LEARN ABOUT THE 40 UNDER 40 AWARDS
Asian-Australians have made an enormous contribution to the history of Australia. Here is a small selection of remarkable individuals who have risen to the top of their fields.
Use #asianausleadership via social media to let us know who else deserves recognition.
This list is presented as part of the 2020 Asian-Australian Leadership Summit and the 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians Awards.
William Edward Sing was an Australian soldier of Chinese and English descent who served in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I, best known as a sniper during the Gallipoli Campaign.
Sing was born on 2 March 1886 in Clermont, Queensland, the son of a Chinese father and an English mother. Growing up, Sing encountered considerable anti-Chinese sentiment. As a boy, he was well known for his shooting skill, but was the subject of racial prejudice due to his ancestry. He began work hauling timber as a youth, and later worked as a stockman and a sugarcane cutter.
Sing began his military career as part of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) forces in the Gallipoli Campaign in modern day Turkey. Sing's marksmanship at Gallipoli saw him dubbed 'The Assassin.' On 10 March 1916, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, with a related entry in military records reading: "For conspicuous gallantry from May to September, 1915, at Anzac, as a sniper. His courage and skill were most marked, and he was responsible for a very large number of casualties among the enemy, no risk being too great for him to take."
Sing returned to Australia on submarine guard duty in late July 1918. An army medical report from 23 November 1918 noted that he had gunshot wounds in the left shoulder, back, and left leg, and had suffered gas poisoning.
In later life, Sing reported chest, back, and heart pain. His final days were spent in relative poverty and obscurity in West End, Brisbane.
Jenny Margaret Kee AO is an Australian fashion designer.
She was born in 1947 to a Chinese father and Anglo-Italian mother. Her great-grandparents had migrated from Guangdong, China, to Cooktown, Queensland, during the 1870s gold rush.
Kee enrolled at the East Sydney Technical College in 1963 and studied fashion design, but moved to London before completing the degree, where she worked with Vernon Lambert (an antique-clothes dealer and columnist for L'Uomo Vogue) in his Chelsea Antique Market, selling vintage couture.
In the early 1970s Kee returned to Australia and opened her boutique, Flamingo Park. The success of the boutique drew fashion and textile designer Linda Jackson to Kee and together they created the iconic Kee colourful wool jumpers.
After surviving the Granville train crash in 1972, Kee began painting as a way to cope. The images – of birds, flowers, opals and tropical fish – were screen printed onto silks. In 1977 these silks were given a full spread in Italian Vogue and were used by Chanel in Paris.
Jennifer Margaret Kee is not only a national fashion icon but an enduring figure thanks to her bright, eclectic style and fusion of fashion and art.
Glenda Hiroko Gauci was the first Asian-Australian woman appointed as an ambassador in the Australian diplomatic service.
Glenda attended Templestowe High School before graduating in arts and law from the University of Melbourne. Drawn by adventure and the opportunity to use her education, she had dreamt of being a foreign correspondent before deciding, at fifteen, that she would be a diplomat.
She won prizes in politics, international relations and public administration and was the University's inaugural exchange student with Tokyo's Keio University. Later, she completed a Masters degree in international law at the Australian National University before joining the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1984.
In 1994, she was seconded to the Canberra office of the then foreign minister, Senator Gareth Evans, as an adviser on northern Asia, before becoming trade counsellor in Tokyo in 1995. She worked with Alexander Downer when he attended a World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting, and the following year she was involved with the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. In 1998 she returned to Australia as an assistant secretary in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, heading the South-East and, later, North-East Asia branches.
In mid-2000 Gauci was named ambassador to Cambodia, one of only 12 women to have achieved that level of seniority in Australia's diplomatic service at the time.
William (Bill) Ah Ket was Australia's first barrister of Asian heritage.
He was born on 20 June 1876 in Wangaratta, Victoria, the only son and fifth child of Ah Ket, storekeeper, grower and buyer of tobacco, and his wife Hing Ung. William was educated at Wangaratta High School and at home by a Chinese tutor. He was one of the few Australian-born Chinese proficient in both Chinese and English, and in his early teens acted as a court interpreter.
It was his father's wish that he should qualify for the law in his countrymen's interests. Ah Ket matriculated in 1893 and entered law at the University of Melbourne, completing a single subject before proceeding to his articled clerk's course in 1898. He won the Supreme Court Judges' Prize in 1902, completed his articles with Maddock & Jamieson and was admitted to practice in May 1903.
In the 1900s Ah Ket was active in the Chinese community's opposition to restrictive and discriminatory legislation, both State and Federal. In 1901 he helped to create a committee to agitate against the proposed immigration restriction bill. He was a member of the Chinese Empire Reform Association of 1904 and of the Anti-Opium League of Victoria, organisations which supported modernisation and social reform among Chinese at home and abroad.
