After the Fall of Saigon, my father was ill-treated in communist hard-labour camps, where many of his colleagues died, because he was a Signal Corps Lieutenant Colonel. Many former military officers’ houses were forfeited, and their families were forced to relocate to the new economic zones.
The local government told Mum they wanted to take two storeys of our four-storey house and turn it into an administration office. Mum realised that their next step would be stripping us of our house completely and forcing us to move. At the time Mum had approximately 7kg of gold – earned from years working as children’s wear producer/wholesaler – stockpiled and hidden, so she took some and bribed the local officials to leave our house alone. Then, together with her sister, Mum opened a ‘co-operative clothing factory’ at our house. Regardless, the fear of losing the house never left our minds.
In 1979, I passed the University entrance exam, out-competing the children of the Communists and demobilised communist soldiers who were granted extra marks. During the first few days at the University, all newspapers published an announcement by the Prime Minister that children of Chinese and bourgeoisie families and of former military officers were not allowed to study at University. Even though three months later the decision was reversed and I was allowed back at the University, I realised that my family and I would always be considered the enemy of the communist regime. Had I been a male, because of my family’s background, the Communists would have forced me to fight in the war with China at the time, or to join the Youth Volunteers to clear waste land. I would wish I could escape Vietnam to ask the Free World to help free my father or to try sponsoring my family.
After four failed attempts spanning four years, I finally succeeded in escaping Vietnam by boat to Malaysia in 11/1983. Like most others, I saw America as our biggest past ally and wanted to go there. A British priest advised me, that as an adult ‘orphan’, I needed to get my fathers’ military papers before I could be accepted by the American delegate. Mail correspondence from and to the island took ages and sometimes could be lost.
As the Australian delegate was the first to interview refugees after the Christmas break, I became their interpreter and applied to be settled in Australia.
In the camp, I learnt that there were a high-ranking communist policeman’s wife and niece seeking asylum after the officer was arrested. The Communists ordered the husband to organise refugee boats in which they placed communist spies to infiltrate the Vietnamese community and Australian government in and amongst genuine refugees who didn’t know that they had contacted the Communists to arrange the escape. The woman’s husband was executed after it was discovered he didn’t turn in all the gold he got from the passengers.
I also heard a man who claimed he was a Colonel, but the American delegate found his name in their database marked as deceased so they rejected him. He said he was a local who jumped on board and got a free ride when he discovered the refugees were trying to board the boat secretly at night. However, there were rumors he boarded the boat when it was stopped temporarily by a communist sea patrol. He finally was accepted by Australia after he passed the interview, even without any of his papers.
These days Australia has no negative feelings towards communist Vietnam, so the communist spies don’t have to find it hard to resettle here.
I only learned of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war after 4 years staying in the country, and more recently that there were some who said Australia was reluctantly dragged into it by America. I’m forever grateful that Australia, which represented the Free World to me, has generously taken me in.
My thanks, you take me in,
Give me freedom akin to gold.
Government who uphold,
Human rights and untold fairness.
A country that’s classless,
Democracy, frankness and care,
Are best practiced affairs,
Plus racism just dare not grow.