30 April this year was the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. For me personally, it’s been a moment to pause and reflect about the past and how that connects with the present, given my family’s history.
On the anniversary, I organised an event called Forty Years On, which brought together seven different Vietnamese-Australian writers for a special night of stories. It ended up being a great event, a rewarding night with more than 175 people attending at Ashfield Town Hall. So much bigger than I anticipated but the support I received from the staff at Ashfield Library was wonderful and we had a lot of publicity. I recently found out that two of the stories will be commissioned for ABC Radio National’s Earshot program, which I’m pleased about, because it will give those tales the bigger audience they deserve.
My story was about meeting up with friends of my parents in Austria, which I visited for the first time last year (and loved). The last time they all saw each other was in 1980 at the refugee camp on Pulau Bidong.
I figured it was going to be a long shot to find a sixtysomething year old Vietnamese man living in Austria, a country of more than eight million people…but with Google, it took about 30 seconds. The results came back with just one name. Turns out that Austria only took in around 2000 Vietnamese refugees, a mere fraction of Australia’s total intake.
During my brief stay in Salzburg, I wrote a half-formed blog post, but instead of publishing it, I decided to develop it further into a fully formed story that could be told live. The resulting piece, along with the rest of the stories told that night, were published on the SBS Vietnamese website in a collection called 40 Years On: Our Stories. Below are some photos from my visit.
They took me back to their modest apartment, in a public housing area of Salzburg. They’d downsized a decade ago because their six children had grown up and all lived in Vienna, only coming back to Salzburg to visit. I could see why their children preferred living in the big city and wanted their parents move to be closer to them all. “I’d be fine to move,” said his wife, whom I called bác Công gái. “But bác Công doesn’t want further disruption to his life.”
When I went to Adelaide a few months ago, I also took the opportunity to meet people my parents hadn’t seen in nearly as long, an Australian couple who were my parents’ ‘sponsors’ when they first arrived in 1980. This is what I wrote at the time and shared on Facebook:
This is Alex and Gill. I met them for the first time today at their home in the Adelaide Hills. These good hearted people from the Lutheran Church supported my parents when they first arrived in Australia in 1980 and helped them where they could, making them feel welcome in their new home of Australia. They showed me a photo I’ve never seen before, a picnic in the Belair National Park. They were both born overseas so understood what it was like being a migrant and the strange twists of fate that bring people here. Alex’s friend sold cars and he was the one that got my dad the car which would eventually take him from Adelaide to our new home of Sydney, more than 1000km away. They lost touch not long after that so they never knew what happened to my parents until today.