Tracking the Dragon, Thematic History of the Chinese people in the Rutherglen/Wahgunyah region of the Indigo Shire, Victoria was commissioned by the Rutherglen Historical Society and the Wahgunyah History Group in response to concerns by the Indigo Shire Heritage Advisory Committee (ISHAC) at the need for a comprehensive study of the history of the Chinese people in the Indigo Shire. The Chinese were one of the most significant immigrant groups in Victoria and the Indigo Shire. However, the focus had been almost exclusively on the Beechworth area, and it was considered that there was a need to embrace other areas such as the Rutherglen Wahgunyah region.
Following the Australasian Mining History Association Conference at Beechworth in October 2013 ISHAC met with the author, Dr Barry McGowan, to discuss how such a study could be progressed. The authorís submission to the Indigo Shire was considered by ISHAC and on 10 December 2013 a recommendation was made by ISHAC to the Shire that the study be undertaken. Although the Shire Council agreed that the work not proceed, during April May 2014 the Rutherglen Historical Society, in conjunction with the Wahgunyah History Group, met and agreed to fund $5000 towards a study of the Chinese in the old Shire of Rutherglen area.
The project is written thematically, with chapters on significance and origin, the Aboriginal connection and Tommy McRae, work and employment, temples, churches and cemeteries, camp and station life, crime and punishment, colonial immigration restrictions and the White Australia Policy, and friends, family and community. The author benefitted enormously from help received from many local residents and others, some of whom were descendants of the early Chinese pioneers. These people included Sue Fenn and the Wahgunyah History Group, Judy Harrison and the Rutherglen Historical Society, Deidre Izon, the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo Ms Elizabeth Chong and Ms Lucinda Adams, descendants of Chen Ah Kew, an early Chinese settler in the district, and Len Quon, a descendant of another early Chinese settler, Charles Ah Quon. The late Rex Fuge OAM, Paul Macgregor and Dr Barbara Nichols from the Chinese Museum in Melbourne and staff at the Melbourne University Archives also provided useful information. The author was particularly grateful to the late Don Chambers, President of the Rutherglen Historical Society, for enabling and commissioning this study and to Pamela Thomas, for her constant support and assistance.
The author was heavily influenced by his earlier work on the Chinese in the Riverina district of New South Wales (NSW). It could hardly have been otherwise, for the parallels were striking in almost every respect. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the discussion on inter-colonial immigration restrictions and the use of contract labour on the pastoral stations, for the Riverina and the Wahgunyah Rutherglen districts were border provinces, and in both regions the work opportunities for the Chinese people, and indeed the rationale for their presence, were based largely on agriculture and pastoralism.
In June 2015 the book was commended in the Victorian Community History Awards for 2015 as an outstanding small, limited run publication or e-book which features Victorian local, cultural or social history.
© Barry McGowan