Tag Archives: Nicolas Jose

Bookblog #61: Voice from the north

[Retrieved from ‘Family Life’ 1 April 2009]

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Last October I wrote a little blog post about Nicolas José’s address at the NSW Premier’s History Awards, in which he spoke of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature, due for publication in August this year. José talked about Taam Sze Pui’s bilingual memoir, My Life and Work, published in Innisfail in 1925, taking it as an exemplar of the process by which:

As a piece of writing becomes literature, it is read and re-read by different people, discussed, digested, dismembered, recovered, until it enters a continuum of creative experience and expression that joins with where we are now. It speaks and we listen; relationships with other texts are revealed; it is valued for itself and contributes to something larger.

On my recent visit to Cairns I laid hands on a photocopy of Taam Sze Pui’s book in the rooms of the Cairns Historical Society (the helpful woman at Cairns Library had tracked down a solitary copy on the Australian Libraries Network, at the Australian National Library, not much good to me), and read the English in less than half an hour. It’s a modest work, elegant and spare, a kind of combination of Bert Facey good fortune, exhortations to Confucian virtue and sound business sense. There are a number of pages towards the end that are not translated into English, each containing a delicate pen drawing, probably from the author’s own hand, and what I take to be a poem. I photocopied one of them, as well as another untranslated page from the front of the book. I wonder if anyone who comes across this might be able to translate.

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Added 3 July 2020: Many thanks to Wang Shu-dong, friend of Jim Kable, regular commenter here, for the following translation of the script in that image. Shu-dong comments that something seems to be missing at the beginning of the final sentence, but offers this translation:

店伴姊妹兄弟, 倘有偶尔误会冲突, 忍之为上。
All people in the store are brothers and sisters. If occasionally misunderstandings and conflicts occur, the best response is tolerance

事后开解,使其意悟,和好如初,方为上策。
After the incident,  we had better let them self-examine and then they will be able to reconcile to each other.

(九)戒凡事以和为贵,苟能此道焉, 生意之隆, 可立而待也
Abandon the perception that harmony is the most important thing. If such a principle  is followed, blooming business can be expected.

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.