Healing Wounds of the Past: The Return of a Chinese Temple Lion

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Last Updated on November 14, 2023

A Long Lost Chinese Temple Lion is returned to the Territory

The Temple Lion

Brocks Creek Temple

An Email from Joy Davis - September 2015

The story on how this Temple Lion was handed over from Darren Wright of the Bendigo, Victoria Joss House, to Austin Chin of the Chung Wah Society in Darwin, begins simply with an email.

In September 2015, the Chung Wah Society received an email sent by Joy Davis. In the email, Joy advised that her maiden name was Drysdale, and that she is the sister of the late Fred Drysdale MLA.

Joy's brother, Fred Drysdale, was the person who proposed that Mr Harry Chan be elected into the position of President of the Legislative Council many years ago.

As many of us know, Harry Chan was eventually elected as the first Chinese Mayor of The City of Darwin. Harry Chan was held in such high esteem that a bust of Harry sits at the main entrance of The NT Parliament House.

Joy goes on to say in her email that her niece, Linda Haskins, had recently visited the Bendigo Joss House with her husband, Neville. During their visit they had mentioned to a volunteer of the Joss House, that they are visiting from Darwin. The volunteer they spoke to was named Michael.

Bendigo Joss House Temple

Bendigo Joss House

Upon hearing this, Michael informed them that the Joss House held a wooden lion ornament that was donated to them some time before. Michael had researched the ornament and had found a photo from the Northern Territory Library Archives that showed that the Lion was actually from the Brocks Creek Joss House.

Unfortunately, the Brocks Creek township and its Joss House no longer existed. 

Brocks Creek Gold Mine and Township

During the construction of the Adelaide to Darwin overland Telegraph Line in 1871, gold was discovered at Brocks Creek. This led to mining activities in the area by English companies and Chinese Tribute miners until around 1914, when mining tapered off.

Located approximately 178 km southeast of Darwin, Brocks Creek was a bustling hub of activity in the late 1800s. The thriving community boasted a range of commercial businesses, indicating a robust local economy.

Brocks Creek Mine and Township
Brocks Creek Mine and Township

0800-537

The Brocks Creek Chinatown and Temple Site

During this time, Brocks Creek was home to the largest in situ Chinese population in the Northern Territory, making it a significant site from both social and cultural perspectives. The community served as a prominent center for commerce and worship for the Chinese settlers in the area, attracting individuals from all over. At its peak in 1886, the community was home to approximately 400 Chinese settlers, which is truly remarkable.

This thriving community was a testament to the resilience and determination of the Chinese people, who were able to build a successful and vibrant community in such a harsh environment. 

Brocks Creek Lion now at Darwin Chinese Temple

Brocks Creek Lion now at Darwin Chinese Temple

Brocks Creek Joss House (with Stone Lion in the Left Hand Corner)

Brocks Creek Joss House (with stone Lion in the bottom left-hand corner)

In addition to the thriving commercial businesses, the decoration and size of the Temple was a significant landmark in the community, and demonstrated the community's wealth and investment in their religious beliefs.

The prosperity of the township is evident in the decoration and size of the Temple and the commissioning of two stone lions which stood outside the Temple. These Lions have been relocated and now stand outside the Chinese Temple in Darwin.

Brocks Creek Lion Statues now Reside outside of the Darwin Temple

The stone Lions at the entrance to the Chinese Temple in Darwin were originally sited at Brocks Creek Joss House

By the onset of the First World War in 1914, mining activity at Brock Creek had dwindled, leading to a decline in the township's fortunes. Sparse online sources suggest that by the 1940s, little remained of the town, with reports indicating that soldiers had ransacked and possibly demolished the Chinese temple.


How Did the Temple Lion End Up in Bendigo, Victoria? 

We will never the whole story of how a Temple Lion from Brocks Creek Joss House ended up in Bendigo. One thing that is discussed as part of the history of Darwin during WWII, is the looting that took place by visiting soldiers. 

Michael, the volunteer at the Bendigo Joss House, shared with Linda Haskins a tale of how a woman came to possess a Lion that was later donated to the Temple. The woman's husband, who served in the Army during the Second World War in Darwin, brought the Lion home with him upon his return. After his passing, his wife reached out to the Bendigo Joss House to donate the Lion.

Upon receiving the Lion, Michael recognised that it did not originate from their region. He conducted some research and determined that it came from the Northern Territory. Believing that the Lion needed to be returned to its place of origin, he faced a challenge as the Brocks Creek Joss house was no longer operational, and they had no connections in Darwin.

Interior of Bendigo Joss House

Bendigo Joss House

The Temple Lion's Journey Home 

Luckily, Linda and Neville Haskins fortuitously visited the Bendigo Joss House that day in September 2015, and met Michael. Linda then contacted her Aunt Joy Davis, Joy, just like everyone else, knew the Lion's place was back in it's rightful home of the Northern Territory. 

She sent an email explaining about the find of the Temple Lion to the Chung Wah Society in Darwin. 

Austin Chin and Darren Wright - The Official Handover of the Temple Lion from Bendigo Joss House to the Chung Wah Society in Darwin.

In anticipation of the Easter Festival in 2016, Austin Chin planned to visit Bendigo. Upon receiving Joy's email, he reached out to Darren Wright, the Supervisor at Bendigo Joss House. They agreed to meet, and Michael joined them as well.

As President of the Chung Wah Society, Austin Chin officially received the Lion and the mandate to "return it home and back to the Northern Territory" where it rightfully belonged.

Brocks Creek Today

Today, the Brocks Creek sites are of high historic and cultural value as they contain fabric of the former Chinese structures together with extensive artefact scatters which contain surprisingly intact examples of ceramic jars and bottles.

Brocks Creek Info sign
Joyce Davis

Joyce Davis Known as Joy Drysdale in her younger days.

Joy recounts numerous stories that she believes many are hesitant to share about Australian soldiers who pillaged and defaced the homes of Darwin families that were evacuated south due to the bombings during WWII.

To learn more about the experiences of those affected by the looting that occurred in Darwin during the war, you can read additional accounts shared by members of the community here.

Linda Haskins

Linda Haskins

Many of the images used in this story are courtesy of the Chung Wah Society, Darwin.

Temple Lion Returned to the Territory - The story as it appeared in Newsletter is shown below.

Please share this story with your family and friends so that they can read about the Darwin stories, its history, and what it has to offer tourists. 

Thank you very much, 

Don McKenzie

Website & Content Editor

Sharon McKenzie


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Last Updated on November 14, 2023

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