Derek To

Derek To, a retired accountant, lives in a brick house bounded by the neatly-clipped hedges of Sydney’s suburbia. His life appears ordinary until talk turns to his Chinese heritage and the endeavours of great grandfather John Hoe.

Hoe arrived as a bare-footed bachelor to try his luck in the Ballarat goldfields of the mid 1800s. He discovered so much gold that the bank was unable to convert it all to cash and provided cheques instead. Hoe thought the pieces of paper were receipts and stacked them in the outhouse as lavatory paper.

It was many years before his miscalculation was rectified but there was still enough money for the establishment of a furniture factory in Sydney, a glass factory in Hong Kong, and a silver mine in Canton. He applied the same energy to the seven wives acquired upon his return to China.

“The wealth John Hoe made is still feeding his great grandchildren today,” Derek says. “We are still enjoying the fruits of his labour in Hong Kong, America and Australia.”

Now the University of New South Wales is another beneficiary with a notified bequest by Derek To (valued at more than $1 million) that will enable the formation of three student scholarships. The To family scholarships will be awarded in economics (in the name of Derek’s father Lester), mathematics (in name of his mother Minnie) and accounting (in his own name).

“The donation is my footprint in Australia and I share it with my parents,” Derek explains. “We are very proud of our history and we have always called Australia ‘home’.”

Derek’s forebear continues to serve as a reminder that hard work yields results. It was a lesson confirmed by his parents. “I vividly remember coming to Australia aged about 12 as the son of a bourgeois family,” he recalls.

Derek reveled in the ‘fair dinkum’ attitude, the sense of compassion and the philosophy to ‘share and share alike’. “I thought it was beautiful and well, Australia, thanks for that,” he says.

University made an even greater impact because it provided the cornerstone of his career: a Bachelor of Commerce degree. His accountancy qualifications opened the door to the Federal Auditor General’s office in 1972 which led to a career highlight working on a Reserve Bank investigation into the major commercial banks.

“I was to ensure that the banks met their prudential requirements. It was very daunting to walk in - as a young Chinese-born graduate - to talk to the bosses. The General Manager of the Commonwealth Bank just laughed at me. He said: ‘We used to have a plane load of consultants to look us over and, after three months, they went back to America none the wiser. What makes you think you can do it?’ I said: ‘I’m a university graduate!’”

Great grandfather Hoe would be proud.

Author: Anabel Dean

Derek To"The donation is my footprint in Australia and I share it with my parents. We are very proud of our history and we have always called Australia ‘home’."

Derek To

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