Cobb & Co Heritage Trail Bathurst to Bourke by Diane de St. Hilaire Simmonds available from: (click)

A fig tree marks the place where Me Wong lived.

Me Wong's signature in the Palmers Post Office book.

Help this site grow:

Advertise in this space!

Email Now :


Tracking the dragon  

Research into Chinese history in the central west


Chinese Anonmity. 1

The Wongs of Palmers Oakey

Chinamans Swamp. 4 Coolah Tops

Keys Market Garden Mudgee. 7





A remarkable feature of the Chinese who came to Australia was their prevalent anonymity.

Many withheld their name or became known by an adopted name.

There were a number of reasons for this.

One reason was the initial erroneous translation of names. Chinese coming  predominantly from South China and speaking Cantonese were recorded on arrival by Chinese of northern China in Mandarin. This led to a different interpretation or pronunciation.

Secondly the many Chinese who adopted the prefix to their name of Ah or Ar. This wasn’t part of their name but rather an introduction. Through usage it became a formal part of their name. In some cases it has been retained through a number of successive generations and is still part of the surnames today. eg Ah Yook and Ah Sing at Wellington.

A third reason was the Chinese adopted to some degree the slang or nick names that they were given. Names such as Wong, Ching or Jimmy are examples.  Me Wong at Palmers Oakey for example probably simply means ‘me the Chinese man’.

And fourthly some of the Chinese in giving their names, particularly if it was associated with an issue of law and order may well have given a false name realising that the Europeans didn’t understand the meaning of the name they had been given. An example of this is a Chinese giving the name ‘Bottoms Up’ in Bourke at a raid on a gambling house. This may have been a matter of deception or of ‘saving face’.

The combination of all these factors at a time when passports and visas didn’t exist, mistranslations, ‘Ah’ being taken as an actual name, nick names and false names probably means that a large percentage of these Chinese visitors were essentially anonymous. Possibly the only really reliable name giving is that of the Chinese name recorded in Chinese characters on the monuments that have survived in cemeteries. These are however quite scarce. In the central west the total number of thus accurately recorded Chinese names is in the order of 50.  Its was important that the correct information be put on the grave stone or memorial because it was this information, their name and origin, that would enable that particular person’s remains to be exhumed for the return journey back to their home in China. This was an important wish and part of the life of these travellers, and something that their Chinese family ensured happened wherever possible.

Happily most did return to their country or origin, so they could be laid to rest in their own soil.

 The Wongs of Palmers Oakey

The Wongs of Palmers Oakey

Ah Wong’s home circa 1925.

In the picture Left to Right:

Phyliss Ferguson, Duncan Ferguson, his mother Matilda Ferguson, and her husband Duncan Ferguson Snr, and unknown man.

Location: Portion 2

Palmer’s Oakey. (Refer map in images). Lithgow Shire.


Physical Description

Located in the valley of Oakey Creek, near the locality of Palmer’s Oakey and Upper Turon, are sites connected with Chinese who lived in the valley. One site contains a rubble mound that is believed to be the remains of the chimney of the hut of Ah Lung; another is the location of two former Chinese graves (the  bodies have been removed and only slight hollows in the ground indicates their previous location) approx. 250 meters east of the small Palmer’s Oakey cemetery, thirdly the site of the previous home of Ah Wong and his wife Ellen Ah Chong.

This form relates predominantly to the third site in the Oaky Creek locality Portion 2 : a 2 acre site and the former home site of Ah Wong and Ellen. However very little remains today to mark the site. A large healthy fig tree stands on the site. A number of intermittent streams focus on the portion. The small hut, that was the Wong home was constructed of adzed horizontal timber slabs held in place with daubed mud, and it had a rough bark roof. It is recorded as part in a photograph taken circa 1925 by members of the Ferguson family not long before it was dismantled.

Important other material evidence of the site and of the other Chinese who lived in the valley exists in the following journals and papers in the private collection of Colin Latham Ferguson of ‘Oaks’ at Palmer’s Oakey, and the descendant of Post Mistress Matilda Ferguson.

