Ah Bong's silk shirt

Contributed by: Albury Library Museum

Front view of shirt Back view Front closure detail Front opening Stains to the front of the shirt.  Also shows detail of the rouleau loops. Neckline of shirt The cardboard trunk in which the shirt was found. It had been stored at S.M. Abikhair drapery and haberdashery shop in Albury
  • Australian dress register ID:

    384
  • Owner:

    Albury Library Museum
  • Owner registration number:

    ARM98.112
  • Date range:

    1915 - 1925
  • Place of origin:

    China (Possibly)
  • Gender:

    Male
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Object information

Significance statement

A pale blue grey silk Chinese shirt with detachable collar belonging to Mr. Ah Bong, a Chinese man employed by S.M. Abikhair as a hawker to travel around the Albury district selling haberdashery to farms and communities during the early 1920s. It is beautifully made of fine quality silk, and characteristic in style and manufacture of a long tradition of Chinese dress.

The story of this garment is significant in the history of Albury. It represents two groups of immigrants who made Albury their home.

The Chinese came to the area in the second half of the 19th century predominantly to search for gold. The lives they led were not always easy and acceptance by local communities was hard won. A Chinese camp and joss house existed in Albury and there were a few market gardens near the Murray River. The Albury Cemetery has a Chinese section, though it is believed that the bones of the deceased were sent back to China. When Chinese immigrants arrived in the nineteenth century their way of dress was criticised. In Australia, some continued to wear their traditional clothing while others adapted to local customs. This shirt is a symbol of Ah Bong moving between two worlds, yet maintaining respect for his origins.

The Abikhair family migrated to Australia from Lebanon in the late 19th century. Saad Milham Abikhair worked as a hawker with a horse and cart before settling in Albury in 1896. His family and other Lebanese migrants became prominent in the Albury business community. The Abikhairs had extensive business and real estate holdings in Albury. The Lebanese families who came to Albury during this period are still represented in business today.

After the drapery and haberdashery business closed in 1996 the Albury Regional Museum acquired the contents of the store. The Abikhair Collection is a significant part of the AlburyCity Collection.

Author: Christine Edgar, 24 June 2012.

Description

Pale blue grey man's Chinese style silk shirt. The shirt is completely hand stitched, except for the collar which may have been added later. There are two buttonholes at the front neckline and one at the back to allow a collar to be attached. A detachable collar was stored with the shirt and other objects. There are French seams to the body of the shirt and the sleeves. The shirt opens completely at the front and there is a vent on each side. The front of the shirt closes with rouleau loops and knotted fabric 'buttons' - simple frogging. The back of the shirt has a centre seam. The Magyar sleeves have no defined armholes with the sleeves being attached to a drop shoulder. Designed to worn over trousers rather than tucked in.

History and Provenance

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

No information is known about the owner of the shirt, except that he was employed by S.M. Abikhair in Albury.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

The shirt and other objects were found stored in a trunk at S.M Abikhair in Olive Street, Albury. Other objects in the trunk possibly belonged to different people. The cardboard trunk belonged to Mr. Wong Won and contained the shirt and detachable collar, a certificate of alien registration, a letter to Mr. Huang Bangzhong, a receipt to Mr. Wong Pung Chong, a shaving brush, match holders, a cake of soap, herbal medicine, small stoppered bottle, a badge of the Chinese Masonic Society, a pocket knife, a metal skewer, and keys to the trunk. The letters were translated by Dr. Y.W. Wong, Chinese and Korea Centre, Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

During the second half of the 19th century over 30,000 Chinese men came to live and work in regional New South Wales, mainly on the goldfields. The majority returned home to China, but many stayed in Australia. With the waning of the gold rushes men sought employment on farms and as market gardeners. They were generally described as sober, peace loving and industrious, though not always welcome and tensions existed between the Chinese and white communities. The Abikhair family arrived from Lebanon in the late 19th century and they and other Lebanese immigrants established themselves in the business life of Albury. The Abikhairs hired Chinese hawkers to travel around the district selling their goods to towns, farms and communities - both Chinese and others.

This garment has been exhibited

The shirt is currently exhibited at the Albury Library Museum in 'The Crossing Place: the story of Albury', a semi-permanent exhibition. A number of objects relating to the Chinese presence in the Albury area are also on display. These include a mah jong set, carpenters tools, a signboard for the local Chinese Masonic Society, joss house doors, and a photograph of St David's Presbyterian Church Chinese Sunday School in about 1900.

  1. Place of origin:

    China (Possibly)

  2. Owned by:

    Mr. Ah Bong.

  3. Worn by:

    Mr. Ah Bong

  4. Place:

    Shirt & collar were found with other objects at S.M. Abikhair's drapery & haberdashery shop in Albury, New South Wales.

Fibre / Weave

Pale blue grey silk fabric. White cotton collar to which a detachable collar could be added.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

The body and sleeves of the shirt are completely had sewn with French seams, except for the collar which is machine sewn.

Label

No label.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

The style is one of the most recognisable of national costume. The design is virtually unchanged throughout China's history. It is simple and practical in style and usually worn with baggy trousers.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

Silk fabric rouleau loops and knotted fabric buttons (simple frogging) close the front of the shirt.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Measurements

shirt
Girth
Neck 385 mm
Chest 920 mm
Waist 920 mm
Cuff 260 mm
Hem circumference 1085 mm
Vertical
Front neck to hem 705 mm
Back neck to hem 765 mm
Sleeve length 730 mm
Horizontal
Neck to sleeve head 165 mm
Cross back 460 mm
Underarm to underarm 490 mm
Convert to inches

Accurate measurements were difficult at times due to the unstructured design of the shirt. There are no defined armholes or shoulders.

Dress Themes

This shirt is very recognisable as a common style that still exists in China today. The design has existed throughout China's history. Chinese clothing is simple in its construction, is practical and suits all body shapes - male and female.

Cotton fabric was used for everyday clothing, but silks and satins were saved for special occasions.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Wilton, Janis. Golden threads: the Chinese in regional New South Wales 1850-1950. 2004.

McGowan, Barry. Tracking the dragon: a history of the Chinese in the Riverina. 2010.

Old-fashioned service that never changes. Border Mail newspaper. 10 August 1987. p. 30-31.

Walter Abikhair, draper. Border Mail newspaper. 25 November 1995. p. 35-36

Interiors and main street heritage: Abikhair's haberdashery, Albury. Locality magazine. Vol.9 no. 1.

The Bulletin newsletter. Albury and District Historical Society.

Other related objects

The Abikhair Collection comprises of original merchandise, marketing material and advertisements, and even office paraphernalia dating from as early as the 1890s. Most of the drapery and haberdashery stock in the collection is predominantly from the 1940s and 1950s period. AlburyCity purchased this collection from S.M Abikhair and Co. when it closed its doors in 1996 after serving Albury and district customers for over ninety years.

Condition

The right front lower portion of the shirt has a small hole, possibly due to insect damage. The shirt has perspiration stains under the arms and there are stains to the right front with minor stains to the left front. The front of the right sleeve is discoloured. The back of the shirt has some black marks and is discoloured and stained in several places. The collar is stained at the front opening and also stained at the back.

Insect damage

A small hole on the front right lower part of the shirt.

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Discolouration
  2. Holes
  3. Stained

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