Chung Wah Café Menu (Early 1950s)

Scan donated by Andrew Lew (2014.07.24)

Scan donated by Andrew Lew (2014.07.24)

We can recognise on this 1950s menu dishes which remain staples in Chinese restaurants around Australia today. Notice the ‘Chop Suey’: often thought of as an exclusively American-Chinese dish, this menu shows that it was also being served at the Chung Wah Café in Melbourne in the 1950s.

There are numerous stories about its origins, the most likely being anthropologist E.N. Anderson’s belief that was based on a Cantonese dish, ‘tsap seui’ (杂碎), meaning ‘miscellaneous leftovers’.

The Chung Wah Cafe was located at 11 Heffernan Lane in Melbourne’s Chinatown; a site which in fact housed various Chinese cookshops or restaurants since 1891. The faded letters ‘C-H-U’ down the southern side of that now vacant, nondescript brick building, remind us of its former tenant which operated there from 1916 till the 1970s. It is fondly remembered by many, and from accounts was unpretentious, perhaps a little shabby, but served excellent Chinese cooking drawing both Chinese and non-Chinese customers. Standing outside the building today, we can image the atmosphere there 50 years ago, alive with the clatter and smells of a busy Chinese restaurant.

Many early Chinese supported themselves and their families back in China by setting up and working in restaurants like the Chung Wah. Their economic and cultural contributions have paved the way for other migrants who continue to bring new dishes and ingredients to challenge and tantalise Australian palates.

Do you have an interesting story about a Chinese restaurant in Australia that you would like to share with us? We would love to hear from you. Write to us at

Result slip issued by Melbourne See Yup Chinese School (6 July 1991)

The late Evelyn Lau (also known as Evelyn Law and Evelyn Imfeld) is well remembered for introducing Cantonese and other Chinese cuisines to Australian television audiences on the channel ATV-0 in the 1970s. She moved to Australia from Hong Kong in 1946 at the age of 18 and retained a lifelong interest in Chinese culture, food and language.

A recent donation of Evelyn’s possessions, which include language study materials, shows us that throughout the 1980s to early 2000s Evelyn attended a variety of Mandarin and Cantonese classes. Result slips such as this one are not only evidence of her ongoing interest and efforts to learn spoken and written Chinese, but also provide us with a record and understanding of the various organisations in Melbourne that provided Chinese language lessons, as well as their teaching methods and activities.  From this document, we can also tell that sixty-three year old Evelyn was a diligent student with stellar grades, and of excellent discipline, moral character and manners!

If you have an item with a Chinese-Australian connection that you would like to donate, write to us at .

Donated by Christian Imfeld and Geoff Goullet, in memory of Evelyn Imfeld (nee Law) (2015.06)

Donated by Christian Imfeld and Geoff Goullet, in memory of Evelyn Imfeld (nee Law) (2015.06)

Chinese or Western?

This photograph of the 1928 Hong Kong marriage of Violet Tock & Lam Chik Shang shows the wedding party in a fascinating mix of 1920s Western fashion and traditional southern Chinese attire.

The Hong Kong Daily Press reported that Violet’s gown was ‘a compromise between the fashions of the East and West being made in a semi-Chinese fashion’. The bridesmaids and flower girls wore 1920s Western short dresses and shoes while the groom and groomsmen wore loose ‘Oxford bag’ trousers, black top hats, patent leather Oxford shoes and white pocket squares.

In contrast, other men in the wedding party wore Ma Kua 馬褂, short jackets over Cheung Sam 長杉 while many women wore Qun Kua裙褂, wedding jacket and skirt sets.

Violet Tock was the daughter of Chinese-Australian furniture maker Leong Chuey Tock and his first wife, Chun See. Violet was not the first Chinese Australian to be married in white with some Chinese Australians choosing white weddings from the 1890s and earlier, according to newspapers and photos from the time.

Do you have a white wedding dress with a Chinese-Australian story that you would like to donate to the Museum? Get in touch at

Violet Tock & Lam Chik Shang’s wedding photograph (c. 12 August 1928) Donated by Shirley Millard (2015.02.69)

Violet Tock & Lam Chik Shang’s wedding photograph (c. 12 August 1928) Donated by Shirley Millard (2015.02.69)

A postman’s Chinese teapot in a basket

This tea set was given to Cecil Douglas (1897-1961) who worked as a postman delivering mail from the General Post Office in Melbourne. It was one of a number of gifts he received from appreciative Chinese customers. He was also given embroidered handkerchiefs and once, a German Shepherd puppy.

Others recall drinking tea from sets like these in the old clan stores in Little Bourke Street. Do you have any memories of these tea sets? We’d love to hear them. If you do, email our Curator at



Hand-painted teapot and two teacups in padded basket, 1920s-1930s. Donated by Karen Bevan (2014.14)

Exterior wall plaque, c.1891


This magnificent wall plaque, just under three metres long, use to hang on the front of the Kong Chew Society building at 242-244 Little Bourke Street. The Society was established in 1854, making it the oldest Chinese community organisation in Australia. They are still active today, supporting people from Sunwei (Xinhui) in the See Yup (Siyi) district in Guangdong. The Society built their first club rooms at Little Bourke Street in 1862 on one of the first Chinese-owned properties. In the 1960s, when the building was demolished, they moved to their current premises on 4 Tattersalls Lane.

This plaque commemorates this grand old building and the values of the society that built it. We are still working on a nuanced translation, but the four main characters, 胞與為懷, can be roughly translated to mean: “In mind, taking all men to be brothers, and all things to be fellows” (thanks to Yanbing Li, Ed Chiu and Ely Finch for their assistance). The characters on the right tell us that it was made in the sixteenth year of the Guangxu Emperor or in 1890 on the Gregorian calendar.

Do you have further information about the plaque or the old Kong Chew Society building? Perhaps you have a photograph of it? We would love to hear from you by email at or post at 22 Cohen Place, Melbourne.

Donated by Kong Chew Society