The principal items in this collection are

1. Registered letters to Palmer’s Oakey Post office from Mitchell’s creek and West Mitchell from 1870 to 1902.

2. A Ledger: Owners of stock on Common. 1881 to 1909

3. Common Roll 1899 to 1908

4. Document of ‘sale of good will to two acres of land’ by Ellen ah Chong to Duncan Ferguson.

5. Chinese Coins.

A summary of recorded details per year from the above journals and other papers compiled by Colin Ferguson is as follows:



1870. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from Mitchells Creek 12         Ah Lam 1.

1872. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from Mitchells Creek 12.        Ah Dun 1.

1873. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from Mitchells Creek 7.         Ah Hobb 1

1881 OWNERS OF STOCK ON COMMON. NAME, HORSES:  Wy Kied 1, Ah Koo 3,  Charley Ah Hann 4

1883. Reg letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from Mitchell’s Creek 5.  Ah Man 2. Ah Tin 1.


Sing W Jang 3 ,  Ah Koo  1

1888. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from West Mitchell 7. Ah Man l



Sing W Jang 4, Ah Koo 1


Ah Ko    1, Sing Wing Jang              2

1891. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from West Mitchell. 7.          Ah Lam


Sing Wing Jang 4

1892. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from West Mitchell. 11 letters. Ah Charm -1, Ah Low-1 .


1893. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from West Mitchell 8 letters. Ah Low-1, Ah Charm-1.


1894. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from West Mitchell 10 letters.      

Chin Choun-1.




1896. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from West Mitchell 18 letters. Ah Charm-1,  Ah Bow-1.



1897. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from West Mitchell Ah Bow-1 Ah Charm -1




NAME                                ADDRESS                          GROUND FOR CLAIM

Young Gun         Palmer’s Oakey                           Resident Gardiner

Ah Co                 Upper Turon      Resident Gardiner

1899 COMMON STOCK NAME, HORSES: Young Gunn      1

1902. Registered letters to Palmers Oakey Post Office from West Mitchell 17.      Young Gunn.


COMMON ROLL 1903-1904

NAME                   ADDRESS                          GROUND FOR CLAIM

Young Gun       Palmers Oakey           Resident Gardiner



COMMON ROLL 1905-1906

NAME                   ADDRESS              GROUND FOR CLAIM    

George Gunn    Storekeeper      Resident


Young Gun          4 horses               7 cattle


Young Gunn       3 horse 10 cattle


Young Gunn                       2      


6-6-1908 A trustees meeting was held on this date at which there were three trustees present and granted Ah Wong a commoners right, as there was no other business to transact the meeting closed. E Wolfenden chairman.



Me Wong and Emily Wong                           Gardener


Young Gunn

2 horses

12 cattle

Mrs Wong



Me Wong





Me Wong sold his 2 acres held by Miners Right to Duncan Ferguson (Snr) and Ellen Ah Chong (who was actually Me Wong’s wife) who sold her 2 acres on the west side of Me Wong’s to Duncan Ferguson. Wong stated he had carried on the business of market gardener on the land.




Gold was found at Palmers Oakey Creek in September 1853 and soon men left Sofala for this new field. A store was set up to provide for their needs, and two hotels opened shortly after[1]. By October 1855 there was a police barracks, a lock-up and a population of several hundred.

On 3 May 1858 the Bathurst Free Press reported that some three hundred Chinese miners had arrived at the diggings in Palmers Oakey infuriating the miners there.

It was reported that Chinese worked with a thoroughness far exceeding the Europeans, and therefore won more gold from the tailings than the Europeans. A small community developed there working on the claims abandoned by the Europeans.

 In August 1867 the local residents, as well as those for the Upper Turon, Dark Corner and adjacent districts petitioned the Postmaster General for a Post Office, as they felt that the Post Offices at Sofala or Mitchell's Creek were too far away. It was stated at that time that there were about 300-400 people residing in the area. Walter W.Millet who operated a store and inn at Palmer’s Oakey also provided the first postal service from his store.[2]

There never was a purpose built Post office.

