The Invercargill sub-branch of the Otago Southland Chinese Association (OSCA) was officially formed in May 2004. It is the only Chinese organisation in the area, with meetings taking place in local homes. Most members live in Invercargill and a couple of families are from Winton in Central Southland and Tuatapere in Western Southland. About 80% of the Chinese people living in Southland are from a village in Toi Shan. These families moved to Invercargill in the 1980s and 1990s to set up takeaway shops and restaurants. The families are either related to each other or linked by marriage and form the core of the community. Added to this group are families who have lived in Southland for many years including the current Chairman, Jim Wong, who was born in Malaysia and came to study at Otago University during the years of the Colombo plan in the 1960s.

The Committee itself is a cross-section of people from Malaysia, China, Hong Kong and just two are New Zealand-born. More recently there has been an influx of students attending the Southland Institute of Technology, who stay in Invercargill for a few years and then move on. There are a handful of young professionals from China who have come to Southland for work opportunities.

The strong sense of community is similar to that of the Oamaru Chinese community of the 1960s and 1970s. When you see a Chinese person in town, more often than not you know them and you stop to say hello. Most of the first-generation children are fluent in Cantonese, with some speaking Mandarin as well. Their English is better than their parents' and many help to serve in the takeaway shops after school. The parents are keen for their children to maintain their language skills and encourage them to attend classes organised by the sub-branch.

 

Beginnings

In 2003, Terence Wong identified a need for a specific group to run activities and provide a support network for the Chinese living in Southland, after discovering that most of those living in Invercargill did not respond to a newsletter/membership drive by OSCA. Many felt that the mainly Dunedin-based activities were too far away for them to take part in. Around the same time, Philip Chan also realised that the Southland Chinese community would benefit from a local organisation. Terence and Philip called a meeting to find people with the time, commitment and skills to form a committee. A small number of people turned up and a committee was formed comprising of Terence and his wife Sue, Philip and his wife Penny, plus Jim Wong, Hong Zhang, Emmeline Lo, and Margaret Young.

From the start it was obvious that the pool of people available to help on the committee would be small, as most of the community was unable to attend meetings due to work commitments in restaurants and takeaway shops. The Committee realised that to operate successfully they would need support and help from outside Invercargill. They unanimously decided that the best course would be to stay as part of OSCA and operate as a satellite from within the parent branch.

Peter & Janice Sew Hoy, Teresa Chan, David Lai, Hector Wong and Wayne Chin willingly gave their time and expertise to Terence and the committee in the formation of the Invercargill sub-branch. Months of consultation, emails, meetings and positive support from members of the OSCA committee resulted in a brand new set of rules for the operation of the Invercargill sub-branch. A sub-branch newsletter/membership drive resulted in 130 people joining. The first year was a busy one with the committee organizing a special yum cha lunch and fundraiser; English classes for adults; and Chinese language classes and basketball for the children.

In 2007, Terence & Sue Wong moved away from Invercargill to live in Australia. Their departure had a big impact on the sub-branch which lost both its Chairman and Secretary. There were serious doubts about whether the sub-branch could continue to operate with a reduced committee. At an emergency meeting there was a reshuffle of jobs and Jim Wong took over as Chairman.

 

Activities

By far the most popular event is the annual Chinese New Year lunch. It is an opportunity for the community to gather together socially. Usually members of the main OSCA Committee come down and join in the celebrations. Whenever possible they have brought the Lion Dance Troupe with them as well as the tug o’ war rope for the annual Dunedin vs Invercargill challenge. Other activities organised by the sub-branch include Moon Festival dinners, fundraising dinners and lunches.

Chinese gold mining forms part of Southland’s history, with remnants still visible at Orepuki of the water races dug out by the Chinese miners in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 2008, Long Hilly Walking Track was officially opened – developed to give the public access to this historical gold mining area. As a mark of respect to the Chinese miners from long ago, members of the Invercargill sub-branch were invited to the opening where historian, Dr James Ng spoke about the lives of the miners in Southland.

As luck would have it, in 2010, two Committee members (Lin Zhuo & Lisa Bu) with traditional Chinese dancing expertise formed a dance class for the children. In 2011, the sub-branch children performed a fan dance and parasol dance at the NZCA Easter Tournament Cultural Concert in Dunedin.

In 2009, the sub-branch formed its own small Lion Dance Troupe after an indefinite loan of OSCA’s old set of lion dancing equipment and costumes. The Chinese New Year Lion Dance is now Invercargill-based. In 2011, a lion dance workshop was organised to enable more members to experience lion dancing. George Chan, an international lion dance judge and teacher, was flown down from Christchurch to teach for the weekend. The skills and techniques that were learned gave the lion dance group the confidence to perform at the Opening Ceremony of 150th Anniversary of Gold Discovery in Arrowtown in 2012.

 

Relationships

The bonds between the sub-branch and the main OSCA Branch are strong and the Invercargill members have been encouraged to take part in the Dunedin activities. Members of the sub-branch Committee are included with OSCA in attending the NZCA conferences. On the social and sporting side of activities, OSCA has welcomed the sub-branch children into their basketball teams for some of the South Island tournaments; and two of the younger members of the sub-branch Committee, Lin Zhuo and Xing Dong Yan, attended the 2008 OSCA Camp.

The sub-branch has a good relationship with the Southland Multicultural Council, whose members attend our fundraising dinners. Some of our members belong to both organisations and the Lion Dance Troupe has performed at several Multinations Race Relation Day celebrations. Members of the Committee take part in the Kidzone holiday program in conjunction with the Southland Multicultural Council. Children from the wider public take great delight in learning how to use chopsticks and try their hand at Chinese calligraphy.

The sub-branch has had representatives attending the NZCA Leadership and Development Conferences – Lin Zhuo and Xingdong Yan in 2008 and more recently Kristel Yee in 2011.

Lin Zhuo and Kristel Yee were also accepted into the 2011 Dragon 100 Young Chinese Leaders Forum in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Xing Dong Yan’s application to the 2012 forumin Hong Kong and China was also successful. We are very proud to have had three successful applicants to this international forum from a relatively small pool of members. In some ways, the fact that our membership is small has been an advantage in honing the leadership skills of our younger adult members. They take on extra responsibilities which would normally be spread amongst several people in a larger branch.

 

Future

The future of the OSCA Invercargill sub-branch will depend on the number of members. The first-generation children from the takeaway shops are growing up and the older ones are now going to university. Whether they come back to Invercargill to take up professional jobs after they graduate is questionable. Like the first-generation of Oamaru Chinese in the 1960s and 1970s, after gaining tertiary qualifications few returned, opting instead to settle in the larger cities. Their parents eventually moved away to be with their children.

When the parents of the sub-branch children retire, they too may move to be with their children and grandchildren. Only time will tell whether the sub-branch will operate in its current capacity or whether its role reverts back to passing members onto OSCA in Dunedin. At present the sub-branch is in good heart and members keep renewing their subs – the total number of members is currently 161.