MEET POPPY’S CREATOR – GABRIELLE WANG
Gabrielle Wang is the author of the four Our Australian Girl Poppy series featuring Poppy, a Chinese-Aboriginal girl growing up on the goldfields in the 1860s. Gabrielle is fourth generation Chinese Australian and her maternal great-grandfather came over to the Victorian Goldfields from Guangdong, China in the 1850s.
Gabrielle is visiting Kids’ Book Capers today to talk about Poppy’s journey and her creation.
Gabrielle talks us through the research process for Poppy’s story
As Poppy is part Aboriginal and part Chinese the first thing I needed to do was to contact someone who was Aboriginal. I contacted FATSIL (The Federation of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Languages and Culture Corporation) and The Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne, and they put me in touch with Koorie elder, Uncle John Sandy Atkinson.
Uncle Sandy is a well-known and respected Elder of the Koorie community and also an actively involved member of the Bangerang community. Because my story is set along the Murray River, land of the Bangerang people, he was the perfect person to be introduced to.
I met with Uncle Sandy over the course of five months while I was planning the books. He was so very generous with his time, and the person who gave Poppy and Gus their Aboriginal names of Kalinya and Moyhu. With each book, I also worked closely with Maxine Briggs, the Koorie liaison officer at the State Library of Victoria. Maxine read through each manuscript providing invaluable insights into Aboriginal culture as well as advising me when I was touching on sensitive issues.
I could not have written the Poppy books without Uncle Sandy and Maxine’s help, and I cannot thank them enough. This part of the research process was hard but thoroughly enjoyable.
I also visited the State Library of Victoria and worked for many hours under the beautiful dome in the Latrobe Reading Room. Reading old newspapers stored on microfilm I would too often find myself being sidetracked by an intriguing story that was completely irrelevant to my research. The easiest research was done from home on Google, what a joy that search engine is! I also bought reference books sourced from all over Australia. Once the basic research was completed it was time to begin writing. But this is where the tricky part begins.
There was so much interesting material, I wanted to put it all in. But one of the basic rules of writing for young people is branded onto my brain – if it doesn’t move the story forward, then it has to go.
Apart from meeting Uncle Sandy and Maxine, I really enjoyed making a weekend trip to Beechworth and Wahgunyah.
What did it feel like to walk in Poppy’s shoes?
Poppy’s journey takes place along the Murray River between Echuca to Wahgunyah then on to Beechworth. This was the country my great grandfather travelled during the 1880’s when he cleared land for the pastorialists. So this became almost a personal journey for me.
What was the most inspiring thing you discovered about your character?
There were many surprises. Once I had brought Poppy to life she more or less took control of the story. I didn’t expect Poppy to be so moralistic or so confident. I wanted her to be a little less brave but she wouldn’t have it. I’d find her standing up for herself when I would have expected her to give up. She was very strong.
How do you think you would have survived living in Poppy’s era?
People in the 1800’s were tough, especially women on the goldfields. They endured all kinds of hardships and most lost children. That’s why they had so many to make sure some would survive. I don’t think I would have done very well in those times.
What significant historical events are covered in Poppy’s books?
The rapid decline of the Aboriginal tribes through murder, disease and starvation. The rounding up and putting into missions the remaining Aborigines. The rush for gold which brought thousands of foreigners to Australia. The beginning of the railroads in Victoria and the demise of the paddlesteamers and bullockies.
A REVIEW OF POPPY’S STORIES
Poppy is a gold rush girl who dreams of a better life. Her aboriginal name, Kalinya means ‘pretty one’ but Poppy also has Chinese heritage in her blood.
In book one, MEET POPPY, it’s 1864 and Poppy is living at Bird Creek Mission near Echuca. She hates the mission, especially now that her brother, Gus has run away in search of gold.
When eleven-year-old Poppy discovers she is going to be sent away to Sydney Town, she knows she has to do something. If she goes, how will Gus ever find her?
Poppy decided to escape from the mission but there are so many dangers out in the bush for a young girl. To minimise the risk, Poppy disguises herself as a boy, but all the while worries that her secret will be discovered.
She escapes the mission and embarks on a dangerous journey in search of her brother encountering bushrangers and other perils along the way. She also has to feed herself out in the bush. If only she had been born a boy and taught bush craft to aid her survival?
Poppy will need all her courage and endeavour to survive. She is helped on her journey by a dog called Fisher who becomes her constant companion.
In book 2, POPPY AT SUMMERHILL, Poppy is caught in a dingo trap and found by an aboriginal, Tom who works at Summerhill. He takes the injured Poppy there and she makes a new friend, Noni.
But Noni’s twin brother, Joe seems to have taken an instant dislike to her and believes she is hiding something. Joe is constantly snooping and Poppy wonders how long she is going to be able to keep her secret safe. What will happen if Joe finds out she is a girl?
When Joe tricks her into riding Gideon, the horse that throws everybody, Poppy, who has never ridden before, thinks her life will be over.
Her dream of finding her brother Gus, and living in a magnificent house together seems to be slipping away.
Poppy’s story is set at a time when life could be brutal, particularly for an orphaned Koori girl with nobody but a faithful dog to protect her.
Author, Gabrielle Wang is fourth generation Chinese and the character of Jimmy Ah Kew is based on her mother’s grandfather.
Young readers will be captivated by Poppy’s story and will keep following her journey, hoping that she finds the better life she dreams of.
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