Monday, January 2, 2012

Quong Tart Became MacTart


OLD Sydneyites often recall that remarkable personality Quong Tart. Quong Tart was one of the leading merchants of Syd-ney and an outstanding example of the perfect gentleman.

He was a super Chinese. Though born in China, not only did he Australianise himself but he col- laborated with the great Australians of his day in art, literature, and politics.

He was a leading light in the Highland Society, of which he was a member, and was an authority on Scottish legend and history. It was his frequent whim to don the kilt; and he loved to call himself MacTart. He spoke with an accent stronger than Harry Lauder's.

How did a Chinese become a member of a Highland Society? The explanation is simple.

In 1859 there came to Sydney a big batch of coolies. Among them was a boy aged nine. "Little Quong" everybody on board called him.

Although in the beginning, he spoke only his native language, the lad learned a lot from the engin eers, on the voyage. (In those days, if you called down the ventilator of a steamer's engine-room: "Are you there Mac?" one or more voices in broad Scots would invariably reply, "Aye.") . Because of this, Quong's English had a Scottish flavour long before it could develop an Australian twang.

The gang of coolies to which the youngster belonged was sent to the district of Braidwood, New South Wales, to work on alluvial mines at Bell's Creek, owned by a prominent Scot. It was natural that this gentleman should be intrigued by the small Chinese boy who had picked up a few Scottish phrases. Soon Quong Tart was one of the household.

The boy acquired fluent English and acted as interpreter between his patron and the coolies who worked the mines. When it is said he acquired fluent English, it should be added "as spoken in the land of the heather."

Quong Tart could not have learned more Scots if he'd been bornm in Scotland; for apart from the household of which he was now a member, Braidwood, was a community of Scots. So it was that from his early formative years this Chinese boy was turned into a Scots man by his environment. That is why, when he returned to Sydney, after a visit to China, he greeted newspaper reporters with the re- mark: "Ma foot is on ma native heath, ma name is now MacTart."

There is no need to trace all the steps which led to Quong's accumu- lation of a great fortune. When he was only 23 years old, just 14 years after he arrived in Braidwood as a penniless little coolie, the "Her- ald" remarked that Mr. Tart en- joyed such amazing popularity in Braidwood that the people were ask- ing him to represent them in Par- liament. Not bad for an orphan Chinese who a few years before had been working just for his tucker.

EVENTUALLY, Quong Tart left Braidwood for Sydney. Here is a clipping from the "Herald." "All classes and creeds united in entertaining him at a farewell banquet. Judge McFarland took the chair. The gathering included the leading men of the district." (There is no need to list their names—most of them were Macs). The account continues: "The distinguished guest was eulogised and toasted, and pre- sented with illuminated addresses, together with valuable presents in silver and gold. Mr. Tart replied in manly and felicitous terms and sang 'Auld Lang Syne'."

And so to Sydney, to set up as a tea merchant. On to more success and fortune. He pioneered the modern restaurant.

In that day Sydney could not boast of even one cafe where the citizenry could get light refresh- ments. A meal, yes, and a good meal for sixpence, even fourpence, but a bit rough, needless to say. It took a Chinese, now an educated, wealthy Chinese, to show Australia what a modern restaurant could be.

Quong Tart began with a series of cafes in King and Pitt Streets "on a scale of splendour never seen in Australia." In these cafes one could have a cup of tea or a full meal.

This type of establishment is familiar and commonplace to-day.

In the 70's and 80's it took Sydney by storm; and Quong Tart increased his wealth.

But money-making was not his main preoccupation. His philanthropy was remarkable. Quong Tart made fortunes and gave back to Australia all he won. In the Braidwood district, residents would show with pride a church he had given them, a schoolhouse, a sports ground. In Sydney could be pointed out, here, there and every- where, the many gifts he had bestowed on the community. Apart from these benefactions, dozens of men admitted they owed their start in life to this super-generous Chinese. His fame spread throughout Australia.

A FRIEND of mine is the proud owner of a collection of photo- graphs of Quong Tart—as a Chin- ese Mandarin, as an officer in the uniform of the Australian military forces, and in the kilt, with bag- pipes.

Quong Tart would often joke about the incongruity of being a Scots-Chinese, and would assert in fun that Chinese and Scottish languages had a common origin.

"Listen to this," he'd say. " 'Foo Choo.' That's good Chinese. 'Fu the noo.' That's Scotch. Or take 'Wei Hei Wei.' That's Chinese. 'Scots wha hae.' That's Scotch!"

Saturday 1 May 1948 The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW)

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