TALK BY ALBERT CUMINES, TAPED ON 21/11/02
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to this afternoon's meeting of the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia Incorporated. I'm sorry that I haven't been able to come personally to address you but I do hope that as some measure of compensation, this tape will substitute to a certain extent.
I will just start by giving you a bit of history about our family, the Cumines family, who came to Australia first of all in June 1877. Now, that's a hundred and twenty-five years ago.
My grandfather landed in Sydney on the SS Brisbane, I understand, on the 22nd of June, 1877, as I mentioned. He was sixteen years of age at that time and his Chinese name was Lo King Nam. Now that name came to the business so I will talk about it a little bit down the track.
He came here at the age of sixteen, intending to join the search for gold, but when he landed in Sydney, the rest of the Chinese who came with him wouldn't take him to the goldfields because they considered that he was far too young to go to the goldfields, and it would be too rough on him, being a kid. Well, sixteen years of age you can imagine how terrible it would have been at the time.
Now luckily enough, at the age of sixteen, he was taken in by a Scottish family in a country town of New South Wales (we believe it was Bega) and the family's name was Cumines. They treated him like a member of the family. He worked for the family on the farm, and everywhere he went to pick up groceries or whatever it was, he was known as Young Cumines. They used to say, "Here comes Young Cumines to pick up the groceries" and so on.
He turned twenty-one in 1882, and applied for naturalisation as a citizen. At that time, it would not have been a citizen of Australia, but a citizen of New South Wales, because it was still the colony of New South Wales, which was not yet joined by Federation. He applied in June, was granted his naturalisation one month later, in July, and a certificate issued two weeks after. It's a pretty good record, I think, to have naturalisation applied for, granted within a month and a certificate made out within two weeks of that date.
I understand at the time that it was difficult for Asians to become naturalised, as approaching the Federation time, you will recall that there was quite an anti-immigration policy at the time, a lot of feelings against Asians coming to look for gold.
Now, when my grandfather became naturalised, the people he was working with filled his name in on the application form as Young Cumines; not as Lo King Nam, but as Young Cumines, because that was what he was probably known as throughout the parts that he lived in. As a result, his name became Young Cumines. Now, that is the start of how the name of our family became Cumines. It is an old Scottish name, spelt in an old Scottish way with only one M, C-U-M-I-N-E-S.
Now, round about 1885, 1887, we believe that my grandfather left Bega and came to Sydney. He started up the shop, a business, down in the Rocks area, at George Street North. The premises still stands today at 85 George Street North in the Rocks, and it's right next to the Orient Hotel, for those of you who know that area fairly well. The premises is still there and it's known as Unwins Warehouse, built in about the1850s, 1860s, in that period of time.
He started business there by providing provisions for ships, selling provisions to the ships that used to come from China, because at that time, Circular Quay was where most of the shipping was, so it was close and handy for him to deliver provisions for the ships. He also took in boarders, people who transhipped in Sydney. Chinese who came from China, Hong Kong, to go to various parts of the islands or parts of the Pacific, New Zealand, Fiji and all the various parts, used to tranship and wait for a ship to go to these other parts in Sydney. They'd wait in Sydney for another ship to go there or in the same way, on the way back to China.
He started this business around about the late 1800s and set up the boarding house as well, known as King Nam Jang (repeated with Chinese pronunciation), and that business remained in the same premises for almost eighty years. It was one of the early shops, businesses of the Chinese that was in the first Chinatown of Sydney, which was down in the Rocks area. That's the first Chinatown and King Nam Jang was the last to leave the area. It was there until the late 60s, till airlines took over the travelling from ships, and they didn't have to tranship in Sydney. Of course, they could go to the various parts from Hong Kong and China.
Now, in 1921, my grandfather retired from business and returned to China, when he took the rest of his family, that is, my two uncles, an aunt and my grandmother. They all went back to China, where he set up house and retired. My father continued on with the business. Actually, he was helping him all through the years since he started the business and then continued on after 1921.
Grandfather retired and my father, also commonly known as thingy Cumines (his name was Richard, and most people knew him as thingy, thingy Cumines) he continued the business from 1921 to 1926. For five years, he continued it on his own and after that period, my uncles came back. My uncle George and Uncle Willie came back and they continued the business, and Father, my father, took the rest of our family to Hong Kong for a break so that we could learn to read and write Chinese.
