As Julia Gillard prepares Australia to embrace the "Asian Century", Jim O'Rourke visits Hurstville, where the Chinese are already embracing Australia - and have become the economic and social driving forces of the community.
In a bustling Sydney suburb just a few kilometres south-west of Sydney Airport, the sounds of Chinese dialects ring along the narrow, main shopping street.
Just 20 years ago the shops near Hurstville railway station in Forest Road were owned by people with names such as Smith, Politis or Scardilli. Now the names Lee, Chen and Wu dominate the streetscape.
Figures from the 2011 census show that Hurstville is the most Chinese suburb in Sydney. In a population of 26,000, close to 8900 people were born in mainland China. Another 1200 have arrived from Hong Kong. Hurstville has just 8200 Australian-born residents.
Twenty years ago a language teacher from southern China landed alone in Sydney carrying one piece of luggage and the germ of an idea to make his fortune. Justin Wang, now a wealthy property developer, sells more than 100 apartments a month in the area - most of them off the plan and most of them to local Chinese.
The recent surge in Chinese migration is a boon for entrepreneurs like Mr Wang, the founder of the Property Investors Alliance in Burwood.
Mr Wang, who advises about 3000 clients - 95 per cent of whom are local Chinese - said the rapid increase of the middle-class in China in the last decade has added to the bonanza for property developers here as the Chinese search out offshore investment opportunities.
He said most of his clients are Chinese couples, aged 25 to 35, who originally came to Australia to study but decided to stay and make a life here. About a quarter of them get a financial helping hand from their parents back in China to get into their first home.
"The first priority for the Chinese is to settle down and buy their first home. In the Chinese culture you should have these things sorted out by the time [you] are 30.
"They don't want to invest in stocks and bonds, they want to put their money into a safe asset that gives them a good return. They want something tangible and don't care if it's a long term 10- or 15-year prospect."
If the Chinese did not invest their money in property, Mr Wang said, many of the smaller to medium-sized complexes he helps develop would never get past the planning stage. "The banks would never have lent the developers the money without Chinese buyers purchasing off the plan."
China is now our second largest source of immigrants, behind New Zealand. Last financial year more than 14,600 Chinese settlers arrived on our shores, many of them opting to live in Sydney communities including Hurstville, Burwood, Eastwood, Epping and Chatswood that are are already dominated by their countrymen.
Last year the Prime Minister commissioned the Asian Century white paper to examine likely economic, political and strategic changes in the region and what more can be done to position Australia to take advantage of those changes.
A recent forum on the white paper at the Australian National University was told by Treasury official David Gruen there is "almost certainty" China's economy will outpace developed countries in the years to come due to a "changing of the guard between the advanced world and Asia" as economic output shifts to emerging markets.
The white paper was scheduled to be released mid-2012.
Hurstville chamber of commerce president Matthew Matthews said that decades ago the suburb was populated predominantly by Australians with a large mix of European migrants from Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia.
Mr Matthews, a local real estate agent, said the commercial properties in Forest Road were owned by Australians. The Jewish people had the clothing outlets.
"Shop ownership now is swinging completely to the Chinese," he said.
"And they like to buy apartments near the shopping centre and the railway station. If the suburb doesn't have a train station, you don't have the Chinese. It helps them get their children to high school or university."
One of the state's top ranked public high schools, St George Girls High - it was ranked 12th in NSW in the NAPLAN results for year 7 and 9 - is just two rail stops away, at Kogarah. About 88 per cent of the students come from homes where English is a second language. Of those, 58 per cent are of Chinese background. The school's annual report said of the 180 students who sat the HSC in 2011, all received offers to university. Close to 30 per cent chose business, commerce or economics courses.
Mr Matthews said the Chinese like to buy or build homes with four or five bedrooms to encourage their children to remain at home while they attend university.
Lucy Lu, was a ballerina with the Shanghai Ballet Company before she emigrated alone to Australia 14 years ago after touring here in 1996. Soon after arriving she opened The Lucy Dancing School at Carlton, a suburb just east of Hurstville.
As well as teaching classical ballet and contemporary dance Ms Lu, now married with two sons, has classes in Chinese folk dancing. Parents want to see their children keep in touch with their Chinese roots, she said. "When I arrived in Sydney I studied at the Royal Academy of Dance here and I wanted to open my school before I turned 30. I also studied English and a small business management course at TAFE. The Chinese work hard at the beginning. My mother told me when I was young that you have to have things settled before you turn 30, otherwise too late."
Nancy Liu was elected on to Hurstville Council in 2008 eight years after arriving in Sydney as part of the "skilled migrant" scheme with her husband and a daughter from Guangzhou. She had an economics degree and studied English before decided to emigrate "while we were still young".
After the couple set up a business consultancy and travel agency in Hurstville, Councillor Liu noticed the local Chinese were hampered by language barriers when it came to having a community voice. She ran for council on the Unity Party ticket.
"They found it hard to deal with the different layers of government," she said. "While I represent all the ratepayers in Hurstville the Chinese come to me for help.
"Most Chinese people are humble, they work so hard and sometimes don't care what government is doing."
Smith on future of defence
The Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith MP, will deliver a speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney on Thursday on how the Australian government is addressing defence challenges ahead. Time: 12:30pm for 12:30pm-1:45pm. Ground floor, 31 Bligh Street. General admission: $45. Register before 5pm Tuesday. firstname.lastname@example.org.