Through a gold-rush era Cantonese-English phrasebook held by the Chinese Museum, this project explored the significance of language for Chinese immigrants as they built lives in a new country. Research was undertaken into the provenance of the phrasebook and the context in which it was used. We also researched and identified a number of other phrasebooks in Australian collections to better understand the history of phrasebooks in Australia.

This project was a collaboration between Culture Victoria and the Chinese Museum. It was supported through funding from the Australian Government’s Your Community Heritage Program, and by the Victorian Government through Arts Victoria.


This project offered us the opportunity to collaborate with the Donald History and Natural History Group, the Mitchell Library, the Golden Dragon Museum and the See Yup Society. The outcome is an online web story published on the Culture Victoria website Available through the website are:

  • Samples of Cantonese-English phrasebooks from collections around Australia
  • An Education Kit containing five classroom activities linked to the Australian curriculum based on the Museum’s phrasebook, Zhu’s English through Cantonese and Zhaoqing (c1857-c1862).
  • Three short videos: Speaking English with an 1860s Cantonese-English phrasebook; Learning English in 1950s Australia: Mr Ng’s experience; and Learning English in 1930s China: Mr Leong’s Experience.
  • Four short essays: Phrasebook use in China; Introduction to Chinese and Cantonese dialects; Maa Louey (1835-1915) and his family; and Donald is my home: George Ah Ling (1884-1987).
  • A selection of high resolution images of gold-rush era newspaper engravings from the Museum’s collection.