The NSW gold rush and Chinese heritage are interwoven in Young.
By the mid-19th century, the goldfields in NSW were beginning to dry up, with finds of the precious metal becoming harder and harder to make. But in 1860, a golden discovery propelled Young into the spotlight. Lambing Flat, as it was then known, became a beacon for miners and prospectors everywhere, including many Chinese people who arrived in NSW to seek their fortune.
RIOTS AND UNREST
With goldmines elsewhere failing, the new field quickly became a melting pot of the good, the bad and the ugly and just as rapidly, resentment grew towards the well-organised Chinese miners. Over a six-month period, the Chinese were subjected to violent threats from mobs that gathered to expel them from their claims.
Events reached their tipping point on 30 June, 1861, when some 3000 Europeans attacked the two main Chinese camps, at Blackguard Gully and Back Creek.
The violence of these riots resulted in government action – they responded to community concerns by passing the Chinese Immigration Regulation and Restriction Act. Although this was repealed when the gold rush was considered over, further restrictive immigration laws were passed in 1881 and 1887.
The march of the Europeans through the town on 30 June, 1861, and the later reading of the Riot Act (the first official reading of the act in NSW) were of immense significance to Young’s history.
‘MIGHT VS RIGHT’
When the famous goldfield artist Samuel Thomas Gill sketched the riots at Lambing Flat in 1861, he chose to caption his image ‘Might vs Right’. By doing this, Gill meant to capture the sense that these riots were more than just another event in an unfolding social drama. In fact, they were the culmination of racial tension and hatred across the goldfields that had been building for years.
Gill saw that this was not just a territorial dispute over gold-bearing ground but a conflict with a major racial dimension that divided not only goldfields communities but people in towns and cities far removed from the dispute. He used his painting to make a personal statement of the injustice underpinning the events that culminated in the Lambing Flat riots.
His notions and sympathy were shared by a number of people on and off the goldfield – landowner James Roberts and his wife Elizabeth in particular are remembered for their efforts to protect Chinese miners, providing food and shelter to 1276 terrified Chinese after the 1861 riots.
A CHINESE LEGACY
These days, the Chinese community in Young is celebrated as having helped to shape the region. While many returned to China, there were a significant number who decided to stay in Australia – Ah Geang, Quey, Ah Sing and Sing Chai are names embedded in history as the first freehold title-holders of land within the Town of Young and surrounding areas.
Young now holds the annual Lambing Flat Chinese Festival and is also home to the beautiful Chinese Tribute Gardens, both of which celebrate the important contributions made by the Chinese to the development of Young and Australia.
Visitors today can visit the site of the Lambing Flat riots and the Lambing Flat Folk Museum along the Gold Trails of Young and Harden to learn about the injustices suffered by those who could not defend themselves, as well as the people who stood up to protect the victims.