Meet my friends Liem and Diep Tran and their wonderful family Ha, Vi and Duong who all live in Melbourne. Their other daughter, Hang was teaching and so not able to be there. I sat around their table this week enjoying a great meal, yes with delicious home made spring rolls, and reminiscing about their lives in Australia since their escape from Vietnam as “ boat people” in the early 1980’s. They love their garden…mint and chillies on the table.. and I was privileged to be given the best orange from their tree and to share their frustration that their greenhouse had blown down in a recent storm.
I first met them when they arrived in Devonport, Tasmania from a refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur. I was teaching at Devonport High at the time and used to visit them after school as a volunteer to help out with learning English. Liem had been a soldier in the South Vietnamese army fighting alongside Australian and US troops but left to his fate when the allies withdrew. They escaped from Vietnam by boat and were picked up in Malaysian waters. They had three children when they arrived, Hang, Ha and the youngest, Vi , who had been born in the refugee camp. After a few years in Devonport where they were very isolated, they moved to Melbourne where they had a son. I lost contact with them and over the years have often wondered what happened to them. We were reunited when they contacted me through the Senate.
It was such a thrill after all these years to see them again and to meet their children, now very impressive young adults. They are all university educated as a result of their parents working incredibly long hours in often physically demanding jobs and now together with their parents are making a great contribution to our country. It was so humbling to hear them talk with such pride about their family, their struggle to make a new life and all that they have achieved. It is a pity that the media doesn’t go back and follow up on the first wave of refugee “boat people” to see why people had to leave, what struggles they have endured and what amazing contributions they have made. It is a story of courage and endurance and resilience.
As I left, I was thinking that life is full of returns as poet, James McAuley once said, and it makes me even more determined to plant and nurture the seed of generosity in the Australian body politic.