Chinese heritage celebrated


The Chinese New Year is always a time to celebrate for Balclutha-born mother and daughter Lynda and Rachel Gemmill, whose grandparents came from both China and Japan.

The 11 day long Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival which started this year on January 25.

Chinese people traditionally gather together as a family to welcome the Northern Hemisphere spring and what it brings: planting and harvests, new beginnings and fresh starts.

Mrs Lynda Gemmill said she has kept a deep interest in the Lawrence Chinese camp over the years as she continues to help promote it alongside her daughter Rachel, who is a trustee of the Lawrence Chinese Camp Charitable Trust.

“In many ways I identify more with my Chinese ancestry now,” the former Logan Park and East Otago High School teacher said.
“For me Chinese New Year means rediscovering that extra level of identity, almost like a second home that my great-grandfather Chow and grandfather Tie gave me.
“It is a privilege to be able to take part in the Chinese New Year celebrations each year and I am
looking forward to this year’s celebrations 
being held in Lawrence this Saturday, February 1.

Lynda Gemmill, nee Tsukigawa, was born in 1949, the daughter of ‘‘Nogi’’ Sydney Tsukigawa and Elizabeth Averil ‘‘Betty’’ Tsukigaw, nee Tie.
She is a granddaughter of K.K. Tsukigawa, a well-known and respected steam ship captain on the Clutha River who was born in Japan near Nagasaki, and the great-granddaughter of Chow Tie, from the Lawrence Chinese Camp whose family was located in Southern China.

When K.K Tsukigawa married Adelaide May Clarke in 1913 in Balclutha, the wedding drew over 600 onlookers, with the Dunedin Salvation Army Band providing music.
The couple had three sons, Togo, Nogi and Ito.

Ito Tsukigawa moved north to Oamaru where he ran a successful printing business and was well-known for his love of amateur radio and social work.

Togo Tsukigawa lived and worked in the Owaka/Dunedin areas, while his brother Nogi (aka Sydney) stayed in the Balclutha area where he became well known as a bee keeper, an employee of the Clutha Leader and a carpenter.

Despite K.K Tsukigawa (a naturalised New Zealander) suffering house arrest as an ‘‘enemy alien’’ during World War 2, his son Sydney (Nogi) was awarded the Military Medal for bravery while serving with the New Zealand Army during the Italian campaign of 1944 at the battle of La Poggiona.

Lynda Gemmill said her mother Betty, born 1925, was the daughter of Alexander Melville Tie, of Lawrence, and Elizabeth ‘‘Maimie’’ Tie (nee Herum), of Norway.

Melville Tie was born at the Lawrence Chinese Camp and later became a station master for New Zealand Railways in Balclutha, Roxburgh, Ranfurly and Dunedin. 

When my father Sydney Tsukigawa became engaged to Betty Tie, [a nurse], grandfather Tie was against the marriage, but she was a very determined women and overcame any objections,’’ Mrs Lynda Gemmill said.

‘‘Betty Tsukigawa loved the Japanese ancestry she had married into and embraced it as through it were her own heritage.’’

She was also very proud of her Chinese side and we have a large branch of relatives she kept in contact with in New Zealand.’’ 

Nogi and Betty traveled to Japan at the invitation of the NHK broadcasters and Kinki University in honour of  K.K. Tsukigawa in 1978 but there was only brief contact with a few Tsukigawa family members because many had died during the World War 2 bombings of Nagasaki.

Lynda remembers as a child she spent a lot of time with her grandfather, Pappa Tie (Melville), who told her all about life in the Lawrence Chinese Camp where he was born in 1904.

Tie Melville’s father Chau Chu Taai, known as Chow Tie, from Canton, ran a butchery and slaughterhouse in Lawrence from the 1870s until 1913.
Mrs Gemmill said this year the trust have a lots of fun things to do for the whole family at the annual Chinese New Year celebrations being held on Saturday.

We would love for Lawrence to come along and enjoy the day’s activities with us,” she said.

Chinese New Year officially begins on January 25th, 2020, and ends on February 4th.