From There (Vietnam) to Here (Australia)

» Read the Vietnamese version of this story

Author: Vuong Thanh Loc
Storyteller: Vuong Thanh's father
Community Language School: Vietnamese Cultural Schools, Bankstown
Main School: St Luke's , Revesby

A boatperson's story of deprivation and determination to find another homeland.

In 1975 Vietnam was taken over by Communist from the north. Since that day many people who worked for the South Vietnam government were in jail. Every thing was changed, the life became miserable, and we had no religion and no freedom. From 1975 to 1990 many people left Vietnam by boat and they became Vietnamese refugees or boat people. Though just about 60% of the boat people got lucky to come to the country they liked. Another 40% died on the sea or were killed by Thailand's pirates.

Most people who escaped from Vietnam have accepted that anything can happen to them, and bartered their property and their life. Many people were jailed by cheaters or chased by policemen, but they did not lose their spirit and they tried to leave if they have the chance. Therefore, there are many Vietnamese people living around the world now, and the following is my dad's story.

I was living with my family with eleven people; I had eight brothers and one sister. We worked in a grocery store, the family's business, so my family were middle class. Life was hard when the Communist came. My family could not do business and we had to live with worry and fear whit the local government watching, because I had two brothers who worked for the South Vietnamese government.

One day my father told us to try to leave Vietnam and we started planning for that. Ever since my life has had a big change. All my brothers escaped one at a time, all except me. I was unlucky, I had escaped seven times and I was jailed two times. The first time was for six months, the second time was for one year and I paid corruption money to get out of jail. Despite the fact, that my escape was a failure, but I did not give up or get weary.

So the following summer in the year 1984 I escaped again and after seven days I arrived in Malaysia. Every trip has a different pitiable story; my trip had a story too. When I left Vietnam on a small boat with fifty other people, my boat was unseaworthy because it was very small, just about 8metres long and 3metres wide but it carried fifty people.

The people looked like sardines in a can. The engine was very old and it did not have a hooded cover on top. The owner told us that a bigger ship would be waiting out in the sea, but we could not see one, we had been tricked. We realised now how important escaping was, it was too late for us to return. In that situation we had a hazardous voyage, so we decided to keep going with hope for any ship on the sea to save us, because the weather was very good and we just hoped and prayed together.

When we had been out to sea for about ten hours, the engine had broke down. We did not have any sails or paddles to keep the boat going, so the boat kept moving without any control or guidance. The food was scarce and can only last for two days. The third day we jus drank water when it rained. We saw some ships on the way, and we signaled S.O.S, but they did not stop to help.

We were desperate and exhausted. Suddenly on the seventh day at night, my boat came to shore. We did not know where this place was until the police came and we knew we had arrived in Malaysia. After that, they took us to Pulau Bidong Refugee Camp; it was a small island of Malaysia. Now I thought that my story was too good to be true. I stayed at a refugee camp for about nine months, then I came to Australia under my brother's sponsorship. I arrived in Melbourne in the spring of 1985. I felt very strange when I got the bus from Melbourne airport to the Midway Hostel, I saw many things. The traffic, the houses, the life were all different to my country and many gardens filled with beautiful flowers. I started to learn about the Australian way of life.

I was very worried about my new life here, and whether I would be able to find a job, because my English was very poor. Sometimes I felt very upset because of my language problem, and I got very homesick.

I stayed at the Midway Hostel for about one month, then I moved out because I had some friends who found a job for me. I worked as a jewellery manufacturer, because I was a jeweller in Vietnam and I felt a bit happier then.

I worked in this factory in Melbourne for about three years, where I learnt many interesting things about my job.

In 1999 I moved to Sydney because the weather in Melbourne was not suitable for my wife and my children, they were always getting sick.

At the momoent, my children like living in Sydney and they have a very good school too. I feel very lucky that my family is living here and the education is very good for my children. I also think that, Australia is a lucky country for everyone so I love Australia, the country my family is living in.

That is my father's story and he told me that Australia is his second native country, but he will never forget Vietnam. He also told me that I am very lucky to be born here. Many children in Vietnam are unlucky because they are very poor, they work hard and they cannot go to school.

Now I come to school to learn the Vietnamese language every Saturday, because I was born here so I don't know much about Vietnam.

I thank my Vietnamese teacher for teaching me about Vietnamese culture. Whenever I come to Vietnamese class, it always reminds me of my roots.