Denise O’Hagan

OLD Chinese Whispers: In Search of Ivy by Alison Choy Flannigan

A modern immigration story revealed in unprecedented detail

The first in a three-part series, Chinese Whispers: In Search of Ivy uncovers the fascinating story of the Lai family’s immigration from China to Australia and their interaction with Aboriginals and Europeans making up the local Australian community.

Part historical recreation, part detective fact-gathering, the book pieces together the past in a series of vignettes linking Canton (now Guangzhou) and Hong Kong with Cooktown and Thursday Island in Far North Queensland, bringing to life the colourful atmosphere of China and the famous Palmer River Gold Rush in the late nineteenth century.

Through the eyes of the author, as she searches for the history of her mother Ivy – the inspiration behind both the family’s journey and this book – the reader is invited to make the sometimes harrowing journey from one of the world’s oldest cultures to a raw, new land, where the struggles of emergent multiculturalism are documented in painstaking and absorbing detail. A story of human courage, hard work and endurance in a strange land, it will resonate for anyone who has, at some stage, made a life-changing journey or dreams of doing so.

Will appeal to readers interested in history and biography.

About the author

Alison Choy Flannigan is an Australian multi-award winning lawyer of Chinese descent, born in Sydney.

Chinese Whispers available now:

Amazon, Booktopia, Angus & Robertson, The Nile, Fishpond


We discover so much about the history of Chinese immigration to these shores … Alison Choy Flannigan has woven a story of intricate detail. Her research and scholarship give the book a rich foundation on which she builds a memorable family history. Her material includes photographs, original documentation and press reports of events at the time …’

YouByYou Books

Through her extensive search for her long lost family across Far North Queensland, Alison Choy Flannigan has shared the history of Cooktown and Thursday Island during the Palmer River Gold Rush from an Australian Chinese perspective.’

Cairns Post, 30 January 2018

She (Alison Choy Flannigan) pieced together a picture by forensically examining state, national and municipal archives, and court records, to put together the story of how her grandfather and his two brothers came from Hong Kong to Cooktown, Queensland, in the 1890s, attracted by the Gold Rush.’

North Shore Times (Sydney), 8 February 2018

‘Australian turns detective to find her Hong Kong roots and honour her mother’s dying wish. After a lifetime of being asked, ‘Where are you from?’, Alison Choy Flannigan decided to find out; after many false leads, she traced her roots to a New Territories clan, and learned she belongs to its 26th generation.’

South China Morning Post, 1 June 2018