Arts North West projects adds to understanding of the activities of the Chinese in Emmaville

Our region's Chinese history inspires artist during placement

A piece of local history inspired Deepwater artist Jeff Manning during his tenure with the Arts North West's In the Museum residency project for the Emmaville Mining Museum.

The project placed a creative artist, writer or musician within five community museums across the New England North West to develop work in response to their collections.

Jeff had visited the Emmaville museum several times before with guests, but the residency gave him time to reflect more deeply on a significant historical population.

Once far outnumbering European settlers to the Emmaville region, Chinese immigrants exponentially formed the bulk of the labour force for the mining boom in the 19th Century.

The museum exhibits include many photos, some understandably faded by time, depicting images of Chinese miners and merchants who emigrated to the Emmaville area.

"I had been aware of the existence of a Chinese Temple, or Joss House, as they were known colloquially, but after reading, in particular Golden Threads, by Janis Wilton, talking with locals and internet browsing, learned of three temples that existed in Emmaville," Jeff said.

He explained the museum acknowledges and represents the Chinese residency and influence in the town, but had few artifacts of that period on exhibit.

On the strength of his research, Jeff created two large drawings, which are on display at the museum which represent the daily life and traditions of the Chinese residents of the time.

"The town was originally known as Vegetable Creek as the Chinese in particular grew vegetables and food for the growing population," Jeff said.

"These two activities, the Joss House and the market gardens, took my interest and I decided to represent the Temple on a Festive day, complete with fireworks, roasting pig, musicians, gambling and general festivities, and another drawing of the gardens at Vegetable Creek."

Jeff has continued a relationship with the museum committee beyond his residency period to help grow their historical assets in regard to the Chinese who once lived in the area.

"I have been fortunate to be loaned two brass cymbals by the Robertson-Cunninghame family, which are from one of the Joss Houses. These will be displayed in the Museum," he said.

"I hope my drawings add to the understanding of the activities of the Chinese in Emmaville, as well as different foods and fresh vegetables which no doubt aided the health of the town and with their exotic religions, culture and Festival days, the Chinese were an important part of the fabric of Emmaville."

Arts North West project officer Michèle Jedlicka said Jeff had kindly walked her through the museum and explained what had most affected him.

"I really enjoyed that. This residency was all about a creative interpretation of history, and Jeff certainly responded with two beautiful drawings," she said.

Jeff Manning's drawings can be seen on display in Emmaville Mining Museums main building.

The Arts North West In the Museum project was made possible through the NSW Government's Arts Restart program.