#TasmanianLitMonth: The Trail of the Tin Dragon

The Trail of the Tin Dragon – a walking trail of Chinese immigration history

Written by guest contributors, Jim Fidler and Michelle Shaw, with introduction and conclusion by Bec Taylor

Zane Pinner’s reference to Chinese ghost stories in his introduction to Tasmanian Gothic literature at the start of this month sparked a great interest in me.

What ghost stories were these?

Where were they documented?

How were they linked to the ghost stories currently told in China?

Are these stories the same as 聊斋志异 by Pu Songling 蒲松龄?

STRANGE STORIES FROM A CHINESE STUDIO, by Pu Songling, translated by Herbert Allen Giles?

With the exception of this short article by Will Mooney, I didn’t unearth anything useful in English, nor any real answers to my questions but I did discover the area in which I spent most of my childhood was actually a significant place of Chinese immigration in the late 1800s. I asked my father what he knew about this local history and it turned out he knew Michelle Shaw, one of the curators of the Trail of the Tin Dragon.

Michelle and Jim provided the following information.

“The Trail Of The Tin Dragon was an initiative by the Dorset Council in the northeast of Tasmania and started in 2003.

It was an initiative to recognise the contribution that the Chinese miners brought to the tin mining industry at the turn of the last century. The Tasmanian Education Department also came on board to support the project.

The goals were also a means to hopefully encourage Chinese tourists to come to the region and also to highlight an important period of the northeastern Tasmanian history. There was a Chinese settlement called Garibaldi where many Chinese miners congregated and worked very hard scratching out the tin. The nearby town of Weldborough, Tasmania also had a significant Chinese population. The Weldborough Cemetery has quite a few Chinese graves that have since been renovated and the area cleaned up. Many of the Chinese left to go back to China, (primarily Fujian Province) rather than finish their days in Tasmania. Some did stay and their heritage continues.

The town of Derby in the northeast and St Helens on the east coast have significant collections of Chinese documentation and artifacts. When many Chinese left Tasmania, a Chinese temple (josh house) was relocated to the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston where it remains a featured exhibition.

Sadly, the Trail of the Tin Dragon has not grown. It is now very much in the background as the northeast area has become a world-renowned mountain bike center for Tasmania and Australia.

Poimena has a rich history of Chinese tin mining immigrants. Photo courtesy of https://www.ourtasmania.com.au/launceston/weldborough.html

The Trail has drawn criticism. Scholar of Chinese Australian history, Michael Williams, believes much of the Trail is ‘cliche ridden’ and that most projects aiming to bring attention to the history of Chinese immigrants ‘fail to understand the nature of that history due to a tendency to see things through both a nation-state and a ‘white guilt’ perspective’.

Michael’s brief, analytical description of Chinese Tasmanian history is compulsive reading for any Sinophile or Tasmanian wanting a deeper dive into their history. It is part of a larger project called Chinese Australian History in 88 objects that was recently shortlisted for the 2022 Premiers Digital History Prize in Tasmania.

I would like to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land, the Palawa people of Tasmania, and to their Elders, past, present, and emerging. I acknowledge their deep spiritual connection to the land and their ongoing contributions to the culture of this nation.  

About guest curator, Bec Taylor

I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.  

Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.

I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators. 

Twitter is my favourite professional development space so please come find me there: @becinthelibrary

The educational hills I will die on are:

  • a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
  • there is serious magic in reading aloud,
  • and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.

*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.

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