In partnership with
Museum of Chinese Australian History
RMIT University Contemporary Art and Social Transformation (CAST)
Chinese Community Social Services Centre Inc.
Jenny Zhuang 庄汝伟
Fiona Wu 吴洋
Jiawen Lin 林嘉文
Leo Ren 董培仁
Paul Cheong 张保罗
Lesley Lowe (nee Cheong) 楼莱斯利
Have you ever wondered who Cheong Park was named after?
Taking the history of one of Maroondah’s significant local public places as a starting point, this arts project explores connections to the Chinese-Australian community through a creative collaboration between local residents Jenny Zhuang, Fiona Wu, Jiawen Lin, Leo Ren; members of the Cheong family Lesley Lowe (nee Cheong) and Paul Cheong; and contemporary artists Siying Zhou, Ai Yamamoto and curator Tammy Wong Hulbert. In recent years, Maroondah has seen significant growth in the Chinese-Australian community. Mandarin is now one of the most widely spoken languages at home other than English. Becoming Home invites the community to hear and appreciate the voices of Chinese-Australians.
This project began in 2020 during the pandemic, which has significantly disrupted and changed the way that each of us interacts and relates. The pandemic has also been a difficult time for the Chinese-Australian community, due to the changing currents in local and global politics, which has at times has contributed to increased racism. Through this creative collaboration, Becoming Home draws our attention to a community that has made the Maroondah area their place and home. Through discussions in on-line meetings and public park walks with local Chinese-Australian residents we came to understand how they have made Maroondah their home through a journey of migration and finding an ideal place to live. Themes of how they connect to the natural beauty and relaxed nature of the area were often discussed. During this collaboration we connected as a community in Maroondah’s green spaces, which during the last two years of lockdowns have become significant public sites of reprieve in a time of restricted mobility.
Digging deeper, we reflected on Maroondah's long connection to Chinese-Australians through the contributions of the Cheong Family. Cheok Hong Cheong (1851-1928) and his wife Choy Ying (1849-1947) made Croydon their home in the late Victorian era. From their property they operated a fruit orchard and raised their family. Cheok Hong Cheong was a significant Chinese community leader, interpreter, entrepreneur, merchant and missionary. Cheok Hong is widely known as one of the three authors (with Lowe Kong Meng and Louis Ah Moy) of the well known booklet ‘The Chinese Question in Australia’ (1878-9) a Chinese community response to anti-Chinese prejudices and actions in the shipping industry, which employed many Chinese people around the region, reminding us of the discrimination experienced by early Chinese immigrants.
By the 1920s, The Cheong’s made plans to revamp their property into the ‘Orchard Section - Garden Suburb Estate: Croydon’, master planned by the renowned architect and urban planner Walter Burley Griffith (1876-1937). Although the streets were laid out, only a portion of the plots were sold, leaving a large parcel of land to be inherited by the next generation. Later this land was gifted to the then Shire of Lilydale by the family in 1952. Today, the two properties are known as Cheong Park and Cheong Wildflower Sanctuary, reflecting their keen involvement in local sports and also their desire to preserve the Australian bush and indigenous plants for future generations. Evidence of Griffin's planning is still visible through the curved nature of the streets, a signature trait of his suburban planning. A number of the descendants of the Cheong family still live locally and are proud of their family’s contribution to the local area.
Through the presentation of video portraits, historical photographic materials, installation, text and sound, we hope that this creative collaboration will help increase the wider community’s appreciation of Chinese-Australian's on-going contribution to Maroondah.
Jenny Zhuang moved to Melbourne from Xuchen, Henan Province in 2016 to help care for her grandchildren. She was a lawyer in China and a prominent public speaker and advocate for building healthy family relationships, speaking out against domestic violence in Chinese society. On moving to Australia, Jenny started a YouTube channel called ‘Happy Grandma’ where she shares her new experiences with the Chinese diaspora.
Fiona Wu originally arrived in 2008 as an international student from Jinan, Shandong Province studying commercial cooking. She currently works in the insurance industry and lives in Maroondah with her young family. Fiona comes from an artistic family, which inspired her to become involved in this project.
Leo Ren is originally from Beijing, arriving in 1996. He became interested in Australian life, as his father was an architect who worked on the construction of the Daimaru Department store in the 1980s (now known as Melbourne Central). He arrived on his own, but now lives here with his family. He manages his own real estate business dealing with domestic properties in both Melbourne and Shanghai, China.
Jiawen Lin moved to Australia in 2017. He is originally from Guangzhou but has also lived and worked as a reporter in other parts of China, including Beijing. Jiawen has travelled extensively and when he moved to Australia he took up commercial photography as his career. He currently lives in Melbourne with his young family and is studying a Masters of International Studies at the University of Melbourne.
Lesley Lowe (nee Cheong) and Paul Cheong are the great grandchildren of Cheong Cheok Hong and Choy Ying. Their family has been in Australia for six generations since 1863. Paul and Lesley and their extended family grew up around Cheong Park in Croydon. Their family has played an important part in the community life of the local area over many generations. They represent the voices of Chinese-Australians who have had a connection to Australia over multiple generations.
Image & Video Captions:
Interview with Tammy Wong Hulbert (curator) and Siying Zhou (multimedia artist), video produced by Maroondah City Council, soundscape by Ai Yamamoto (sound artist).
Top row: 1) Entrance view of 'Becoming Home' 2) Interior view of the gallery, showing Siying's silk prints of the wildflowers, historical showcases and video portraits
3) View of the art wall quotes from participants
Second row: 1) Video still of Jenny Zhuang 2) Video still of Leo Ren 3) Video still of Fiona Wu
Third row: 1) Detail of Cheong Family - Showcase One 2) Video still of Jiawen Lin 3) Detail of The Cheong's in Croydon - Showcase 2
Photos: Tammy Wong Hulbert
Bottom: Lesley Lowe (nee Cheong) and her brother Paul Lowe, descendents of Cheok Hong Cheong and Choy Ying at the entrance of Cheong Park, Croydon, photo: Siying Zhou