Coast Chinese tribute

By Brendon McMahon and Laura Mills

The hundreds of Chinese goldminers who came to the West Coast are to be honoured in a $200,000 project to develop commemorative gardens in Kumara and Ross.
Chinese interests from New Zealand and overseas have committed the money, and others have donated labour, toward the decorative gardens dedicated to the old diggers, who came from Guangdong Province in the 1870s.
Hokitika historian Julia Bradshaw, author of the book Golden Prospects about the Chinese on the West Coast, said it was a great tribute.
“It’s been one of the frustrations for people interested in the Chinese story on the West Coast, There’s not a lot to see. This is somewhere to go and remember and find out more.”
Ms Bradshaw estimated that 100 Chinese people went to Kumara, owning stores, gardens and boarding houses. The Ross association with Chinese was less clear, but it had one of the earlier market gardens on the Coast, at the Totara River.
Memorial Garden project manager Sandra Tam, of Greymouth, said a large contingent of Chinese diggers worked in Otago, but a significant number also made their way to Kumara and Ross and there were plenty of signs of their habitation still showing.
Mrs Tam, whose husband Simon is from Guangdong, said the idea for memorials emerged after an approach by Theatre Royal Hotel proprietor Kerrie Fitzgibbon last year about the right protocols to mark the Chinese contribution to Kumara.
About the same time it emerged that Biddy Manera was canvassing a similar idea for Ross.
A joint project was brought together for gardens in both towns, with Mr Tam, as president of the Guangdong Association in Christchurch, using his network to attract investment from the Chinese New Zealand community and from Guangdong itself.
She said a deep cultural appreciation of honouring ancestors was at the heart of the memorial gardens.
“They want their ancestors acknowledged — it’s really important for them to do it really well.”
The project had already attracted crucial backing from the Chinese ambassador Madam Tan, at the Christchurch Consulate.
A Leung Ting — a ‘resting place’ pagoda — for each garden, valued at $12,000 was donated by Hungry Wok franchise owners Victor and Sharon Cheng, and the proprietor of Christchurch’s Oriental Asian Supermarket, Sim Cheng.
Westport businessman Peter Chan had also donated two stone lions valued at $8000.
Invited dignitaries — including the mayors of Westland and Christchurch, along with Government representatives and Chinese New Zealand officials and business interests — will attend a $1000 a table fundraiser in Canterbury on February 3.
Mrs Tam said Evan and Jane Birchfield, of Ross, were also making a substantial donation by making company equipment available and giving over some of the edge of the mine lake at Ross for the project.