Monday, 2 June 2014

Celestial Sydney - Tea rooms and suffragettes

The Museum of Sydney currently has an exhibition called Celestial City: Sydney's Chinese Story, about the Chinese who migrated here starting in the 19th century and the difficulties that the White Australia policy had on them. Definitely a blot on colonial history, and even anglos would have had problems meeting some of the entry requirements that were in place at one time - a 100% accurate written dictation in *any* european language. However europeans wouldn't have been subject to the test. {shaking my head}.

Two Saturdays ago there was a lecture on the tearooms that sprouted up in Sydney, in the third quarter of the 1800s - leading the way was an entrepreneurial chinese migrant Quong Tart who moved here in 1880, aged 21. He saw a niche - importing tea and along with tearooms. There was a dearth of locations in the city that were suitable for women - public toilets for women were almost non-existent. His tea-rooms provided them, tea and reading rooms. The link with suffragettes is that the social structure of the time meant that women couldn't invite those of other classes into their homes, but a tearoom was open to all. So women's groups started meeting, literature and employment were early concerns that then lead to the start of the suffrage movement here. Quong Tart not only had a target market but a concern to stop the opium trade between here & China as he believed it was a scourge (my word choice not the curators). Migration was already off the table, politically, so he saw a chance for both anti-opium and suffragettes to assist each other's aims.  Sadly he died a couple of years before the opium trade was banned.

It seems he was a charmer, and popular with the clientelle - business dropped off a little after his marriage to an english migrant.

My friend and I caused a little bit of a stir when we walked into the lecture auditorium, and the MoS asked for our photograph downstairs to put on their website/blog. We happily agreed. This photo is at the entry to the exhibition itself.


  1. I love your outfits and so fitting to be worn to the exhibition.

  2. What a great story about the photo. Your outfit speaks to the present moment and that's why you were selected. Wonderful!

    I missed this exhibition (and this museum) but I would have loved to see it. I'm fascinated by Australia's history and am like learning something new. There's always next time. =)

    It was great to meet you! You and Alison are a lot of fun together. =) I hope to share in many more laughs!

    1. Thanks - it was a fascinating exhibition. fingers x for next time :)

      I'm usually found in the naughty corner (unlike my shy quiet childhood), having fun while I'm still alive :D