Pai Fang carving brings community together

Robe’s Pai Fang welcome gate is in the process of having the historic story of the Chinese prospectors’ landing in Robe carved into Australian timber by craftsman Charles Zhang.

The story will be told through traditional Chinese calligraphy characters highlighted by chisel markings and gold paint.

The carving of this structure has attracted many people from Robe who have dropped by to see Charles hard at work, including the Robe Primary School Year 6/7 students.

Mr Zhang, who is Chinese Australian Cultural Society Ballarat vice-president, spoke to the students and described his carving, and the importance of this community project.

Mr Zhang became involved in the project after walking from Robe to Ballarat with his son in 2013, and he is currently planning to do another walk with 20 participants during the festival this May.

The Pai Fang, while simple in structure, was starting to look like being quite an expensive project.

Mr Zhang said: “The quoted cost to get the carving done was $15,000 but I thought the money could be better spent elsewhere and I would do the carving myself.

“My father was a famous calligrapher in China and I am in the Ballarat wood club so it is a passion of mine.

“I’m happy with how it is coming along and I want to do a really good job as hopefully the Pai Fang will be standing for a long time.

“Every day I have had people come in to watch me work and I have had great assistance from the locals.

“This project is a whole town project, once you have everybody involved you can do a better job, I am very impressed with the people in Robe.”

Robe school principal Chris McLay said the students had a great time watching the welcome gate carving.

“The idea was to go out and increase the students’ knowledge about the Pai Fang, Charles proved to be very informative,” he said.

“He explained to them what the Pai Fang is all about and what the characters meant so the children could have an understanding of it all.

“He spoke about Chinese culture and how Chinese immigrants would arrive in Robe and walk to Ballarat and Bendigo.”

Each of the students was presented with a design of the characters and what the message on the Pai Fang means.

Artist Terry Johnson, who was also present at the carving, said: “Having the students able to come and see Charles carve was an excellent opportunity to understand the making of the Pai Fang.

“The festival has presented an opportunity for the students of Robe Primary School and Kangaroo Inn Area school to enjoy many extracurricular experiences in art and design, it was an opportunity to have parents drop in to the school and work with their children and to also participate in our parade.

“All Robe Primary students will have the opportunity to participate in the parade while holding their roosters. It will add a lot of colour to the parade.

“From my point of view as a professional artist my reward for volunteering for this task has been more than rewarded from the students’ immense enthusiasm and amazing art work produced.”

Click here to read about the upcoming Chinese festival

Click here to look at Kangaroo Inn Area School students making the paper roosters