George Tansing

Geelong’s George Tansing became the second Chinese heritage VFL player when he made his debut in 1908, later captaining East Geelong to two Premierships.

On Saturday June 6, 1908, George Tansing ran onto Corio Oval in Geelong to become the second player of Chinese heritage to play in the VFL. George had been recruited from local club East Geelong where his consistent form had earned a promotion.

Although Geelong lost by three points to St Kilda, George played strongly, with the Argus reporting him “cleverly snapping” his first goal, whilst the Geelong Advertiser noted that he: “put in a lot of clever work, made a distinctly good impression and should prove an acquisition to the team.’

Geelong lost their next three games and after 5 VFL matches, George was dropped after a 21-day VFL stint that yielded two goals including one in his final game against Collingwood.

Geelong would only win two of their 18 games in 1908, and George Tansing returned to play the rest of the season for East Geelong where he was appointed captain of the team, the first Chinese heritage player to captain a mainstream club team. 

East Geelong defeated Ashby in the Grand Final and the Geelong Advertiser noted George’s “splendid work” at rover, including a crucial goal securing a win and a 17-game undefeated record for the season.

George led East Geelong to another premiership in 1910, top scoring with two goals in the grand final win over Chilwell.

George Tansing was born Kimjue Sing on 25 March 1884, the son of Cantonese migrant Sang Sing and his English wife Ada Mary Stephens who was originally from Exeter in England.

Sang Sing was born in the See Yup region of Canton and did not take the traditional route to Australia, migrating from London where he had worked for 10 years as a mixed business trader.

They were married in 1881 at St Kilda and then moved to Geelong, settling in Little Ryrie Street where Sang Sing established a thriving Greengrocer business.

In 1884 they had their first child George and decided to merge his surname to the more culturally digestible Tansing, used today by descendants across Australia.

The year before George played for Geelong, he married Wilhelmina Ellis and they would have three children including their son Leslie who served as a machine gunner in World War II and Bill who played in the Geelong reserves team in 1936 and 1937.

Bill was the leading goal kicker in both years and played a starring role with four goals to help the Geelong reserves win the 1937 premiership.

In the Geelong and District Football League (GDFL), the annual medal for the best and fairest is named after George’s nephew Ivan Tansing, who was a prominent player for Herne Hill in Geelong in the 1950s, while George’s great-grandson, Damien Tansing, played for a number of years in Geelong’s amateur league.

Jack Wunhym

Jack Wunhym played for Footscray and went on to captain Yarraville, becoming the first Chinese heritage VFA/VFL captain.

Every year Ballarat’s ‘Young Sportsperson of the Year’ is awarded the ‘Wunhym Trophy’, named in honour of East Ballarat’s Jack Wunhym, who played elite Australian Rules football and influenced the lives of many in his coaching career.

John (Jack) Stevenson Wunhym was born on May 30, 1908, 14 days after Chinese-Australian pioneer Wally Koochew made his debut for Carlton.

Jack’s grandfather, David Wun Hym was born in 1839 in Canton and migrated to Australia in the 1870’s where he married Englishwoman Elizabeth Martha Sally who was born in Gloucestershire.

Together they settled down in Ballarat, merged the family surname to Wunhym and raised a family of 9 children in Golden Point, the heartland of Ballarat’s Chinese community

Jack was a second-generation Wunhym footballer, with his uncle Willie a pioneer who played for the Golden Point Rice Eaters whilst also being the captain of the Ballarat Chinese team.

Jack dominated junior sport in Ballarat before moving to Sunshine Football Club in 1924, subsequently signing with Footscray.

He would play a total of ten senior games before moving to Yarraville in the VFA in 1929 where he played 88 games over five seasons, scoring 17 goals.  The Herald described him as Yarraville’s “mainstay” and late in his stint he became the first Chinese-Australian to captain a VFL or VFA team.

Jack’s peak season came in 1932 when his form earned him selection for the VFA Allstars team to play the VFL Allstars, a showdown of the rival and competing Melbourne professional leagues.

The VFA led by 1 point at halftime and went down valiantly by 8 points in front of 31,000 fans packed into Carlton’s home ground Princes Park.

