Celebrating Chinese History in the Cairns Region

Chinese New Year took place on 8th February this year, so those of you born in 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992 and 2004, this is considered to be an auspicious year for you!

Cairns actually has quite a significant Chinese history. Just after the Palmer Gold Rush, in 1870 Chinese migration and settlement began in Cairns and by 1886, Chinese migrants made up over 30% of the total Cairns population. These migrants played a major role in the early economic growth of the region, establishing market gardens, and sugar, rice and banana plantations.

Between the 1880’s and 1920’s, Cairns had a distinctive Chinatown precinct in Grafton Street, featuring Chinese shops, merchant stores, herbalists, a school, hospital and two temples. One of the most significant cultural sites during this period was the Cairns Lit Sung Goong Temple in Grafton Street, as it formed the meeting place and focal point of the Chinese community in Cairns. The temple represented the three major spiritual traditions of China: Buddhism,

Taoism and Confucianism. Festivals, community events, lion dancing and large feasts often took place at the temple, and to this day, the Cairns Chinese New Year Street Parade begins from this area.

After the Chinese population started to decline and the younger generation integrated into mainstream life, not interested in temple affairs, the temple fell into disrepair and in the 1960’s it was demolished.

The Cairns and District Chinese Association Inc. (CADCAI) remains the custodian of the Lit Sung Goong Temple’s nationally significant collection of over 240 artefacts. These artefacts are an outstanding example of the material culture of Chinese Australian religious practices, one of the few remaining links to what was a flourishing Chinese community in Cairns a century ago.

The Cairns Museum (currently closed for refurbishment) features a historical Chinese display, while the Cairns Regional Gallery often features Chinese exhibitions. Currently at the Cairns Regional Gallery, local artists Hayley Gillepsie and Yixuan Ruan have collaborated on an exhibition that explores the meaning of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. Year of the Monkey is a family exhibition that encourages visitors of all ages to learn more about Chinese culture and language. In addition to the exhibition, a historical element has been compiled by the Cairns and District Chinese Association Inc. which includes early images and photos of Chinese New Year celebrations in the 19th century. The Year of the Monkey exhibition will be on display until 3rd April 2016.

Hayley Gillespie, Year of the Monkey, 2015 oil on paper 900 x 800mm