Daily Archives: 28 October 2008

By any other name

[Retrieved from ‘Family Life’ 28 October 2008]

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald published Nicolas Jose’s address at the NSW Premier’s History Awards. It’s an interesting address, worth reading in its entirety. My reason for blogging is that Jose begins with this:

When the landmark Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature appears next year, it will include, among many other things, an extract from an early Chinese Australian memoir, My Life and Work by Taam Sze Pui, first published in a bilingual edition in Innisfail in 1925.

Taam tells how he journeyed from southern China to North Queensland in the 1870s to search for gold. When he failed as a prospector, he opened a store to meet the daily needs of those in the far-flung district. Later a wife came from China to join him and their family grew with a business that was still flourishing in family hands a century later.

He goes on to describe the influence of Taam Sze Pui’s book on later artists, such as William Yang and Tony Ayres.

The work has been revalued retrospectively, given new meaning and life in a way that subtly reconfigures our understanding of Australian literary history. It forms a connective tissue between past and present that also points forward.

Innisfail exerts its powerful influence on the world of letters once again.

Taam Sze Pui’s name was not forgotten when I was a child in Innisfail, and his shop was still a significant landmark. As I remember it, he was known as Tom See Poy (which is how he’s named in the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Version), and the shop was See Poy’s, the Grace Brothers of our town. The Macquarie PEN anthology is definitely on my list of books to be acquired.