An intricately painted spoon and saucer and a luxurious wedding dress are two items that will make their way from Braidwood to Ballarat to feature in a major exhibition exploring the stories of early Chinese Australians.
Chinese Fortunes, which opens at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, in Ballarat, later this month, looks at the contribution the Chinese community made to Australian society in the 19th Century.
Curator of the exhibition Cash Brown said the Braidwood district played a very significant role in the story, with two prominent families making their base in the region.
The spoon and saucer are monogrammed with the initials QT, part of a dinnerware set belonging to Mei Quong Tart, who was raised in Braidwood after arriving in Australia in 1859. He was sent out from China with an uncle, headed to the goldfields around Araluen, and after making his fortune, went on to become one of Sydney's leading merchants, political activists and socialites.
"Quong Tart was a remarkable character," says Ms Brown.
"He was something of a renaissance man, in that he not only had business interests and was a great philanthropist, but he also actively campaigned against the importing of opium and his marvellous tea rooms in Sydney helped spawn the suffragette movement."
"He was also the captain of an Australian Rules football team that played in Ballarat in 1892 and he played the bagpipes and spoke with a Scottish accent."
The wedding dress is believed to have belonged to Mary Nom Chong. The Nom Chongs have an association with the district that stretches back to the 1860s when Shong Foon migrated to Australia and set up successful stores in Mongarlowe and later in Braidwood. Shong Foon and Quong Tart set up branches of the Oriental Bank in Araluen and Braidwood to buy and export gold.
In 1877 Shong Foon's brother Chee Dock joined him in Braidwood, and 10 years later returned to China, bringing his young bride Mary back with him. Very few Chinese women were in Australia at the time and Mary went on to bear 14 children, the descendents of whom still live in the region today. Eddie Nom Chong still runs Nomchong Electrics on Braidwood's main street.
Ms Brown says discovering these items, among other rarities such as intricate jewellery, a mah jong set, an abacus, clothing, and a set of doors from a joss house, which could have been used in a makeshift temple on the gold fields - "I've never seen anything like them", Ms Brown said - tucked away on the top floor of the Braidwood Museum has been part of the story itself.
"I think it's wonderful that this incredible volunteer run organisation is the custodian of these items which have such national significance," Ms Brown said. "That they are here and not in the National Museum or the Powerhouse Museum is testament to the connection the family had to this district."
"We're very lucky that there are any items at all, there is so little left of the Chinese diaspora in the 19th century in Australia.
"That's happened because a lot of the Chinese people returned home after a time, but many did decide to stay and make great lives here."
Ms Brown said there was often a stereotype around the early Chinese immigrants, that they were indentured labourers in the gold fields, a community rife with violence and opium addiction, but that the true stories were often very different.
"We're looking at stories about, for example, the philanthropy and the incredible role the Chinese individuals, organisations and communities, played in building hospitals and benevolent asylums and orphanages and things like that, looking at the mechanisms they had in place, to raise the money, wonderful carnivals and parades."
The exhibition will also look at how the Chinese community rallied against unfair taxes and protested for awareness and change.
John Stahel, a volunteer with the Braidwood and District Historical Society said Braidwood was a town "very in touch with its history" and was proud of the contribution the museum had made to Chinese Fortunes.
"Many Chinese families came to the Braidwood area in the late 1850s, heading to the gold fields around Jembaicumbene, Mongarlowe, Araluen and Majors Creek," he said.
"They worked in the gold fields, but also as store keepers, market gardeners and in the transport industry.
"Working with Cash and the Museum of Democracy in Eureka has made us even more aware of the importance of the connection the Chinese had with this district."
Chinese Fortunes, Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, Ballarat, from January 28-June 25, 2017. Hours: 10am–5pm. Cost: Gold coin donation for locals, otherwise free upon admission to M.A.D.E. Free entry on Chinese New Year weekend January 28-29.
Braidwood Museum, 186 Wallace Street, Braidwood. Open Friday to Sunday, 11am-2pm.