IWD 2024: Ann Chung Gon

A pair of purple embroidered shoes that belonged to Ann Chung Gon.

Image: embroidered shoes that belonged to Ann Chung Gon. Photo: QVMAG.

International Women's Day 2024 celebrates the theme 'inspire inclusion'. In this editorial series, we'll be exploring QVMAG's collection to uncover historical objects and artefacts that belonged to significant Launceston women who embody this ideal.

This petite pair of shoes were owned by a member of a prominent Chinese family in Launceston, who used their heritage to help others and establish a long-standing connection with not only Chinese migrants, but the Launceston community as a whole.  

Ann Chung Gon was born in 1902 to James Chung Gon and Mei (Mary) Chung Gon. Having made money from the sale of a mining lease, he used his savvy entrepreneurship to build an agricultural business. James had planned to return to China with his family in the early 1910s — however, the outbreak of World War I prevented their travels. Undeterred, James moved to Launceston and opened retail fruit and vegetable stores in Elizabeth and Brisbane Streets (The Examiner, 1997).  

Chung Gon family portrait

Image: Group portrait of the Chung Gon family taken possibly at Lilydale, Tasmania, c 1905. Back row (LtoR): Joseph, Daisy, Rose, Violet, Lily. Middle row (LtoR): Mrs Mary Chung Gon holding baby Edward (Teddy), Esther, Mr James Chung Gon, Albert. Front row (LtoR): Samuel, Ann. QVM:1995:P:0379

James' influence was extensive, where he was involved in business and civic affairs. He was a key person in fundraising for the initial development of the Cataract Gorge Reserve (Immigration Place, 2024), and in moving the contents of the Weldborough temple to QVMAG, in what would become known as the ‘Joss House’ — now the Guan Di Temple (Cassidy, 1993).  

Ann worked on the family farm in her early life (Cassidy, 1993) and grew into a capable young lady and an observant seasoned traveller, making the long-distance journey from Launceston to China in the early years of World War II.   

'Miss Ann Chung Gon snapped in a temple garden in Peiping', featured in 1937 'MY NATIVE LAND', Examiner

Image: 'Miss Ann Chung Gon snapped in a temple garden in Peiping', featured in 1937 'MY NATIVE LAND', Examiner (Launceston, Tas.:1900-1954), 22 December, p. 7.

A gifted orator and confident presenter, Ann gave talks and lectures of her travels. Mercury newspaper contributor Sonja described Ann as "one of the most entertaining lecturers who has appeared before the [Country Women's] Association" (The Mercury, 1938). 

In an interview with the Examiner in 1937, she gave fascinating insight into the progress of China as a country, noting the modernisation of women's attitudes and the effect of compulsory education, as well as observing the introduction of the Simplified Chinese writing system, noting that the "condensed Chinese writing makes it possible for even the poorest to learn their letters in a short time".  

However, Ann also reported on the effect of World War II — an unexpectedly positive one. "There is... a silver lining to the war cloud over China, and this disaster that has befallen the country has had the effect of uniting China's sons and daughters as they have never been united before… China will fight to the end, and Japan will never really conquer her," she said (The Examiner, 1937).  

Her travels also saw her mistaken as the wartime enemy. Ann noted that during her travels, 70 per cent of people mistook her for Japanese, and said that when she was dressed in western clothes, she received a very cool reception and even 'dangerous scowls from the coolies'. Even some of the Japanese mistook her for one of their own. She said with a smile, "I would have made an excellent spy." (The Examiner, 1937).

QVMAG curator demonstrates the embroidery on Ann Chung Gon's shoes

Image of embroidered shoes that once belonged to Ann Chung Gon. Photo: QVMAG.

During one of her trips, Ann purchased the hand-embroidered shoes pictured above. The shoes were manufactured in China and Ann brought them back to Launceston. 

The footwear would have been considered quite exotic, with delicate hand stitching depicting a botanical scene of flowers, plants and fauna. The colours of the cotton embroidery provide clever contrast to the vivid purple silk and brushed cotton base. The small heel is fashionably shaped with a leather lift that is locked in place with small iron nails.

The shoes measure approximately 22cm insole, which equates to a size 4.5 or 5 AU women's shoe.

While there is not a great amount of history about the shoes themselves, the notation with this object was said they belonged to Ann Chung Gon and were shared by her sisters. These shoes show light signs of use, with minimal wear on the bottom of the soles.  

One can imagine Ann walking to an engagement with these vibrantly coloured, distnictive shoes - a rare sight on the streets of Launceston in the 1930s and 1940s. 

