Death of Tasmania’s Chinese Elder

The Mercury, Wednesday 2 January 2019

Journalist Helene Chung remembers her late father, Tasmanian businessman Charles Chung

When, in his 99th year, my father Charles (Pak Koon) Chung died on Sunday 23 December, he ended the era of second-generation Chinese Tasmanian families dating from the 1880s.

The youngest of five, Charles was born in 1920 in what is now Xinhui City in a newly-built brick house that symbolised his father, Willi Chung Sing’s success. After arriving in Tasmania destitute in the 1880s, Willi could now regularly ply the Pacific, and afford both village and city abodes in one of the Four Counties, birthplace of early Chinese Australians.

At twelve Charles sailed with his father to join his brothers George and Sim in Hobart, where their father operated a market garden and was a partner in the fruit business Ah Ham & Co. Charles enrolled at St Virgil’s College.

In 1941 his third-generation Chinese friends Gordon and Lester Henry introduced Charles to their sister Dorothy. At 15 she had suddenly abandoned school, devastated by the death of her father who spoilt her. Bereft, with a mother who loved only her sons, Dorothy warmed to the charming, groomed, gentlemanly Charles. They sauntered along Kingston Beach and through the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, and had fun acting in films he directed.

They married in 1943, showered by Willi’s gift of Stuart crystal. Willi set them up in a new shop Chung Sing & Co. at 99 Liverpool Street. Alas, stressed by personality differences, building the business and rearing two babies under difficulty without even hot running water, my parents divorced in 1946; so, unlike my older sister Lehene (who died in 2001) I don’t remember living with my father.

In the 1950s I called into the family’s Golden Dragon restaurant with school bills and was impressed by his beautifully cut suits.

Charles Chung, premier Robert Cosgrove and other guests at the opening of Hobart’s first Chinese restaurant, the Golden Dragon. Picture SUPPLIED

Around 1960 Lehene and I held a party at his Howrah home and were amazed next morning to find he’d disappeared but only after cleaning up, ash trays emptied, cushions plumped, the house immaculate.

Only recently have I grown to know him a little. We shared our first meal together in 2012, at Melbourne’s Red Emperor, with three of my half-siblings. At his home in 2016 I photographed some of his paintings that draw on his art training and posted a video: Artist-in-Retirement: My Father, Charles Chung.


A self-portrait of the late Charles (Pak Koon) Chung of Hobart

I’m grateful for my last visit in May. Though frail, he chatted and asked after my mother, who lives close to me in Melbourne.

On news of his impending death, Dorothy wept. ‘I have to see him.’ But, nearing 94 she’s unfit to fly. My father now joins Lehene in Byron’s ‘silence of that dreamless sleep’.