When the Post Office was originally opened it was in the premises owned by Millett (now known as "Nebo") and it remained there until Bower took charge when it was transferred to his premises about 700 metres away. When Bower resigned, the new postmistress Miss Munro bought his premises and the Post Office was moved 200 metres to her parents house where she continued to reside and conduct the office. When Mrs Ferguson was appointed the office was moved to her premises about 1.2 kilometres from its former site. This was to be its last location.

 The mining activity did not last for long, and after 1870 the area became mainly a farming community again. A Provisional School was opened at Palmers Oakey in August 1874. In 1879 the teacher, Sarah Blackman left to take up another position, and the school was closed due to declining numbers.

Mining must have started again at the end of 1880, as the applicants for the school to be re-opened  were predominantly miners. The school was downgraded to a Provisional School in 1883, and then became a half time school with Upper Turon in 1886. A diphtheria epidemic hit the district in August 1891, causing the school to close for several weeks. A new building, more centrally placed was erected in 1900.

Sluicing continued to be the main form of mining with a few intermittent reef mines being active up until 1899.

On 26-10-1900 Sofala Gold Dredging Co. began dredging Turon in the Gulf area, 9 men were employed and for the year treated 18000 cubic yards for 84 ozs of gold and  shutdown in 1901 due to poor returns.

It shutdown about the junction of the Palmers Oakey Creek and Turon.


In the 1900 Post Office Directory Charles Franks ran the Royal Hotel, and Thomas Franks the local store. John McKinnon, Duncan Ferguson's brother-­in-law was the local Postmaster. Another brother-in-law Thomas Southall had been the Postmaster in 1869 noted above, and he also ran a butcher's shop at Palmers Oakey.

Matilda Deasey first came to the district as a school teacher, where she met and married Duncan Ferguson. She then became the Post Mistress and later Secretary of the Common Trust. (It was through her diligence in maintaining these records that they are now (2005) the property of her grandson Colin Latham Ferguson.)

 But by 1909 the population of Palmer’s Oakey had dwindled so the school was closed and the land was then leased to Duncan Ferguson of Kelvin, Palmers Oakey.

By 1920 only 60 people lived at Palmers Oakey, and most of these were farmers. Some of the Chinese who had come to the area to seek gold stayed in the valley and settled down to a mixture of vegetable growing and fossicking. Some of their names recorded in the post Office and Common records were Ah Charm, Ah Bar, Ah Wong, (he also called himself Me Wong), Ah Lung, Ah Yuck, G Gunn, Young Gunn, Ah Bow, Ah Co, Chin Choun, Ah Low, Sing Wing Jang.[3]

Ah Wong later married Ellen Ballard who became known as Ellen Ah Chong. [4] The presence of the Wongs is mentioned a number of times in the records. In 1908  a trustees meeting for the Common was held at which there were three trustees present and they granted Ah Wong a commoners right

 A number of details about the life of the Chinese in the valley were recorded anecdotally by Colin Ferguson as part of the  Ferguson family stories.[5] 

 When there were many Chinese in the valley they held horse races of their own & used to get some of the young fellows to ride for them, as they were not good riders themselves. Some would bravely try. Duncan (Snr) said it was very amusing to watch them holding on for bare life, pigtails flying & chattering all the time

 Bob McKinnon (another farmer in the valley) told me he and his brother Les were out shooting when it came on to rain, so they ducked into Charms the Chinaman's hut for shelter, and were offered a cup of tea. Charm like most of the Chinamen here grew their own tobacco and on the table he kept a bowl of chopped up tobacco leaf, and while he was busy at the fire boiling the billy Les put a few grains of black gunpowder in the bowl of tobacco . After they had their tea Charm lit his pipe and every now and then there would be a puff of smoke shoot out of the pipe and Charm would stare at it and say "Whafor".

