A place of serenity on the outskirts of Young, these pretty gardens serve both as a memorial for the town’s turbulent Chinese history and a celebration of a unique relationship with a faraway country .
There was no-one in sight when we pulled into the Chinese Tribute Gardens, 5km from the town of Young. All was still and quiet – it was early morning, a weekday in the middle of winter – with the only noise coming from waterbirds that splashed and quacked as they waddled towards us at Chinaman’s Dam, presumably optimistic for a few pieces of bread.
With lush green grass rolling up to the dam and bushland reaching its edges on the far shore, it would be the perfect place for a Sunday lunch gathering – there are even picnic tables, barbecues and toilet facilities. But we had the place all to ourselves; the perfect way to appreciate the peacefulness this site was created to represent.
But it wasn’t always a peaceful relationship between the people of Young and the Chinese migrants who came here in search of gold.
On the contrary, one of the worst race riots in Australian history happened in Young – then called Lambing Flat. In 1861, an angry mob of up to 3000 Australian workers attacked the Chinese camps, rallying around a flag that declared: “Roll Up – No Chinese”, violently destroying property and driving the Chinese out of their camps.
The Chinese were hard workers, labouring for long hours in effective teams, and as a result they were successful on the gold fields. They were accustomed both to hard work and the extremely basic living conditions of the Lambing Flat camps. The Australian and European workers resented their success; racial tension brewed and violence ensued.
The dam was built in the 1860s by German brothers Herman and John Tiedemann as a water supply for their gold pursuits. In the 1870s they sold the area to a Chinese group who then worked on the site, and it soon became known as Chinaman’s Dam. In 1955 the dam became a public recreation reserve, with a kiosk and facilities constructed in the 1970s, during which time the dam became a popular swimming spot.
In 1992 the Young Rotary Club commenced a project to improve and increase the facilities at the dam, and to establish the Chinese Gardens at the site. The local community assisted in the project; businesses helped out where they could and the National Cherry Festival donated $15,000. The project also received $75,000 federal funding. In 1996 the Rotary handed the site over to the Young Shire Council, which, with some encouragement from Mayor Tony Hewson, formally dedicated the Chinese Tribute Garden “in recognition of the contribution of the Chinese community to the settlement of Young in the 1860s and the ongoing contribution of the Chinese community to Australia as a nation”.
The national conversation around immigration had intensified at that time – Pauline Hanson had just become an MP – and this positive gesture of inclusion and celebration of multiculturalism resonated in the national media, putting the Chinese Tribute Gardens on the map.
The gardens themselves are beautiful. You enter via a bridge over the original dam, where two almighty lion statues stand guard – a gift from Taronga Zoo back in 1992 and formerly part of its panda exhibit. Features of the garden include the Pool of Tranquillity, which lives up to its name, a bronze galloping horse statue, a Peace and Prosperity tree that honours Young’s Chinese sister city, Lanzhou, and an array of beautiful Chinese and Australian plants and flowers.
As we wandered the forested paths, we enjoyed the sounds of trickling water and birds – and nothing else. It’s a far cry from the chaos, poverty and violence of the Lambing Flat gold-rush days, but a wonderful space to remember them all the same.
The Chinese Tribute Gardens are located at 70 Pitstone Rd, Young, NSW. Click here for more information.