Sze Yup and Yiu Ming Temple in Sydney

January 15 – 16 and 27, 2023

新年快樂! Back in Sydney on the eve of the Lunar New Year, I wanted to write on the Chinatown pedestrian mall, the Chinese Nationalist Party of Australasia building, the Sze Yup Chinese temple in Glebe, and the Yiu Ming Temple in Botany.

I’ve always known about the pedestrian mall in Chinatown; the photo above is at the southern end of the mall looking north. I can actually read the Chinese characters on the gate – from right to left, it says ‘four seas one home’, appoximating the English inscription.

This article casts another slant. Following a downturn in population in Chinatown in the 1970’s, “the City of Sydney Council worked with the Dixon Street Chinese Committee to attract visitors by developing Chinatown into a tourist precinct. In the 1980s, Dixon Street was turned into a pedestrian mall. Traditional Chinese-style arched gates were established at both ends of Dixon Street; traditional symbols such as stone lions, lanterns and a Chinese-style pagoda were used to redecorate Chinatown, and properties along Dixon Street were converted to Chinese restaurants, supermarkets and gift shops.” In other words, it’s a tourist trap!

Nearby in Ultimo Road there is the Chinese Nationalist Party of Australasia building, an imposing construction. I always wondered what the story is. Searching online, I found a dissertation “Unlocking the History of The Australasian Kuo Min Tang 1911–2013” which goes in great detail into the history of the Chinese Nationalist Party of Australasia. It has a foreword by John Howard, the ex-Prime Minister. An article in Honi Soit (pronounced “Onny Swah”, the student newspaper of the University of Sydney and my alumnus) said in effect the Chinese Nationalist Party of Australia is a microcosm of the Chinese in Australia, with all the good and bad history.

I have heard of the Sze Yup Temple from my father, who used to lead walks past it.

On an image of Google Maps the Sze Yup Temple is lower right. I used to live at Glebe Point many years ago, in Eglinton Road. To my surprise, the compound backs on to the rear of my ex-house. I could have thrown a stone out my kitchen over the lane and had it land on Sze Yup Temple land.

Coming from the Light Rail station I had my first glimpse of the wall (above) that surrounds Sze Yup Temple. It’s hidden away in an upmarket area; note the late Victorian terrace house on the right-hand side.

A close-up of the wall ringing Sze Yup Temple, except for the gate to the north-east and a more utilitarian entrance to the north-west. Wikipedia says the walls and the gateway were finished and formally opened in 1983.

The gate of Sze Yup Temple, with people painting the gate. Wikipedia says 四邑關帝廟 means ‘the temple of Kwan Ti of the people of the Four Counties’. Sze Yup Temple was built from 1898 to 1904, is a Daoist temple, and “one of only four pre-World War I Chinese temples that remain active in Australia.” The name is in relation to the Sze Yup County in Guangdong Province, China. 

My mother, who had been to Sze Yup Temple, said there were no signs at the gate – by which she meant English signs. To the Australian residents in Glebe with no Chinese heritage it must be an alien and exotic place.

A photo of inscriptions in Chinese. Anybody willing to translate? The English inscription to the right of the photo commemorate the main inscriptions’ unveiling.

I asked the party painting the gate whether Sze Yup Temple was open in English, but the first woman I spoke to didn’t speak English at all. A man said that it was too late in the day, and to come back tomorrow.

So I came again the next day. The above photo is on the opposite side of the gate, showing the juxtaposition of Australian street and Chinese gate.

The main temple building, of plain, unembellished construction. There is a photograph of the opening of this temple taken from the same courtyard, a little to the right of the above photo, in 1904 – that’s 119 years ago.

Wikipedia says the central temple was completed first, in 1898; it holds the central Kwan Ti shrine. The left wing holds the Chapel of Departed Friends ancestor hall, while the right wing contains the Chapel of Good Fortune. It adds, “The importance attached to the concepts of ‘Feng Shui’ in the temple and surroundings has prevented building to the front of the temple, and has a strong influence on the management of the site.”

Closeup of the main entrance. Can anyone translate the signs into English?

A photo from a similar spot but facing in the other direction.

Notices in English and simplified Chinese advertising a celebration on Lunar New Year Eve, January 21st.

A photo at the entrance to the temple, showing fruit, a man worshiping on the extreme left, and on the back wall, a painting of Guan Di. Wikipedia says “The temple venerates Kwan Ti (Guan Di), a popular deity based on Guan Yu, a military figure of the Three Kingdoms Period. Its form, and those of the grounds, reflect the architectural style of Sze Yup counties (Siyi) in Guangdong, China.”

I saw a sign that said no photography allowed, so I put away my mobile phone.

However, YouTube has several clips of the Sze Yup Temple; here is one of them. The simple construction of the Sze Yup Temple belies the rich treasures within.

At Sze Yup Temple I noticed a peculiar thing: I felt that people were ignoring me. In Taiwan, when I go into a temple, people make an effort to stop staring, and occasionally approach me to start a conversation to practice their English. Here I felt like a ghost. Then again, maybe there is a good reason to be wary of foreigners taking photographs. The ABC reports there was an arson attack here 15 years ago.

On January 27th I had a chance to visit Yiu Ming Temple in Botany, just south of Sydney.

The map above shows the location of Yiu Ming Temple. The Sze Yup Temple is centre right.

I traveled with my father to visit my old home in Erskineville. While there, he mentioned the Yiu Ming Temple is not far away – why don’t we visit? Actually it was too far away to get there easily (my father wanted to walk), but fortunately there is a bus running straight to the temple.

The gates of the Yiu Ming Temple, on Retreat Street only a few paces from busy Botany Road. Notice that the gate gives it’s actual name, 洪聖宮 (Hong Sheng Gong). “宮” means it’s a Daoist temple. Yiu Ming Temple is from the names of two villages that founded the temple in Guangdong province, China.

According to the Wikipedia article, the temple was built in 1908–9 and among the oldest surviving Chinese temples in Australia. “As many village temples in China no longer exist, this fine, intact example is considered to be of both local and international significance.”

Within the gate on the right we met some old, retired people (above), who seemed friendly – a contrast to the Sze Yup Temple. The retired people live at the temple in the terrace houses on both sides.

The old people pointed us to a door (above), with my father looking at it. The terrace for the retired people is on the right.

A close-up of the door. Any volunteers for reading the characters?

We walked down the passage to an open space (above). There was a shrine and a furnace to burn “joss papers”. The wall is part of the neighbouring block. The entrance to the temple is behind you. The orientation of the temple is in accordance with feng shui.

The entrance to the inner holy place, showing the characters 洪聖宮 (Hong Sheng Gong) reading right to left, and a fine wood carving above the main door. There was a “no photographs” sign, so I took no pictures, figuring I’d link to a YouTube video; but there were no YouTube recordings of Yiu Ming Temple to be had. My memory was of a darkened room, a large statue of Hung Shing looming in the background, a beautiful old textile display, spirals of incense hanging from the roof, shoe-boxes with English and Chinese characters for worship, secondary shrines including one for Guanyin, who was Buddhist.

A woman was showing some people around, speaking in non-Chinese. The woman then came up to my father and I and offered sweets; she had only basic English skills, not enough to string words into a sentence. Suddenly my father says Richard can speak Chinese. She turns to me and says in 中文, can you speak Chinese? Immediately our positions were reversed; she patiently speaking slow Chinese, me haltingly replying. We exchanged a couple of sentences; she was a native speaker of Chinese, or near enough. Quite a contrast.

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