2003 is the centenary of the death of (Mei) Quong Tart the highly respected 19th century Australian philanthropist, community leader, businessman and multicultural socialite.
Quong Tart was born in Hsinning, Canton and was only nine years old when he migrated to Australia with his uncle. His guardians, the Simpson family, converted him to Christianity and encouraged him to acquire shares in gold claims. He was very successful with his business dealings and following these formative years on the Braidwood gold fields, he became the Government Interpreter for the districts of Braidwood, Araluen and Majors Creek. Respected by both the Chinese and European Australian communities, he was naturalised in 1871, was the first Chinese Australian to be elected to an Oddfellows’ Lodge in New South Wales and became a Freemason in 1885.
In 1883 Quong Tart was appointed to a commission of inquiry into the reasons for disturbances in the Chinese camps in the Riverina. He was very perturbed at the level of opium addiction in these camps and gave public lectures at the Sydney Town Hall to raise support for the anti-opium crusade. Quong Tart petitioned the government to ban opium imports and subsequently published A Plea for the Abolition of the Importation of Opium in 1887. The proceeds of this publication were used to aid the Bulli Disaster Relief Fund, a fund established following one of the worst Australian mining disasters in the coal mines near Wollongong, New South Wales. During the increase in anti-Chinese activity in 1887 Quong Tart spent much of his time acting as an interpreter and assisting his countrymen.
In 1866 he married an Englishwoman, Margaret Scarlett despite the strong disapproval of her family who boycotted the wedding. Together they had two sons and four daughters. Quong Tart was a devout Anglican but he had his children baptised and educated in different Christian denominations to avoid being considered prejudiced.
Quong Tart became a very successful tea and silk merchant and also opened restaurants in George, King and Pitt Streets, Sydney. The most famous was The Elite tea rooms in the QVB, which became the place to be seen for Sydney’s high society and visiting VIPs including the members of the 1891 Federation Convention. His employees, mostly European Australians, greatly benefited from his enlightened attitude to working conditions. He allowed his workers holiday and sick leave with pay, as well as time off for shopping and family commitments. His charitable donations benefited every section of society.
Quong Tart was an excellent cricketer and great all-round sportsman. He also had a passion for Robbie Burns and wore a kilt and played the bagpipes. He often performed at social gatherings, playing the pipes and reciting Burns.
Quong Tart was recognised and honoured with high distinctions granted from the Chinese Imperial Court in Beijing for his extensive work with the Chinese communities in Australia.
In 1902 he was savagely attacked by an intruder in his Queen Victoria Markets office. He never fully recovered and died of pleurisy at his Ashfield home in 1903. He was buried at Rookwood Cemetery. He was possibly the only Chinese Australian of the time not only to be fully accepted but also highly respected by the Anglo-Australian community.
In 1998 a commemorative statue of Quong Tart was unveiled in Ashfield.
- National Museum of Australia, Harvest of Endurance Scroll
- The Sydney Morning Herald 12/9/98 Quong Tart, not your average Aussie hero
Theme: Cultural diversity and multiculturalism