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Lily Ah Toy

second generation Chinese

Lily Ah Toy, portrait

More information about the China-born community in Australia can be found at the DIMIA website.

Her philosophy in life was 'work hard, always be honest and give a helping hand'.

When Lily Ah Toy (born Wong Wu Len) came into the world in Darwin in October 1917, her father didn't even register her birth. 'Well the war's on, and another girl', he said. The prospect that she might be adopted out to a woman in Darwin desperate for a daughter, an idea momentarily entertained by her Chinese born father, received short shrift, however, from Lily's Australian born (of Chinese descent) mother. As Lily says, she was lucky. And even though he was initially disappointed that Lily wasn't a boy, her father was very good to her, as he was to all his children. Sadly, he died when she was nine. At age fourteen she left school to become a housemaid for a European family. She worked there for three years, leaving when she married.

Lily became engaged at eighteen and married Jimmy Ah Toy, a hawker with his own market garden, in 1936 at the age of nineteen. After marrying, the couple moved to Pine Creek to work in the store owned by Jimmy's parents. They were to have five children, Edward, Laurence, Joyce, Grace and Elaine. At various times, they took on the responsibility of looking after Jimmy's younger brothers and sisters.

After the bombing of Darwin in 1942 Lily was evacuated to Adelaide, where she cared for a large extended family. She returned to Pine Creek in 1945 to re-open the general store, with her husband. It was the first civilian store to open in the Top End after the war, providing vital services to prospectors, pastoralists, buffalo and crocodile hunters, and the local community. Lily managed this business by herself for four years while Jimmy helped to establish a general store in Darwin, before returning to Pine Creek. Lily eventually moved to Darwin permanently when her eldest son Edward took over the management of the Pine Creek business.

Lily was involved with many different organisations and assisted with the establishment of the Crafts Council NT (now Territory Craft). In 1982, at the age of 65, Lily graduated from the Darwin Community College (now Charles Darwin University) with an Associate Diploma of Arts (Ceramics); at the time she was their oldest graduate.

In 1988, as part of the Bicentennial Celebrations, Lily was one of eight Territorians honoured for their contribution to the Territory and in 1995, Film Australia produced her biography. 2001 saw Lily nominated to the Centenary of Federation Peoplescape project. She died in 2001. Her philosophy in life was 'work hard, always be honest and give a helping hand'.

Source: Interview with Lily Ah Toy, conducted by Robin Hughes for the Australian Biography Project.

Source of Image:

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Select Resources

The Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation Project
This website has an excellent resources page, with links to a number of relevant repositories.

The National Library of Australia has a substantial Chinese-Australian Oral History Collection. Look for the following series:

  • Post-war Chinese Australians oral history project
  • Chinese Northern Territory interviews
  • Chung Wah Society interviews

Community Support Groups

There are many groups supporting the Chinese-Australian community. This is a list of some of them:

New South Wales

Australian Chinese Community Association
2 Mary St
Surry Hills NSW 2010

Chinese Youth League
10 Dixon St
Haymarket NSW 2000

Australian Elderly Chinese
17-19 Brady St
Croydon NSW 2132

Chinese Australian Service Society
44 Sixth Ave Campsie NSW 2194

Australian Chinese Descendants' Mutual Association
44 Arthur St
Cabramatta NSW 2166

SZE YUP Association of Australia
PO Box 444
Haymarket NSW 2000

Chin Hwa University Alumni
5 Bishopgate St
Newtown NSW 2042

Indochina Chinese Association
10/124-128 Railway Pde
Canley Vale NSW 2166

Chinese Writers' Association
21 Kauri St
Cabramatta NSW 2166

Campsie Cultural Centre
20-22 Anglo Road
Campsie NSW 2194

South Australia

Chinese Welfare Service
122 Gouger St
SA 5000


Chinese Community Association
7 Burrett Place
North Hobart TAS 7001


Federation of Chinese Associations in Victoria
Phone (03) 9639 2294
Fax (03) 9639 2838

Chinese Association of Victoria
320 Ewantirna Rd
Wantirna Vic 3152
Phone (03) 9800 3388
Fax (03) 9800 3588

Australia Shanghai Chamber of Commerce
1 Anthony Ave
Doncaster Vic 3108
Phone (03) 9850 9063
Fax (03) 9850 4178

Chinese Xinjiang Association of Australia
9 Beswicke Court
Dandenong Vic 3175
Phone (03) 9791 6883
Fax (03) 9791 6883

Indo-China Ethnic Chinese Association of Victoria
G/F Ross House
247-251 Flinders Lane
Melbourne Vic 3000
Phone (03) 9650 9061
Fax (03) 9650 3689

Australia-China Friendship Society
4/F Ross House
247 Flinders Lane
Melbourne Vic 3000

Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Victoria
18 Taparoo Rd
Templestowe Vic 3106

Cambodian Chinese Friendship Association of Victoria
45-58 Buckingham Ave
Springvale Vic 3171
Phone (03) 9540 3989
Fax (03) 9540 3989

Timorese Middle and Aged Association P O Box 1037
North Richmond Vic 3121
Phone (03) 9429 5003 or (03) 9428 9086

Victorian Elderly Chinese Welfare Society
187-189 Victoria St
West Melbourne Vic 3003

Federation of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Societies
6 Paisley St
Footscray Vic 3011

Australia-Asia Culture and Arts Centre
Suite 6/228 Clarendon Street
PO Box 281
East Melbourne Vic 3002

Australian Society of Chinese Arts
24 Moonah Road
Wantirna South Vic 3152

Western Australia

The Chung Wah Association
128 James St
Northbridge WA 6000

See also:

Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia
PO Box 344 Curtin, ACT 2605
Phone:02 6282 5755
Fax: 02 6282 5734

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