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Tasmania's Multicultural Heritage: North East Chinese Mining Site


Over the last year, a number of sites have been discovered in the State's North East, revealing the lives of Chinese miners in Tasmania.

The 30-year history of one particular mining camp has been slowly revealing its secrets following recent excavations. Records show that Chinese miner Hen Kee held a lease on the mine, which was worked by him and others from 1892 to 1923.

The composite Chinese-European alluvial tin mine has revealed dump sites containing domestic refuse. Items from the Chinese era show soy sauce vessels, ginger jars, whisky bottles, and highly decorated coloured ceramics. A forge has also been unearthed, which is significant in that it shows the transition from Chinese-only mining to an exclusively European operation.

Chinese miners were important in the tin mining of North East Tasmania from the 1870's. The Chinese are known to have been in large numbers on the tin fields of the North East in the late decades of the 19th century. They contributed labour for the tin fields and were accepted as hard working men who lived well in the community.

Most Chinese worked on leases held by Chinese businessmen such as the Argus and Garibaldi mines. Others worked alone on small leases working the creeks with the use of hand-dug water races. The climate in North East Tasmania means that long periods without rain could be expected. When there was no water available the miners improved their water races, worked in their market gardens or walked to the nearest Chinese settlement for sociable entertainment.

The physical evidence of the towns, camps and shops of this once vibrant community have long been a source of interest both to North East residents and the wider community. Unfortunately this interest has often taken the form of random and destructive excavations in order to retrieve examples of Chinese pottery that were in good condition. The two sites recently located are the first found in over 20 years that do not appear to have been disturbed other than by natural processes of decay.

The public interest in the Chinese heritage of Tasmania has the potential to be a significant tourism attraction for the State and North East region.

The Dorset Economic Development Group and Dorset Tourism Board are currently working with the Launceston and Break O'Day councils to develop an interpretive heritage trail, linking the stories of mining and the Chinese heritage in the North East. It is envisaged the TRAIL OF THE TIN DRAGON would follow the historic mining route between Launceston and St Helens.

For more information on the TRAIL OF THE TIN DRAGON, click here.
Excavation site (photo courtesy Denise Gaughwin, Forest Practices Board)
Artefacts discovered during recent excavations (photo courtesy Denise Gaughwin, Forest Practices Board)


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