Ararat Chinese history in paintings: Hope – From Robe to Riches exhibition at Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre

AN EXHIBIT that interprets Ararat’s Chinese heritage through paintings was officially opened on Sunday.

A large audience gathered for the first day of the ‘Hope – From Robe to Riches’ exhibition in the Great Hall of Ararat’s Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre.

The exhibition, which will run until October 20, featured works by six artists from the region and across Victoria.

The exhibit got its name from the discriminatory polices that made it much harder for Chinese people to migrate to Victoria.

In 1855, Victoria imposed a £10 entry tax on every Chinese person landing by sea, which was equivalent to the cost of a boat journey from Hong Kong.

Prospective Chinese gold miners avoided the tax by landing at Robe, South Australia and walking to western Victoria’s goldfields.

Paintings, drawings, illustrations and videos tell the story of the journey of Mei Ling, a fictionalised 19-year-old woman who travelled from Southern China to Ararat in 1857.

Dr Joanne Sullivan, a director of the company Stellar Ideas that brought the exhibit to Ararat, said Mei Ling was based on a real woman who walked the same path as 14,000 Chinese men that year.

“Each painting in this exhibition depicts a scene of important to Mei Ling and those 14,000 others who were seeking a better life,” she said.

“The story is about the experiences those people had but it is also about the founding of Ararat.

“We have created a a paint story to tell that story and to get people to emphasise to what it must have felt like to be a stranger in a strange land.”

The Gum San centre lies on the area where a group of 700 Chinese prospectors found the Canton Lead alluvial goldfield, leading to 30,000 people setting in what is now Ararat within a few weeks.

Victorian Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs, Clarinda MP Hong Lim, spoke at the opening ceremony.

“The Mei Ling we are talking about came from civil war, starvation, strife, hunger,” he said.

“The Mei Ling of today comes from a very rich family to do a degree.

“It’s amazing to see we have come full circle.”

Mr Lim said the exhibition was significant and should be shown in Melbourne once it had finished in Ararat.