I was ten years of age at the time and I went to Hong Kong and to China and spent two and a half years at school, learning to read and write Chinese. In that period, I spent time in both Hong Kong and China, going to Chinese schools, and I did learn a little bit, although unfortunately, by now, I've forgotten most of the reading and writing, but I can still speak Cantonese quite fluently.
As I mentioned earlier, the business at King Nam Jang continued until the late 60s, and continued right through the war years as well World War II where the business remained quite well although there were certain problems during the war as you can imagine, the travelling and food, restrictions of various things. There was an article written by the Sun reporter from The Sun newspaper, Friday the 20th of November, 1942. I have a copy of that article here and perhaps this would give you more details of the business that was run by my parents, my grandparents, and uncle, that continued for such a long period, so I would ask one of the committee here to read this to you so that you get a better idea. This will explain in more detail than I could venture to tell you how the business, King Nam Jang, was run.
At the boarding house, we provided a bed, bedding and three meals a day for the people who used to stay with us till they were able to tranship to another port. Now that was all done, it wasn't elaborate but it was better than the steerage class onboard the ships that they came in.
Now, some of the various things that had happened over that period:
I can recall as a young boy, quite young, in the 1920s, before World War II, where hundreds, not tens but hundreds, of Chinese labourers were recruited from China, and came out to work at the Phosphate Commission in Nauru and Ocean Island. There were hundreds of these people who came out and we also undertook to care for them while they were in Sydney waiting transhipment, but, as there were quite large numbers of these people, we were unable to hold them in our premises. What my father did was he hired ships, hulks, in Sydney Harbour, and put them on board, and provided the meals. They had their own cooks as well, so we just provided the food and they did their own cooking until they were able to tranship to other ports.
Another occasion was in the middle of the night, a stormy night, when a phone call came, that a ship was being wrecked on the outskirts of Maroubra. The ship was named Malabar. It was a Burns Philp ship and it struck rocks there, and the ship eventually submerged. We took the crew in to look after them while they were able to make other arrangements for the crew. Not only did we have the job of looking after transhipped passengers, but also other events such as this happened. Also, this is how the name of the suburb became known as Malabar.
I will now talk about myself, a subject I'm not that keen to talk about myself, but as part of the program today, I will talk about myself a little bit. I was born in 1916, 12th of April, 1916, down in the Rocks area, in the premises that I mentioned earlier, where the family ran the business.
At the age of six years of age, five or six years of age, I went to Fort Street Public School, where I stayed until I was almost ten or just over ten years of age, when my parents took me to China and I spent, as I said earlier, two and half years in China, to learn to read and write Chinese I stayed for a few months with my grandparents, and the rest of the time our family also set up home there, for more than two years, until we all came back again.
I came back to Sydney and then went back to school, and went through the normal high school, in different parts of Sydney, and finally got my Leaving Certificate in 1934. Dad was on his own then, running the business, so after I left school, I stayed and worked helped him for a while, for a few years, two or three years. Then in 1938, I joined an electrical company and became an apprentice, and I studied for an electrical engineering diploma. When I got my Diploma in Electrical Engineering, I continued with the same company, progressing along with different ownerships, but I still worked there for thirty-four years in one company. I started as apprentice and I ended up as managing director of that company! That's quite a long period to stay with one company. During that period in business, I was quite well known in the electrical industry. I was quite active in promoting exports from Australia. We developed quite an export market of electric motors and bench grinders to various parts of South-East Asia and Asia so much so that in 1972, we set up a factory in Singapore to manufacture, and also, a year or two later, we set up a factory in New Zealand, so we had a factory in Sydney, in Singapore and in New Zealand.
Often, people used to ask me, "Have you ever come across any victimisation or treatment because you are not Caucasian? You're Asian, you work in an Australian environment."
"No," I would say, "no, to be honest, no." I've never ever suffered anything of that nature at all. I've always gotten on very well with my counterparts and, in fact, the Australian government appointed me on more than one occasion, on two occasions it was, to lead a trade delegation to Singapore in the early 70s, and another trade delegation from Australian manufacturers, to Wellington, New Zealand. You can see that I was just regarded as any person would be in Australia.
