National Archives of Australia/Australian Historical Association postgraduate scholar, 2016–17

Topic: ‘Fresh Off the Boat’: Chinese Merchants and Transnational Connections between China, Hong Kong and Australia

Biographical note

Natalie Fong is a PhD candidate in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Griffith University. Her thesis examines the roles played by Chinese merchants in organising the Northern Territory Chinese during the period 1880–1920, such as protests against discrimination, and their interactions with European business and political leaders. Natalie is descended from two prominent Northern Territory Chinese patriarchs – Wing Wah Loong (Fong How/Fong Sui Wing) and Low Dep Chitt. She is also a secondary school English and history teacher, and the Head of English and ESL at Citipointe Christian College, Brisbane.

Project summary

Natalie Fong argues that Chinese transnational business networks, building on historical trade and facilitated by advances in transport and communication, were a key factor in the initial dominance and success of the Chinese in the Northern Territory.

In the late 1800s to early 1900s, Chinese merchants from the southern Guangdong region of China dispersed all over the world, thanks to the busy port of Hong Kong. They established familial, transnational business networks – a model that divided assets and divided risks. This safety net helped secure their success. One place that they established businesses was the Northern Territory in Australia. By the late 1800s, the Chinese had become numerically and economically dominant. Chinese merchants capitalised on the long history of trade between northern Australia and south-east Asia, as well as Darwin’s accessibility from Hong Kong by steamship, to import and export goods and people. These networks may also have serviced Chinese businesses elsewhere in Australia, such as Sydney, Melbourne and Bendigo, and throughout south-east Asia.

Natalie intends to access records relating to key Chinese merchants and their business dealings, to shed further light on how these networks may have operated. This will provide a fuller picture of Chinese business dealings in Australia and internationally. She will also explore historiographical concepts such as imperialism, transnationalism and ‘sojourning versus settling’.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017