From their earliest arrival Chinese people relied on district associations for their organisation. These ‘same place’ societies, funded through subscriptions and donations from wealthier merchants, assisted members in the transport of old men and bones of the deceased to China, as well as keeping people focused on obligations to their families in the villages. The merchants who ran these societies also owned the stores through which their fellow district members also received much support.
The first society known was the Yeung Wu of the 1850s which combined the peoples of Zhongshan,Dongguan and Zengcheng districts. By the 1890s at least ten such societies in Sydney had memberships throughout NSW. Most districts had a society, some had more than one, and some districts combined to form a single society, such as the Dongguan and Zengcheng peoples who formed the Loong Yee Tong. Today three of these 19th century societies operate in Sydney, while the Yum Duck Tong of Zhongshan district, dissolved in the 1930s was refounded in the 1970s. Recent migrants from outside the Pearl River Delta have founded their own district societies since the 1980s.
Temples were another significance social institution early established. At one time numerous temples existed around NSW, including three reputedly in Tingha. Today only two pre-war temples remain in Sydney, both built with material imported from China. In recent times a number of new Chinese temples have been constructed.While the majority of Chinese people were not Christian, a minority did convert to various Christian Churches with the Chinese Presbyterian Church dominating due to the missionary work of Rev Young Wai. ‘Christian Chapels for Chinese’ are also referred to in rural NSW and Bathurst was the base for the ‘Western Chinese Mission’ in 1899.
A prominent organisation not limited to a single district or group of districts was the Chinese Masonic Society. This had been the Yee Hing until 1912, a ‘secret society’ recruited irrespective of district. The Chinese Masonic Society greatly expanded after 1916 and had its own newspaper. Apart from the Chinese Masonic Society and various merchant associations, the first‘Chinese,’ as opposed to district organisations, were short lived Chinese language schools around 1914 and again in the 1920s. A further effort at providing Chinese language education was made around 1941 by the Australian Chinese Association but lack of students forced the school’s closure after only a year’s operation.
Major ‘Chinese’ associations of a social or community nature were not formed until the 1930s when Japanese attacks on China and a growing sense of nationalism among a younger generation led to the founding of such groups as the Chinese Youth League and the Australian Chinese Association in the late 1930s and early 1940s. After 1949 the Australia-Chinese Friendship society was formed to maintain links with the new China. In more recent times, organisations such as the Australian Chinese Community Association (ACCA), the Indo-Chinese Chinese Association and Chinese Women Association have been formed with combined social and benevolent aims.