Photograph, United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
I was six years-old when I left Vietnam on a small boat with my father, sister and my aunt. My mother and another sister stayed in Vietnam.
We sailed for seven days until we reached Indonesia. The boat was crammed with people and there wasn’t much food or water. Some people were very sick. Others jumped overboard because they couldn’t cope. We weren’t sure if we would survive.
It was difficult to get a place on the boat because people were imprisoned for trying to escape Vietnam at that time. It was risky and we were very fearful about what might happen. We’d left all our belongings and our homes. My parents paid the captain in gold pieces but if you didn’t have any money, you had no chance.
We stayed in a refugee camp in Indonesia for about six months. My father said we were going to France because we had a relative there but at the last minute he changed his mind and we came to Australia.
We arrived in Melbourne in 1978 with almost nothing. We lived in a migrant hostel in Nunawading, which was quite nice. I particularly remember the food. We used to have our lunch packed for us and I still remember picking up my lunch in a paper bag before school. Many migrants weren’t accustomed to Australian food but we all appreciated that at least there was food.
I experienced a bit of prejudice at primary school. I was called names but I learnt not to take it too seriously and put it aside.
About a year after we arrived in Australia we left the hostel with one shopping trolley of belongings. We took the train to a housing commission flat in Fitzroy. We lived on the twelfth floor and it was pretty scary travelling up and down the lift. My dad worked afternoon shifts at a factory so we hardly ever saw him. He’d cook and leave everything ready for us when we got home from school. We really missed mum. I remember the day we got the news that she was coming to Australia and we were all jumping up and down with excitement.
My family are Chinese-Vietnamese. In Vietnam my grandparents had a business and we were very well off - we even had housekeepers. In Australia things were very different but the church helped us a lot by giving us clothes and furniture.
My parents woke at three or four most mornings to go to work and somehow managed to save enough money to start a business. They opened a Vietnamese and Chinese video store in Collingwood, which they later converted into a restaurant and take away food business. My sisters and I helped out at the restaurant, taking orders and serving. We did our homework late at night at the restaurant tables and often took time off school to fill in for staff. In the end my parents realised that we were missing too much school, so they sold the business and we moved to Springvale.
Clayton South seemed a long way from the city at the time but I feel at home here now. In fact I never go into the city any more because everything is right here. All the Asian food we eat is sold in Springvale Road and the community is very close. I really enjoy living here.
Article Cat. Blended Voices
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