Of the great immigrant traditions in Australia, undoubtedly the story of Chinese-Australians is amongst the dearest held, both to people of Chinese origin and the wider community. There are a number of reasons for this, and the Chinese Museum tucked away in Chinatown's Cohen Place does well in detailing them all.
Oftentimes in Australian history, the perception is held that until the post-war era, Australia was a nation by and large of a European ethnic backround and makeup. To some degree this has credence - for from the 1950's onwards came a veritable boom of migrants from all over the world that helped create the truly multicultural nation we see today. Yet, the fact Chinese immigrants in the middle and late 1800's were the fifth biggest ethnic group in Australia shows multiculturalism has always been a part of the Australian identity. To be clear then: this museum and other institutions like it renders a valuable service in showing the origins of the diverse and vibrant Australia we see today; and how in its best era's it always has been. For this reason alone the museum is worth a visit: yet, there is a certifiable abundance of other goods on offer to further compliment an afternoon stop by.
Starting off on the ground floor is a free section of the museum. While it should be said the prices of the museum at under $10 a ticket wouldn't be considered obscene by many, the presence of a free section as a little preview is a nice little touch and shouldn't go unmentioned. In this section is a little history of Chinatown's well known - as well as not so well known - buildings,all depicted and detailed via backlit signboards so the full shape and vivacity of each buildings design and history is showcased.
The backlit signboards on the ground floor of the Museum...
While this section is very much worth spending a few minutes, it is upon paying admission and wandering into the museum proper that the exhibits become especially memorable.
Descending the stairs into the early history section of the museum, you shall be greeted by stark and spartan surrounds. Cramped wooden bunks, rustic shacks and various tools and ornaments of the gold rush era affirm the experience of early Chinese Australians (alongside other immigrants of that era) was challenging and confronting. Yet, while the austerity of these conditions give pause for thought, so too does the rich optimism of adventure and the pioneer spirit that is well depicted throughout; especially on the paintings that adorn the wall.
In turn, while the dragon is undoubtedly the star attraction of the walk up to the contemporary history on the top levels, the decorative items you see alongside the way also catch the eye long enough for a pause...
In turn, while the contemporary section (and this goes for the wider exhibits) had much else to offer, it is also true each piece or item shall appeal to a visitor in a different way. With this, as opposed to being exhaustive may the proceeding have given an insight as to what is on offer, and offer incentive for a visit.
All up then, whether Chinese or otherwise, whether Melburnian or otherwise - whether Australian or otherwise - this museum warrants a visit. It represents and encapsulates both the story of a great ethnic community and it's proud immigrant tradition; but within it has stories and lessons most anyone from anywhere shall identify with. The Chinese Museum in Chinatown: History on show in an epicentre of Multicultural Melbourne.