The Chinese migration to Australia in the 1850s and 1860s in search of gold was a phenomenon of the age.
Over 40,000 Chinese from mainly the southern provinces came to the country, sending their hard-won fortunes back to their families.
Greeted with fear and often outright violence, the Chinese miners were also resented for their ability to work hard. The community often chose to keep to itself, and this helped give rise to the stereotypical ‘inscrutability’ that other miners found menacing.
But the journey of the Chinese was one of endurance as well. To avoid taxes payable in Victoria, many Chinese immigrants were dropped off in South Australia and were forced to trek overland to the fabled ‘New Gold Mountain’.
Big Walk to Golden Mountain is one of several national events marking the 160th year of Chinese migration to the goldfields. The month-long project pays tribute to the 500km journey from Robe in South Australia to the central Victorian goldfields undertaken by gold seekers from the Guangdong region in China.
Devised by Castlemaine-based Punctum Inc., Big Walk to Golden Mountain explores the contemporary influence of this historic migration landscape in our region using several different art forms.
Starting on Monday February 27, Punctum visual artist Gabriele Brauer, performance artist Eugenia Lim and photographer Pia Johnson will work alongside each other to create a series of large-format Chinese scrolls or ‘muyi’ during a week-long residency in the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
The Chinese tradition of ink art scrolls dates from the tenth century. Depictions of landscape revealed the mind and heart of the artists painting them, and symbolised a shifting cultural and sometimes political relationship with the land, its flora and fauna. Because the scrolls could be rolled and easily transported, they provided the owners with a mental retreat to which they could return through periods of change.
Visitors to the Gallery during the week will be able to view the painting of the scrolls, which will be rolled out on the floor of McCain Hall. While some of the scrolls will be destined to hang in McCain Hall, others will be transformed into shelters, symbolizing the improvised shelters constructed by the Chinese gold-seekers undertaking the Golden Mountain Walk.
Brauer’s scrolls, Lim’s shelters and performance, and Johnson’s photographs will draw from and respond to their own walking of the Golden Mountain Walk, Chinese walking practices, and some of the remnant and flora of the region’s landscape.
The project is a collaboration between Punctum Inc, the Chinese-Australian Cultural Society of Ballarat, Federation University and the Castlemaine State Festival, hosted by the Art Gallery of Ballarat. It is supported by the Sidney Myer Fund and the Arts Centre Melbourne through Creative Victoria for Asia Triennial of Performing Arts.