Chen family pledge $500

By Rhys Williams

The descendant family of a local pioneer have pledged $500 annually towards Wahgunyah Primary School at the announcement of the schools new houses.

The school houses have been renamed Chen, Foord and McCrae to reflect local pioneers ‘Jimmy’ Ah Kew Chen, John Foord and Tommy McCrae.

Descendants of the Chen family were present for the revealing of the houses, where they presented the Chen banner to the house captains and announced they would be donating an annual $500 bursary to the school for the next five years.

87-year-old Stephan Chen also donated the ‘Jing’ Perpetual Shield to Principal Josh Reid, which will be awarded to the winning house captains at the end of every school year.

“This is a very proud moment for me and my family,” Mr Chen said as he presented the shield.

Stephen’s niece Gabrielle Wang, who attended the presentation, is a children’s author and much to her delight about 25 of her books were in the school library which she happily signed.

Gabrielle also gave students an impromptu art lesson and donated five more books she had published to add to the school library.

Jimmy Ah Kew Chen was a prominent early pioneer in Wahgunyah, first arriving in the area searching for gold as did large numbers of other Chinese. 

After the gold diminished he opened a store in Blanche Street, becoming a successful business man.  

He brought out 500 Chinese men to Australia, organising them into groups of 30 to 40 men who worked on the properties of new settlers to the colony who had selected land for farming in southern NSW and Northern Eastern Victoria. 

In 1887 he sought a wife from China to marry, Lum Gum, having six children with the older boys attending Wahgunyah Primary School. 

In 1901 when the Federation was introduced, all Chinese who were not born in Australia were forced to return to their homeland.  Soon after returning to their homeland Jimmy died, along with their youngest child.

Eventually all children returned to Australia, including their Mother Lum Gum where they settled in Melbourne.

The Wahgunyah History Group hosted the Chen family reunion in December last year and since then the descendants of Jimmy Ah Kew Chen have formed a close relationship with Wahgunyah, particularly the primary school and history group.

On July 21st members of Wahgunyah History Group have been invited down to the Melbourne Chinese Museum for the opening of the Chen Family Exhibition, which is part of the ‘One Million Stories Exhibition.’  It commemorates 200 years of Chinese Australian history from 1818, when the first registered Chinese settlers arrived, to 2018. 

Gabrielle’s brother, Mark Wang, is deputy chairman of the museum and has been working, collating and preparing for the opening of this Exhibition, part of which was contributed by the History Group.

The Exhibition will travel around Australia and China over the next three years.