Journal article Open Access

Making the 'last Chinaman': Photography and Chinese as a 'vanishing' people in Australia's rural local histories

Couchman, Sophie

From the 1900s residents of declining former gold-rush towns in south-eastern Australia took snapshot photographs of frail, elderly Chinese men. A small but distinct group of these photographs were subsequently termed the 'last Chinaman'. This article argues that photographs of the 'last Chinaman' have been mobilised in local histories, to describe Chinese involvement in the gold rushes as part of the history of rural towns, contributing to the construction of Chinese Australians in national history as a 'vanishing' people. The implications of this are that Chinese who were 'everyday' Australians have been overlooked in our histories and the public circulation of photographs which illustrate Chinese as Australians have also been constrained and overshadowed by those of the 'last Chinaman'.

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