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Peter and Julia

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Photograph, United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Peter: I come from Saigon in South Vietnam but itís now called Ho Chi Minh City. During the war I was a soldier for the Americans and also worked for the South Vietnamese Government. After the war, when the Communists took over, I found it very hard to live in Vietnam. People who had worked for the Americans and the South Vietnamese Government were in big trouble. I couldnít get work and I was worried that the Communist Government would catch me. Fortunately, I was only a soldier of low rank. If I had been high-ranking or a soldier for a long time, I could have been imprisoned for 20 years.

I stayed in Vietnam for six years after the war but it was very hard for me to make a living. My family bought me a boat so I could make my living fishing but that didnít work either.

I escaped Vietnam by boat in 1981. We sailed for ten days until we reached Malaysia. Initially we tried to sail to Indonesia but encountered many problems on our journey. Our boat was only nine metres long and two-and-a-half meters wide, with a small engine and we had 13 people on board. We had no compass and navigated by the sun and the stars. After three days at sea we sailed into a big storm with very strong winds and huge waves. Fortunately a friend of mine on board had been a captain in the navy and knew what to do. He said we must return to Thailand where it would be sheltered from the storm and not continue to Indonesia because we would die.

It took us two days and two nights to sail back to Thailand. The beach where we arrived was beautiful but Thailand had too many refugees and wouldnít accept us. However, they gave us food and petrol and we continued to Malaysia.

I stayed in a refugee camp in Malaysia until May 1984. We didnít have much food but the camp wasnít too bad.

I first applied to go to America because I had been a soldier for the American army but they wouldnít accept me so I applied to other countries. I lived in the camp for a long time waiting for a country to accept me. It made me upset as I saw people moving to other places in the world and I was still there. Then, after working for the Australian delegation in the camp for one year, a lady helped me get a visa for Australia. I didnít know anything about Australia but I was happy to go to any country in the world.

The day after I arrived in Melbourne I took a bus into the city with some friends. We walked around and it looked very different from anything I had ever seen before. I saw some punks with no shoes, torn clothes, cuts on their chin and their hair sticking up in Mohawks. I thought, what has happened here? I was scared and I told my friends that I couldnít stay in Australia.

But people told me that if I did the right thing I would pick up the Australian way of life. Soon I forgot about the punks I had seen in the city and about a year after I arrived I started feeling happy living here.

I changed my name when I got to Australia because nobody could pronounce it correctly and I thought it was better to have a name that everybody could pronounce.
In the 1980s, the Vietnamese community in Melbourne was quite small and it was hard because we didnít receive much help. We had to find out everything for ourselves. Australia had a different language, different food and it was difficult to buy Vietnamese food. Things are different now. Some people who live in Springvale donít speak a word of English and it doesnít matter. If they need to go to a hospital there are many Vietnamese doctors and if they have problems in the courts there are interpreters.

But it was pretty easy for migrants to find work in Melbourne in the 1980s. If you didnít like one job, you could find another one the next day. The first job I found was building air conditioning units for Repco and I stayed there for seven or eight years until the factory closed. After that I ran my own business for a while and I now work as a truck driver. I drive all over Australia. Itís a good job for me because I love to travel.

My English isnít very good so I donít really know about everything that happens in this country but I canít complain. Every country has good and bad people. We just keep quiet, work every day and look after our family. We raise our children to do the right thing and we have no problems.

Julia: I also left Vietnam by boat and lived in the same refugee camp as David in Malaysia but I was only in the camp for about four months. I had family living in Australia and soon after I arrived in the camp a letter arrived from my brother with information about coming to Australia.

When I first arrived in Melbourne in June 1983 it was very cold. I thought the weather in Australia would be the same as Vietnam and I was wearing only a t-shirt and light pants. When I left the airport, I was so cold that I wrapped my towel around me to keep warm.

The day I arrived in Australia I took a bus. The bus driver asked me, ďWhere do you want to go?Ē but I didnít understand him and I didnít know what to say. I was worried I would not be able to pick up English but my brother told me that everybody thinks this when they first arrive.

I changed my name to Julia after I arrived because Julia was my favourite name and I thought it sounded so beautiful.

Article Cat. Blended Voices
Article Ref. 153

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