By Denis Byrne, Western Sydney University
The hundreds of houses built in their home villages by people who had migrated from Zhongshan County, China, to Australia between the mid-nineteenth century and the 1940s represent a remarkable record of transnational flows. Beginning as enlarged versions of vernacular houses, by the 1920s many of the houses were being built in a neoclassical style based on reinforced concrete frames. It is argued here that these houses drew inspiration not from Australia as a country but from a colonial architectural milieu in which Australia participated. The relation of the Zhongshan houses to Australian architecture was to a large degree one of simultaneity rather than a unilinear flow of influence. It is proposed that the houses represent a transnationally “distributed” form of heritage that provokes a rethinking of the conventional approach to migrant heritage in places like Australia where a unilinear, one-way narrative of migration has been imposed, a narrative which disregards the ongoing history of transnational mobility and belonging that is common to many or most peoples’ experience of migration.
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