Posted on by


On 27 January a well-attended memorial service was held at the Sydney Trades Hall to honour the life and work of an outstanding Chinese-Australian, Arthur Gar Lock Chang (18 February 1921 – 14 January 2016). Curator Dr Stephen Gapps explores some of the important connections Arthur had with the events surrounding the museum’s Black Armada exhibition.

In 2011, a chance conversation about events on the Sydney waterfront in 1945 led to a reunion of two people who had not seen each other in 65 years. During the annual Indonesian Independence commemorations at the Indonesian consulate in Sydney, Anthony Liem from the Australia–Indonesia Association was listening to Charlotte Maramis, then in her 80s, telling stories of her experiences as a young 17-year-old girl involved with the maritime strikes against Dutch shipping from 1945 to 1949. (See Chapter 1)

Charlotte ‘Lotte’ Maramis told Anthony how she and her mother were called upon one freezing winter morning in 1946 to come to the aid of a group of Indonesians who were suffering from tuberculosis and had been unceremoniously turfed out of the Queen Juliana hospital in Turramurra, in northern Sydney. While government policy had not yet changed from an exclusionist white Australia one, there were at least some Sydneysiders who were compassionate towards the Indonesians who had been cast on Australian shores by the Japanese invasion of their country in 1942.

Lotte described how Fred Wong of the Chinese Youth League had arranged for a truck to pick up the homeless patients and take them to the Chinese Youth League building in Dixon Street, Haymarket, or ‘China Town’ in the city. The Chinese Youth League and the Chinese Seamen’s Union had given much support to the Indonesians who, as the Chinese had been against Japan, were also fighting an anti-colonial struggle.

The Indonesians were given space in the loft of the building, mattresses were laid out and meals provided. The driver of the truck was Assistant Secretary of the Chinese Seamens’ Union Sydney Branch, and a protégé of the energetic Fred Wong. His name, Lotte remembered, was Arthur Gar Lock Chang.

When Anthony heard Fred Wong’s and Arthur Chang’s names, he mentioned to Lotte that Fred was the father of his wife, Helen Wong. Fred had died in 1948. (See Chapter 3) But Anthony knew that Arthur was still alive and in his 1980s. Lotte had spent many years in Indonesia after she married one of the Indonesian exiles in Australia during World War II, Anton Maramis. She left Australia with Anton and had a distinguished career as a foreign journalist in Indonesia during a time where Australia had very little to do with its northern neighbour.

Wondering if they would still recognise each other after all these years, Anthony soon arranged for Lotte and Arthur to meet up. They did recognise each other and became friends again. During the last years of Lotte’s life before she died in 2012, Lotte and Arthur met for coffee and chats about their shared pasts nearly 70 years before, when Chinese and Indonesian political struggles united them in the streets of Sydney.

The SS Moreton Bay was one of the several hundred vessels in Australian ports affected by the black bans against Dutch shipping returning to Indonesia after World War II. (See Chapter One). ANMM Collection

Arthur Gar Lock Chang was born in February 1921 in the village of Longxu, in Zhonshan County, Guangdong Province, near Hong Kong in southern China. His father, Chang Yat, was one of the few Chinese who had not been deported or returned to China after the introduction of the White Australia Policy in 1901. Chang Yat had managed to make a life in rural Australia after the goldrushes ­— working as a market gardener, kitchen hand, furniture maker, road builder and even as a jackaroo.

Arthur Gar Lock Chang aged 22, in Tingha, west of Glen Innes on the Western Tablelands of New South Wales, around 1944. Reproduced courtesy Arthur Gar Lock Chang

Chang Yat brought his son Arthur out to Australia at the age of 14 – to the tin-mining township of Tingha on the Western Tablelands of New South Wales. As Chinese (and most non-British who sought to live or work in Australia prior to World War II) were subject to the White Australia Policy, they had to pass strict rules to enter the country.

His father arranged for him to be indentured to an employer so Arthur would not have to pass the dictation test, which could be set in any language the immigration officials desired. But this also meant Arthur was not allowed to look for other work, or he would lose his right to stay in Australia.

Arthur’s father had promised his wife that he would return with his son to China in five years time. As Arthur said later, ‘I didn’t see my mother for 27 years. Under the White Australia Policy I couldn’t leave at my own will.’ These restrictions, and the experiences of other Chinese who had managed to stay in Australia, were to underpin much of the work of the rest of Arthur’s life.

In the 1930s, already dismembered by years of colonialism and civil war, China came under attack from an imperialist Japan. As Chinese resistance to the Japanese became known, as well as news of the shocking events of the Massacre of Nanking (Nanjing) in 1937, many overseas Chinese began to do what they could to support their homeland.

In Sydney, the Chinese community efforts were led by Fred Wong, the driving force behind a number of broad, popular Chinese organisations that as labour historian Drew Cottle has described, were ‘formed as expressions of cultural resistance and social advance’.

Japanese soldiers march into the damaged city of Nanking in December 1937. The Japanese Army unleashed a period of massacres and destruction in the city in what was called at the time the `Rape of Nanking'. Australian War Memorial, P02164.001

In 1937, led by Australian Communists – the only political group in the country actively protesting against Japanese imperialism in China – the New South Wales Trades and Labour Council set up a ‘Hands Off China Campaign’ Committee to mobilise public support for China’s war of resistance against Japan. Fred Wong became an influential committee member.

While support for the Communist Party in China was not popular among the Sydney Chinese community, when the Communists united with the Kuomintang Nationalists after 1937 to fight the Japanese, the small Chinese community in Sydney also came together in support China’s defence of what is now called the War of Resistance Against Japan. Fred Wong was able to see the opportunities for support for the Chinese cause among the only sections of Australian society interested – the Communists and other left wing groups, particularly the maritime trade unions.

The maritime workers were a key factor, as the main connections between Australia and Asia at this time were shipping and trade based and their unions were led by Communists and the radical left. The 1938 Dalfram dispute – in which politician Robert Menzies attained the nick name ‘Pig Iron Bob’ – saw Chinese seamen refuse to crew ships and Australian waterfront workers refuse to load them with iron that was destined for Japan – and to be turned into bombs and bullets to subjugate China.