Ah Ket built up a healthy practice at the Victorian Bar, specializing in civil law. He was in the front rank of pleaders and became renowned as a fine cross-examiner—quietly spoken, courteous and shrewd—and as an outstanding jury man. He acquired a considerable reputation as a negotiator of settlements.
Alan Davidson is a former captain of the Australian Socceroos football team.
Growing up in Melbourne’s Altona North, his mother of Japanese heritage, Davidson made his senior debut in the Victorian State League in 1976 at the age of 15, playing for Altona City SC. He transferred to South Melbourne in 1978, where he played until the end of the 1984 season, making 155 appearances and scoring 13 goals.
After a brief stint in England with Nottingham Forest F.C., he resumed playing in Australia at the end of 1986 for South Melbourne and in 1987 transferred to Melbourne Croatia, making 133 appearances. He transferred to Malaysia-League club Pahang FA in 1992, and was voted the League's best player, guiding the team to the M-League Championship and Malaysia Cup double. He was the only foreign player ever to be honored with an AMP award, bestowed by the Sultan of Pahang in 1996 .
Davidson played for Australia on 79 occasions and is the team’s 32nd captain. He retired in 1998 at the age of 38 after three World Cup campaigns, one Olympic Games and 51 FIFA full A internationals.
Davidson's career was honoured in 2012 at the "Australia's Greatest Ever Footballers Gala" ceremony, where he was named in Australia's ‘Best 11 of All Time’ Socceroo Team.
Caleb Shang was a highly decorated Chinese-Australian soldier who served in the First World War. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal twice and received the Military Medal.
He was born on 4 August 1884 at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, the eldest of thirteen children of Canton-born Lee Wah Shang, cabinetmaker, and his wife Jane, née Noon, born at Gayndah, Queensland. Shang left school at 12, the family by this time having moved to Cairns. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 June 1916 as a private, giving his occupation as clerk. Embarking for England in September, he joined the 47th Battalion on 7 March 1917 and served with it until May 1918.
The Bar to the D.C.M. and the Military Medal were awarded as a result of actions near Dernancourt on the Somme battlefield, France, in March-April 1918. The 47th Battalion war diary records that Shang repeatedly displayed utter contempt for danger and showed amazing powers of endurance and great boldness. He volunteered for duty at an observation post in an advanced position at the start of an operation, remained at that post until it was destroyed, then served as a 'runner', making many trips carrying ammunition through intense enemy barrages.
After demobilization Shang worked as a herbalist in Victoria and married Anna Louise Kassene at Hamilton in 1923. He spent most of his post-war life at Cairns, working variously as tally clerk, taxi-driver and bookmaker.
Wang Gungwu AO CBE is a historian specialising in China and Southeast Asia.
Wang was born in Surabaya, Indonesia to ethnic Chinese parents from Taizhou, Jiangsu and grew up in Ipoh, Malaysia. He completed his secondary education in Anderson School, an English medium school in Ipoh. Wang studied history in the University of Malaya, where he received his bachelor's and master's degrees. He was a founding member of the University Socialist Club and its founding president in 1953.
He holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (1957) and taught at the University of Malaya (in both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur). In 1968 he moved to Canberra to become Professor of Far Eastern History in the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies (RSPAS) at the Australian National University, which he then directed from 1975-80. He was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong from 1986 to 1995. In 2007, Wang became the third person to be named University Professor by the National University of Singapore.
Gungwu has written extensively on the notion of a Chinese diaspora:
“The Chinese get together for their festival and Chinese new year. They will also look for a new business partner among their community as a matter of convenience, but really, all the overseas communities have their own characters, they rarely can communicate with one another, and there are a myriad of them. To me, instead of saying there is one big Chinese Diaspora, which brings negative commentaries, it would be better to look at the way they were able to adapt in order to survive and what sort of strategies they developed overtime to fit into their new environment.” (asian-affairs.com)
In 2020 Wang was awarded the Tang Prize in Sinology and was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order (Singapore) in August 2020.
Dr Victor Chang AC was a pioneer of modern heart transplant surgery. Once hailed as “the most prominent doctor in the southern hemisphere”, his revolutionary work in the field of heart transplantation had implications for cardiac patients, not only in Australia and Southeast Asia but around the globe.
Victor's grandparents arrived in Australia during the gold rush in the mid 1800s. Victor's father, Aubrey Chang, was born in Tamworth, while Victor's mother, May Lee, was born in Inverell in north west New South Wales. Victor was born in Shanghai in November 1936, and shortly after, Japanese forces invaded Shanghai and the Chang family returned to Hong Kong, with Victor aged just two years. In the early 1950s his father sent him and his younger sister to stay with extended family in Sydney,
In 1962 he graduated from Sydney University with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery.
