Chinese Medicine in Australia

Early beginnings

The Victorian gold rush of the 1850s saw a wave of Chinese migrants come to our shores, some of whom were practitioners of Chinese medicine, and by the 1900s, Chinese herbalists appeared in the Melbourne CBD as well as the goldfield townships of Bendigo and Ballarat. Acupuncturists at that time were fewer in number owing, perhaps, to a preference to ingest herbal substances, which was not so alien to the Western population.


Although accepted, Chinese medicine was still not mainstream medicine and, with the strong development of Western medicine and the official support given to it from both church and state, not to mention a slowing in Chinese migration and the passing of older practitioners, the number of Chinese medicine clinics dwindled over the next several decades. In the 1970s, some chiropractors, physiotherapists and naturopaths took an interest in acupuncture, a few travelled to Korea for a short course, and they formed an acupuncture association, but practised it only as an adjunctive therapy.

In the 1980s and 1990s, more practitioners arrived from China, having benefitted from formal training in both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, and established a number of Chinese medicine associations representing Chinese herbal medicine as well as acupuncture. At this point in history, the only practitioners trained fully in Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture were those trained in China. The first Australian private college of Chinese medicine was established in Melbourne in 1984, offering a comprehensive syllabus of Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, tuina, dietary therapy and exercise therapy. This enabled Australian residents to study Chinese medicine. As interest in Chinese medicine continued to grow, colleges sprung up, and in the late 1980s there was a push for standardised accreditation. Support for regulation was particularly strong in Victoria, with the Victorian Traditional Acupuncture Society lobbying both state and federal governments.

In 1990, Professor Tzi-Chiang Lin, who headed the Society of Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture in Victoria, saw the need for a national organisation, and approached the larger associations in NSW, Queensland, the ACT, South Australia, and Western Australia, forging a national federation in 1991, known as FCMA, the first national association to represent Chinese medicine comprehensively in both acupuncture and herbal medicine. This created a sound foundation to lobby the government for greater recognition of Chinese medicine.

FCMA's prime role as advocate for the Chinese medicine profession

Since its inception, FCMA has advocated relentlessly for Chinese medicine. Apart from the many meetings to support and achieve registration, and the registration standard of training and competency, FCMA has prepared a constant stream of submissions to government and to regulation agencies representing the concerns of the Chinese medicine profession. You can read some of those submissions here.

The road to regulation

The surge of interest in acupuncture and Chinese medicine in the 1990s led to a general push for regulation. As the first national association with a strong base in traditionally trained practitioners of both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, FCMA played a significant role in the profession's efforts to achieve a national accreditation standard for both Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. In the early 1990s the National Chinese Medicine Legislation Liaison Committee was formed to that end, and furthered the progress of Chinese medicine and its road towards registration and acceptance in the health system.

The profession's support for regulation was strongest in Victoria. In 1996, the push for regulation culminated in a series of meetings between FCMA president Professor Tzi-Chiang Lin and a number of government representatives took place. These include meetings with the Victorian Minister for Health Mrs Marie Tehan, the Deputy Director General of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine (SATCM) in China Dr. Zhu Jie, the Deputy Director General of SATCM, Professor Zhu Guoben, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Federal Minister for Health Senator Rosemary Crowley, and Director of the Public Health Department of Health and Community Services and Human Services in Victoria Dr Christopher Brook. Subsequently, Ms Anna-Louise Carlton, from the Victorian Department of Human Services, was commissioned by the Minister to meet with Professor Lin in order to discuss the formation of the Victorian Chinese Medicine Review Committee.

Ms Carlton supported the proposal for Chinese medicine registration and was in the vanguard of the work in Victoria that led to the passing of the Chinese Medicine Registration Act in 2000, when the Chinese Medicine Registration Board of Victoria (CMRBV) was created, paving the way for national registration in 2012, (the Chinese Medicine Registration Act 2000 was replaced in 2005 by the Health Profession Registration Act which uniformed all regulated health professions under one act in Victoria. This also provided a model for the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme (NRAS) in July 2010). Ms Debra Gillick was appointed as Registrar of the CMRBV in August 2001, and proved to be a stalwart in the development of fair regulation of Chinese medicine. In August 2011, under the new national scheme, she was appointed Executive Officer of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). Professor Charlie Xue was appointed as a Vice President of CMRBV and later on the chairman of the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia (CMBA) under the NRAS.

So as to give the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) an understanding of Chinese Medicine, in different years, Professor Lin accompanied TGA National Managers Professor Geoffrey Vaughan and Dr. David Graham on an investigatory visit to China, as well as the then Vice Minister for Health and Human Services of Victoria, the Hon Matt Viney.

Victoria took the lead in many Chinese medicine initiatives: RMIT established a degree course in Chinese medicine in the early 1990s in both acupuncture and herbal medicine, and in April 1998, a historic agreement was signed in Beijing between the Director General of the SATCM, Professor She Jing, and Professor Tzi-Chiang Lin, President of FCMA and Member of the Victorian Ministerial Advisory Committee on Traditional Chinese Medicine, in order to facilitate regular academic exchange, co-operation in research, and support in establishing clinical and teaching facilities.