Vietnamese Community in Victoria 1976-77.
Nguyễn Quang Duy
According to the preamble of the current Constitution, the Vietnamese Community in Victoria was established in the late 1970s, but it does not indicate the date of establishment.
According to information from the Vietnamese Community in Australia, our Community was established at the National Conference organised in Canberra on December 26, 1977.
The representatives of Victoria were Dr Nguyễn Triệu Đan, Mrs Huỳnh Bích Cẩm and Mr Đoàn Việt Trung. Although Dr Nguyễn Văn Hưng did not attend this Conference, he was later invited to become its General Secretary from 1977 to 1982.
Thanks to the information from Mrs Huỳnh Bích Cẩm and thanks to a number of documents found, the Vietnamese Friendly Society was established on February 10, 1976, as the forerunner of the Vietnamese Community in Victoria.
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Vietnamese Friendly Society
In the article that was written by Dr Nguyễn Văn Hưng, under the pseudonym Đào Phụ Hồ, published on Văn Nghệ weekly newspaper on August 12, 2004, the Vietnamese Friendly Society was established on February 10, 1976.
According to Dr Nguyễn Triệu Đan's memoirs, after Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser had decided to accept political refugees, in February 1976, he and a few Vietnamese students organized a meeting to establish the Vietnamese Friendly Society, with the aim of assisting the Victorian government to welcome and to help Vietnamese new arrivals.
This Society elected a provisional Executive Committee consisting of 4 people, including him and his wife Mrs Huỳnh Bích Cẩm, and he was appointed to be the first President.
Mrs Huỳnh Bích Cẩm told me that the meeting had only 7 or 8 people attending, and the Executive Committee also had Dr Nguyễn Văn Hưng and Catholic Brother Huỳnh San. In 1979, Brother San was ordained a priest.
Mrs Cẩm could not remember the names of the other founding members, but most of them were university students.
According to the ABS national census in June 1976, there were 382 Vietnamese living around Melbourne, so the number of founding members is modest, but not a small ratio.
In the beginning, Mrs Cẩm said that the main aim of the Society was to create a connection with Australian officials. Mr Đan had experience and was acquainted with Australian politicians, religious leaders, journalists and academics, and was therefore nominatted for the role of President of the Association.
In his memoirs, Mr Nguyễn Triệu Đan stated more clearly: “…even though being named as the Vietnamese Friendly Society, but in reality we were just a small group of people who voluntarily the services, had no means, rely on local newspapers and other news outlets. Whenever we got information about the arrivals of our fellow Vietnamese refugees, we immediately informed each other in the group and went to visit their temporary accommodations. At the visitations, we all together held hands in hands, celebrated with excitement and lots of happiness. In terms of any specific material assistance, the people who had been here first could only help their newly arrival compatriots with interpreting and providing guidance on local life and social activities…”
About the term “Vietnamese”
Mrs Huỳnh Bích Cẩm told us that the English name of the Association was the Vietnamese Friendly Society.
Vietnamese can therefore be translated as người Việt (Vietnamese), Việt Kiều (Overseas Vietnamese) or người Việt tự do (Free Vietnamese).
Mr Đoàn Việt Trung, former President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, explained that the phrase “Việt Kiều” (Overseas Vietnamese) meant the citizens of the Republic of Vietnam living in Australia.
In contrast, the word “Hội Trưởng” or “Chủ Tịch” is translated into English as President. Meanwhile, the Vietnamese communists translate “Chủ Tịch” as Chairman.
First refugee group...
On March 19, 1976, the first group of political refugees comprised of about 20 people arrived in Melbourne from Thailand.
Mr Nguyễn Hữu Thu, a member of this group, told us that Catholic Brother Huỳnh San, Dr Nguyễn Văn Hưng and a group of female Monash University students was there to welcome the newcomers at the Tullamarine Airport, and to take them to the hospital for a check up before they were transferred to the East Bridge Hostel, Nunawading.
On February 7, 1977, the second group of Vietnamese refugees consisted of about 250 people. Catholic Brother Bùi Đức Tiến belonged to this group. In 1979, Brother Tiến was ordained as a priest.