Dr Chang personally saved hundreds of lives. In 1984 he led a team of surgeons who successfully performed a heart transplant on schoolgirl Fiona Coote. At the age of 14, Fiona defied all odds to become Australia’s youngest heart transplant survivor.
In that same year, Dr Chang founded the National Heart Transplant Program at St Vincent’s Hospital, which has since performed thousands of successful transplants. Dr Chang also played a key role in developing an artificial heart valve and an artificial heart assist device. In 1986 he was awarded a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).
Abul Rizvi PSM has held numerous senior positions across Australian government departments.
He completed a Bachelor of Economics at ANU in 1979. From 1982 he held various positions in the Department of Finance, and then underwent a Consultancy assignment with the Treasury of Malaysia from 1987-1989. He was First Assistant Secretary, Migration and Temporary Entry Division, Department of Immigration and Citizenship from 1998-2005, and then Deputy Secretary, Department of Immigration and Citizenship from 2005-2007. In 2007 he then became Deputy Secretary, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.
He was awarded a Centenary of Federation Medal for services to Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in 2001 and a Public Service Medal for contribution to development of Australia's Migration Program (2004).
He has been entered into the ANU Alumni Hall of Fame and is currently completing a PhD on Australia’s immigration policies. He is now a regular commentator on migration on immigration.
Elizabeth Chong AM is an award-winning media personality, celebrity Chef, author and teacher.
She was born in a small rice farming village outside Guangzhou, formerly Canton, and arrived in Australia aged three. There is a strong legacy of cooking in her family; she is the daughter of William Wing Young, who is believed to have created and marketed the most widely used modern recipe of the dim sim. Today she is affectionately known in Melbourne as The Empress of Chinatown.
Chong is best known for her television appearances on Good Morning Australia as well as her Chinese Cooking School (1960- 2016) and Chinese cookbooks including The First Happiness (first published in 1982). In 1994, her book The Heritage of Chinese Cooking won the Prix de La Mazille as International Cookbook of the Year.
Elizabeth Chong embraces the many aspects of food both in Australia and overseas. She is an authority on Chinese and Asian cuisine and provides professional consulting services to the Food Industry throughout Australia and in Hong Kong and mainland China. She is a Member of the Order of Australia.
Sir Leslie Joseph Hooker was an Australian property entrepreneur, businessman and philanthropist. He created the LJ Hooker empire and was at one time Australia's largest landholder.
Leslie Joseph (LJ) was born in Canterbury, Sydney, in 1903. He lived with his extended family, which included his grandfather, the Chinese-born James Tingyou. His mother died at age of 25 of tuberculosis, leaving LJ an orphan at just eight years of age. He attended public schools in Canterbury and Beecroft, and began working at 13 years of age, initially with a Japanese import and export company and later as a ship's purser. He purportedly changed his surname from Tingyou to Hooker in February 1925 to circumvent the White Australia Policy and be more acceptable to potential business partners and customers.
Hooker's real-estate activities, including his takeover bids and overseas trips, proved newsworthy. Although he himself seldom contributed to public debate, he did call for the abolition of rent control, arguing that there was little incentive for developers to build new blocks of flats in Sydney when older ones were full of tenants on fixed rents.
In 1958 Nation described Hooker as 'the most efficient selling agent of urban real estate in Australian history'; the article explained part of his success by the way in which he had recruited young, trained, 'executive-type' salesmen. In 1959-60, its greatest takeover year, the firm's main acquisitions included W. L. Buckland's pastoral empire, with vast holdings in the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.
The Hooker Corporation went into liquidation after the property crash of the late 1980s, but his name survived in a system of over four hundred franchised real-estate outlets.
He was knighted in 1973 for services to commerce.
William Yang is an award-winning photographer.
He has produced a sustained body of documentary and portrait photography, particularly engaging with the Sydney gay scene, the impact of HIV/AIDS and his sense of identity as a Chinese Australian.
Yang studied architecture at the University of Queensland before moving to Sydney in the late 1960s. In Sydney he began recording the theatre and show business worlds of which he was a part, particularly the glamorous events and parties. By 1974 he was working as a freelance photographer producing social photos for various magazines and beginning his project to document the gay community. His first exhibition, Sydneyphiles, at the Australian Centre for Photography in 1977, established Yang (then Willy Young) as a preeminent social historian of the period. He changed his name from Young to Yang in 1983, and has since developed a theatrical combination of spoken word monologue and slide projection to explore major themes in his work.
Yang has produced books including Patrick White: The late years (1995), Sadness (1996) and Friends of Dorothy (1997). His works are held in major state galleries, the National Gallery of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery.
Learn more about William Yang here