Primary school was a real shock to the system. I had bad migraines for a couple of years, and my mum took me to the doctors to check my eyes and stuff, because they were so bad I’d get double vision. I’ve never had anything like it since, and I suspect it was the stress of moving to Adelaide, not living with my father any more, leaving the home and culture I knew, and coming to this cold place where people had a go at me.
School was, I’d have to say, a pretty difficult time in my life and in my family’s lives. I don’t want to overstate it, because we had parents who loved us, and food on the table, and there are many kids who have a harder life than that. But we did cop a fair bit about our race at school, and from one of the neighbours who just – she just had a problem. It varied from people who asked questions because we were new and different, to people who were obviously prejudiced.
I came to Australia in 1977, when I was eight, and we lived in the Adelaide Hills. The community wasn’t very culturally diverse, and my brother and I were the first Asians that I know of. We were certainly the first people of Asian background to go to that school.
The school I went to in Malaysia was completely different. It was diverse, very multicultural. It was an international school, and had kids from every background you could imagine; there were lots of British, Australian and Canadian expats, and kids from the local community whose parents wanted an English-based education, so lots of Indians, Chinese and Malay.
When we went to get enrolled at school in Adelaide, my mum and I walked across the asphalt, through the schoolyard, and the children literally formed a path around us and on either side, and commented on me. They were saying, ‘What is she?’, and someone said, ‘She’s Hong Kong-ese’, and I’m thinking, ‘There’s no such thing, what are they talking about?’ I realised for the first time that my race was something that people would notice, that it was an issue.