Mural honours late visionary

The Eltham Community Development Group unveiled a mural paying homage to one of Eltham's greatest sons, Chew Chong, last Tuesday.

The mural depicts Chew in front of his 'general store', which was once on the corner on Bridge and Railway streets.

Chew's grandson Brian Chong, and great-grandchildren Jill Roberts and Murray Chong, who all live in New Plymouth, attended, describing it as a very special occasion.

Chew was a New Zealand visionary. He was inducted into New Zealand's business hall of fame' for his role in the dairy industry and for establishing trade in Auricularia polytricha, a fungus growing on native trees across Taranaki.

At the unveiling South Taranaki District deputy mayor Alex Ballantyne said the fungus trade ensured food on the table for many poverty-stricken Taranaki pioneers.

Chew opened the Jubilee butter factory in Eltham in 1885 and installed a refrigeration machine four years later that is thought to have been the first freezer in a New Zealand butter factory.

He coined the packaging of butter in one-pound parchment-wrapped blocks.

And what we have to keep in mind is that he achieved all this when the Chinese community was not that well received in New Zealand, said Alex.

Chong was a director of Eltham's Union Timber and Box Company, which employed up to 85 workers, as described in the book The Life and Times of Chew Chong (1996) by another of Eltham's stalwarts, Don Drabble, who passed away last year. Don's wife Margaret attended the unveiling.

Chong also pushed for the Taranaki Producers Company Ltd Cool Stores in New Plymouth, which opened in 1886.

"Many people came to love this little Chinese man," Don wrote.

"He had (a) highly developed social conscience. The thing about him is that he had come from a poverty-stricken country and I think he set out to make real good. I think that was the driving force behind Chong."

Chong died in 1920, at aged 92.

The mural, by Taranaki artists Ben Barrett, is the fourth in a series of five heritage murals. The other three heritage murals, the Ford Garage and Service Station, the Old Fire Station and the Old Book Shop, were unveiled last year November.

Development group treasurer Marilyne Gernhoefer says the Bank of New South Wales mural, on the Eltham Historic Society Building in Bridge St, will be unveiled next month.

- Stratford Press

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