RUSSELL Jack was the fourth of nine children so he was surprised when his father appointed him as the son from whom much was expected.
“Dad said to me when you grow up I want you to look after our people,” Mr Jack said.
“I was surprised when he said this, usually that sort of responsibility is given to the number one son.
”Perhaps dad saw something in me. He named me Louey Yung Ming which means everyone will know you.”
As one of Bendigo’s most respected elders – Mr Jack (AM) has just resigned as a director of the Golden Dragon Museum – you would have to conclude that his
father was a perceptive man.
“We were very poor and I knew I had to go out and get a job early. I worked for the railways and earned three pounds, nine shillings and sixpence a week. I would give mum three pounds and keep the rest for myself.”
Apart from being a thrifty and dutiful son, Mr Jack was an all-round sportsman. His name is on the Bendigo Baseball Board of Honor, he defeated Olympian Hector “Hec” Denis Hogan at a local meet and had the ability to kick a footy with both feet – former Richmond president Maurie Flemington wanted him to play for the Tigers.
But all the time he was conscious of his civic duty and an obligation to represent the Chinese people of Bendigo in the most honourable way possible.
It was as a member of the Harriers that he raised money at the YMCA dances and it was at one of these dances that he met his wife Joan Clark.
“You shouldn’t just judge a woman on her looks but when you’re young that’s what you do. Joan was beautiful, she had blond hair and blue eyes. My favourite dance was the modern waltz – that’s when they put the lights out,” Mr Jack laughs.
“My father always told me to be respectful towards the girls I took out. To greet them with a small gift when I arrived at the door and make sure I brought them home when their parents expected them.”
While their immediate family approved of the match, one of Joan Clark’s uncles refused to attend the wedding ceremony; but Joan knew something about her Chinese suitor that many prejudiced people in Bendigo didn’t.
Chinese men are considerate and kind towards their womenfolk.
“When my mum was sick I always washed and ironed the clothes for her,” Mr Jack said as an aside.
The White Australia Policy was still prevalent when Mr Jack was a young man and he worked and lived under a culture of suppressed racism.
“I cut myself one day and a bloke near me said, ‘You got red blood? I thought it would be yellow.’”
“We should be better than that. Better than racism. My dad and nine of his mates used to work at the Royal Women’s Hospital.”
They wouldn’t go home until the job was finished and once a year they donated a month’s worth of their salary back to the hospital.
“That’s part of the Chinese tradition. We give back to the city we work in. That’s why we’ve always raised funds for the Bendigo Hospital.”
And that’s how the story of the three dragons, the Bendigo Easter Festival and the Chinese Museum evolved, in a bid to share the Chinese culture.
It was in the early 1960s that the Bendigo council put out a challenge to the community to come up with an idea that would make Bendigo attractive to tourists.
And it was Joan Jack who said to her husband: “The story of the Chinese is the best story never told.”
The Jacks relentlessly lobbied local and state governments and raised funds locally until the museum finally came into being.
But Mr Jack’s determination and optimism were sorely tested twice in his life.
The first time was when the couple lost their son David in a motorbike accident and the second time was when Joan died from breast cancer.
“I nursed her day and night, I cared for her with all I had, with all my heart. She was my wife, that’s what you do.”
Mr Jack grieves for David and Joan every day but remains an irrepressibly, optimistic man.
He believes everyday is a good day, especially when you have your health.
“The sky is blue. I turn on a tap, the water runs. I have three meals a day. I have my daughter Anita and my grandchildren who still call me Goong Goong (grandfather) even though they’re growing up.
“And their friends call me that as well these days,” he laughs.
And as for his retirement, Mr Jack looks around his precious museum and says with a cheeky grin: “Welcome to the Anne Caudle Centre.”
By Dianne Dempsey