Arrived in Australia: 1978
From: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
Reason for leaving: Communist occupation of Southern Vietnam
More information — Wikipedia: Fall of Saigon
Where she comes from:
Cuc was born in Tay Ninh province in South Vietnam. She grew up in a village and moved to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) to go to school and university. She studied social sciences and English at university and got married to her Husband Minh in 1975. They lived in Vietnam throughout the “Vietnam” war.
How she got here:
Cuc and Minh tried to escape several times but were unsuccessful. Finally, in 1978, three years after South Vietnam was taken over by North Vietnam, they disguised as fishermen and headed for Malaysia in a small, flat-bottomed riverboat. Thirty-four asylum seekers were on board and after only two days they ran out of water and had to depend on fruit for hydration. They were crammed, petrified and thought they were going to drown. After a terrifying eight days at sea and with no supplies left, they were picked up by the Malaysian Navy and taken to a refugee camp in Pulau Tengah. Here, Cuc found out she was pregnant, but luckily after only six weeks in the camp they were on their way to start a new life in Australia. They had no money and few possessions and so as not to come empty handed to their new home, Cuc sold her wedding ring to buy a small suitcase. This red suitcase has become a National Treasure and is on display at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne.
When she arrived in Australia, Cuc felt like a bird released to freedom. From the start, she was determined to work hard and give back to the country that accepted her. In the beginning, Cuc and Minh stayed in a refugee hostel in Highpoint and then in a Housing Commission flat in Kensington. Their son was born shortly after their arrival and Cuc remembers feeling isolated in those first few years: it was hard to make friends and there were not many Vietnamese people in her area at the time. She did not know about many services and often was afraid to ask. When Cuc she in labour, she didn’t know that an ambulance service was available and instead caught a bus to the hospital only to receive an angry lecture from the delivery doctor.
Cuc’s command of English allowed her to work straight away and assist other Vietnamese refugees in their resettlement. She often visited schools with her red suitcase and told her story.
She had worked so hard to come to Australia and instead of extending a welcoming hand these people were cruel.
Sadly, she faced a lot of discrimination from the other occupants of her building. Sometimes her clothes were thrown out of the communal laundry and in the lift people spat in front of her and told her to go back home. This made Cuc very upset, sad and lonely at that time. She had worked so hard to come to Australia and instead of extending a welcoming hand these people were cruel. After a while she developed thick skin and did not let it bother her. She also met many kind people, who remain friends to this day. She believes prejudice has decreased since the time when she first arrived and people accept the multiculturalism of this society much more.
The biggest challenge to resettling in Australia was when Cuc had to work, study and raise a family – all at the same time. She had to take her newborn to the classroom and when she came home the children were waiting! Getting a secure job was also a big challenge. She remembers with a smile some of the social blunders that she experienced. For example, when instructed to “bring a plate” to a BBQ, she responded by bringing just an empty plate!
Cuc completed a Diploma in Ethnic Studies and Bachelor of Arts at the Phillip Institute of Technology (now RMIT) in early 1980s to start a new career.
Cuc currently works as the Multicultural Services Office for Centrelink. She is also very involved in volunteering and organizes Clean Up Australia Day, helps out with the Good Friday appeal, volunteers at the Rotary Club and with the Vietnamese and other refugee communities. She is the co-founder of the Vietnamese Cultural Heritage Centre in Sunshine.
Cuc has two sons and one daughter. The youngest is competing a university degree and the others have graduated and are working in banking and pharmaceuticals.
Hobbies and Achievements:
Cuc’s hobbies and achievements are strongly linked to her work and volunteering. She often gives public talks about her journey to Australia and helps other Vietnamese people learn English. She holds several volunteer positions such as on the Board of Directors with Western Region Health Centre, School Council President with Western English Language School, Community Advisor with Western Health, Area Governor N13 International Toastmaster, Committee Member of North West Migrant Resource Centre in St Albans, and Committee Member of Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley Local learning networks.
In 2002 she received a Public Service medal and in 2007, she received three awards: The Refugee Recognition Award, VMC Meritorious Ward and a Victorian Women's Honour Role. She feels happy when she makes other people happy. When she has a spare moment, she likes to walk, read and travel.
What she likes about Australia the most:
Cuc loves Australia for the opportunities it has provided to her and her family. She believes the opportunities she has had to study and work here are greater than she would have had in Vietnam.
What she misses about Vietnam the most:
Cuc sometimes misses her relatives, neighbourhood and the fresh tropical fruit of Vietnam. But she would not go back to live there; Australia is her home.
Hopes and dreams:
Cuc hopes that her children get happily married, have children and are successful in reaching their own hopes and dreams. For herself, she hopes to retire comfortably and spend a lot of time volunteering. The Red Cross Blood Bank, working with the elderly, fundraising for earthquakes and floods, working in developing countries and teaching English are just a few of her future volunteering ideas.
She would also like to travel, learn another language or to play a musical instrument and try her hand at art and craft – to do the things she didn’t have time for when she was working and raising a family. Finally, if she ever has time, she would like to write the memoirs of her life to pass on to her grandchildren.
Cuc thanks Australia for accepting her when she was homeless. She wants to give back to the country that gave her so much – it’s part of her culture to give back to those who give you. She believes in working hard and contributing to society through volunteering. She encourages her children and everyone else to volunteer. It is an excellent thing to do!