Jack was also a crucial part of Yarraville’s first two finals series including 1933, where they came third on the regular season ladder and lost unluckily 55-52 to Port Melbourne in the first semi-final.

In the midst of his golden period, the Sporting Globe paid tribute to Jack in 1933: “Jack Wunhym has been one of the outstanding followers in the Association this season. He plays a hard game but fair, and his stamina enables him to carry on in the most rugged company.”

Jack Wunhym played in an era where it was common for VFL & VFA players to captain-coach country sides at the end of their playing days.

He played and coached in and around Ballarat including Redan, the Golden Imperials, Maryborough and famously coached Ballarat North to their first victory in the Ballarat Football League in 1946.

Ballarat North historian Stanley “Digger” Roberts has fond memories of Jack Wunhym:

‘Jack was highly respected as a coach and was the architect of our first premiership.’

Wally Koochew

Carlton’s Wally Koochew was the first Chinese heritage VFL player when he made his debut in 1908. Wally would later win a Premiership with Woodend in 1914.

On Saturday, May 16, 1908, Wally Koochew ran onto Princes Park wearing Carlton's navy blue lace-up and chamois yoke, the first recorded Asian and Chinese heritage player to play for a VFL club.

After his selection announcement, a member of the Ancient Order of the Druids returned his ticket, saying that by including a Chinese on the team Carlton was dealing a death blow to the White Australia Policy.

Wally's debut against Essendon was noted in The Age's match report: "Koochew performed creditably."

Wally retained his spot for the next game against Collingwood and scored his first goal from the half-forward flank.  

When Carlton played Geelong at Princes Park in Wally's third game, he matched up against fellow Chinese Australian footballing pioneer George Tansing.

Wally would play four games for Carlton before he packed his bags and headed back to his hometown of Woodend.  

His VFL career had lasted 35 days, despite the accomplishment of breaking into arguably the best team the VFL had ever seen to that point.

Wally's father, James Kou Chou, had arrived in Australia in 1865. His name was changed to Koo Chew upon landing and he went to stake his claim in the goldfields before setting up as a market gardener. He met and married an Irish Dubliner, Mary Dalker, and moved to Macedon to set up a greengrocer and start a family, with Wally their first born in 1887.

Wally was an acclaimed athlete and played football for Woodend where he was spotted by the Brunswick Magpies on an end-of-season tour and signed by them to play in the Victorian Football Association before being signed by Carlton to play in the VFL.

After he finished his stint with Carlton in 1909, Wally Koochew settled back into life in Macedon to work in his father's greengrocer and he would have five sons with his wife Axelina, a New Zealander of Dutch and Danish heritage, eventually starting his own greengrocer in Woodend.

Wally signed up for the Macedon footy team and immersed himself in the local community, becoming secretary of the club and spearheading its fundraising endeavours.

In 1909 and 1910 he would return to Melbourne to pull on the black and white jersey of the Kyneton Football Association's rep teams, who would travel by train to challenge teams including Victoria Police and Brunswick.

It was swapping football clubs from Macedon to his old club at Woodend in 1914 that delivered one of his greatest moments, spearheading Woodend Football Club to the premiership .

One of his sons, Walter Koochew jnr, played for Melbourne VFL reserves and another son, Leslie, was awarded life membership of the AFL Umpires Association.

In his final years Wally Koochew moved to Melbourne and sold hot dogs outside Arden Street Oval before he died of tuberculosis, at the age at 44.

Les Kew Ming

Les Kew Ming, the ‘Fighting Footballer’ was a World War I hero and starred for North Melbourne in 1922. In 1928 he won the national long-kicking competition.

Leslie 'Les' Henry Kew Ming was born in 1897 in St Arnaud, a town in Victoria's Wimmera region. His father, Kew Ming Lok, came from Canton province and his mother, Louisa Cum Moon, was born in Minyip to a Chinese father and an Irish mother.

After St Arnaud's Chinatown burnt to the ground, Les moved to Minyip to begin his new life as an apprentice bootmaker with his grandfather Cum Moon and he established himself as a rising star of the Minyip Football Club.

Les enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in World War I and in 1916 he joined the AIF's 23rd Battalion where he was promoted through the ranks to junior section commander. In 1917, he was wounded leading his men through gunfire in the battle for Broodseinde Ridge as part of the Ypres offensive.

