Victoria’s Premier has apologised to the state’s Chinese community for the racism and unjust policies their ancestors endured during Australia’s gold rush era.
Premier Daniel Andrews issued the apology to a crowd of Chinese community leaders today, including several descendants of the first wave of Chinese miners to come to the state 160 years ago.
“It is never too late to say sorry,” Mr Andrews said.
“To every Chinese Victorian … on behalf of the Victorian Parliament, of behalf of the Victorian Government, I express our deepest sorrow and I say to you we are profoundly sorry.”
In the 1850s, Chinese migrants were charged 10 pounds each when they disembarked in Victoria.
Adrian Hem is a descendent of one of the Chinese migrants from the era and said that at the time it was a huge sum.
“That would be many years’ wages in those days,” he said.
He said those who did pay the tax were often left facing massive debts.
“They were … very much like slaves, they had to work off the amount of money they were loaned to come to Australia,” he said.
To avoid the tax, many miners disembarked in Robe in South Australia, then marched hundreds of kilometres through the wilderness to the Victorian goldfields.
Some died of starvation or exhaustion and those who made it endured racism and segregation.
To mark the 160th anniversary of those cross country journeys, a group of Chinese-Australians, including several descendants of original Chinese migrants, walked from Robe to Melbourne to meet the Premier at the Victorian Parliament.
Those who took part in the so-called “great walk” were greeted by local Chinese community members, lion dancers and drummers.
The Premier met them inside Parliament House and praised the tenacity of Chinese migrants, despite adversity and racist policies.
“It was a very shameful act,” he said.
“But with such a dedicated focus on hard work, family, on giving back … I don’t think anyone has made a bigger contribution … to the modern multiculturalism that we cherish and value so very much.
“Our multiculturalism and our diversity is what sets us apart. It makes us stronger, it makes us safer.”
Some shed tears after the apology was given.
But for those who re-enacted the walk, an apology was not essential.
For them, it is more important that history does not repeat itself.
“It gives us a great sense of pride, in what our forebears did,” Adrian Hem said.
“History is a great teacher. The present teaches us what a great country we have and the future will show, hopefully, that we can all live together in harmony.”
By Iskhander Razak