The old man must have woke up to what was going on as he invited the boys to lunch next Sunday saying it was Chinaman's New Year, very important, must come. So the boys turned up next Sunday and were served with a meal of rice and stew which they consumed with relish. After the meal Les complimented Charm on the meal and asked what was in the stew, Charm replied "you eat cat". Les made a dash for the door but he did not did not make it and his share of the cat ended up on the floor while Charm screamed with laughter.

 Bob said they also used to wait till Charm went to the store near the crossroads and they would tie together the tussocks on either side of the track up the creek to his hut. Charm would come along then trip over and drop his groceries etc, much to the amusement of the boys involved. Bob said "It was a wonder he did not kill us, but underneath all the noise he made I think he enjoyed it".

 When one of these Chinamen died the other Chinamen would dress him in his best clothes, place a gold coin on each eye to keep out evil sprits, put a bag of rice cakes in his hands and wrap him in a new blanket. They would then seek the help of Bill Smith to take the body to Sofala. Though they did not pay Bill much to perform this service he was always there to help out. What the Chinamen did not know was that on the way to Sofala down the Turon, Bill would stop and unwrap the "parcel" replace the gold coins with copper coins He then put the new blanket in the river (and collect on the way back) , rewrap the "parcel" in an old blanket and go on to Sofala.

My Grandmother told me that when screw top jars first became available from the local shop (Franks), Ah Wong bought one with jam in it. Later when asked how he liked the new jars he said "Silly, no get jam out". He had cut a slot in the lid and dug the jam out. The jar was here for years with a cut about '/2 inch by 1 inch.

 Wong came to my grandfather Duncan for help when he had a very bad tooth. The tooth was infected and one of the few left. It was decided that the tooth had to come out, so Duncan attached a cord to it, then over the rafter, then to the door. When all was in readiness Duncan slammed the door and the cord lifted poor Wong about a foot off the chair before the tooth let go. I can remember my grandmother showing people the tooth but it has disappeared.

 Ah Yuck lived on the flat that was to become Les Cochran's orchard, now Mullers. He grew vegetables and took them to Sofala in a horse and cart. Stan Wilkinson said he would get a ride with Yuck as far as the Turon and open the gates for him. Stan would sit up in the cart amongst the vegies and when he got the chance he would throw a bunch of carrots or whatever out and pick them up on his way back home. Stan said he was sure Yuck knew for he would often say "Carrots make you grow boy.

Ah Wong was married to Ellen (nee Ballard) and lived in a hut just below the fig tree on portion 2. My grandmother said a lot of the locals would not have a lot to do with Ellen. She said it was not so much that they looked down on her for marrying a Chinaman but they were jealous of her, because of the way Wong looked after her. Ellen died about 1925.




1. Colin Latham Ferguson:

Extracts from  Common journal,  post office and other written records of Palmers Oakey 1870 to 1916

2. Colin Latham Ferguson : Aural history and written notes, 2004

3. Kerrin Cook and Daniel Garvey  The Glint of Gold. 1999


Ledger of owners of Stock on the Common 1909 


Ledger of Common Stock Owners 1909

showing animals owned by Young Gunn






[1] Kerrin Cook and Daniel Garvey  The Glint of Gold. 1999 pp 54,55

[2] Colin L Ferguson: Aural history of the district. 2005

[3] ibid Extracted from Post Office and Common Trust records.

[4] It seems that some use of the language was in the style of a nick name

[5]  Colin L Ferguson: Aural history of the district. 2005



Location : Coolah Tops

Description: Open grassland fields with light bushland surrounding in the Coolah Tops National Park.  The ‘swamp’ is a water catchment area at the top of Bald Hill creek, and provides good summer grazing and water in a protected environment.

 refer Adobe. File Chinese swamp


Shepherding was one of the main occupations for the first Chinese who came to Australia. As far back as 1847 [3] South Australian Pastoralists were offering assisted passage to Chinese from Singapore to work as shepherds. The ship the Champion, which carried the first group of some dozen Chinese shepherds, was commissioned to sail straight back to Singapore and bring more Chinese labourers including shepherds, and other tradesmen. In the following year 1848, the ship London landed seven Chinese from Hong Kong to Sydney as pastoral workers.  

