Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Reunion (1998)

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clip 'Chinese family dream' education content clip 1, 3

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

When David Wang, a successful businessman, was elected to the Melbourne City Council in 1969, his wife recalls that they were sent newspaper cuttings from Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, all reporting his election. His daughter recalls her confusion over which 'dream’ her father was aspiring to – Chinese or Australian.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows film and interview segments with Mabel Wang discussing husband David Wang’s business and civic successes in 1960s and 70s Melbourne. Her daughter, filmmaker Lisa Wang, narrates much of the clip, reflecting on her culture and identity during this period. David Wang is shown at the swearing-in ceremony when he became a councillor of the Melbourne City Council in 1969. The building site that was to become the David Wang Emporium is shown, with David Wang inspecting the site as one of his children runs to him.

Educational value points

  • David Wang (1920–78) was the first Chinese-born Melbourne City councillor and is shown being sworn in. Wang’s move into public office began when he was appointed as a justice of the peace (JP) in February 1964. He then campaigned for election to Melbourne City Council, basing his campaign on revitalising inner-city Melbourne, particularly its night life, and injecting an international flavour into the city. He was elected in 1969 and won his seat three times. By contrast it was not until 1991 that the first Asian-Australian was elected to Sydney City Council.
  • The life of David Wang, notable Australian-Chinese businessman and community leader of the 1960s and 70s, is significant in the history of the Chinese in Australia because anti-Chinese sentiment of the 1890s and the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act applied significant barriers to success for Chinese businessmen establishing a life in Australia. The Act remained in force until 1958. Wang entered Australia in 1948 on a business permit, and by the mid-1960s he had achieved considerable success in business and gained wide social acceptance, well before multiculturalism and general acceptance of Asian immigrants in Australia.
  • Wang’s achievements in business and civic life paved the way for others of Chinese descent to achieve success in Australian political life. Bill O’Chee became the first Australian senator of Chinese descent in 1990, and Tsebin Tchen was an Australian senator representing Victoria from 1998 to 2005. New South Wales has had at least three Australian-Chinese members of parliament and Australian-Chinese have been mayors in various Australian cities and are well represented in local government. Popular Chinese-born John So, elected Lord Mayor of Melbourne in 1991, is the council’s longest serving mayor.
  • The son of a peasant farmer, David Wang started his career in the Nationalist Chinese army. He first came to Australia in 1942 with the Chinese military mission and subsequently settled in Australia with his Australian-born wife in 1948. His spectacular success in business and in public life led to speculation in 1976 that he would become Melbourne’s Lord Mayor. He died in 1978 of a heart attack.
  • David Wang was one of those responsible for the development of Melbourne’s Chinatown as a showcase for the culture of his homeland. As a leader in the Chinese community he had initiated Melbourne’s Chinatown project in 1960 and in 1970 he revived it as a councillor. The Chinese quarter in Melbourne, centred in Little Bourke Street, had been in decline and Wang believed that its transformation with pagodas, archways and suitable lighting would attract tourists and shoppers, as well as promoting Chinese culture. Chinatown was launched in 1976.
  • The period referred to in the clip is the 1960s and 70s, a time crucial to the development of Australia’s changing attitude to Asian immigration. In the 1960s, pressure to relax the White Australia Policy arose largely from a fall in European migration, as well as from Asian communities and other critics of the policy in Australia. The Whitlam Labor government of 1973 removed racial qualifications to immigration. In 1975 there was a flood of migration from Vietnam to Australia and the Fraser Coalition government inaugurated a policy of multiculturalism in the 1980s. In the 1990s Asian countries were the source of the fastest growing group of Australian immigrants.
  • Filmmaker Lisa Wang reflects on her father’s desire to achieve the Chinese family dream and her confusion at the time concerning how this fitted into the Australian context. Within the Wang family traditional Chinese values held sway, while in the Melbourne community David Wang was a great success as an Australian business leader and city councillor. The clip expresses the confusion Lisa Wang felt as a child trying to interpret her father operating within two cultures and to understand her place within those cultures.
  • The reference to David Wang becoming a JP provides a link to politician Arthur Calwell (1896–1973). As Minister for Immigration in Chifley’s post-Second World War government, Calwell pursued increased immigration from the UK and Europe to preserve 'white’ Australia. Later, as leader of the Federal Labor Party in 1958, his comment that 'two Wongs don’t make a white’ gained him notoriety. It is not widely known, however, that he was a long-time friend of the Wang family, supporting Wang’s application for a business permit to enter Australia in 1948 and nominating him to become a JP in 1964.

This clip starts approximately 13 minutes into the documentary.

We see footage of Mr Wang shaking hands and speaking with other men in suits. Mabel Wang is interviewed. We see black and white footage of Mr Wang being sworn in, Mabel Wang is seated in the crowd watching on smiling. The front page of The Sun newspaper is seen in an office window in the street with the headline, It’s Cr Wang: He wants to liven us up.
Mabel Wang After he became a JP, then other people suggested, why don’t you try for the Melbourne City Council? He thought, ‘Oh, that’s a good idea.’ And ah, and so from the time he became a JP, he, um, he worked at it – at building up this momentum to the election, that everybody knew him by then. So he won, and it was all over the newspapers. We got news back, cuttings from Japan, from Hong Kong, from Taiwan, that the Chinese had got into the Melbourne City Council. It was quite a big deal in those days.

We see footage of a building site with a sign on the construction reading, ‘David Wang & Co’. We see men working at erecting steal beam. We see Mr Wang and another man in a suit and a young girl posing for the camera in front of the work site.
Lisa Wang One of Dad’s dreams was to open the biggest Chinese emporium outside Hong Kong. He believed it was one way to bring Chinese culture to Australia. I just saw it as another tall building. What I couldn’t understand was if Dad was trying so hard to be Australian, then why did we have to try so hard to be Chinese? Dad expected us all to work towards the Chinese family dream.

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