Darwin is a hotbed of history thanks to its rich past that spans numerous centuries and numerous cultures. In particular, it saw a large number of Chinese settlers during the days of the gold rush, and there are now a few museums in the city that celebrate and commemorate this era.
The Chinese Museum and Chung Wah Temple is one place that does just this. It explores the Chinese settlement in the Top End, sharing stories and recreating narratives from that pivotal era in Darwin.
Opposite the museum itself, there is a quiet temple that is decorated with low-lit scarlet lanterns and the fug of incense smoke. Here, you can discover the sacred tree in the grounds, which is thought to be a direct descendant from the very Bodhi tree that Buddha sat under when he sought enlightenment.
The museum itself was born from the idea of the Chinatown ’42 display, which was put together after Darwin was bombed.
Today, it offers visitors the chance to browse numerous displays packed full of material that documents the lives and stories of the Chinese settlers in Darwin over the years. Though the museum is fairly small in size, there is plenty to see with lots of family trees and personal histories so you feel like you’re really getting to know individuals.
Elsewhere in the museum, a small model of the old Chinatown gives you the chance to see what the bustling street was like in the early days, while the histories of numerous Chinese traditions, including the handcrafted silk banner that was presented to William G Stretton in 1913, shows just how much influence the Chinese settlers have had on Australian history as a whole.
Alongside this, you’ll have the chance to explore numerous old-fashioned photographs that showcase the social, religious, and cultural aspects of Darwin life for its Chinese settlers. A fascinating experience if you want to discover more about this important culture in Darwin and its impact on the rest of Australia over the years.
It is worth setting aside some time to wander around the museum at your own pace and connecting up the stories on display and then visiting the temple outside to get an idea of the religious affects of Chinese life on Darwin. Afterwards, find the tree outside to piece the whole experience together.