Hou Wang Temple

A timber and tin pagoda-like building with distinctive red accents in the middle of Atherton dairy country is a bit of a head scratcher.

But the incongruous building in a paddock turns out to be a Hou Wang temple and the last remnant of Atherton’s old Chinatown.

In the early 20th century a substantial population of Chinese immigrants lived on the Atherton Tablelands where they worked as timber cutters, market gardeners and maize growers.

Built in 1903 the temple, now a museum, is very special.

It’s one of the oldest in Australasia and possibly the only temple outside of China dedicated to Hou Wang, a famed bodyguard to a Song dynasty child-emperor.

And the utilitarian iron on the outside of the building is deceptive – inside the temple is rich and ornate with red and gold furnishings supplied from China and an intricately carved altar.

The building was a social and spiritual focus for the Chinese community up until the 1970s. When no longer used for worship it was donated to the National Trust of Australia.

As well as the unique experience of a rare Chinese temple, the museum attached to the building gives an insight into the remarkable, industrious lives of Atherton’s early Chinese population.

Migrants from mainly south west China, they came to work on the Tablelands after being shut out of gold prospecting on the Palmer River.

At the time the temple was built more than 1000 Chinese lived together in this part of Atherton.

The World Heritage-listed temple is on Herberton Road on the outskirts of Atherton.

The temple and museum are open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm. Guides are on site to show visitors around and explain this astonishing reminder of Tablelands history.

For more information visit Hou Wang Temple and Chinese Museum.

Written by Tanya Snelling. Originally published 16th February 2018.