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Cairns City Chinese heritage trail

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Photo of a place on Cairns City Chinese heritage trail

Cairns is a beautiful tropical city and a gateway to the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics rainforests. The city and surrounding region are steeped in the history of Chinese immigration.

Amongst the early settlers of this region were many Chinese who came to Cairns and Cooktown in the mid-1870s, lured by the gold rush. They worked on the Hodgkinson and Palmer River goldfields, located west of Cairns and Cooktown. After the alluvial gold ran out, many Chinese turned to farming.

The Hap Wah plantation, financed by local and Hong Kong Chinese, employed 60 Chinese workers and was the first in the Cairns district to produce both cotton and sugar. A commemorative plaque to the plantation and its founder Andrew Leon can be found in the Earlville Shopping Centre, south of Cairns—its original site.

Cairns Chinatown was once a bustling street of shops and businesses, bounded by Sheridan, Shields, Spence and Lake Streets, with Sachs Street—now Grafton Street—in the centre. Residents belonged to different cultural districts from Guangdong province in Southern China. Each group built a temple on either side of Sachs Street. The Cairns and District Chinese Association continues the traditions of teaching language, dance and fostering traditional festivals and events.

The McLeod Street Pioneer Cemetery is located about 1.5km north of Chinatown and has a section of unmarked Chinese burials. The interpretation panels in the rotunda assist in site identification.

Chinese market gardeners once occupied the site of Cairns’ Flecker Botanical Gardens. The attractive Zhanjiang Friendship Garden in the Cairns Botanic Garden precinct acknowledges Cairns’ sister city relationship with Zhanjiang in the Guangdong Province, from where many North Queensland Chinese migrated.


Listing 3 places within this trail.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
28 February 2023