Introducing Our Chinese Past Translator – Ely Finch

Ely Finch Translator

My name is Ely Finch and I have the honour to be the translator for the first Our Chinese Past project. I hail from a sheep farm in far western Victoria and have an abiding passion for Chinese languages and traditional Chinese literature. At present, I am working full time as a historical Chinese linguist and consultant translator, specialising in old texts written in Literary (Classical) Chinese, Cantonese, and other southern Chinese languages, particularly ones that pertain to the nineteenth-century Chinese diaspora.

My largest translation to date is of Australia’s – and possibly the West’s – first Chinese-language novel, The Poison of Polygamy, which was published last year by Sydney University Press. Incidentally, this unusual novel makes for an entertaining read, and its front matter, footnotes and appendices – which can be skipped initially – turn it into a good introduction to Chinese Australian history.

First page of Bew Chip’s register—National Parks and Wildlife Services, Old Visitors Centre, Beyers Ave, Hill End: NUC 0001 “Nu Chip’s Register”. Photograph by Dr Michael Williams 2015.

With respect to country New South Wales, I have produced several translations, two of which relate to the town of Tambaroora. They are: “An English Translation of Bew Chip’s Register” (劉妙㨗寄金簿英文譯本), which is an annotated translation of a Chinese gold-remittance register from the New South Wales gold fields that was commissioned by the Chungshan Society of Australia; and “Inscriptions on an 1870s Joss House in Tambaroora, New South Wales”, which was prepared for then-doctoral candidate Juanita Kwok and the Hill End & Tambaroora Gathering Group from the only known image of a long-lost bark-hut temple. The translation of the register is the basis for a revealing upcoming historical study by Dr Kwok, while the translation of the inscriptions identified the deity to which the temple was dedicated, and anticipated the identity of further text that was not clearly visible in the photograph, on the basis of literary and cultural clues. (For further translations of NSW material, see Dr Kwok’s doctoral thesis on Bathurst history:…/the-chinese-in…)I am looking forward to working on the first Our Chinese Past project, and feel confident my translation and summarisation will reveal much about the temple artefacts involved that has lain hidden now for over a century. Actually, I’ve already made some discoveries, which I shall relate in future posts.

Chinese Temple in Tambaroora—State Library of New South Wales
Chinese Temple in Tambaroora—State Library of New South Wales: “American & Australasian Photographic Company. Bark Huts in Chinatown, Tambaroora, 1870”. (The Chinese text concerned is around the doorway. Zoom in on the photograph to see it.)