Somewhat damaged but still standing this gravestone epitomises the continuity of Chinese-Australian history. Nearly forgotten by some or reduced to a handful of stereotypes, the story of Chinese people in Australia is being re-remembered as China and Chinese people once again grow in significance.
The inscription is of a man from Xiang Yi or what is now called Zhongshan County. This county of the Pearl River Delta, south China sent many people to Australia, particularly to Sydney and various parts of NSW as well as Queensland. The surviving gravestones in the Bathurst, Hill End and Sofala districts – a major source of information about specific origins as most documents just say born in China or Canton – are overwhelmingly of Zhongshan County.
Many of these gravestones are now to be found in museums rather than cemeteries. A sign not so much of disrespect for Chinese graves as of the tendency of the Chinese community to remove the bones of their fellows after a time and return them to their villages and families. This was a practise carried out from the earliest gold rush period until the middle of the 20th century. While records from rural NSW are unclear, those from Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney show that 75% of Chinese burials before WWII were removed.