“‘Go home, you have no right to be here’,” he recounted her saying.
“She used the f-word at me a couple of times and got into her car and as she was driving off she said ‘I bet your name is Lee, isn’t it?’.
“She didn’t address the other people waiting around … I was the only person who wasn’t white, I guess.”
As a doctor, his first thought was of concern for the woman, questioning whether she was in need of support or help to have hurled such abuse.
He posted on the Family Doctors Highton Facebook page to make the attack more visible. He’s since had friends thank him for sharing, as they’d had similar experiences but felt uncomfortable expressing them.
“I think it was more raising awareness that it is happening,” he said.
“People who don’t experience it personally may not see it happen, but for every case that is reported through the media or authorities, there are probably 10 others who remain silent.”
His friends with Asian backgrounds have copped abuse while working in their front yards or while picking up vegetables in the supermarket.
“This COVID-19 pandemic has given people with an inherent bias the ability to express themselves,” he said.
Dr Chang’s experience is one of many racist attacks across Australia targeting people of Asian appearance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among them was an incident on April 12 when a swastika and two Chinese flags branded with the words “COVID-19” were strung up on a phone tower in Kyabram in central Victoria.
Last week, two ethnically Chinese international students were bashed in Melbourne’s CBD and told to “get out of our country”.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said there was “simply no place for that sort of behaviour in our state”.
“We are all in this together,” he said.
“We are more effective, we are better and stronger if we all look out for each other.”
Mr Andrews personally called a bus driver who copped racially motivated abuse, saying it was “simply wrong” that people were attacking each other.
“There’s just no place for that, whether it’s racially motivated or not,” he said. “I know people are frustrated, but there’s simply no place for people to be behaving like that.”
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton said the racist behaviour being reported was not just against the state’s shared values, but against the law.
“Reports of racism have been on the rise as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed and I’m aware that other state and federal human rights bodies have observed similar increased, in both reports and formal complaints,” she said.
“The seriousness of the racist incidents being reported is real cause for concern – from offensive comments and verbal abuse through to threats of physical violence. No Victorian should have to endure racism because of who they are or where they come from.”
Dr Chang said he was proud of Geelong and said it was a caring and inclusive community.
“The virus is not racist. Neither are we. Diversity is our strength,” he said.
“It’s not a virus that looks at what colour your skin is. At the end of the day it’s appreciating we are all humans, we are all in this together, we care for one another, we respect one another for who we are and we help those in need. I think it’s pretty universal sentiments really.”
Greater Geelong Mayor Stephanie Asher said the council condemned racism in all forms and urged community members to be respectful in every interaction.
“Now is the time for unity, kindness and acceptance of all people, not giving into fear and prejudice. Let’s support each other through this pandemic,” she said.
Nicole Precel is a journalist and audio video producer at The Age. She is also a documentary maker.