Eng and Chang Bunker have long been celebrated as major figures in local history, and more than 142 years after their deaths the fascinating lives of the Original Siamese Twins are increasingly drawing attention from elsewhere.
The latest place is Australia, where a broadcast production about the legendary pair is in the works.
Michael Ladd, a representative of ABC Radio National in the Down Under country, announced plans this week for a documentary on Eng and Chang, who were born in what is now known as Thailand and eventually migrated to Mount Airy.
Radio National in Australia is a non-commercial station that airs historical documentaries and features, which Ladd described as similar to National Public Radio (NPR) in the U.S.
“I am making a half-hour documentary called ‘Hyphenated Lives’ about Chang and Eng Bunker,” explained Ladd, who is with the Features and Documentaries Unit of ABC Radio National. He this week disclosed efforts to reach Siamese Twins historians and descendants as part of the project, for which no timetable has been announced.
Many of those descendants reside in the local area, where news of the radio production was well-received Friday.
“I am excited about Radio National in Australia — people that far away that are interested in the lives of the Siamese Twins,” said Zack Blackmon Jr. of Mount Airy, a great-great-grandson of Eng Bunker.
“They (the Australian producers) would be welcome to our family reunion,” Blackmon said of a 27th-annual event later this month to be attended by Bunker family members from around the nation.
Tanya Jones, another Eng Bunker descendant who is executive director of the Surry Arts Council, said the Australian broadcaster’s interest in the twins is a logical occurrence.
Jones cited a Chang and Eng musical theater production based on the twins’ exploits which originated in Singapore in the late 1990s.
“Some of the actors in that play were from Australia,” she said Friday of those in the country knowing about the Siamese Twins.
“In that part of the world, Australia is not that far away,” Jones said of the relatively short distance from Thailand.
“It doesn’t surprise me to know there’s an awareness there.”
Eng and Chang were born in Thailand, the former Siam, in 1811. The pair left in the 1820s and after touring with P.T. Barnum’s circus, married and lived in Surry County, producing a combined 21 children. They died in January 1874.
In addition to the musical, countless books have been written about the Siamese Twins, and last year the Bunker family reunion was covered by a Voice of America broadcast team.
A key development earlier this year involved Mount Airy officials approving a sister city relationship with the community in Thailand where Eng and Chang hailed from, which is expected to increase cultural exchanges and tourism between the two.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.