Father Tiến told us that Brother Huỳnh San, Dr Nguyễn Văn Hưng and Dr Trần Minh Hà went to Tullamarine Airport, Melbourne, to welcome the new arrivals and to help them in their initial settlement.
Boat people and political debates
On April 26, 1976, the Kiên Giang boat brought five boat people directly to Australia. Before arriving in Australia, when the boat had reached Malaysia on the planned route to Guam, they were given a map showing the sea route to Australia by an Australian ship captain. The Australian captain showed the group the way to reach Australia by boat and convinced them to sail directly to Australia where they would be accepted lawfully.
In 1976, three other boats with 111 boat people also arrived directly in Australia. By 1977, nearly 30 more boats with a total of 868 people had landed in Australia.
On December 13, 1975, the Labor Party lost the election, Mr Gough Whitlam lost the position of Prime Minister, but he continued to hold the position of the opposition leader and still maintained the tough line to prevent Vietnamese refugees from settling in Australia.
Mr Gough Whitlam took the case of boat people from Vietnam boating directly to Australia as the weapon to run the general federal election campaign.
On December 10, 1977, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser won the second term, but Vietnamese boat people were still the subject of debate in Parliament.
In 1978, an additional 746 Vietnamese boat people went straight to Australia, the Parliamentary Opposition proposed setting up a detention camp in Darwin, pulling refugee boats back out to the sea and limiting social security benefits to boat people.
All the proposals of the Opposition were rejected by Prime Minister Fraser. In retaliation, the opposition did not allow the government to accept more Vietnamese people from refugee camps.
Meanwhile, the refugee camps in Southeast Asia are packed with new boat people. In 1977 there were 21,276 people; in 1978 with 106,489 people; and only in the first 6 months of 1979 up to 166,604 boat people.
Many boat people had been robbed, raped and kidnapped by Thai pirates, the boats were pulled out to the open seas after arriving to shore. This resulted in the boats sinking with many refugees dying. This caused many boats to desperately continue their hazardous journey through dangerous waters to Australia.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated up to half a million Vietnamese that had vanished or were presumed dead on their escaping way to freedom.
On July 21, 1979, the Conference on Refugees and Displaced Persons in South East Asia was convened in Geneva with 66 countries attending to find solutions for Indochinese refugees.
The Fraser government agreed that Australia would receive tens of thousands more refugees every year. In the same time, there was negotiation with the Vietnamese communist authorities to allow Vietnamese refugees who already settled in Australia to sponsor their relatives in Vietnam to reunite with them in Australia.
First President of the Vietnamese Friendly Society
Dr Nguyễn Triệu Đan was the President of the Vietnamese Friendly Society for the first term in 1976-77.
He graduated in law from the University of Paris, in France, and then served as public servant of the Republic of Vietnam from 1955 to 1975 in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
He served as the Consul General in India, a member of the Republic of Vietnam delegation in Paris peace talks, France, and then Ambassador in Japan. In mid-July 1975, he and his family settled in Australia.
He also made many other contributions to the Vietnamese community. In the early 1983, he was leader of a group of 25 teachers to campaign for introducing Vietnamese into the language specific Curriculum in Victoria. By the early 1987, Vietnamese was recognised as the exam subject of community language for a high school diploma in Victoria.
Mr Nguyễn Việt Long former President of the Vietnamese Community in Victoria and former President of the Vietnamese Veterans Association, told us Mr Đan also helped advocate for veterans of the Republic of Vietnam Army to get similar pension benefits as provided to Australian veterans.
In October 1991, Dr Đan established the Friday Club which was a political forum to campaign for human rights, freedom and democracy in Vietnam.
Mr Nguyễn Triệu Đan passed away on May 15, 2013 in Melbourne at the age of 84 years old.
His wife, Mrs Huỳnh Bích Cẩm, at the age of eighty is still very active in comunity activities. She founded the Australian Vietnamese Women Association in 1983, and still remains the Secretary General and the Chief Excecutive Officer of the Association. We will have a separate article about this Association.
