Our Story: Aboriginal Chinese People in Australia hosted a presentation of research progress on Saturday 9th of July. Our Story is a Museum of Chinese Australian History project conducted over a period of four years, to research, document and interpret the interactions between descendants of two of the world’s oldest civilisations: the First Nations and Chinese peoples in Australia.

This is a section of history that has been long overlooked by existing white Australian historical discourse about outside contacts with First Nations peoples. Our Story will result in not only new historical insights and texts but an art exhibition involving Aboriginal Chinese artists that will tour across Australia.

On Saturday, the progress of Our Story was presented through a panel discussion mediated by Mark Wang, CEO of the Chinese Museum. Present for the panel discussion were Zhou Xiaoping, Jenna Lee and her father Chris Lee, both of Aboriginal Chinese descent, and Professor Frank Cahir of Federation University.

Zhou Xiaoping is an artist and curator and the project leader of Our Story. Since 1988 he has been actively engaged with First Nations Peoples in Arnhem Land and Kimberley. On the heels of the ten-year project, “Trepang: China and the Story of Macassan—Aboriginal Trade”, he is continuing his ground-breaking hybrid historical and artistic work into unstudied parts of Australian history with Our Story.

During Saturday’s event, Xiaoping spoke extensively about the two years of research he and his team have so far undertaken, during which they have ranged across Australia interviewing descendants of Aboriginal Chinese people. Professor Frank Cahir, a specialist in early Aboriginal Chinese history and a researcher on Our Story, reinforced Xiaoping’s comments from the perspective of his historical field of study. Xiaoping signalled his intention, ultimately, to follow Aboriginal Chinese familial lineages into China – as well as to present part of his findings in the form of a contemporary art exhibition that will directly engage modern Australians and peoples of Chinese heritage.

Chris Lee spoke from a deep wealth of experiences about the interaction between Aboriginal and Chinese peoples in his own life. In respect of Saturday’s inclusion in events associated with NAIDOC week, it was especially important to hear present Aboriginal Chinese voices remembering and speaking to personal knowledges. Jenna Lee followed her father to speak about her artistic practice, which directly engages with the intersection between Chinese and First Nation’s symbolism and meanings in the context of the journeys these two peoples have traversed through Australian time and place.

Saturday’s presentation concluded with an engaged Q&A between the audience and the panellists. Audience members were especially interested to better understand the present cultural experiences of Jenna and her father and to ask about ways that Chinese Australians can contribute to efforts aimed at deeper intercultural understandings and to reconciliation between the wider Australian community and First Nations peoples.

Zhou Xiao Ping presenting at Our Story: Discovering Our Relationships

Jenna Lee and her father Chris Lee presenting at Our Story: Discovering Our Relationships

Jenna Lee presenting at Our Story: Discovering Our Relationships

See the highlights:

Check out the full recording here:

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