2022 Chinese Australian History Series - Session 1: Conversation on South Flows the Pearl

The Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture (IAC) at Western Sydney University has since 2020 successfully held Chinese Australian History Series 1 and Series 2, which reached a wide network of Australian and international audiences. IAC is now pleased to launch Chinese Australian History Series 3.

The opening session will feature a conversation on the newly published book South Flows the Pearl. This book contains some of the earliest Chinese Australian family stories that have never been told. Mavis Gock Yen (1916–2008), of Anglo-Australian and Chinese heritage lived an extraordinary life and between 1987 and 1995 recorded 45 hours of interviews with 12 elderly Chinese Australians born between 1894 and 1938. Mavis prepared the manuscript but did not live to see the publication of the book, nor did the 12 interviewees. Mavis’ daughter Siaoman Yen and son-in-law Richard Horsburgh continued Mavis’ legacy and completed the editing of the book. South Flows the Pearl presents personal stories and first-hand experiences by early Chinese migrants, revealing the impact of historical events, war, discrimination and societal changes on their lives.

The session will be opened by Dr Stephen FitzGerald AO, whose doctoral research was published as China and the Overseas Chinese. He is currently the Chair of the Board of the Museum of Chinese in Australia (MOCA). The conversation with Siaoman Yen and Richard Horsburgh will focus on the content of the book and stories behind the scenes.

Date:  Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Time: 4pm-5pm  (Sydney time)

Mavis Gock Yen author of South Flows the Pearl, was born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1916 toMavis Yen a Chinese father and European Australian mother. After spending ten years in China as a child in the 1920s and 1930s she returned to China to live in 1946 after the end of the Second World War. In China she worked initially for the Chinese Industrial Cooperative movement  in Shanghai before joining the Xinhua News Agency as an editor. Her English and Chinese language skills allowed her to become an English language teacher in the Beijing Second Foreign Language Institute (now Beijing International Studies University). She returned to Australia in 1981 with her daughter Siaoman and at the age of sixty-five embarked on Bachelor of Arts degree followed by a Graduate Diploma at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (now Canberra University). A renewed interest in her own family history led her to commence an ambitious oral history project between 1987 and 1995. Unable to find a publisher for her completed manuscript, her daughter and son-in-law have now have brought South Flows the Pearl into print which provides a fitting legacy to Mavis and a landmark study in the field of Chinese Australian history.

Siaoman Yen the daughter of author Mavis Gock Yen, was born in Beijing, China, in 1954. She travelled withSioman Yen her mother to Australia in 1981 where she completed a Bachelor of Arts at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (now Canberra University).  Her forensic skills as a data analyst working in the market research industry for thirty years has served her well when confronted with the task of editing her mother’s manuscript. In particular, she has designed a series of maps for South Flows the Pearl and produced an English-Chinese glossary of names, places and organisations that future historians and scholars will find invaluable.

Richard Horsburgh was born in Moree, NSW, in 1950, he grew up in suburban Sydney. Completing a Bachelor of Arts  Richard Horsburghat the  University of Sydney and later a law degree, Richard enjoyed a career in Human Resources with the NSW public sector specialising in employment law and human resources policy. Following his retirement in 2010 Richard has partnered his wife Siaoman in bringing Mavis Yen’s manuscript to life. Richard’s focus with South Flows the Pearl has been on liaising with the interviewee families, amassing a trove of photographs and documentation, and conducting further research into each family’s history.

Dr Stephen FitzGerald AO FAIIA, has been a government, academic and consulting specialist on China and its foreign policy and Australia’s relations with China and Asia, since the 1960s. He was the first Australian Ambassador to the  Stephen FitzgeraldPeople’s Republic of China (PRC), and has held professorial appointments at the Australian National University, University of NSW, University of technology Sydney and Western Sydney University. His doctoral research was on PRC policies towards the Chinese diaspora, published as China and the Overseas Chinese. Dr FitzGerald has been a lifelong advocate for non-discriminatory immigration to Australia, closer Australian relations with Asia, and the study of Asian languages and societies in schools and universities, and has held government and academic appointments related to each of these fields. He is currently Chair of the Board of the Museum of Chinese in Australia (MOCA); Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts & Culture and Distinguished Fellow at the Whitlam Institute, both at Western Sydney University; a Board Member of the policy institute China Matters; and a patron of the Chinese Australian Historical Society. He published a memoir, Comrade Ambassador, in 2015.