"Corporal Kew Ming was a man among men when it comes to leading his soldiers to rescue their mates under shellfire and protecting the communication trench, helping save the lives of dozens of soldiers and helping our men get back from a desperate situation," according to Brad Manera, curator of the Anzac Memorial.

Les returned to Australia and was awarded the prestigious Military Medal before moving back to Minyip and onto Wedderburn where he worked as a bootmaker and played for the Wedderburn Football Club, helping them to win the 1920 Korong Football League Premiership.

His good form was noticed by North Melbourne who made him an offer to play in the 1922 season in the VFA where he played strongly, helping them make finals and although they lost to North Melbourne, Les was reported among the best players on the ground.

However, in the 1923 season, he broke his finger and then his collarbone. The Argus described the succession of injuries as 'Kewming's unfortunate year.'

Les left Melbourne for Echuca where he married his partner Vera and joined the Echuca Football Club. He also started sprinting, winning the Shepparton Gift in 1925.

In 1928 he won a premiership for Echuca Football Club and also won the Sporting Globe national competition to crown the longest kicker when Les unleashed a 67-metre punt kick, followed by a 66-metre drop kick.

The following day the Sporting Globe ran a story proclaiming the triumph with Les receiving a £25 prize for each kick. The longest kicker in the land, according to the Sporting Globe rankings, was a Chinese- Australian from a small Victorian country town.

When World War II broke out, Les enlisted in the Army and was appointed by the Army to the dual role of machine gun and physical fitness instructor.

He played football for Watsonia in the inter-services competition and also coached his daughter Berenice's netball team, trained her to become an elite track and field athlete and settled into suburban Melbourne life.

In February 1960, at the age of 63, Les died from a massive stroke while driving back to Melbourne after visiting friends in Echuca.

James Lepp

James Lepp was a miner and pioneer Chinese footballer in Ballarat before becoming the first recorded umpire of Chinese-Australian descent.

James Henry Lepp was the son of a Cantonese father, James Wong Lepp, who came to Ballarat in 1853 for the gold rush and an Irish mother, Bridget Donough, who moved from Dublin to Victoria to escape the potato famine.

Lepp and his brothers discovered football at Golden Point Primary School in Ballarat's old Chinatown and as a teenager, James would go on to play for the football team of the mine that he worked in. He joined the Ballarat South Imperial Club and his form was strong enough to be selected as captain of the Ballarat Colts team.

In 1886 James switched from playing to umpiring to become the first recorded Chinese-Australian football umpire and in his first match, the media summary noted that as central umpire he 'gave general satisfaction' and that he was a 'fast and impartial' umpire.

James was promoted to be the central umpire in two interstate matches in which South Ballarat took part: against Port Adelaide and New South Wales. The Ballarat Star published match reports and letters that testified to his fairness, including one that noted: 'In my opinion, Mr James Lepp is one of the most impartial umpires we have in Ballarat.'  

By the time the 1892 All-Chinese Market Gardeners v Miners match was organised in Ballarat, James was already an experienced umpire who had performed in front of big crowds and could keep a game moving – a style of game prized by fans. 

In a nod to his Chinese heritage, James refereed the 'Celestial match' in silk Chinese slippers and a traditional Chinese outfit.

James married Emma Foon from East Ballarat and they had nine children with one son Victor, killed in France in World War I and another, Clarence who won the Military Medal in World War I and went on to become the first Chinese-Australian captain of the Golden Point Rice Eaters in the Ballarat League.

James and his brother George were both appointed Life Governors for the Ballarat District Benevolent Asylum and were admitted to the Masonic Lodge while James Henry Lepp rose to the position of Grand Master of the Ballarat Freemasons Loyal Pioneers Lodge, a rare social triumph for a Chinese Australian at the turn of the century.

James would sadly die prematurely at the age of 41 in 1908, his early demise linked to silicosis from his time working in the quartz mines.

Quong Tart

Quong Tart built his wealth as a successful miner and captained one team in the first 'Celestial football match' in 1892.

In 1892, the residents of Ballarat were suffering in a 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 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.