Goulburn’s Chinese population contributed significantly to the history and heritage of the region.
The gold rushes of the 1850’s inspired the first wave of Chinese migration to Goulburn and Braidwood.
Apart from mining, they also established a number of large market gardens at Braidwood to the miners with fresh vegetables. Later, they established similar gardens in Goulburn.
From the 1880’s, there was a large community of Chinese in Goulburn.
Tommy Hong worked at the Garroorigang Hotel, Ah Kim worked at Woods Tan Yard in Clinton Street and Ah Hong keept a ‘kind of cook-shop and store combined in Sloane Street’ (Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 10 March 1892).
There were also Chinese cooks working in Goulburn’s hotels. Ah Louey kept a Chinese laundry in Sloane Street and in 1925 his business was reported as being a ‘kind of half-way house for Chimamen, who frequently assembled there’ (The Burrowa News, 4 December 1925). A prostitution ring is known to have also existed among the Chinese community in Goulburn during the early 1880s.
Despite the various occupations of Chinese in Goulburn at this time, they were most well known for their market gardens.
They were skilled and innovative workers, adapting local practices and techniques to harness water, fertilise the land and produce high yields.
On February 10, 1883, The Southern Argus reports: “…we are told the people of Goulburn are ill-provided with vegetables and that the European gardeners were solely to blame…the Chinese bring their vegetables to better perfection than the Europeans…the Chinese are model gardeners.”
The most prominent family engaged in market gardens in Goulburn were the Nomchongs.
Below South Hill in 1900 William James Nomchong and his brother Walter Reece cleared 14 acres (5.6ha) of land and established a market garden, adjacent to the Mulwaree River.
This location, near Thorn’s Bridge, on the Braidwood Road was where the Nomchongs employed 13 labourers to assist with the market garden.
It was common for Chinese market gardeners to live in simple shacks on the garden, usually located on the fringes of towns, near plentiful water supplies.
The gardens operated on a cooperative basis with many workers from the same clan who had close ties to Chinese storekeepers who sold the produce.
The Nomchong’s transferred their market gardens to C Garland and sons in the 1940’s. There were other Chinese market gardens located around Goulburn, including on the Baw Baw Rd, at Kenmore, near Sooley Creek, Kingsdale as well as Brisbane Grove and Tirranna.
Greek and Italian communities moved into this industry after the war, but it was not until the late 1950’s that the last original Chinese market gardens around Goulburn disappeared.
The market gardens served an important economic function in opening up the land in regional NSW.