The development of Chinese communal places in Sydney

Walter Lalich*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Continuous Chinese settlement in Australia over a century and a half was a very complex process and has had an intense impact on the urban environment. The early Chinese settlers established and maintained community roots in Chinatown that became the centre of Chinese social and business life in Sydney. This paper identifies the development of diverse communal places by various Chinese immigrant groups since 1955, that is, of Chinese community capital1 in Sydney. New immigrants have established religious and secular communal places mostly outside of Chinatown, all over the metropolitan area, like all other post-war settlers. A conservative estimate indicates that at least 46 out of an estimated 260 local Chinese community organizations have acquired their own facilities in that period. Immigrant groups establish communal places to satisfy collectively perceived social needs in a new environment. These communal places are the outcome of diverse collective actions, and the establishment, expansion and maintenance of community centers, social clubs, religious buildings, childcare and welfare facilities provide an i m p o r t a n t insight into contemporary Chinese settlement. Communal places constitute not only critical elements of Chinese institutional completeness (Breton 1964) but also a lasting input into the multicultural structure of Sydney. An introductory review of the Chinese settlement experience provides historical perspective on the process of the development of communal places in Sydney. Earlier, predominantly male sojourners from the south of China experienced difficulties and impediments in settling in Australia. Current Chinese settlement in Australia differs not only because of the origin and structure of immigrants but also because of changes in the social and political atmosphere in Australia. Now, Chinese settlers form the largest non-English speaking immigrant group in Sydney (EAC 1998). Bipartisan political acceptance of cultural diversity and multiculturalism defines current setdement policies and majority public opinion. Immigrants arrive in a society that has discarded a colour immigration barrier and assimilation pressures. In the Australian context, multiculturalism is comprehended as based on the right of all residents to express and share their cultural heritage, civic duty, social justice, productive diversity and economic efficiency (DIMIA 2003; DIMA 1997; Jupp 1996; Cox 1996; OMA 1994). Policies based on the concept of the equity of access to public institutions and services are developed to facilitate the settlement of people from different cultural backgrounds. Multicultural policies primarily relate to issues like the teaching of English, provision of interpreting and translating services, the recognition of overseas qualifications, cultural maintenance, but also to provision of housing, health and welfare services. The role of ethnic organizations as service providers has been recognized since 1979, and material support is provided for the development and maintenance of ethnic educational and welfare community organizations (Galbally 1978; Foster, Stockley 1988; Lack, Templeton 1995). The appropriation of space for communal consumption is theoretically introduced and later identified with information on this critical collective endeavour by diverse Chinese collectivities. Information on the development process, human engagement, investment intensity and material value is provided together with the insights into spatial impact, social values, crosscultural and transnational linkages. A brief analysis of some defining demographic immigration aspects provides a contextual explanation of the collective act of many Chinese collectivities2 in Sydney.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVoluntary organizations in the Chinese diaspora
EditorsKhun Eng Kuah-Pearce, Evelyn Du-Dehart
Place of PublicationHong Kong
PublisherHong Kong University Press, HKU
Number of pages31
ISBN (Print)9789622097766
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes

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