In the 1850s around 40,000 fortune seekers from southern China came to the Victorian goldfields. Many later moved on to other prospects – some went back to their home villages, some to other goldfields, some to Australia’s capital cities, and some to other Chinese diaspora communities and settlements outside Australasia. But some also put down their roots in this region, including in country towns and agricultural communities beyond the areas that had seen the original goldrushes. Throughout the Loddon Mallee in the late nineteenth century people of Chinese heritage continued to mine, fossick for gold, establish businesses, grow fruit and vegetables, and also raise families. New migrants also continued to arrive from China until the advent of the White Australia Policy in 1901 severely restricted non-European immigration to Australia.
With the approach of the First World War in the second decade of the twentieth century many of the children and grandchildren of the first waves of Chinese migration were in young adulthood and of prime fighting age. They had grown up in an era when Chinese-born residents of Australia no longer had the legal right to become naturalised, could no longer have family members (including children and spouses) who were not already Australian resident or born join them here, and whose Australian descendants could be barred from active military duty solely due to their race. Despite this discrimination many second and third generation Chinese Australians were patriotic and keen to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force when volunteers were needed for active service from 1914 to 1918. The stories and backgrounds of some of these regional Australians of Chinese heritage are told here.