My last trip for the year as I reach the halfway mark as Australian Children’s Laureate – Wahgunyah and Benalla

I travelled up to Benalla by train then was driven the one hour to Wahgunyah where I spoke to the students at Wahgunyah Primary School. There has been flooding in NSW and Victoria in towns close to the major rivers, Wahgunyah, which is on the Murray River was no exception although flooding there was light compared to other towns. By the time I arrived, the water had subsided a little.

Here’s a photo of the Tommy McRae Walking Track underwater.


Wahgunyah Primary School is my grandfather’s old school. His father, my great grandfather Jimmy Chen Ah Kew, settled in Wahgunyah in the 1880s after arriving in Australia in 1853 during the Gold Rush. New evidence has surfaced in the past few months that his father had already come to Australia in the 1830’s as a labourer and went on to open a shop. This was recorded in the annals of one of the early Chinese societies of Melbourne and only recently been translated into English.

Here is a photo taken at Wahgunyah Primary school in 1900. My grandfather is fourth from the left.

And here he is 17 years old.

The next photo was taken around 1867 of the Wahgunyah township. You can see my great grandfather’s general store on Blanche Street where Chinatown used to stand. It’s the building with the verandah that’s partially out of the picture on the far right.

And another of the store and second story dwelling with the old brick kiln in the foreground.

Family history is fascinating. The important thing to remember is to ask older family members before history dies with them.

The students were great and were very interested in the photo of the old township in relation to where the school stands today. Luckily local historian Sue Fenn was there to help.

As well as owning a general store, my great grandfather Jimmy Chen Ah Kew, cleared land in the area, much of it for the vineyards that are still there today, vineyards such as All Saints and St Leonards. He would go out for months at a time, with 400 coolie labourers that he hired from China.

What is really wonderful is that Principal, Josh Reid, changed the House names. Now they are dedicated to the 3 most influential historical figures of the town – Chen House after my great grandfather, Jimmy Chen Ah Kew, McRae House after the incredible Aboriginal artist Tommy McRae, and Foord House after John Foord who founded Wahgunyah.

The school would have to be the most diverse in Australia!

While I was there, I stayed at the Wahgunyah Motel which I highly recommend if you are touring the area.

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