I don’t plan to comment on the final episode of Immigration Nation in any detail. It undoubtedly is an excellent resource for discussion, however. Do explore the site.
These facts fascinate me.
Only 1% of the total immigration intake since 1976 is from boat people.
Australia has one of the highest rates of cross-cultural marriage in the world.
And God bless Malcolm Fraser.
I thought the explanation of the politics of boat people mania well done: boat people give the impression the government is not in control and also poison the discourse on immigration. This is made worse by the usual suspects in the media – tabloid press, talkback blowhards. Result: draconian policies out of all proportion to the size of the “problem”.
I met my first boat person at Wollongong High in 1980. He was either Cambodian or Lao. He turned up at school on his first day still in a military uniform. I was deputed to help him with his English. I had very little idea how to go about this. (My ESL career began to happen ten years later.)
The first Vietnamese boat person I really got to know was Hung Nguyen.
More than 30 years ago, during the Vietnam War, Mr Nguyen escaped his home in Saigon with his family in a fishing boat, and arrived on Australian shores.
“As a personal reflection, everything that I am today, I owe to the Australian taxpayer who had fished me out from the South China Seas, clothed, fed, and educated me,” said Mr Nguyen, who spent his teenage years in Armidale, NSW, and later studied medicine at the University of Sydney. Below is an edited extract from Mr Nguyen’s personal account of what happened the year he turned 13, which he wrote six years ago.
The Year I Turned 13 by Hung Nguyen
The year I turned 13, the 20-year-old war between the Communist North and non-Communist South Vietnam, where we lived, was drawing to an end. The American military and its allies had abandoned South Vietnam and the collapse of Saigon was an expected event.
I was born and grew up in this atrocious war in which no side was blameless. I remember artillery shells that whistled regularly at night over our heads and exploded, to our relief, somewhere in the distance. Some nights, when the shells fell too close, we hurried into our sandbagged shelter. I can still see in my mind’s eyes neighbourswho were there one day and vanished the next. I was used to seeing men carrying assault rifles in the streets and invalid returned soldiers who sold lottery tickets from their wheelchairs because our society could no longer support them.
My father was a full-time surgeon# at the local military hospital. He saw some patients after-hours in his rooms, which was an annex of our house. I grew up with the acceptance that life was shared by us, healthy people, and those who were unfortunate enough to have to queue outside our place in the hot and sticky evenings, with their malarial illnesses, tuberculosis coughs or haemorrhagic Dengue fever pallor.
Life was not all gloom and doom. We children played soccer in the streets, teased dogs around the corner, fought each other at school and climbed the gnarled flame trees, which blossomed each summer and bore long, tart, bean-like fruits for the next season. How interminably long the summers were back then.
I looked forward to the end of the war and the return of some of my uncles and cousins who were off fighting, sometimes for opposing sides. In the developing mind of a 13-year-old, it was logical to end the war, live in peace, re-direct all our efforts to rebuild the country and get rid of diseases. I could hardly wait to grow up quickly.
The year I turned 26, I worked as a surgical resident at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. The preceding 13 years saw the final fall of Saigon. My father was put away in the hard labour camps that were euphemistically called re-education camps for being a doctor on the wrong side of the war. There had been times when we thought we would not see him again. The Communist Party, in the name of the people, confiscated our house. We were the enemy. We were not part of the people, were not needed in the rebuild of our country and deemed to be the individuals most likely to sabotage that effort. One day our existence would be no longer required.
There were whispered secrets, covert trips in the dark, a dash across the Siam Gulf in a fishing boat and many months in a Malaysian refugee camp. We were well treated there. Eventually, we were selected to come to Australia, a country about which we knew little.
Grateful for the opportunity to remake our lives, touched that people in this new land came to treat us better then our own people did, my family was energetic and industrious in our efforts to make the best of our chances. Our high school teachers, in Armidale, NSW, were kind and patient to us children, and we repaid their efforts by doing rather well in the Higher School Certificate examinations.
Medical school was uneventful. Almost all of my fellow students were nice, fun loving and considerate. Some came from incredibly privileged backgrounds and some much poorer. Some of the more privileged students had difficulty comprehending any other worlds different from theirs while some of their less wealthy friends made careers out of resenting this lack of comprehension. The summers at medical school were still long but they were not to last.
Surgical residency was relentless hard work and long hours, the sort of hours that triggered the Australian Medical Association’s call for safe hours lately. It felt safe enough at the time but it was the sort of punishing hours that only a handful of young and very resilient people can do, and only for a few years at that. For most surgical residents, however, surgery was our single-minded love and purpose during that period. We lived and breathed it. We were to learn valuable skills and innumerable crafts to better care for our patients later in life…
Source: THE ROYAL AUSTRALASIAN COLLEGE OF SURGEONS SURGICAL NEWS Vol:7 No:8 September 2006.
I knew Hung at the tail end of his medical studies. We had many long conversations. He is being very modest when he says he did “rather well” in the HSC. If I recall correctly he came 4th in the state. (Please correct me, Hung, if you happen to read this.) He also wrote poetry in Vietnamese, French and English.
# So Armidale Hospital scored a top surgeon – who could not legally practise his calling. He was, I believe, officially a cleaner.