should continue to unsettle us. The challenge of forming a nation of people from many sources will continue. However the story of migrants and migration is something we should tell each other and we should celebrate because all of us non indigenous people are part of that heritage.
Today I visited the Chinese Museum at 22 Cohen Place Melbourne. It is in an old, small, multistory building in what looks like an alley close to the Exhibition and Lonsdale Sts intersection. It sets out to tell the story of Chinese in Australia. What a truly marvelous story it is to tell! The museum opens on the basement level with the story of first arrival in 1803 and the mass arrivals in the gold rush period. Apparently they never went over 3.3% of the population but their presence led to reaction by the mainly Anglo majority in persecution and legislation.
The transition up a ramp follows the path of the world’s largest processional dragon (with a head that takes 8 people to carry it) into a gallery of processional cultural artifacts. The displays and the artifacts truly represented the excitement of the Chinese processions. Two floors up there is a richly textual and beautifully pictured set of panes titled Bridge of Memories.
Bridge of Memories represents the process and experience of people of Chinese ethnicity who now live in Australia. The truly wonderful aspect of this is the stories of Chinese bridge states where people who live in the many diaspora communities around Asia who are now here in Australia. Touching stories embedded in diverse historical contexts of Chinese from Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and E Timor who now call Australia home. I had no idea at the massive numbers of ethnic Chinese who are resident in Indonesia. I found these stories deeply moving in their diversity and their complex range. I am sad the stories were not available in print.
The top floor is a more traditional artifact museum with displays covering religion, cultural life, family relationships and times of adjustment and engagement with a new and different society. The beauty and intelligence of the approaches are truly attractive. I have attached a photo of a pottery earthquake detecting device that enabled the emperor to deliver relief to communities affected by big earthquakes.
In this era of a high level of negativity towards migration I believe this and other museums that tell the story of our immigration rich past are very important parts of our society. I feel grateful to all those who have contributed this wonderful place