The Chinese coolies as they were called, were seen as a very good alternative to the now dwindling convict labour, being ‘more diligent, more tractable, less discomforting than convicts’[4]

On the15th March 1849 Clement Lawless wrote to her sister:

 This colony will suffer severely this year from the low price of wool last year and lower even this. We can import the celestials for about 10 pounds per head at six pounds per year, and they will be engaged for  five years, so that we will be able le to grow wool at a very low rate. Those Chinese who have been brought into this country are found to be most excellent shepherds. The only drawback there is with them is that we don’t understand their dreadful language; but they do every thing by signs most readily. We are going to get a lot of them as soon as possible.[5]

At that time there was famine in much of central and southern China and many young men in China felt they had no alternative but to seek work overseas. Their new employers often took advantage of their circumstances with very poor wages and basic conditions such as long periods of isolation and accommodation only in huts.   (A survey of the Coolah Valley in 1830 shows six shepherd’s huts of Lawson and Cox between Dunedoo and north-east of Coolah.)

The poor wage was supplemented by a ration of basic food supplies; meat flour and tea.

Many tried to break their contracts after their arrival for despite their lack of language they were no doubt aware they were being take unfair advantage of. Still it is estimated that hundreds of Chinese did work as shepherds and farm labourers in SA, NSW and Victoria. 

With the erection of wire fences in the 1860s shepherding in Australia largely came to an end. By 1902 A survey by A.L.Stintson shows fences in existence in the area and by 1920 most of the properties surrounding the Coolah Tops were fenced and netted, due primarily to the rabbit plague of the time.

It is exactly into this period from the 1840s to 1860s, that the Chinaman’s Swamp, a safe holding area for flocks of sheep and their shepherds on the Bundella range, now known as Coolah tops, fits. The pastoralists in the valleys around the base of the mountain were known to employ Chinese shepherds.  Jones of Turee and Fitzgerald of Tongee had land on the side of Coolah Tops.

Robert Fitzgerald was an early pioneer settler in the area and joint owner of Tongy which lay on the southern side of the Coolah Tops. He also held Yarraman Run on the northern escarpment which extended to the headwaters of the Talbargar River, which runs off the Tops to the east of Chinamans Swamp. William Head had land at the southern end of the Norfolk Island Creek Swamp which is just above the Chinamans Swamp.

These properties were linked with a track for moving stock.

In the 1840s it is believed that Fitzgerald drove his flocks of sheep along this path, up the Turee Creek to its headwaters and then passed through William Head’s land, then turning east a little south of the summit of the Liverpool Range and then north and passing through Yarraman Gap.[6]  This became known as the Turee Bridle Track.

Fitzgerald employed a number of Chinese shepherds on his Tongy property and its likely that these shepherds grazed stock on a swamp that drains into Bald Hills creek. It has been known as Chinamen’s Swamp for more than 110 years.  

 The protected and well watered vale remained important up till very recent years for sheep grazing.

James Patrick Tuckey who was born at Turill in 1899, with his father William McBeth and ‘Bole’ Randall,  drove 4000 sheep from Coolah along the Turee Bridle Trail for six months pasturing near Norfolk Island Swamp and Chinamans Swamp in 1919.

 In the early 1900s James Hamilton Traill[7] owned the property Tuwinga. 

James Traill leased part of the forest on Coolah Tops for grazing purposes.  Near Norfolk Island Swamp he purchased a block of 40 acres which was freehold and upon which he built a hut and later some stock yards. Originally James or his workman would camp on the flat when they went there to check on the sheep flocks, but in 1935 he decided to construct a hut for better accommodation. This area served as an out-station of Tuwinga station. Sheep were held up in the swamp area with good shelter, water and grazing just as they a had done for 100 years.

