Inside the Collection

A report from Powerhouse Museum Movable Heritage Fellow for 2013 – Claire McMullen, Wagga Wagga.

Photograph of Charlie Wong Hing at Clear Springs
Charlie Wong Hing at Clear Springs. Image courtesy Museum of the Riverina

One needs only to spend a few hours in Wagga Wagga to feel the real impact multiculturalism has had on the city. It is evident though its diversity in everything from restaurants to public parks, from a stroll down the main street, – to looking at the varied streetscape and at the people who inhabit the ever-growing city. Wagga has embraced cultural difference and has a long history with migrant resettlement. However, this has not always been the case.

From earlier research conducted into the impact of the Chinese in the Riverina and Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area I was drawn to the the account of Charlie Wong Hing, a Chinese man who found his way to Wagga in the early 1900’s. Charlie became involved in market gardening and selling produce, which is how he met Eric Roberts, with whom he developed a friendship that spanned several decades. The workings of the friendship, its growing strength and lasting legacy is one of the major foundations of my project and will all be discussed further in my final report.

It is because of this long, colourful and interdependent history that I decided to conduct my fellowship research on The Charlie Wong Hing Collection, donated in 2012 by Wendy Hucker, Eric Robert’s daughter. The collection consists of approximately 114 documents including letters, photographs and legal documents and is in the Museum of the Riverina, Wagga Wagga. The letters are all from Charlie’s son, Guanrang, in China, and are written to Charlie and Wendy Hucker.

The initial task of my fellowship has been getting the letters translated from Cantonese into English. The letters have revealed and illuminated the ongoing relationship Charlie’s son and his own two sons had with the Hucker family and their desire to come to Australia, which sadly never came to fruition.

After having the bulk of the letters translated, the next step is conduct an oral history with Wendy Hucker regarding the content of the letters the story of Charlie, because as with any language barrier and the social and cultural restraints of the time, there was ambiguity in what was left unsaid or not interpreted.

Photograph of Charlie Wong Hing
Charlie Wong Hing. Image courtesy Museum of the Riverina

I will also conduct more oral history interviews including ones with Yvonne Braid, and Frank Rynehart, locals who are connected with the Wong Hing story and have memories of Charlie and the Roberts family.

I will begin evaluating the significance of the collection, its importance to the historical narrative of Wagga Wagga, and the connections it makes with the larger story of Chinese immigration of Australia. My findings will be in the form of a significance statement, using the letters and oral recordings as the foundations of my assessment.

I believe that the story of Charlie, told in conjunction with the letters from his sons will give not only people in Wagga a better understanding of their own local history, but a better understanding of the larger historical narrative at play, and Wagga’s part in that story. The significance of Charlie Wong Hing and his family’s story will resonate with other communities in Australia as it speaks of cultural diversity, immigration, friendship, separation and inclusion and the dream of a better life.

Each year the Powerhouse Museum’s Regional Services Program offers two Movable Heritage Fellowship to students residing in New South Wales enrolled at any University campus. Movable Heritage refers to any natural or manufactured object of heritage significance. The successful applicants undertake research projects as part of the Fellowship on one or more objects in a community museum, historical society or other collecting institution. They are awarded $5,000 and also spend one week at the Powerhouse Museum receiving expert guidance by a supervising member of staff.

This report is written by one of the 2013 Movable Heritage Fellowship recipients, Claire McMullen. The other 2013 Movable Heritage Fellowship recipient was Leanne Wicks.

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