KOTA KINABALU, June 29 — Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong launched into what was effectively a love letter to her birthplace and childhood home here today, in her first official visit since being appointed Australia’s foreign affairs minister.

Wong cited memories of Tanjung Aru beach, Mamutik islank, Mount Kinabalu, the iconic Tamparuli bridge, and the cool rivers of in the highlands of Tambunan. She also recounted intimate memories closer to her former home here, of her father buying fresh fish and prawns, and her beloved grandmother’s mushroom chicken.

Wong said this visit was an ode to the memories that were a big part of her.

“I made this trip to balik kampung. It is an act of homecoming but also more. This trip is to pay respect to my nation of birth and the nation to which I belong.

“Coming here is a story that can strengthen the relations between our nations,” she said during a welcome reception with Sabahan community leaders, friends, and family here.

The Sabah-born Australian minister said her story is like that of many Sabahans and Australians, connecting her to the migrant population in Australia.

“When you walk down the streets in an Australian city, you see half of us here today,” she said referring to its diversity and origins.

“This is modern Australia, this is today’s diverse Australia, it is an Australia that understands that our prosperity, our security and our future is shared with yours,” Wong concluded.

She said she hoped her story could strengthen relations between the two countries as she begins her tour of countries in her stint across several continents.

Wong’s background story has been well told; she grew up to a Malaysian father and Australian mother in Sabah and migrated when her parents’ marriage broke apart.

Wong often pays tribute to her background growing up in Kota Kinabalu and how it formulated her identity.

“My childhood and memories here enables me to be who I am. It allows me to be foreign minister - and it is an act of respect to my Po Po,” she said, referring to her grandmother Fung Lai Shim.

Wong is here till tomorrow, slotting in a visit to a local noodle shop, her former international school, and a walkabout with local Opposition lawmaker Ginger Phoong. - malaymail