Books recall history of Chinese fruit shops

Co-authors Carolyn King, of Ashburton, (left) and Ruth Lam, of Auckland, hold the first of two...
Co-authors Carolyn King, of Ashburton, (left) and Ruth Lam, of Auckland, hold the first of two volumes of The Fruits of our Labours, a history of Chinese fruit shops in New Zealand.
Operators of the Wing On and Co shop in George St, Dunedin, pictured about 1994, Kai Wing Kan ...
Operators of the Wing On and Co shop in George St, Dunedin, pictured about 1994, Kai Wing Kan (then 91), at right, and his son, Reg Kan. PHOTOS: PETER MCINTOSH/SUPPLIED
The former C.W. Wong shop in Hillside Rdd, Dunedin, co-owned by George Wong  and Bill Wong.
The former C.W. Wong shop in Hillside Rdd, Dunedin, co-owned by George Wong and Bill Wong.
George Wong (left) and Bill Wong.
George Wong (left) and Bill Wong.

Former Dunedin resident and historian Carolyn King is keen to preserve the rich social history of the city's once-booming Chinese fruit shop trade.

Mrs King (nee Wong), who now lives in Ashburton, has written the Dunedin and other South Island sections of a two-volume national history of the Chinese trade, titled The Fruits of Our Labours.

The book was commissioned and published by the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust, and its Dunedin launch took place last night.

Mrs King said the book, co-produced by historical team leader Ruth Lam and fellow co-authors Beverly Lowe, Helen Wong and Michael Wong, aimed to keep alive the memories of the people engaged in the Chinese fruit trade.

"That's why it's been done. These fruit shops were mainly in the 20th century, and we're now in the 21st century.''

The writers of the history had been "lucky enough'' to find people now in their 70s, 80s and 90s who were "able to recall the information''.

In many cases, younger people of Chinese descent, and members of future generations "don't know what their parents and grandparents had faced''.

At the peak of the Chinese fruit shops, between the '50s and the mid-'60s, there were 48 fruit shops in Dunedin, at least 10 of them between the Octagon and Frederick St.

Customers trusted the Chinese fruit sellers because "they knew their produce''.

Buying from the high-profile and popular fruit shops also took on a much deeper meaning.

"It was forming friendships, increasing our standing in the community.''

Close, life-changing bonds were formed, not only with customers but also between the Chinese business community and some other people in the fruit business who, before about 1940, had been more reluctant to include them, initially seeing them as a competitive threat.

As she grew up, Mrs King learned a great deal about the Dunedin fruit shop trade.

She lived in in the city until she was 22 and, as a youngster, helped out during holidays at a fruit shop, at 147 Hillside Rd, which was co-owned by her father, Bill Wong, and uncle George Wong.

She also more regularly helped her mother, Ivy Wong, now 93, who used to run a second shop in Forbury Rd.

The Hillside Rd shop ran from 1939 to 1991, and the Forbury Rd shop ran from 1956 to the late 1980s.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz

 

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