I was quite involved with Chinese community affairs in Sydney when I was younger. I used to organise the dances for the young people. The people that participated were the young members of the Chinese community with their Australian friends. We used to have a monthly dance at the KMT Hall for many years. It became popularly known as the KMT dance but it was nothing to do with the KMT. The organisation that I belonged to was known as the Young Chinese Relief Movement, and we used to run those dances once every month. We used to charge people 2/- to enter to come to the dance. For that, we provided a three-piece live band and supper. Now, how's that for 2/-?
We also ran the Dragon Ball. Now, you've probably heard of the Dragon Festival Ball. The history of the Dragon Festival Ball is that it was first started in 1938, when the sesquicentenary of Sydney was being celebrated. The Chinese community formed a committee in Sydney and brought out from China a 150 ft dragon, and also many, many paper lanterns which were made in Sydney. We brought the craftsmen out and they made these in Sydney because you couldn't transport them. They were made of paper and silk and there was a parade.
We held a parade at the Sydney Showground to celebrate the sesquicentenary. It was so well attended that the Showground people had to close the gates when they considered more than enough people were inside the Showground. That, unfortunately, disappointed quite a lot of people, so in Easter, the Chinese committee decided they would run the parade again, this time in the Sydney Sports Ground and we would charge for this. The money so raised went to charity because, at that time, China was defending itself from Japan, the invasion of Japan, well before World War II, so at that time, many casualties were suffered in China. What happened was the funds raised from the parade and also the Dragon Festival Ball, which was held at the Trocadero in June of that year, 1938, raised enough money to buy two ambulances. We had two ambulances built in Sydney and these were sent across to China to help with the civilian population that was being affected by the attack by the Japanese.
Now, after that year, the Young Chinese Relief Movement formed and we took over the running of the Ball, the Dragon Festival Ball, and from then continuously, that Ball was run to raise money for various charities. At one stage, the benefit went to Mme Chiang Kai Sheks War Orphans Fund, and then to other orphanages. We also shared the proceeds with Australian charities, or various charities in Australia, so the Young Chinese Relief Movement was running the Dragon Ball from 1939 until well into the 70s. You can imagine that hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised, and in doing so, we also assisted the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, in Sydney, and the Sydney Hospital in Macquarie Street, both of which have made me a Life Governor, so Im honoured to be among the people who have been honoured with the Honorary Life Governorship of those hospitals. That is because of our effort in raising money to assist those hospitals.
Apart from running the Dragon Festival Ball, we were quite active in other activities. Just to give you a bit of history of what happened in Sydney among the Chinese community at that stage the Chinese community in Sydney at that stage was a lot smaller than it is today and to do the things we had to do, meant a lot of effort for quite a few people.
In 1934 we had a visit in Sydney from the Duke of Gloucester. The Sydney Chinese community came to the fore and organised a float and we took part in a procession that went around Sydneys streets and the Showground. Then in 1935, we had a visit from General Chai Ting Kai, who was the general who defended Shanghai against the Japanese at the time. He defended against the Japanese landing in Shanghai for quite a period of time and then he made a visit to Sydney and the Chinese in Sydney came and welcomed him. We had a grand parade, a procession through Sydney streets, to welcome him. So these are just some of the events that took place early in the part of the Chinese community in Sydney.
Then, of course, going back a bit further, in the 1920s, 30s, there used to be an annual picnic of the Chinese community in Sydney. We'd hire two of three ferries and we'd go off from Port Macquarie and go along to Middle Harbour, where families enjoyed lunch, races and all sorts of activities on the pleasure grounds at Middle Harbour, so there's some of the activities that took place early in the Chinese community life in Sydney.
I'll just wind up now by giving you a little bit more about the Cumines family, just to round it up, just to give you an idea of the descendants of Grandfather, who came to Sydney in 1877, as I mentioned. Now, he had three sons and four daughters. That's seven children he had. The sons were Richard (or thingy), William (or Willie) and George, and the daughters were Lily, Mabel, Alice and Violet. He had thirty-three grandchildren, consisting of twenty grandsons and thirteen granddaughters, and great-grandchildren numbered fifty-five twenty-one great-grandsons and thirty-four great-granddaughters, and great great-grandchildren numbered fifteen eight great great-grandsons and seven great great-granddaughters, making a total number of descendants of ninety people to date. So at any time, you find anyone Cumines, spelt C-U-M-I-N-E-S, we are related in one way or the other. So that's the history of the Cumines family and a little bit about Albert Cumines. So thank you very much.