Quong Sin Tong Shrine – Rookwood Cemetery preparatory

August 29, 2012

Set out on an A4 page, done in 4B and 6B pencil.

Yet another in my series of preparatory thumbnails prior to on-site sketching in the north-west corner of Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney. Photos taken prior to 2008 show it in a poor state, not surpriing given the way the elements treat Sydney sandstone, but photos taken since show it with restored finial, the pedestalled urn in the pavillion, repaired sandstone steps and new wrought-iron bridges, four of them, crossing a small moat. I think the vegetation around it has since grown substantially.

Given that it dates from 1877, I got to wondering about the community this funeral shrine served. Certainly Lachlan Macquarie, one of the State’s earliest governors, had Chinese servants in his household from the early part of the 19th-century. Further, the Chinese were prominent in furniture making in most major urban centres in Australia from the 1870s. The first were two men employed by the Rev. John Dunmore Lang in Sydney in 1827; Melbourne followed suit in 1836 and Adelaide in 1842.

This shrine at Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery is a testament to the Chinese community’s numbers in Sydney around this time. Certainly by the 1880s in Sydney, a quarter of all cabinet making workshops were Chinese. At the same time, more than fifty Chinese market gardens were being run in Alexandria and Botany. The shrine was built in 1877 by the Chinese community for funeral ceremonial purposes. Quong Sin Tong refers to the name of the oldest Chinese societies in the state of New South Wales (est. 1877) and up until the 1950s the society helped with the exhumation of 1,500 Chinese graves from Rookwood Cemetery for reburial in China, in accordance with the beliefs and practices of the community.

The shrine was originally in the centre of the Chinese section of the cemetery, so in a sense it is remnant left over from the mass migration of exhumations to China. The current Chinese burial area is quite a long way away. While the lower half looks very Western with its antique columns, I suspect some of the carving detail in the upper half is perhaps more Chinese.

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