The second President
Mr Đoàn Việt Trung, former President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia, provided the information that Dr Nguyễn Văn Hưng was the one who drafted the Constitution and was the second President of the Society during 1977-78, but he did not remember anyone else in the Executive Committee.
From November 1975 to the end of 1978, Dr Hưng was the editor of monthly newsletter named “Người Việt Tự Do” (Free Vietnamese), printed by roneo machine and distributed freely to Vietnamese new arrivals.
Mr Đoàn Việt Trung was responsible for sketching pictures in the newsletter. Mr Hưng and Mr Trung had asked Monash University library to provide a corner in the library to keep the monthly newsletter and books on Free Vietnamese matters.
Mr Hưng collaborated with the Department of Immigration to welcome Vietnamese refugees at the airport, to assist them at hotels, to help them to look for jobs as well as preparing for them for integration and settling into Australian society.
He organized the children Moon Festival, the Lunar New Year, Memorial of April 30, 1975, and the demonstrations against the communist delegates from Vietnam visiting Australia.
Mr Hưng was also General Secretary of the Vietnamese Association in Australia for 5 years, continuously from 1977 to 1982.
He had campaigned for the petition requesting 3EA ethnic radio to include the Vietnamese radio program and later was invited to hold the Vietnamese Language Department Head of Radio 3EA for a a number of years.
The first radio station broadcasted the Vietnamese programme on weekly basis from April 25, 1978 and ran until mid-1992, when it merged with 2EA Sydney to form SBS radio.
Dr Hưng and Mr Nguyễn Ngọc Phách also conducted weekly radio programs on Radio Australia to broadcast in Vietnam which had lasted many years.
Dr Hưng is the author of thousands of articles and researches, under the pseudonyms Đào Phụ Hồ, Nguyễn Lương Triều, Nguyễn Nhất Đình, Ngụy Ông, Nguyễn Tất Thắng, Đằng Phong Hầu, and published in many Vietnamese newspapers.
In the early 1990s, when he knew that I was writing the long essay for my Master Degree on the topic: “The current situation of education in Vietnam”, Mr Hưng himself came to my house asking to borrow my essay and research materials to assist in the writing of his articles.
Dr Hưng, Proffesor Bửu Khải and Mr Nguyễn Ngọc Phách also built up and taught at the Department of Interpretation and Translation at the RMIT in Melbourne.
During 20 years of working with RMIT, he had trained hundreds of interpreters and translators. He also translated many works from Vietnamese into English, such as "The Story of the year 2000" by writer Bùi Ngọc Tấn.
Dr Hưng's main career was Technical Director of ICI British Chemical Company (later changed to Orica); his contributions to the community were done completely as volunteering.
Dr Hưng is a representative of the pioneers of the establishment of our Vietnamese community. He passed away on August 5, 2012 in Melbourne at the age of 65.
Father Huỳnh San
Father San had always been involving in community activities and was President of the Vietnamese Community in Victoria, during 1982-83.
Father San passed away on October 10, 2019, at the age of 71, with a simple funeral, the coffin was placed on the ground with a picture of Father San wearing a vest with a yellow flag with three red stripes.
Father San wore this vest with the Republic of Vietnam flag at the priestly ordination ceremony nearly 40 years ago.
Please see the article on the Vietnamese Catholic Community to learn more about our respectable priest Father Huỳnh San.
By around 1978 there were over 1,000 Vietnamese in Melbourne. In order to avoid being branded as citizens of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Vietnamese newcomers rejected the term “Việt Kiều” (Overseas Vietnamese) and replaced it with “người Việt tự do” (Free Vietnamese).
The name of the Vietnamese Friendly Society was changed and called “Hội Ái Hữu người Việt tự do” in Vietnamese.
Mr Trần Ngọc Thọ, President of the Vietnamese Friendly Society for the year term of 1979-80, said that when he came to Melbourne in early 1979 the name of “người Việt tự do” had been widely used.
Nguyễn Quang Duy