Skip to Content
Department of Premier and Cabinet

Helene Chung Martin

Significant Tasmanian Women icon

Journalist and Author

Helen Chung MartinHelene Chung, a former ABC Beijing correspondent, was the first non-white reporter on Australian TV and the first female posted abroad by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. A fourth-generation Tasmanian Chinese, she is an honorary research fellow at Monash Asia Institute, Melbourne, and the author of Shouting from China, Gentle: John My Love My Loss, Lazy Man in China and, a new book, Ching Chong Ching Girl.

Lazy Man in China is the story of China over two decades — its transition from Old Communism to New Capitalism — intertwined with the love story between Helene and her late partner, John Martin. T he self-dubbed lazy man employed at the Australian Embassy in Beijing, John wrote witty, perceptive, self-deprecating letters to family and friends that have inspired a book interwoven with ninety colour photographs of China past and present.

John and Helene first met in the English literature class at the University of Tasmania in 1963. Thirteen years later, when she interviewed the former classmate she hadn’t seen for years on the television program, This Day Tonight, he became the love of her life. His death from cancer in 1993 prompted her emotional outpouring in Gentle John: My Love My Loss.

When appointed Beijing correspondent in 1983, she made news as the first woman posted overseas by the ABC. Shouting from China tells of her adventures and tribulations as a foreign correspondent, and was republished in 1989 to include the democracy demonstrations.

Helene’s maternal great-grandfather landed as a tin miner in Tasmania in the 1880s and, like so many around him, became an opium addict. She attended St Mary’s College and went on to graduate from the University of Tasmania with honours and as a Master of Arts in history. As a student she revelled in acting and directing plays for the university’s Old Nick Company.

Through her mother, an artist’s model, Dorothy Henry, she was introduced at an early age to the world of art, books and ideas, which led to her career in journalism with the ABC. Her first interview (with a Sandy Bay butcher who claimed to have seen the extinct Tasmanian tiger), was broadcast on the ABC radio program AM in 1968. When she joined This Day Tonight (a precursor of 7.30 Report) in 1974, she became the first non-white reporter on Australian TV.

Helene describes her latest book, a memoir, as follows:

Ching Chong China Girl - From fruitshop to foreign correspondent

Warning : Not to be read by convent girls not wearing their gloves.

‘Ching Chong Chinaman’ girls taunted Helene Chung in her Catholic school playground. An Australian-born Chinese growing up in 1950s Tasmania, Helene not only dealt with being different from her blonde-haired, blue-eyed classmates but suffered the shame of having divorced parents. And she kept a shocking secret – her mother, Miss Henry, was a nude model, who also lived in sin with a foreign devil and drove a red MG.

Surviving the embarrassment of childhood, Helene discovered the thrill of the theatre, fell into journalism and travelled the world. She became the first non-white reporter on Australian TV and the first female posted abroad by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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.

Books:

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

Articles in:

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:

Helene Chung Martin’s homepage

Ching Chong China Girl

Lazy Man in China 2004

Helene Chung’s family background

An excerpt and some of the 90 colour photos from Lazy Man in China

Speakers agency

This entry was supplied by Helene Chung, March 2008

< Index of Significant Tasmanian Women