A collection of objects related to the Sym Choon family. John Sym Choon and So Yung Moon immigrated from Guangdong province in southern China to South Australia in the 1890s. Thomas (1901), Dorothy (1904), Gladys (1905) and Gordon (1910) were born and educated in Adelaide. The family lived first at Unley, before moving to Rundle Street where they established a business  selling imported Chinese goods including tea, fireworks and handcrafts. Thomas, known as George after 1936, and Gordon took over the family business, and Gordon later established his own store in Union Street.  Dorothy and Gladys established their own shop importing luxury oriental goods, which Gladys ran on her own after Dorothy married Leslie Young (Poy Hing) in 1930 and moved to Sydney.

The bulk of the collection comes from the China Gift Store, owned and operated by Gladys for many years. Her daughter Mei Ling Niel took over the business from 1979 until 1985 when she closed the store. In 2006 Mei Ling donated numerous items from the remaining stock, as well as family photos and mementoes, to the Migration Museum. These include clothing worn by Gladys, linen, promotioanl material, china and embroidery. Other items, such as packaging and paper bags, come from Gordon's store. The collection also includes an exemption certificate obtained by John Sym Choon in 1921 before he travelled to Hong Kong, allowing him to return unimpeded to Australia under the Immigration Restriction Act.


The  Sym Choon collection is illustrative of a number of important themes, including the contributions of migrant families to South Australian business, the role of independent female entrepreneurs in the State’s history, and the diversity of Adelaide’s commercial activity. Although it is well known that the Immigration Restriction Act was passed in 1901, the Sym Choon collection points to the continuing presence of Chinese families in Australia after 1901, therefore documenting aspects of the experiences of Chinese migrant families in Australia prior to the dismantling of the immigration legislation known as the White Australia Policy. 

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Promotional Images

Photo taken to promote Gladys Sym Choon's new store in the Regent Arcade, 1930s
Courtesy of/Photographer:Mei Ling Niel

Migration Museum photographic collection, PN05629

Promotional image for the China Gift Store, Adelaide, c. 1920s
Courtesy of/Photographer:Mei Ling Niel

Migration Museum photographic collection, PN05622

Sym Choon collection

Courtesy of/Photographer:Rachel Harris, Bit Scribbly Design

Migration Museum photographic collection

Sym Choon family

The Sym Choon family, c.1920
Courtesy of/Photographer:Mei Ling Niel

Migration Museum photographic collection, PN04668


Chinese embroidery on paper, designed to be purchased and transferred to clothing. 

Fire Cracker Box

Packaging and remnats from firecrackers stocked at Gordon Sym Choon's Union Street shop. 


This teapot, painted with colourful  images of dragons and birds, was part of a tea set for sale at the China Gift Store.

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