Chinese, Lemon Chicken & 'Fair Dinkum'

25th June 2019

Anyone who thinks the recent influx of Chinese people to Australia and Chinese investment in property in Australia is a new phenomenon would be wise to consider the following.

At the peak migration point of the late 1850s the Chinese made up one in five of the male population in fabled gold mining towns of Victoria such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, Beechworth and Ararat. It was not just miners who took the perilous journey. Doctors, gardeners, artisans and businesspersons voyaged here and contributed to Victoria’s economy, health and cultural life.  As the gold dried up many chose to return home. However, some chose to settle, and Chinese culture flourished in our capital cities and became a distinctive feature of many regional towns well into the twentieth century.

It is thought that news of the gold rush first reached Guangzhou (Canton) in a letter from Chinese labourer Louis (or Louey) Ah Mouy, a carpenter who had journeyed to Victoria under a working contract.  Louis Ah Mouy was living in Melbourne at the time gold was found in 1851 and sent word to his brother in Canton urging him to come and seek his fortune. It is thought that up to 42,000 Chinese came to Australia to try and make their fortune on the goldfields.

Louis Ah Mouy became a respected Chinese-Victorian leader, making his fortune on the goldfields near Yea in north-eastern Victoria and building a Melbourne-based business empire speculating in land, mining and trade ventures.

Reportedly one of the great Australian colloquialisms ‘Fair Dinkum’ was a response of the early Chinese goldminers to the question: "Are you finding a fair amount of gold?" because "din-gum" means "good gold". So over time the expression has become a positive response to a good news story.  Another version of the origin of ‘Fair Dinkum’ has it that, when Chinese gold seekers came to Lambing Flat, now Young, NSW, in 1860, they fossicked over ground already worked by European goldminers. On finding gold dust, the Chinese were heard to call out: "dinkum". This was interpreted to mean: gold. On finding payable amounts of gold, they were heard to call out: "fair dinkum". This was interpreted as: "genuine gold", "real gold" or "true gold". With time, "fair dinkum" came to be used as an expression of "honest" and/or "true".

The relevance of Lemon Chicken to this story and to my real estate career is a classic case of the swings and roundabouts we happen across day to day. For many years when a property has sold I like to celebrate with a nice meal of Lemon Chicken and my liking for Lemon Chicken started with my first meal at the Toi Shan Chinese Restaurant ( Est 1892 ), Bendigo as a kid in the 70’s. Word has it that Toi Shan was started as a ‘cookshop’ for the Chinese diggers on the Bendigo Gold Fields.

The relevance of the term ‘Fair Dinkum’ to real estate is that as an agent I have always found the best time for someone to put their home on the market is when they are ‘Fair Dinkum’ about selling and moving on with their life.

All the best,

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