Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Low, Ming Poon (Dick) (1931–1995)

by Barbara Nichol

This article was published online in 2019

Ming Poon (Dick) Low (1931–1995), restaurateur and Chinese community leader, was born on 6 September 1931 in the Taishan region of Canton (Guangdong) Province, Republic of China, one of six children and the only son of a doctor who practised both Chinese and Western medicine. During the Sino-Japanese War (1937–45), his father ‘treated the injured and aided his countrymen to escape’ (Herald Sun 1995, 76), until he was killed by the Japanese in 1942. Late in life, Low would fund a new classroom for a school in Taishan in his father’s memory. Unhappy with the new political ideology in China after the civil war, his family escaped to British Hong Kong, where Low completed his secondary schooling.

Migrating to Australia in 1953, Low was granted an entry permit as an approved employee of the Hoon Hing Trading Co., Albert Park, Melbourne, a dim sim and chicken roll manufacturing business. In 1955 he acquired a one-third share in the Lingnan Café, Little Bourke Street, using a loan from a fellow investor. He was frequently found by immigration inspectors to be ‘helping out’ at the café, thus breaching the terms of his admission to Australia. Nevertheless, he continued to work there, gaining valuable restaurant experience in front of house and from 1957 in a managerial role. That year the Department of Immigration offered him liberal attitude status, a type of residency permit for those deemed refugees from communist China. This allowed him to work more freely and eventually entitled him to citizenship.

In 1958 Low left the Lingnan Café and with two uncles acquired the nearby Kun Ming Café. In 1971 he married Marion Lau, a Malaysian-born, British-trained nurse, who had migrated to Australia in 1969. His uncles retired in the early 1970s and Low became sole proprietor. He developed a home-style menu that was popular with students, who were served inexpensive meals of generous portions. In 1982 a reviewer remarked that ‘Dick Low runs an efficient, no-fuss, easy budget, quick meal service, without sacrificing quality’ (Age 1982, Weekender 10).

Andrew Wong first dined at the Kun Ming in 1979 when he was student at the University of Melbourne. He later recalled that regular customers, mainly from Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore, would call Low ‘Ming suk’ (Uncle Ming) and that he always greeted them as they entered and later asked, ‘did you have enough to eat?’ (Wong, pers. comm.). Wong estimated that at lunch times 40 per cent of diners would be non-Chinese. One such customer, Israel Rosenfield, who studied at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, recalled that Low was ‘a thorough gentleman’ and that the Kun Ming Café ‘was like a second home’ (Rosenfield 2004).

Despite his heavy workload as a restaurateur, Low was prominent in Melbourne’s Chinese community. Committed to the Chinese Nationalist cause, he was an adviser to Taiwan's Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission and an executive member of the Victorian branch of the Kuomintang Society. He was involved in various community and cultural organisations, including the Australian Lung Kong Association, the Chinese Community Society of Victoria, the Ning Yang Association, the Chinese Youth Society of Melbourne, and the See Yup Society. For decades he played a prominent role in Melbourne’s Chinese New Year parade. He also acted as an interpreter when Chinese people needed help with appointments or completing official documents.

Survived by his wife and their daughter, Low died of liver cancer on 17 November 1995 at Malvern and was cremated. More than four hundred people attended his funeral and tributes from both Chinese and non-Chinese communities appeared in the press. His wife reflected that Low ‘followed the traditional Chinese protocol of respecting his elders and those in a senior position in society. He was also a very considerate man, very private in his own way and never bothered anyone with his own problems’ (Herald Sun 1995, 76).

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne). ‘I Like Chinese.’ 7 May 1982, Weekender 10
  • Herald Sun (Melbourne). ‘Dick Low Ming Poon: A Stalwart of Chinatown.’ 23 November 1995, 76
  • Lau, Marion. Interview by the author, transcript, 24 February 2004
  • National Archives of Australia. B44, V1972/605119
  • Nichol, Barbara. ‘The Breath of the Wok: Melbourne’s Early Chinese Restaurants, Community, Culture and Entrepreneurialism in the City, Late Nineteenth Century to 1950s.’ PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 2012
  • Rosenfield, Israel. Interview by the author, transcript, 8 May 2004
  • Wong, Andrew. Personal communication

Citation details

Barbara Nichol, 'Low, Ming Poon (Dick) (1931–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/low-ming-poon-dick-27936/text35685, published online 2019, accessed online 14 July 2020.

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