Photographer unidentified (Hardie Shaw Studios), Chee Kung Tong orchestra, 1925, Alexander Turnbull Library, Reference: 1/2-169302-F
Published in the Wellingtonian 10 August 2011
In the first half of last century Haining and Frederick Streets were Wellington’s Chinatown. It was a small community, just a few hundred people, living in the tightly-packed, often run-down cottages that then covered much of Te Aro. New Zealand’s repressive immigration laws meant that they were mainly men, although more women and children came after restrictions were eased during the Second World War.
The community had to cope with persistent racism. After a 1908 police raid on a pakapoo gambling den, for example, Truth warned of the danger posed by "the ugly, grinning, evil-spreading, leprous and lecherous Chinaman", in an article headlined "The Accursed Chow." There were many other examples. The writer Pat Lawlor remembered how, as a child "[w]e were all frightened of Haining Street. To many children it was forbidden territory." Those who lived there saw it differently, though. For them it was home, a place for meeting friends, supporting each other and working hard.
This 1925 photograph shows the orchestra of the newly-formed New Zealand Chee Kung Tong Association. It was a patriotic society dedicated to political change in China, as well as providing mutual aid for its members. For its members China, rather than New Zealand, was still seen as home. They had just built themselves a hall in Frederick Street and had wide support among residents.
By the 1960s the community had gone. Partly that was forced by Te Aro urban renewal, but mainly it was because old prejudices were disappearng. Younger Chinese felt more at home in New Zealand. Chee Kung Tong faded away, too, but their Frederick Street hall still stands, one of the few remnants left of the district’s rich Chinese history.
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