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Banana merchants and the Victorian CEDT Index

By Terry Young (Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria)

The Queen Victoria Market (QVM) has been a constant in my life. I shopped there as a child with my mother. My grandfather and my father were market gardeners who sold their produce to vegetable dealers at the market. I now shop there as an adult every week.

I was aware of the reliance on Chinese vegetable producers last century and recently I was reminded of their impact on the Melbourne food economy. The QVM Visitor Hub is decorated with a large photographic mural showing a crowded street full of market traders parked in the Queen St location in 1907. They are in the process of unloading produce for the market. I walk by this image every week and it was the first time I took enough of an interest to look at the detail in the photograph. 

Queen Victoria Market mural with historical photograph ‘Victoria Markets, Xmas 1907, First Arrivals’, 2021. Photographer: Terry Young

The image is called Victoria Markets, Xmas 1907, First Arrivals. It is a fascinating record of the market activity in front of Sheds A, B and C. As the mural was quite large, I could clearly see the details of the signage on the horse drawn carriages parked in the street. Two carriages took my attention. One is marked Yee Sang & Yee Shing Banana Merchants and another marked Pack Kee Banana Merchants.

Detail of historical photograph, ‘Victoria Markets, Xmas 1907, First Arrivals’, on wall at Queen Victoria Market, 2021. Photographer: Terry Young

Using the Victorian CEDT Index, I was able to search for these merchants. The first name was not listed but Pack Kee is listed as a 46 year old Chinese Fruit Merchant in 1910.

Entry in Victorian CEDT Index
[Index entry for Pack Kee, 1910, Register 1, p. 123, Victorian CEDT Index, (original data taken from ‘Register of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test, 1904–1914’, National Archives of Australia: B6003, 1).]

I was also able to find 39 other Chinese who registered with an occupation in the banana trade (or you can browse by the other occupations here –

I like the ability to easily search the database to inform my knowledge about Victorian Chinese whenever and wherever my curiosity is aroused. These people are no longer hidden in history.

Terry Young

Terry is a first generation Chinese Australian. As an adult he developed a curiosity about the unspoken lives of his Cantonese speaking parents. Both migrated to Australia during difficult times, personally and historically. Terry’s family research has helped shape his persona and identity. He continues to research and discover details about his ancestors and his extended family, not only for his personal satisfaction but also for future family generations.

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Finding my Dad

By Marie Hammond (Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria)

I joined the Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria (CAFHOV) to learn more about my Dad’s life in Australia. He was known as George Woon later in life but the name he used when he first arrived was Ah Tow. With the help of CAFHOV member Terry I found two matches for my Dad in the Victoria CEDT Index under the name of ‘Ah Tow’.

The first entry, in 1921, shows he was a cabinetmaker in Melbourne who had lived in Australia for 21 years. This has given me a possible date of 1900 for when my Dad first came to Australia. This matches the information my mother told me. She said my Dad came to Australia as a 19 or 20-year old. According to the entry in the Victorian CEDT register he was 41 years old when he travelled in 1921 and so would have been about 20 years old when he arrived.

Index entry for Ah Tow, 1921, Register 2, p. 65, Victorian CEDT Index, (original data taken from ‘Register of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test, 1915-1933’, National Archives of Australia: B6003, 2)

I found a second entry in 1932. It tells me he must have come back again to Australia and left again in 1932 for China. I now know he was residing in Melbourne for 32 years. The reason he may have returned to China in 1932 was he was possibly looking to find a new wife, my mother, whom he brought to Australia in 1948. His first wife had died giving birth to a daughter who was being cared for by an elderly grandparent.

Index entry for Ah Tow, 1932, Register 2, p. 152, Victorian CEDT Index, (original data taken from ‘Register of Certificates Exempting from the Dictation Test, 1915-1933’, National Archives of Australia: B6003, 2)

It was possible verify that that this Melbourne cabinet maker called ‘Ah Tow’ was my Dad by matching these entries with his CEDT.

CEDTs for my Dad, 1921 and 1933
[NAA: B13, 1933/134]

My mother told me that whilst he was in China, the second-hand furniture shop that he ran near Little Bourke St was burnt down but I have not been able to verify that. I think my Dad possibly moved to regional Victoria on his return to Victoria, as the town’s folk in Red Cliffs (Victoria) have told me they remember him being in the town in the 1930s. Covid restrictions have prevented me from investigating my Dad’s life further but I’m looking forward to doing so.

A young George Woon (also known as Ah Tow)
[Private collection of the author]