The Chinese temple in Cairns, known as the Lit Sung Goong or Chungshan (Zhongshan) Temple was officially opened on 17 January 1887. It was located in Grafton St (formerly Sachs St), and was established by new migrants from the Zhongshan district of Guangdong who contributed 800 pounds to cover building costs. Andrew Leon and Jan Bung Chong were principal trustees.
Lit Sung Goong (Lie Sheng Gong) literally means "hall of various godsor sages" and the temple represented the three major spiritual traditions of China: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.
The building was constructed of local timber and corrugated iron, while much of the temple's interior was crafted by skilled artists from cities and towns in South China and included the ornately carved altar, canopy, decorative friezes, paintings, ritual vessels and Deity statues.
The elaborate temple altar made of carved and gilt wood features the names of 19 Chinese individuals and businesses who sponsored the project, Similar information has been inscribed on other temple objects (incense burner, temple bell, cymbals, drum and friezes), providing us with information about the donors as well as dates of manufacture and names of local workshops in China where the objects were made. Further research on the inscriptions carved and engraved on the temple objects will provide valuable information regarding the history and social links maintained by the Chinese community, with their homeland.
The temple was a significant cultural site as it was a meeting place and the focal point of Chinese community life in Cairns well into the 1920s. Important festivals, community events, large feasts, lion dancing , music and fireworks displays took place there. A temple attendant, appointed on a 3 year rotational basis, lived at the rear of building which contained a small kitchen and living quarters. He was paid an annual wage of around 50 pounds. His duties included interpreting the message on the fortune telling sticks.
A communal pig oven, located at the rear of the premises provided the community with traditionally roasted pork, which was always high on the menu list on festive occasions and other celebrations.
in 1926, a fire and cyclone destroyed the front of the temple. The back section was renovated, and the temple temple continued to service a dwindling and changing community.
From the 1930s onwards, the Chinese Australian population in Cairns continued to decline. The younger generation had integrated into the mainstream life and were not interested in temple affairs. The temple was used less frequently and eventually fell into disrepair. Finally in 1966, a decision was made by the Cairns Joss Society to sell the land in order to pay the arrears in rates requested by the Cairns City Council. This resulted in the demolition of thetemple building. Regrettably, Cairns had forgotten that the temple had been classified as a place of worship, exempt from rates.
It was fortunate that the internal fixtures and the entire collection of temple artefacts were salvaged by the Joss Society. Today, members of the Cairns and District Chinese Association are custodians of this important collection. It is their goal to establish a Chinese cultural facility in Cairns to re-house, preserve and showcase the collection for present and future generations.
Left: Roast pig cooked in a tradional pig oven
Source: Mary Low
Right: Lit Sung Goong temple after the 1927 cyclone.
Source: Cairns Historical Scoiety