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Subject: Cultural Studies »

Mabel Wang remembers growing up in Carlton in the 1930s

Mara Moustafine and Mabel Wang.

Mabel Wang remembers growing up in Carlton in the 1930s, already a place of cultural diversity



Date Added:

06 February 2009


source not available


mov (Quicktime);

File size:

12 MB






I was born in 1924, we lived in Carlton and most Chinese lived around the Victoria Market because most of them had jobs around that area, or they lived in West Melbourne, North Melbourne, Carlton and we lived in Carlton.


When I was small I didn’t have any friends, because I led a very lonely life because I was the eldest child in the family, my parents only spoke Chinese at home so I only spoke Chinese until I was six and when I went to school I was six years old and that’s when I started to speak English. And I think, you know, I didn’t have any – there were no playmates nearby when I was little. And – but I had my siblings who were younger than me, but they were much younger, my next – my brother was four years younger, my sister was five years younger, so I actually had quite a lonely childhood I think. But it didn’t make any difference because I don’t look back and feel sorry for myself.


And I didn’t make many friends at school. I remember one girl used to chase me all the way home. I loved school, I had a wonderful teacher who really made me feel good, she used to have a book called an, “honour book” and every day the student who did the best work could put their work in – do the work in the honour book and I – had the honour book every day just about. [laughs] Because I was very neat and tidy, you know, I always had good handwriting so I think she liked me very much and she really made a lot of difference to my life because I loved school because of her.


When we were living there, there were very few Italians actually. But a lot of Jewish people. A lot of Jewish people who had already come to Australia in the '30s, but the Italians didn't start coming until - en masse - until after the war really.


Where were the Jews coming from?



They – I think a lot of them came from Poland, the ones that I knew came from Poland but they would have been coming from other places as well.


So if you had friends amongst –



Yes, I had – most of my classmates were the Jewish girls, so my best friends were Jewish girls because – because we lived in Carlton, the Jewish people lived in North Carlton, which is slightly better than Carlton [laughs] so they had more money than we had. And they – we all went to that regional school which was University High School. I stayed at their houses. No they didn’t come to my house. Because I was very embarrassed to ask anyone to our house. Because when you went to other people’s houses, they’d have a sofa, they’d have a dining table. If you sort of set up properly, it doesn’t matter how poor it was, it was set up properly but if you came to a Chinese household, it’s got boxes stacked on top of boxes and it’s got things stuffed under the tables so that it didn’t look right. And I was too embarrassed to ask anyone to my house.


Yes, I’ve kept them all my life. And now it’s – how many years since we were 12 – and now it’s 60 odd years. 70 years. 70 Years.


Well, we were – we were brought up – my parents were converted Christians. Converted Christians are real Christian. They really are, you know 100%. So we were brought up as – every Sunday we spent – I spent the whole day in church. Whole day and it was like – it was the Church of Christ, which is like a Baptist kind of religion. And I was baptised when I was 15, I got the – I got that feeling and I had to go down and become a Christian. And we were so much Christian religion in our family, that when I turned 18 – 17, I gave it up altogether. And now I’m – I’m not an atheist, I suppose I’m an agnostic.


End transcript