Wednesday, 19 April 2006

Chinese market gardens

Above: The back of the Market Garden looking over the Riverine Park wetland towards West Botany Street. Below: Views from West Botany Street.

Chinese market garden, 212 West Botany Street.
Look carefully and you can see the control towers of Sydney airport in the background. Not the very high towers - they are sports ground lights. The towers to the left of the left most tall lights.
[The effect of the airport on Arncliffe will be a future blog].

There are many people of Chinese heritage who have arrived in the area quite recently- since China relaxed the rules about emigration, and since the handback of Hong Kong. But the Chinese in the Arncliffe area have a much longer history. There have been Chinese people in the area since the 1800s.

This garden is one of only three remaining in the inner Sydney area. It is on the State heritage List, where it states that it was first occupied by Sun Kuong-War, Lee How and Sin Hop Sing in 1892. The current owner is the State Government (Department of Planning), but it is farmed by Chinese people.

Amazingly, despite the enormous change in the area, this land has been in continuous use as a market garden for 114 years.

When I visited today there were two people working - one along the rows of vegetables, the other wheeling a barrow. Both wore the conical-shaped hats typical of Chinese farmers.

Market Gardens - a bit of history

After the Gold Rushes of the 1850s, several former miners and newer arrivals from China (though drastically fewer than in the 1850s and 60s) established market gardens - many in the Botany Bay area.

By 1894, the local property directory listed market gardens run by Sam How Long, Yee Mow and Gee Sing in Arncliffe Street (now mainly light industry, car smash repairers, an indoor go-kart place, and most recently, some "luxury" high rise apartment development). Ah Choy and Yok Sing were in Bonar and Illawarra Streets, and at the northern end of Wollongong Road Ah Jack, Sun Sam Long and Mow Sing are listed.

The land that is now Arncliffe Park was a Chinese market garden.

For much of the Interwar years, and especially in the Great Depression, Chinese market gardens were the only source of vegetables for urban Australians.

See here for heritage listing details.

Here some Chinese Australians recount their experiences, including with market gardening.

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