Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Celebrating South Australian's – Yett Soo War Way Lee

Celebrating South Australian's – Yett Soo War Way Lee

 Yett Soo War Way Lee was born in Tungkun near Canton in China in 1853. The son of a rice-miller, Way Lee married early and had a son with his wife, named Yett King Sum.
By 1874, Yett Soo had made his way to Sydney Australia. He had traveled alone, and whilst in Sydney lived with his uncle Way Kee. He traveled the eastern states seeking an education in schools in Sydney and Brisbane, before making his way to Adelaide.

  In Adelaide he studied the English language at the Adelaide City Mission and founded his own company “Way Lee Co.” an import company bringing in Tea, china and other imported goods and fireworks.
Way Lee's business was hugely successful in an era when the rise of racism against the Chinese in Australia was steadily on the rise (which would eventually lead to the anti-Chinese riots in gold mining towns like Ararat in Victoria )

 Way Lee's business was incredibly successful he opened stores right across the South Australian colony and in the Northern Territory and New South Wales. In South Australia his main store was located in Rundle Street, but he also had a store in Currie Street. Stores could also be found in South Australia at Quorn, Hawker, Millicent. In New South Wales at Beltana, Broken Hill, Wilcannia, Wentworth and Menindie and in the Northern Territory at Daly River.

Way Lee was a supporter of his community often giving money to local charities, and supporting local events. He always supported Chinese New Year, offering dinners for Adelaide's dignitaries and politicians and supplying fire works for for celebrations.

Way Lee was the first Australian to really open the way for trade between China and Australia. A fighter for the rights of Chinese immigrants, he fought for Chinese settlers to be offered a district solely for Chinese use.
 Way Lee also offered to bring to Australia, Chinese labourers to work at the Daly River Plantation in the Northern Territory.
 Way Lee was a great promoter of education to the  Chinese community, and worked hard to improve the working conditions and rights of his Chinese compatriots in Australia. He also worked to stop the import of Opium into the colony.
 Way Lee also raised money, and donated much of his won money, to be sent back to China to help feed people after chronic flooding, then droughts that were decimating the people of his homelands.

Way Lee was a Freemason and a respected member and leader of the local Chinese Community. He offered homes for many Chinese immigrants in Adelaide, way houses until they could afford better homes themselves.
 In 1889 Way Lee married Margaret McDonald, and together they had 4 children, Vera, Pretoria, Lily and Jack.
He spoke openly in the public about the treatment of his fellow country men in Australia by the Government, law and people and is quoted as saying “The Australian people are always very kind to me, but the law worse than the people”.
Way Lee died in 1909 of chronic nephritis and amyloid disease on August 21st 1909. Many of Adelaide's population travelled to West Terrace cemetery to witness the funeral of Way Lee, expecting odd Chinese death rites, but they were bitterly disappointed, as Way Lee was buried under common Presbyterian funeral rights.

For more on Yett Soo War Way Lee, please visit the following links: