Sydney’s historic Chinese market gardens,  ABC Rural, Fiona Pepper, 10th August

Robert and Jin

Not far from the middle of Sydney there are seven hectares of heritage listed farming land, where vegetables have been grown for the last 150 years.

The low lying, sandy patch of land, not far from the beach in the eastern suburb of La Perouse, was originally farmed by the first settlers.

For the last 80 years three Chinese families have grown herbs and Chinese vegetables on the land.

Robert Parsley

Robert Teng and his family have been farming the property for the last 38 years.

The Teng’s are now the last remaining Chinese family farming the market garden.

On every inch of the seven hectares parsley, coriander, spring onion, bok choy, or radish is being grown.

When asked to compare how he farms to the way his father and grandfather would have, Mr Teng said he has more freedom to farm what he wants.

“There are differences, [I am] freer here to grow virtually what [I] want to grow, depending on my customers needs.”

Robert shed

Daphne Kelley, former President of the Chinese Heritage Association of Australia, explained that Chinese market gardens were a huge part of the history of Chinese settlement in Australia.

“It’s very important because Chinese, who originally came in numbers to Australia during the Gold Rush days, back then there was a lot discrimination against the Chinese,” she said.

“Because so many occupations were not open to them, one of the main occupations they went into was food production and market gardening.

“To the Chinese community it’s a stage of settlement and it’s nice that there are still a few area’s remaining that people can see were the food actually comes from.”

Mrs Kelley explained there have been some threats to the La Perouse market gardens in recent history.

The Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park sits on the market garden boundary and since 2008 the cemetery has been interested in expanding.

However, given the land is very low lying with a high water table, Mrs Kelley said if the land was to be used for residential or other purposes that would involved a lot of infilling and engineering works.