Chinese Miners & The Early
Years Of Wing Hing Long

click to enlarge

Wing Hing Long & Co letterhead, 1927. Photograph by Stephen Thompson.

During the peak of the mining boom between 1880 and 1920 a large community of Chinese miners established themselves in the district. This community sought Chinese goods, services and general supplies. In 1881, the site where Wing Hing Long is situated was purchased by Inverell storekeeper Ah Lin to establish a general store to cater to the Chinese miners.

The main part of the store was built sometime in the 1880s. From this time until 1998 the Wing Hing Long store was owned by Chinese migrants or their descendants.

click to enlarge

Clippers from the Main Store. Photograph by Stephen Thompson.

The shop is typical of a rural New South Wales general store that stocked all the goods and equipment a rural mining community might require. The stock inventory included mining tools, explosives, detonators, farm tools, hardware, sulky equipment, groceries, perishables, washing and cleaning products, stationery, shoes and clothes. A number of Chinese owners developed the store into a prosperous business.

In 1918, Jack Joe Lowe bought the store. Jack Joe Lowe, born in China in 1882, arrived at Cooktown, Queensland around 1900, and worked in Sydney and Gunnedah before settling in Tingha with his wife and eldest son in 1914. Lowe was the fifth Chinese owner of the Wing Hing Long store. Like many Chinese migrant workers, Lowe came looking to create a better life for his family here. Most Chinese migrant workers came to the diggings to earn money to send home to their families in China. Typically these workers stayed for a few years, worked hard, saved money and then returned to China.

click to enlarge

Advertisement, Inverell Argus, 1924.

Lowe also expanded the business as a general store servicing the wider Tingha community. He also promoted himself as a Chinese herbalist who claimed among other things the ability to cure Spanish influenza during the pandemic of 1918-19. His wife, Fong Quain Lowe, ran a cafe near Wing Hing Long. His five children - Edgar (Ned), Marjorie, Mavis, Ronald and Verdon grew up working in the Wing Hing Long store. Lowe started other businesses in Tingha such as another smaller general store referred to as 'the top shop' and the Palace Theatre which were all run by the family. The Lowes were well respected in the community and it appears they assisted and supported many people in the town providing employment, training and groceries.

Members of the Lowe family lived in the residence in the upper floor of the store shed at the back of the store. The meals were prepared in the small kitchen at the back of the store. Shop stock and material were stored in the lower section of the rear sheds, and in the attic above the store. The buildings were developed on an ad hoc basis with building material sourced from old packing cases and recycled tin and forest timber. In many parts of the store you can still see the branding of the old packing cases that make up the walls and ceilings.

Like other Chinese stores at the time, Lowe employed a number of migrant Chinese staff he sponsored as shop assistants under the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act. They were accommodated in staff living quarters in the sheds underneath the family residence and the upstairs quarters above the main show room of the store. They were paid a small weekly wage that included meals. The conditions of their sponsorship compelled them to work at Wing Hing Long. At times the store also employed many local residents.

Continue »