Walk with me through the Hidden Treasures of Queanbeyan
Reimagine is the theme of this years Canberra and Region Heritage Festival, and they certainly hit the mark with their walking tour of Queanbeyan ‘Hidden Treasures: The First Chinese’. Held on Sunday the 18th of April, the walk was a fascinating adventure through Queanbeyan, which highlighted the town’s diversity and a secret past many were not aware of.
The Canberra and Region Heritage Festival is a month-long, annual event that celebrates the local area’s history through exhibits, talks, workshops, walks, and more. It is running from the 6th of April through to the 26th and is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the place we call home. I was lucky enough to book a $15 ticket for the sold-out walking tour led by National Trust members Tony Maple and Donna Zhao.
Upon arrival, everyone was given a small audio unit and pair of headphones that allowed us to hear Tony and Donna whilst maintaining social distancing and allowed you to walk around and listen to the leaders. Technology like this is a great resource for increasing accessibility and allowing for greater freedom to walk around and not be worried about missing out on something. It was another layer that made this event so successful.
The walking tour began with around thirty eager history enthusiasts in the Riverside Cemetery, the first of eight stops (A lucky number in Chinese culture!). Here we got to view the grave of William Charles Tankey, a second-generation Chinese immigrant who lived most of his life in Queanbeyan. The 1800s saw a need for cheap labour since convicts were no longer being used for free, and so the market turned to China. Thousands of people from China came to Australia to either work in the goldfields or tried and made their fortune in other fields.
With the leaves turning golden in the crisp autumn air, it was the perfect time of year for this walking tour. Following the graveyard, Tony and Donna led us along the river, where we explored sites that used to be Chinese gardens and learnt more about some of the first Chinese settlers to the area. Questions were encouraged throughout the whole walk, which allowed for conversation to flow, and people felt able to engage and personalise the tour.
As we made our way into the town centre, we stopped for a light snack of gold styled chocolate, prepared by Donna, one of the tour leaders. This was meant to not only be a tasty morsel but also to bring in discussions of the goldfields that brought many Chinese immigrants to Australia originally back in the 1800s. Details like this made you feel appreciated and were a wonderful surprise that added to the value of this walking tour.
We didn’t spend too much time in the town centre, stopping in Shamrock Lane, which is home to some of the oldest surviving buildings in the region and tied to the Chinese community in Queanbeyan, before moving on to the last two stops of the tour.
St Gregory’s Church was the second last stop, and a member of the Tankey family joined us here. Monica Tankey is the granddaughter of William Tankey, whose grave we visited at the beginning of the walk. Getting to meet and talk to a descendant of someone whose ancestry we had been learning about was a wonderful opportunity and made this history feel less like something that had happened and more alive.
Tony Maple, one of the walk leaders, hopes that events like this can broaden local heritage awareness beyond foundation stories. Over the years, a shift has occurred in historical societies where non-colonial tales are getting a chance to be in the spotlight.
Festivals like the Canberra and Region Heritage Festival are a fantastic initiative that allows the community to broaden their perspective and enrich their knowledge about different cultures and their influence in Australia.
The tour ended with a bus ride past Rusten House to return us to our cars at the graveyard. Each of these places in the tour allowed for a deeper look into the Chinese community. Rather than being stuck in a lecture hall, you got to move around and be in the places that history occurred, making it a more interactive and enjoyable way to learn.
The ACT National Trust runs walks every month for a small fee around the Canberra region. If you want to learn more about the local area, you can find the National Trust on Facebook or online. Personally, I loved the experience and will be keeping my eye out for future events and would recommend it to those that don’t mind a walk and want to learn something new.