When market gardens sprouted

IN this week’s column from the Vincent Local History Centre we have the story of the Chinese immigrants who set up Perth’s early market gardens that were once abundant through the inner-city suburbs. 

EARLY settlers established the first commercial vegetable gardens in Perth shortly after 1829.  

Decades later in the 1880s, small but increasing numbers of Chinese immigrants took up market gardening in Perth. 

By 1885, there were 54 Chinese gardeners operating in the metropolitan area.

Some gardens were located adjacent to the lakes and wetlands in Vincent, which had fertile soils and sufficient water supply. 

In 1899, the Western Australian Post Office Directory listed 

‘Chinese Gardens’ on Bourke Street between Oxford Street and ‘Monger’s Lake’. 

By the early 1900s, market gardens began to appear throughout Leederville including on Oxford, Newcastle and Vincent Streets. 

The smaller streets off Oxford Street including Muriel, Bouverie and St Johns Road (which was later renamed Bennelong Place) all had Chinese gardens, many of which operated until the 1930s. 

Wing Hing and Wing Yung ran gardens on St Johns Road from 1909 until 1930. 

By 1935, Wing Hing opened a green grocers shop on William Street. 

The Chinese market gardeners grew a range of vegetables including carrots, lettuce, cauliflower, beetroot, eggplant, melon and pumpkin.  

They sold direct from their gardens to neighbours and door-to-door with a horse and cart.  

Many Chinese market gardeners came to Western Australia to work on the Goldfields and stayed to farm or operate businesses.  

After the Federation in 1901, their entry was restricted by the White Australia policy. 

Anti-Chinese policies and sentiments had often impacted on their lives and livelihoods.   

Some local residents were against the traditional Chinese methods of gardening and tried to close them down.  

In 1910, the Australian Natives Association suggested to the Perth City Council to implement a compulsory government purchase of all Chinese gardens in Perth.  

The idea was dropped following a change in government, but the notion persisted.  

Progress

In 1928, the Leederville Progress Association argued the Chinese gardens should be resumed because the “progress of that part of the district was being retarded owing to the presence of these gardens, which are considered to be a menace.  

“The conditions of living of the Chinese were disgraceful”. (The By the mid-1920s, there were at least 13 separate market gardens in the Vincent area.

As more Southern European migrants came to Western Australia between the wars, the Chinese market gardeners faced increased competition from Italian and Croatian migrants who made inroads in the industry.   

There were few Chinese gardeners left by the 1950s.  

The continued development of Leederville, including infrastructure for the 1962 Empire Games and the construction of the Mitchell Freeway, contributed to the decline in land available for market gardening.

Today, the early Chinese presence and the gardeners’ influence on the development of areas in Leederville and North Perth is remembered by older residents who recall the Chinese market gardeners selling their produce with horses and carts in the 1950s and early 1960s.  

Many of these recollections have been shared with the Local History Centre and are part of the City of Vincent’s Local History Collection.  

The ‘speaking rock’ at Smith’s Lake Reserve on Kayle Street also features a brief recording about Chinese market gardens in the Vincent area.  

If you have any photos, memories or artefacts you’d like to share relating to Chinese market gardens in the Vincent area please contact the Vincent Local History Centre: local.history@vincent.wa.gov. au or 9273 6534.

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