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Pioneer journalist Helene Chung broke racist and sexist barriers to become the first non-white reporter on Australian television and, as Beijing correspondent, the first female posted abroad by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The Hobart-born Chinese Australian is the author of Shouting from China, Gentle John: My Love My Loss, Lazy Man in China and Ching Chong China Girl: From fruitshop to foreign correspondent. An Honours graduate and Master of Arts in history of the University of Tasmania, she has reported from Australia, Hong Kong, Britain, Egypt and China and freelanced for BBC, CBS, NPR, NZBC and Hong Kong radio.
A fourth-generation Tasmanian, Helene Chung (He-LANE CHUNG as in HUNG) grew up in 1950s Hobart, where she and her sister, Lehene (Lay-HEEN), were the only ‘Ching Chong Chinamen’ for almost all their years at St Mary’s College. They alone were shamed by a divorced mother, an artist’s model who lived in sin with a foreign devil and drove a red MG.
Helene survived the embarrassment of childhood, discovered the thrill of campus theatre with the Old Nick Company, and then fell into journalism from the 'back of a Tasmanian tiger'. In 1968 as a postgraduate student she recorded her first interview – with a butcher who claimed to have sighted the extinct thylacine – and it was broadcast on ABC radio’s national flagship, AM.
Attitudes towards women seeking careers in journalism, in the 1970s, saw Helene rejected as a trainee. The reason for the rejection was: ‘You’re as good as some of the best boys, but if we have to make a choice between a boy and a girl, we’ll have to choose the boy because you’re only going to get married and all the training would be wasted’.
Helene freelanced overseas and in 1971 at Buckingham Palace scooped the first radio interview granted by Princess Anne.
Back in Australia she joined ABC Sydney’s AM/PM team before Tasmania’s This Day Tonight lured her in late 1974, when she became the first non-white reporter on Australian television. Her interview with former classmate, mainland history lecturer John Martin, triggered a transfer to Melbourne and their life-long love.
When Helene was chosen as the ABC’s first female to be posted abroad, John no more wanted to accompany her to the then backward China than to Afghanistan; yet he agreed. His witty letters from Beijing would be incorporated into Lazy Man in China – the story of China’s transition from Old Communism to New Capitalism interwoven with the couple’s own love story.
Helene's book Shouting from China recalls the shouting that often cost Helene her voice as she filed for three years over China’s decrepit telephone system.
Helene wrote her first book as an Edward Wilson Fellow in Journalism at Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, where she would later teach journalism while a specialist reporter on North Asian affairs at the Overseas Service, Radio Australia, Melbourne. She also presented the daily International Report on Radio National.
John’s death through cancer led to her emotional outpouring in Gentle John: My Love My Loss. Her sister, Lehene’s death, also through cancer, would deepen Helene’s experience of love, loss and grief.
In 1998, after cuts to Radio Australia, Helene began 15 years as an adjunct research fellow at Melbourne’s Monash Asia Institute, which assisted her in writing her autobiography, Ching Chong China Girl: From fruitshop to foreign correspondent. Ching Chong China Girl is a memoir filled with honesty, humour, love and loss, and gives insight into life that traverses cultures East and West.
An engaging speaker, Helene is available to talk to schools, community groups and other organisations about China, her life as an Australian-born Chinese from the age of assimilation to the era of multiculturalism, and her experience of love and loss.
Ching Chong China Girl , ABC Books, Sydney, 2008
Lazy Man in China, Pandanus Books, Canberra, 2004
Contributor J. Campbell, Letters from Our Heart, Hardie Grant, Melbourne, 2002
Gentle John: My Love My Loss, Hill of Content, Melbourne, 1995
Shouting from China, Penguin, Melbourne, 1988, 1989
All Asia Review of Books, Australian Book Review, Far Eastern Economic Review, Meanjin, South China Morning Post, The Age, The Australian, The Asian Wall Street Journal, The Herald, The Jewish Chronicle, The Sunday Herald
Web links include:
This entry was supplied by Helene Chung.