QVMAG curator demonstrates the embroidery on Ann Chung Gon's shoes

Image: Embroidered shoes that once belonged to Ann Chung Gon. Photo: QVMAG. 

Not only was Ann privileged in her ability to travel overseas and conduct business as a committee leader, she was also fortunate in being able to walk unencumbered, a stark contrast to her own mother, Mei Chung Gon, also known as Mary. As a high-born member of Chinese society, Mei endured the painful process of foot binding — one of only two women in northern Tasmania to have her feet bound (QVMAG, 2020). 

Mei did not pass on this long-standing tradition to her daughters in Tasmania. Ann's feet were unbound and free to roam — a fact of which she took full advantage.

Lotus shoes that belonged to Mei Chung Gon


Image: Lotus shoes that belonged to Mei Chung Gon, Ann's mother [QVM:2020:D:0032]. Photo: QVMAG. 

Mei's footwear, known as lotus shoes, can be viewed on QVMAG's online 3D collection. Both shoes were part of the Chung Gon bequest to QVMAG — one of the institution's most significant bequests. 

It is fascinating to compare the footwear of these two generations of the Chung Gon family - and reflect the journey that these intrepid women have both walked.  

Ann Chung Gon portrait from The Mercury (1994, 17 May, p. 16)

Image: Ann Chung Gon in 1944 'For CHINA', The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 17 May, p. 16.

A highly respected member of society, during her travels Ann was on the committee of the Hong Kong Chinese Women's Relief Association, where she helped and attended a dinner dance in aid of the association's funds at the Hong Kong Hotel. Ann even had a letter of introduction to Madame Chiang Kai Shek, who was in control of Chinese aviation in the military - yet declined the invitation due to her 'timidity' (The Examiner, 1937).  

Back home, she was described as an 'indefatigable worker for China' and worked as the secretary of the Chinese Relief Fund Committee, fundraising and helping organise the visit of Dr. Hsu Mo, Chinese Minister to Australia, in May 1944 (The Mercury, 1944). However, she was not around to welcome the Minister, as she was embarking on a new journey: her wedding to merchant Sydney Fong. She moved to Geraldton, WA, where she continued the family tradition of shopkeeping with her husband (Atkinson, 1996). Ann — or Annie, as she was known — followed in her father's footsteps in becoming a firmly entrenched and well-loved member of her new community until her death (Geraldton Regional Library, 2018). 

Ann Chung Gon used her unique position as a Chinese-Australian to share and educate the Launceston community about her family's homeland, but also sought to engage the community to assist Chinese communities stricken by the war in Hong Kong and China. For International Women's Day 2024, we can look back at her efforts and appreciate how Ann endeavoured to inspire inclusion — locally and internationally. 



1937 'MY NATIVE LAND', Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954), 22 December, p. 7. (LATE NEWS EDITION and DAILY : The Examiner WOMEN'S SUPPLEMENT), viewed 24 Feb 2024, https://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article52175815

1938, 'LAUNCESTON SOCIAL ACTIVITIES', The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 23 February, p. 10. (Woman's Realm), viewed 22 Feb 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29212118

1944 'CHUNG GON—FONG WEDDING', Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954), 17 May, p. 6., viewed 21 Feb 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91417676

1944 'For CHINA', The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), 17 May, p. 16., viewed 22 Feb 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26011565

Atkinson, A, (1996), Sydney Fong (1878-1955), available at https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fong-sydney-10214, viewed 22 Feb 2024.

Cassidy, Jill (1993), James Chung Gon (1854-1952). available at https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chung-gon-james-9745, viewed 22 Feb 2024.

Chung Gon, Edward [date unknown], James Chung Gon (Part one), 2024. Available at https://immigrationplace.com.au/story/james-chung-gon-part-one/, viewed 22 Feb 2024.

Extract from "The Examiner" 14th May,1997.  Title - 'Our China Connection - Immigrants add richness to Launceston culture' - available at http://www.chung-gon.com/our%20china%20connection.htm, viewed 22 Feb 2024.

Geraldton Regional Library, 2018, ' THROWBACK THURSDAY - Sydney Fong & Co shop in Marine Terrace circa 1960' [Facebook], 22 November. available at https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=2455701821113734&set=a.255950421088896, viewed 22 Feb 2024.

Unknown maker, Unknown year, Lotus shoes [Shoes]. Launceston: Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. Reg. No: QVM:2020:D:0032.