Gabrielle Wang was the only Asian girl in her school in Melbourne. When she used to walk around her neighborhood, people shouted abuse at her from passing cars. But she was never proud of her Chinese heritage.
“There were no stories about a Chinese girl in a white setting,” she says today. “If there was, I’m sure I would have been more proud to look different.”
It has been Wang’s mission for more than 20 years to write in his many children’s books about Chinese characters. Now that has been given a boost by being named Australia’s newest Children’s Laureate, a two-year post that will give lessons, lectures and generally inspire children to read more stories.
“Children need stories of hope more than ever to help them navigate today’s difficult world and give them coping strategies. Stories can be so powerful,” says Wang. “They can change a person on the inside, which we all know. Reading a story can help a child to understand another person, to know how they are feeling, because stories allow them to put themselves in the shoes of someone else, someone from a different culture, different diversity, even of a different skin color.
The theme of his prize will be “Imagine a story”. She says that by reading, children can know they belong. “I also feel that seeing myself as an Australian winner means a rainbow color, not the norm, and I hope that shows kids that anything is possible.”
The irony of Wang being a victim of racist abuse is that his family can be traced back to his great-grandfather who came to Victoria during the gold rush in the mid-19th century. “I’m a fourth-generation Chinese Australian, so I’ve probably been here a lot longer than people shouting things from cars.”
His background was from a small village and was chosen to come here by the villagers because he was smart and able-bodied. “They had all put in the money to send him to Australia for the gold rush, and he would get the riches for them and send the money back to them. It was like an investment. »
The family does not know if he found any gold. But they do know that he fetched from Wahgunyah on the Murray River, where he had a general store, and also organized Chinese laborers to come and clear land in the area to plant vines.
The other irony in Wang’s life is that at school she didn’t know she could write. She wanted to be an artist or a graphic designer. She failed Grade 12 English and had to do it again. “I hadn’t written anything but angst-filled poetry when my boyfriend dumped me.” Then she had a strange dream which turned out to be a turning point.