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Chung Wah Association Hall

After a series of government measures to restrict Chinese immigration to Western Australia and to make it more difficult for the Chinese community to run businesses, it was decided to set up an official association to represent themselves. The Chung Wah Association was formed in 1909 for social, educational and political purposes.

In 1910, the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Edward Stone, laid the foundation stone for Chung Wah Association Hall, during which he lectured the Chinese community about their responsibilities to become loyal subjects of the British Crown and to stop any habits of which he didn’t approve.

Designed by Wright, Powell, and Cameron, the Hall held a large number of social events, as well as containing a library for Chinese literature and regular English lessons. However, as immigration became ever-more restrictive, the Association’s membership began to decline.

It was not until after 1965 that more Chinese people could freely enter Western Australia and the Association’s numbers grew once more. Today it remains a key centre for the Chinese community in Perth, offering a range of services, including lessons in Chinese languages.

Detailed Description

Due to the shortage of workers in early Western Australian history, Chinese men were often recruited for the pearling industry, as domestic servants, farm labourers, carpenters, gardeners, shepherds, station hands and cooks. When convicts were introduced in 1850, the number of Chinese immigrants fell slightly, but it was not until various legislation was put in place that entry into Western Australia became more difficult for Chinese people. As entry was only for labour, they were not able to bring out family members.
From the 1890s, following the gold boom, some people feared Western Australia would experience a large number of Chinese workers, as happened in Victoria. Laws were enacted to control Chinese immigration to the colony, but seemed to have little effect, as the number of Chinese people in Western Australia doubled in the 1890s. Hostility grew, and it was claimed that Chinese labour was away taking away jobs from white Europeans. When the White Australia Policy was enacted in 1901, all labour schemes involving Chinese immigrants nearly ceased.
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were a number of Chinese stores in James Street. As well as selling imported Chinese gods, they also provided banking and translation facilities, and acted as meeting places. As early as 1898, the Chinese community had formed a Friendly Society to provide welfare to members. As further anti-Chinese laws were passed, including the Factories Act 1904, there became a clear need for an official organisation to represent the community. The Chung Wah Association was established in 1909 to provide a place for social gatherings and education.
The foundation stone for Chung Wah Association Hall was laid by the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Edward Stone, in October 1910. The president of the Association, Louis Wah Louey, announced that the finished hall would have a comprehensive library of books and papers from all parts of the world. He also proposed to have English lessons carried out there. The hall was designed by architects Wright, Powell, and Cameron, and was deliberately ornamental so no one could accuse the Association of anything other than improving that end of James Street.

Sir Edward Stone’s speech praised the Chung Wah Association, and he reminisced that he had let his property in South Perth to Chinese people some 28 years previously, and had never had cause to regret his decision. Even so, Sir Edward warned the Chinese community to spend more time being educated and less gambling. It was essential, he continued, for them to become “loyal and useful people”. In addition, they should study the history of the British Empire to realise why the British Crown bestowed such “immense blessings” all on its subjects.

When it opened on Chinese New Year 1911, the hall contained two large shops for lease, a spacious meeting room, a committee room, two large kitchens, and a special kitchen for festival days. The opening was followed by a banquet for the 260 members of the Association. In the following years, the Association held social functions in Chung Wah Association Hall, and it was soon the centre for Chinese literature and education.

The Great Depression forced the closure of many Chinese businesses and, by 1933, the number of Chinese people in Perth was only 363, and this continued to fall in the next two decades. The Chung Wah Association was only kept alive by a small number of families. Relaxation of immigration laws in 1965 resulted in an increase in the number of Chinese immigrants, with a growth in the number of members of the Association. In 1971, Chung Wah Association Hall, then in a dilapidated condition, was substantially renovated. This included the ground floor of Chung Wah Association Hall being converted into a restaurant, the Golden Eagle, one of many Chinese restaurants to open in Perth at this time. Chung Wah Association Hall carried out a wide range of activities, from social functions, English and Chinese classes, rehearsals of singing, dancing and music groups, Tai Chi classes, and meetings.

Today, more than a century after it opened, the Chung Wah Association Hall continues to serve the Chinese community in Perth, while the two shops on the ground floor are still leased by food retailers.

State Heritage Office assessment, Chung Wah Association Hall

‘Chung Wah Association,’ Daily News, 11 October 1910

‘For The Chinese,’ Evening Star, 17 October 1910

‘Our Illustrations. A Chinese Hall,’ Western Mail, 8 April 1911