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Sydney Fong (1878–1955)

by Anne Atkinson

This article was published:

Sydney Fong (1878-1955), merchant, was born on 24 November 1878 at Long Foon village, Toishan district, Kwangtung, China, son of Kong Gen Mi, farmer, and his wife Yu See. Details of his early life and first marriage are unknown. His wife remained in China when he emigrated to Western Australia, arriving in September 1896. He lived and worked at Broome for two years before shifting to Perth.

In 1901 he moved to Geraldton and was employed by his uncle Fong Lang who had established the Wing On Woo & Co. store. While working there, he learned to read and write in both Chinese and English, adopted the forename Sydney and eventually took over the business. Fong brought his daughter Irene (1907-1972)—who was born during his first visit to China—to Geraldton about 1909. After his wife died in February 1914, he married Ellen Louisa Ah Moy (1895-1939) at St Peter's Anglican Church, East Melbourne, on 2 December that year. They were to have seven children. Two of his sons were educated at Scotch College, Perth, another learned woolclassing at Bradford, England, and the fourth studied in Hong Kong.

Located in Marine Terrace, Geraldton, by 1916 Sydney Fong & Co. consisted of a general store (which stocked groceries, fruit and vegetables, wine, spirits and tobacco), a fuel agency, a ship's chandlery, an import and export agency, and a small market garden which provided the store with fresh produce. In the 1920s and 1930s the firm employed a staff of ten. Fong developed a reputation for good service and fair trading; on occasions, when customers were in difficult circumstances, he quietly cancelled their debt. He supplied the district's farmers and acted as an agent for the Geraldton fishing industry, provisioning boats and dealing with seafood buyers. Fong engaged in business with European and Chinese wholesalers in Perth and Fremantle, and kept meticulous accounts in English and Chinese. Progressive and far-sighted, he was reported to have held the first petrol agency in the town and was a foundation member of Geraldton Beach Camps Ltd which built small cottages for holiday-makers.

On 16 May 1944 Fong married Lucy Ann Chung Gon at the Presbyterian Church, Oatlands, Tasmania. A highly respected member of the Geraldton community, he was an elder of St John's Presbyterian Church; he also served on the cemeteries' board and belonged to the bowling club. He continued to give generous financial support to the Church and in the 1930s he had been responsible for building a church in the village of his birth. Survived by his wife, by the daughter and adopted son of his first marriage, and by the four sons and three daughters of his second marriage, Fong died on 9 December 1955 at Geraldton. He was buried in Utakarra cemetery after a large funeral at which the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Western Australia officiated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Atkinson (compiler), Asian Immigrants to Western Australia 1829-1901 (Perth, 1988)
  • A. Atkinson, Chinese Labour and Capital in Western Australia, 1847-1947 (Ph.D. thesis, Murdoch University, 1991)
  • Geraldton Guardian, 10, 13 Dec 1955
  • R. Jamieson, interview with William Moy (transcript, 1981, State Library of Western Australia)
  • R. Jamieson, interview with Mervyn Limon (transcript, 1983, State Library of Western Australia)
  • Sydney Fong papers (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Anne Atkinson, 'Fong, Sydney (1878–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kong Shan Kin
  • Kong Sou Kin

24 November, 1878
Toishan, Guangdong, China


9 December, 1955 (aged 77)
Geraldton, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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