THIS week marks the return of our regular local history page, detailing tales dug up by the historians at the Vincent Local History Centre. This week we hear the story behind David Kennedy’s book Charles Washing & Racist Furniture, a saga based on what he discovered unearthing his family’s long history in Northbridge and rediscovering his family’s forgotten Chinese heritage.
PERTH’S laneways contain a wealth of hidden stories.
Washing Lane, which runs parallel to Newcastle Street between William and Lindsay streets in Northbridge, is no exception.
The City of Vincent recently announced part of Washing Lane could be closed to traffic to make it more pedestrian friendly — a decision that renewed interest
in the history of the area and its namesake.
Washing Lane was named in 2003 after Washing Bros — a family-owned furniture making business that operated in nearby Newcastle Street.
The family business was established by brothers Alfred, Charles, Ernest, Frederick and Albert Washing, the sons of British-born Louisa Myers and Chinese-born Wah Shing, who migrated to Victoria in the 1850s.
After working on the Victorian goldfields, many Chinese-born migrants like Wah Shing (who anglicised the family name to Washing) turned to furniture manufacturing as a new source of income.
In the early 1900s, the Washing family saw fresh opportunities spurred by the Western Australian gold rush and relocated their business to Perth.
Washing Bros operated from 1898 in a variety of locations including Lord, William and Murray streets, moving to 321-333 Newcastle Street in 1924.
The Newcastle Street factory was destroyed by fire in 1953 and the business relocated to 35 Eton Street in North Perth until 1968.
“The company was noted for the quality of their craftsmanship,” explains David Kennedy, the great grandson of Wah Shing and grandson of Alfred Washing.
“They made and restored all kinds of furniture and speciality products like radio cabinets, gramophones and truck beds. They even decked out the New Oxford Theatre.
“All this at a time when, under the Factories Act 1904, furniture had to be stamped ‘European labour only’ or ‘Asiatic labour’ to encourage buyers to preference or blacklist manufacturers according to their race.
“Washing Bros prospered in spite of the racist White Australia policies which restricted further Chinese migration and tried to stop Asian migrants from working in particular industries like furniture manufacturing.
“Sadly, our Chinese heritage was hidden from us for most
of our lives. The only thing my mother was prepared to tell us was that our grandfather was half-caste Chinese who worked alongside his brothers at Washing Bros furniture factory.”
After their mother’s death, David and his brother Michael embarked on a mammoth research project to learn more about their family’s hidden history.
The research culminated in the publication of his captivating family saga, Charles Washing & Racist Furniture.
David, together with historian Kaylene Poon, will be speaking about his family’s history and the difficulties facing early Chinese migrants at the City of Vincent Local History Centre at 10am on Wednesday 17 August.
The talk is free. Limited bookings at local.history@vincent. wa.gov.au or 9273 6090.