Sunday, November 27, 2011

Melbourne Series - The Colour of Chinatown

I have to admit that I sometimes get to travel for work - that's a good and bad thing. I don't like being away from my family for long and travelling gets a little tiring after a while. One exception to this is travelling to Melbourne which I love. Now, I had to be in Melbourne for 4 days last month (actually left Adelaide on the afternoon of the Matsuri on Mobara Festival) and decided to take my camera with me to keep me busy of an evening.

I arrived in Melbourne around 8pm on a Sunday evening and immediately grabbed my trusty Canon KissX3 and headed into the city. One of my favourite destinations is Chinatown... a good place to eat and take photos.

Now Chinatown, like much of the Chinese immigration into Australia, was really spurred on by the discovery of gold in Victoria in the early 1850's (btw definitely recommend a visit to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat to learn all about that). This is not so different to how Chinatown in Adelaide started, or indeed how many Chinatowns around the world. The focal point of Chinese culture in Melbourne became Little Bourke Street.

When the gold eventually ran out in the 1870's, many Chinese immigrants decided to make Melbourne their new home, and Little Bourke Street started to evolve into the vibrant Chinese community - until Australia introduced the White Australia policy in 1901 - though it was officially known as the "Restriction of Immigration Act". A dark period in Australia's history.
Cohen Place

The act effectively evaporated the vibrancy in Chinatown as the flow of new migrants dried up, and life took on a different feel. It continued that way until after the second world war - and indeed the Act wasn't repealed until 1958. Finally, *colour* and multiculturalism was allowed to come back to Australia - bringing it's character and diversity once again to the streets.

Of course, where there were immigrants, there was undoubtedly heathens for the saving, and the Wesleyan Methodist movement was particularly keen to get out and convert the Chinese as they came into Australia. They were in the goldfields, and they were also in Melbourne's Chinatown. The original Chinese Mission Church, built in 1872, is a little further up the street next to Cohen place (see above) - but this is a much older building.

Of course it's not just the Chinese create the atmosphere of the street - as there are many Japanese and Korean restaurants on Little Bourke Street (and the many little alleyways that come off). Though I have to admit that many of these Japanese restaurants at least are still owned by Chinese. Something I always find a little disappointing as there's more to an authentic Japanese restaurant than the menu.

It's also an amazingly clean part of the city... considering the amount of traffic that goes through here of a day... and I don't feel at all unsafe. Perhaps I might if I spent a few more late nights wandering the alleyways, but for now I have the impression that it's a clean, safe, positive sort of environment. Just what you need when you want to go out for an evenings meal - or an evening of taking photos.

I tried to take shots without people generally... but this is sort of non-representative of the street which is actually quite busy, even late in the evening. The restaurants do a bustling trade here, and I'm sure that the area is still a significant epicentre for employment for new migrants and old migrants alike. And I'm sure many of these dark alleyways have seen their fair share of dark dealings as well.

But for me, Chinatown in Melbourne has a family feel to it. It _is_ the product of community and it feels welcoming to all. Actually - sometimes I wish it wasn't quite so welcoming walking past the restaurants with the women beckoning hungry passer-byers with their menus. Still, it's one of the many heartbeats of Melbourne, and a great place to visit - especially of an evening. And if you're here on every third Saturday of the month, there's a market in Heffernan Lane as well. There's also a Asian Food Festival that runs throughout all of September... alas, too late to enjoy that this trip.

Chinatown's easy to get to - it's just between the main hub of Bourke Street and Lonsdale Street - and Chinatown itself runs for about 4+ blocks of restaurants and shops.


  1. I'm looking forward to this Melbourne Series and what a great place to start with Melbourne Chinatown. It is a great place to grab a bite to eat and is always quite lively. It is also a favourite place for us to stock up on some Japanese goodies from one of the many Asian Supermarkets.

    Japan Australia

  2. Not sure I can do Melbourne justice - especially from the evenings that I had spare to run around and feed my face, do work, take photos and then find a decent coffee joint at 11pm. Still, I'll try.

    Once again - quite happily accept any good advice as to where's good to go in Melbourne.

  3. For someone who's Chinese, I definitely enjoy visiting different Chinatowns around the world. They all share the same characteristics, but there's always a different feel when you travel to a new one.

  4. Jenny they certainly always play an important part of any city that they are in.... they bring life, food, colour and fun.

    Any suggestions as to which one is the best?

  5. Hey Ben,

    Just wanted to commend you on the lovely photos and entertaining blog posts. I'm pretty sure there's more than 0.75 people visiting Raising Adelaide.


    1. Hahaha... thanks Joanne CL... at the moment, it's likely to be less than that. I've been taking a breather (not least because I've been on holidays) - but I've also got some changes coming up that I should mention at some time... may require a name change.