I’m what is often referred to as an ABC – Australian Born Chinese. My family has been in Australia for five generations. English is my mother tongue and I’m an Aussie through and through, but first and foremost I’m a Darwin girl. Or as a recent play by the talented Sandra Thibodeaux coined it… I’m Darwinese!
However, like so many others from Chinese heritage across the globe, my family celebrates Chinese New Year. Last Saturday, 28th January, was the official start to the Year of the Rooster.
Every year since I have become Lord Mayor, I’ve been very honoured to be asked to record a New Year’s message for People’s Daily Online, China’s official news agency. I take the opportunity to not only wish everyone a happy, prosperous and healthy New Year, I also send a special greeting to all my friends in our sister city of Haikou, on Hainan Island.
This year I also said hello to the good people of Rizhou a City that we recently signed a letter of mutual respect with. I have found that generally in Asia, Mayors are held in great esteem and that the idea of a Chinese Lord Mayor in Darwin is of great interest.
When I travel in China it is very funny as they do expect me to be able to speak Chinese which I do not. My father was very passionate about our education and wanted us all to go to University. Then, year 12 English was compulsory for University entrance and so my parents made a conscious choice not to teach us Chinese, figuring that we could always learn it as an adult.
Another complicating factor is that Mum and Dad spoke a Cantonese dialect that had left China in the 1860s, it was a dialect spoken with a broad Aussie accent which probably only the Chinese in San Franscisco or Bendigo could possibly understand. I have since tried twice to learn Mandarin but have never mastered the art of learning a language. I have a great admiration for all of those who have learnt English as a second language.
Some of our traditions
Here at home in Darwin, my family celebrates with a traditional family feast on Chinese New Year Eve. My husband and I now host it at our place and everyone brings a dish.
Each family feast is different with special foods that evoke our childhood.
Our menu will be something like this:
Roast Duck and Crispy Roast Pork (both purchased from a local restaurant)
Chicken Hotpot (a particular speciality of my Mother)
Sweet ‘n sour pork (very different dish to the deep fried battered one that you find in the Chinese takeaway)
Beef and Tomato
Steamed fish with ginger and spring onion
Chinese donuts and fresh fruit
In preparation for Chinese New Year the house is spring cleaned as we cannot use a broom for several days afterwards so as not to sweep away our luck.
Similarly, we do not wash our hair or use scissors or sharp knives on Chinese New Year day. As part of the celebrations all the unwed children in the family receive lucky red packets which have money in it, but they have to say Gung He Fatt Choi to us first. This is one of the few Chinese phrases I do know from my childhood.
Many businesses in Darwin also take the opportunity to have the Lion Dancers from the Chung Wah Society visit their premises. The spectacle of the colour, the drums and the dancers all add wonderful visual appeal for the shoppers too!
The shop blessings are a huge undertaking with 4 teams of two lions travelling to businesses all over the City and Palmerston. Sometimes the Lions have even made the trip to Alice Springs to bless the businesses there. It is all hands on deck for this mammoth effort.
I volunteer for one of the Saturdays, making sure that the businesses are ready and have their lettuce and red packets up in their doorway. While it is hot and exhausting work, it is also a lot of fun to see the joy on people’s faces and to witness how seriously shop keepers take the whole event.
As part of the start of Council’s business year, we also have the Lions come to bless our Chambers, along with an official Welcome to Country from a Larrakia Elder, this is a very special acknowledgement of the Chinese contribution to the Civic life of the City.
I was born in 1961 the Year of the Ox, the characteristics of an Ox are said to be patient, courageous, conventional, reliable, purposeful and intelligent. Nice to know.
Want to know more about ABCs? Check out this article from Buzzfeed.
PS In case you’re wondering the Year of the Rooster is for those born 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005 and 2017.