In 1892, the residents of Ballarat were suffering in deep economic recession and an all-Chinese Miners vs Market Gardeners game was organised to raise funds for local charities.
The Miners in the first 'Celestial football match' were captained by Mei Quong Tart, an extraordinary historical character who straddled the east-west cultural divide and was the first Chinese-Australian society celebrity.
Quong Tart was born in in 1850 in Taishan in Canton, the son of a shopkeeper and grandson of a farmer. At the age of nine he fled Taishan with an uncle and together they tried their luck in the Braidwood goldfields in the NSW Southern Tablelands.
He was apprenticed to the Simpsons, a local Scottish family who adopted him and travelling around on a small pony and speaking with a Scottish accent, he acted as an interpreter for the Chinese miners.
Quong Tart involved himself in Braidwood sporting life, founding a football team, captaining the Braidwood cricket team, and owning and racing a horse as a jockey.
Quong Tart outgrew Braidwood and already a wealthy man from mining, set off for Sydney, settling in Ashfield and opening a chain of tea shops.
He became close to many politicians including NSW Premier Sir John Robertson who noted his Chinese-Scottish friend's uniqueness: “Quong Tart is no ordinary man and has attained a high position in the city of industry, integrity and energy.”
His flagship 'Elite Room' in the Queen Victoria Market could hold 500 patrons and it was the social centre and a neutral place for important meetings between members of high-society Sydney, with many transactions concluded there over a cup of Loong Shan tea.
Beyond his successful tea and silk businesses, his active philanthropy brought him great respect including advocating for lepers, the disabled and inmates of mental asylums.
He was also a fervent campaigner to ban opium and fought for the rights of Chinese merchants against exclusionary laws.
Quong Tart married a Ballarat Englishwoman, Margaret Scarlett, and was so enamoured with the city and its historic Chinese connection that he chose to spend his honeymoon there in 1886. Six years later he was invited to captain the Ballarat Chinese Miners team.
In an attack that shocked Sydney, on August 19, 1902, Quong Tart was brutally beaten with an iron bar in his office and passed away eleven months later at the age of 53.
He was buried in full Mandarin uniform and a procession of more than 1500 people accompanied his coffin to Rookwood cemetery.
Today Quong Tart is immortalised in a bronze bust outside Ashfield train station in memory of the quintessential multicultural man, comfortable in a kilt or Chinese robes, a bagpipe player and an honorary Mandarin of the fourth degree.
Miner, Mandarin, athlete, philanthropist, merchant, compassionate humanist, freemason, leader, diplomat, comedian and president of the NSW Victorian Football Club, it's fitting that Quong Tart was given the honour of being the first Chinese captain of a sports team in Australian history.
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