Chinese New Year.
One of the most unique and interesting of their programs is the temple tours. Experts take interested people through the various inner-city Chinese temples and explain their culture, beliefs and history. Temples taking part include the Evergreen Taoist Temple in Redfern, the temple in Retreat St. in Alexandria and this really lovely place, the Sze Yup Temple in the back streets of Glebe.
The temple has been around since the nineteenth century, and I was lucky enough to be taken on a tour of it by historian Helen Fong.
Helen is a wonderful guide, with an eye for story, for history, and a particular sensitivity to the complexities of Chinese popular religion. It is a rare opportunity indeed to visit a spiritual site and be guided by someone who has such a deep understanding of the place and its meaning. Helen's own family has a connection to the temple going back several generations.
It's funny, but everyone I told about the tour said to me, "There's a temple in Glebe?" People still have no idea that this amazing place is there, even Sydneysiders with a Chinese cultural background. Ever since my visit I have had several people ask me to take them there, and when I do I will be able to offer them some more insightful information thanks to Helen.
The temple is dedicated to the worship of Guan Di, the mythical Chinese general who is the special favourite of soldiers, students and business people.
I have something of my own relationship with Guan Di, having spent much time praying at his shrine at the Mingyue temple in Bonnyrigg when I needed help with my academic work. Helen pointed out a fascinating reason for the prevalence of Guan Di worship amongst the early Chinese diaspora. Because these people were overwhelmingly male, they erected temples to a uniquely masculine deity, instead of the far more common and beloved Kwan Yin, the feminine face of the divine who dominates shrines in China (as she does in Vietnam). These men felt they needed Lord Guan Di's example and help in their almost exclusively male milieu.
The Sze Yup community (Sze Yup is a district of four counties in Guandong province) were led to the site in the 1890s by a ray of light which they interpreted to be a mystical sign from Guan Di himself.
|This is the original furnace for burning votive offerings. The temple has experienced several fires, so now all offerings are burned outside.|
The site was also possessed of good feng shui, being on a slope facing the water and a view of hills.
The temple has faced fluctuating fortunes over its history. By the 1970s it was at the point of closing (as so many joss houses across Australia did), but an influx of Vietnamese-Chinese refugees brought new life to the temple, and it has gradually become stronger, more prosperous and lively as various waves of Chinese immigration have brought new communities of worshippers.
Sze Yup Temple
Victoria Rd. (entrance on Edward St)
Glebe (if you turn into Pendrill St from Glebe Point Rd you will see the temple gate at the end of the street)
There is a bus stop just before Pendrill St on Glebe Point Rd.
Keen walkers could get there on foot from Central Station (about 20 minutes) or from Broadway Shopping Centre.
A cab from Central to the temple costs around $15.