Just north of the Cedar Party Bridge at Wingham is the site of an old Chinese market garden that was originally worked by Ben Lee (Yee Sow) in the early 1900s.1 Ben took advantage of the fertile alluvial soils to grow his vegetables including onions and cabbages.2 He conducted business from his farm as well as distributing produce by horse and cart between Wingham and Taree.3 Ben’s hut, located close to the railway line, was made of hessian bags with a dirt floor. Being situated on a river bank, the garden was prone to flooding and many times his farm was destroyed or washed away. In 1929, he lost everything including his farm and cottage, with costs running into several hundred pounds.4
Ben was well-respected in the area. During WWI he was one of the most generous contributors to the war effort according to his means.5 Ben’s brother Sam Lee was the cook at the Wingham Hotel.6 Wingham resident, Cynthia Davies, remembers her aunt, who also worked at the hotel, received a beautiful cutlery set from Sam as a wedding gift.7
In 1940 Ben and Sam returned to their home city of Canton (Guangdong) when the Japanese occupation of China expanded south.8 Willy Wong, who had worked with Ben Lee for several years, took over the market garden and maintained strong relationships with the community during WWII. When he too decided to return to Guangdong in 1946 (temporarily) he took out a newspaper advertisement thanking the town for their kindness and support. His final words were “The rough time has passed: good time coming.”9
Author: Janine Roberts
1 Manning River Times, 23 July 1913.
2 Wingham Chronicle, 5 March 1929, 2.
3 Northern Champion, 10 January 1923, 2.
4 Northern Champion, 16 February 1929, 6; Manning Valley Historical Society, Journal No. 42, ‘Chinese contribution to the Manning’, p.18.
5 Wingham Chronicle, 5 March 1929, 2.
6 Wingham Chronicle, 20 February 1940, 2.
7 MVHS, Journal No. 42, ‘Chinese contribution to the Manning’, p.18.
8 Ibid; Dr Susan Townsend, Japan’s Quest for Empire 1931-1945, http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/japan_quest_empire_01.shtml
9 Manning River Times, 3 April 1946, 3.