Another reminder of the shepherd days in the Coolah Tops is Shepherd’s Peak on the eastern tip of the Coolah Tops National Park which was probably a shepherd’s look out in the 1800’s.

temp Trail Hut  before hut 4

Camp on Chinamen’s Swamp –pre. 1935.

Photo courtesy of Cecil Traill  .



temp Trail Hut sheep 5


Sheep on ‘Tuwinga’ Date and Location unknown but circa 1935.

Photo courtesy of Cecil Traill




Part of the Mudgee Racecourse that was once Key's Chinese Market Garden.

Location: Lawson Creek flats, and Lue Road Mudgee


The Key family ran their market garden along the alluvial flat lands stretching along  both sides of the Lawson Creek, close to the town of Mudgee. The land is level fertile farmland that has been built up with alluvial deposits from the flooding of the Lawson Creek.

Today some of this land forms the Orchard Nursery, Lue Rd. which is owned by descendants of the original Key family.



In Mudgee the Keys were well known market gardeners who lived and farmed first on one side of the Lawson Creek and later on the other (southern) side on approximately 12 acres of land , 1 kilometres along Lue Road from the Cassilis Road.

William Lawson was the first grantee of the land on which the market gardening took place. Initially its size was a 1000 acres and the  property was  known as Bumberra. It took its name from a small rising hill to one side of the acreage, which is still known today at Bumberra Hill.  The land is close to Mudgee and has the Lawson Creek, named after William Lawson, flowing through it.

Hugh Caughey had arrived from Scotland in the 1860s and commenced share farming with William Lawson. By 1900 High Caughey  had acquired 640 acres of this holding near Mudgee.

The Caughey family rented land  to the Key family on the north side of the Lawson creek to market garden. The family lived and worked here and become good friends with the Caughey family.

Some time later Hugh Caughey offered and sold 12 acres to the Wah Key and his family, on the other side of the creek, so that they could settle permanently.  It was here on the 12 acre lot that the Key family built the house (circa 1946) that still stands today.

 Wah Key and his wife had 7 children, two boys: Barry and Percy, and five daughters : Mabel, Ethel, Dorris, Lill and Gladys. Dorris had a daughter Valerie who married a local man, Dunstan, and their son is Michael who lives there today and runs a plant nursery.

When growing up all the Key family helped on the farm first as children and later as young adults. Many Mudgee residents remember the ‘Keys girls’ who delivered the fruit and vegetables.

The property now called Orchard Nursery now belongs to Michael Dunstan , a direct descendant of Wah Keys and the fourth generations of Keys farming along the Lawson Creek.

Reference: Mr Ken Caughey

Front: Ross Caughey and Betty Bunett’s daughter

Back: Lto R  Mabel Keys, (unknown), Valerie Caughey, Percy Keys, Dorris Keys, Barry Keys and Val Wilson.

On the farm May 1942.

Dorris Wilson (nee Keys) and boy, Ken Clewit.


diane simmonds: need help with old photo

Do you have any old photographs that might be helpful to this site? Please email the author, Diane Simmonds, by clicking here. Or, Phone 02 63722189
The author may be able to restore your photographs in return for use on this site. (Photos on this site are produced at low resolution for web use only.)



Previous |  Content |  Next


[1] Eileen Maxwell The Story of Gulgong p12

[2] Gulgong Evening Argus   July 9 1874

 [3] Eric Rolls Sojourners University of Queensland Press 1992 p 34


[4] ibid p38


[5] ibid p49


[6] Barbara Hickson Traill’s Hut: for NPWS 2003.


[7] ibid


1.Colin Latham Ferguson:

Extracts from  Common journal,  post office and other written records of Palmers Oakey 1870 to 1916

2. Colin Latham Ferguson : Aural history and written notes, 2004

3. Kerrin Cook and Daniel Garvey  The Glint of Gold. 1999