LEE, Gloria Ouida
Also known as: née Hong, Siew Yoke Kwan
Aboriginal or Torrest Stait Islander: YesSpecial Achievements:
Gloria or Siew Yoke Kwan was born in the creek under a tree in Stuart in 1908, the daughter of a Western Arrernte woman Ranjika and Chinese market gardener, Ah Hong. But for her father, who threatened to shoot the policeman, she and her brother and sister would have been forcibly removed from the family and taken to ‘the Bungalow’ as was the practice in those days for ‘half-caste’ children.
Her mother died when she was six years old. Her father considered education of prime importance, sending his two eldest children to school in Oodnadatta as before 1915, there was no school in Stuart. Gloria, however was taught by Ida Standley, the township’s first school teacher having lessons with the other half-caste children, segregated from those from white European families. A class photo exists in which she looks strikingly Aboriginal.
In about 1919 Gloria began a long journey to China with her family via Darwin to her father’s village in Khongshan on the Pearl River (in Canton, near Hong Kong). During her formative teenage years she learnt to read and write Cantonese, attending school and then at 15 or 16 staying at home and doing household chores as typical of young Chinese women of the day. Gloria lived in China for almost a decade, during the volatile period of Sun Yatsen’s Republic of China of the 1920s.
In 1929 the family returned to Australia, first arriving in Sydney. Gloria found life very hard and struggled to find her identity – her Aboriginal people said she was Chinese – her Chinese people rejected her for being ‘half-caste’. She then fell pregnant to an Englishman, Fred ‘Lofty’ Purdy that caused even her father to reject her as he had expected her to marry a Chinese man.
Gloria and Fred were married at the Catholic Church and lived in a simple home on the site of the Memorial Club on Gap Road. There were dirt floors and no running water or electricity. Here during the 1930s and 1940s she brought up her four daughters Valencia, Olive, Jean (Peg) and Sarah (Joyce).
She left for Brisbane in 1953 following the break up of her marriage, eventually marrying William Lee, who much to her father’s approval was Chinese.