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To my grandchildren: from your great grandfather
30 Dec 2012

My Grandfather, Mr FONG Dung Yow – a prominent Brisbane Chinese resident in the late 1900s was involved in building one of the city’s heritage landmarks, the Chinese Holy Triad Temple in Breakfast Creek in 1885. My family has held the office of the Temple’s Treasurer for 3 generations and I’m standing in my ‘Sunday best’, exactly where he stood 110 years ago in 1903!

I don’t think my grandfather even foresaw the temple’s tumultuous journey. Over this last century, the temple has truly experienced “a sunburnt country… of droughts and flooding rains” – built just after the 1893 Great flood, it’s survived both Brisbane floods of 1974 and 2011. Originally a Taoist temple, its members are now mainly Buddhist. I wonder what the temple will be like in 2059 when it’s almost 175 years old?

I can remember what was happening around 1959 just before we started restoring it… Brisbane’s Chinese community was made up of two dozen families, everyone knew each other – many are still lifelong friends as we grew up together. To raise money to help repair the Temple and support the Chinese Club, we held market days at Dixon Street in Toowong. Days before the food fairs, would be full of cooking. I would help make and steam dozens of ‘hum bows’ (savoury pork buns), everyone was busy with setting up and preparing all the food for a Chinese homestyle BBQ including fried rice and fried chicken!

At the market days, that’s the only place you could get all types of Chinese vegetables like 'buk choy' or 'choy sum' grown on Jack Lee’s market garden at Brookside. No supermarkets or shops stocked Asian or Chinese style delicacies, all families had their special dishes with secret ingredients handed down through generations. Every family had their signature dishes. Men folk were the specialty cooks for the big events and shared feasts – some were better cooks than the ladies!

We had league competitions of table tennis and ten-pin bowling decked out in blue uniforms with red-gold dragons. At the club hall, kids played on the swings and slippery slide. Presents waiting under a fresh 8-foot Xmas tree covered in decorations, Santa ready to give gifts to all kids under 16 – presents included toys, drums, dolls, books, xylophones that ladies had neatly wrapped. The club hall was decorated with tinsel, streamers, balloons, and Chinese paper lanterns and honeycombed-bells swinging from the ceiling.

In the last 20 years, all the trees in the area around the temple have been cleared. With less greenspace in the neighbourhood, the termites are attacking the temple’s 100+ year old timber roof beams; we have another round of repairs to undertake like City Hall. The 2011 Brisbane flood showed our community spirit and how Brisbane families rallied together. I wonder what families will be involved with the temple in 2059 in preparation for her 175th anniversary and what kind of kind of things they’ll be doing to get the temple ready for her bicentenary in 2086?

Story written with Len Yow.

Photo: Mr Len Yow standing in the entrance of the Holy Triad Temple holding a 1903 photo of his grandfather and Chinese community members, Breakfast Creek: Brisbane, December 2012 (Photographer: Steven Schroeder).

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