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Memento : Issue 27
My great-grandfather named her Sam Moy -- third daughter. Her mother -- my great-grandmother Leung Wai Ching -- insisted that her daughters should all be married off by the age of 18. Dutifully, Sam Moy married a Chinese merchant named Chou Yor Kee in 1910. They moved to Longreach in Central Queensland, the end of the railway line as it was then, and set up a general store in the main street. My grandparents took a great deal of time and care to choose an auspicious name for their new business. They settled on one that denoted civil and harmonious dealings: 'Shun Wah'. The local townsfolk assumed it was the family's name, and it stuck. I can't tell you how relieved I am that my grandparents didn't name their store something that meant 'Charlie's bargain basement'. My father, born in 1923, was the second youngest of their children. Eight months after the birth of the youngest, Queenie, my grandfather Chou Yor Kee succumbed to typhoid. It was 1927. My grandmother was left to single-handedly raise seven children and run the family business. Then five years later she packed up everything -- the shop, the home, the family -- and took her children to China. She was honouring a promise she'd made to her husband to take the children to their homeland to learn their culture. They settled in Hong Kong, where my father finished his schooling. When the Japanese occupied Hong Kong in December 1941, the family evacuated to the mainland. After the war they re- grouped in Hong Kong, but with the growing strength of Communist forces in China, and difficult postwar conditions, the future looked bleak. One by one, they returned to the land of their birth, Australia, leaving only my Uncle Roy and his family in Hong Kong. Grandma followed in 1950. And that's the grandmother I got to know -- the quiet old lady, who never ventured from the house, relied totally on her children, and spoke little English. To flesh out this outline I began some formal research -- seeking verification of facts, dates and places -- and sought out other relatives who might have a memory of her. The birth certificates of grandma's seven children placed the family in Longreach from the date of birth of the eldest, my Uncle Walter, in 1912 right through to grandfather's demise in 1927. But for all of this, there was nothing about grandma, other than her copybook signature, which appears on some of the children's documents as their legal guardian. At the National Archives in Brisbane, I found files for my father and each of his siblings. From these documents, I discovered the name of the steamship that took them to China -- the SS Changte. They set sail from Townsville on 26 January 1932 -- Australia Day. ese whispers (continued next page) Spring--Summer 2004 MEMENTO 17 (opposite page left) Great-grandmother, 1930s, Hong Kong. (opposite page right) Family portrait taken in 1900s in Darwin. (above left) The photograph that sent Annette Shun Wah on her quest, taken in the 1910s in Hong Kong. (above right) Family portrait taken in the 1950s in Cairns: Annette Shun Wah's mother, father, grandma, and brothers Tom and Doug.