About This Project

Twenty years ago, as a young university graduate, I joined a small group of Australians teaching English in the coastal city of Zhuhai in Guangdong. We worked for a not-for-profit language centre run by a Chinese Australian businessman, and I taught at the local Radio and TV University and at the No. 1 Middle School. I lived in the university’s student dormitory and, with few other foreigners living in Zhuhai, found friends and companions among my adult students – friendships that endure to this day.


In that year, I learned how to barbeque Cantonese-style; I went to weddings; I saw the Hong Kong handover; I taught myself a smattering of Cantonese; and I fell in love with the language, culture and history of south China.


My year in Zhuhai set me on a course of learning and discovery about the historical connections between Guangdong and Australia that has continued for two decades. I began a PhD in History at the University of Sydney in 1998, investigating the history of Chinese-European families in colonial New South Wales. Over the years I have returned to Guangdong for research, for holidays, and to study Mandarin at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. In my research, I have also traced the Cantonese connections of Chinese-Australian families, particularly to understand more about experiences of Australian wives and children who visited China in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


In 2017, fellow historian Sophie Couchman and I led our first study tour to Hong Kong and Guangdong, taking more than a dozen Australians back to learn more about their ancestral roots in the Pearl River Delta. Along with museums and heritage sites, we visited eight ‘Australian’ villages, including the home villages of Sydney merchants Quong Tart in Taishan, Choy Hing in Zhuhai and Yee Wing in Xinhui. We hope this tour is just the first of many more to come.


Kate Bagnall is ARC DECRA Fellow, School of Humanities & Social Inquiry at the University of Wollongong and author of The Chungking Legation: Australia’s Diplomatic Mission in Wartime China.

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