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Who Do You Think You Are? 

Jeff Fatt, the Purple Wiggle

Three of the Wong Yee sisters arriving in Sydney on the Changte in 1938 – Marjorie (2nd from left), Norma (4th from left) and Betty (far right). Image courtesy State Library of NSW

The TV series Who Do You Think You Are? recently featured Jeff Fatt, AKA the original Purple Wiggle. Jeff’s glamorous mother, Norma Wong Yee was born in Strathfield in 1919 when the family lived at 20 The Avenue (now Churchill Avenue). This site is now part of Strathfield Plaza. Her father, David was a prominent fruit merchant in Sydney and had a large family – mostly daughters. Two of Norma’s sisters were also born in Strathfield – Marjorie in 1918 and Betty in 1923. Born in Canton in 1875, David Wong Yee had arrived in Sydney at the age of 21 in 1896. He married in 1901 and returned to China and Hong Kong on several occasions with his wife and older children, but had settled in Strathfield by about 1917. A wealthy businessman, he was also on the board of the China-Australia Steam Ship Company before its liquidation in 1924.

Courtesy National Archives of Australia

https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=7288544

David took his growing family back to Hong Kong again. Norma was aged only about five at this time and so spent the remainder of her youth there, where her father’s businesses included a Chinese-Australian department store. But by the late 1930s, with war looming in both Europe and Asia, David Wong Yee again uprooted his family for the relative safety of Australia. The family arrived back in Sydney on the Changte in March 1938. They were briefly detained on arrival as their certificates exempting them from dictation tests had expired in 1934. These certificates included photos and handprints of the applicants and are now in the collection of the National Archives of Australia.

The Changte. Courtesy State Library of NSW

                    News (Adelaide) 10 March 1938 p.8

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/131561301


Betty and Norma Wong Yee on board the Changte in Sydney. 

Daily Telegraph 9 March 1938 p.1  http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article247471628

The Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 had been one of the first laws passed by the new Commonwealth of Australia after Federation and it greatly limited the size of Chinese communities in Australia for many years. Known as The White Australia Policy, it made it extremely difficult for families such as the Wong Yees to travel. However, upon their arrival in 1938, their identities were quickly confirmed with authorities and a fee of £4 was paid. The newspapers of the day carried photographs of the beautiful Chinese girls returning home to Australia.

The Wong Yee family soon settled in Maroubra, where Norma’s mother, Rose died the following year, just two weeks after the outbreak of war. Norma and her sisters regularly appeared in the society pages of the Sydney newspapers and were involved with various charitable and fundraising events, particularly for the Chinese community, both in Australia and overseas.

The Sun 26 August 1941 p.8 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/231624546

Norma married Oscar Fatt in 1942 and settled in Casino, NSW where Jeff and his siblings were raised. David Wong Yee died in 1966, aged 95. Norma Fatt died in 2013, aged 93.

View the program at: https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/1907730499752/who-do-you-think-you-are-s12-ep4-jeff-fatt

 

by J.J. MacRitchie

Local Studies Advisor

 

Other References

Sydney Morning Herald 25 March 1908 p.10  https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/14919646

The Sun 11 October 1942 p.8 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/230588642

 

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