ONE OF 281 VIETNAMESE BABIES AIRLIFTED TO AUSTRALIA BEFORE THE FALL OF SAIGON, THIS ASHMORE MAN WANTS TO THANK THE ANZACS (AND HIS DAD) FOR HIS LIFE OF GOOD FORTUNE
Iwas born in Vietnam in 1975 and was one of the babies airlifted to Australia as part of Operation Babylift in the final days of the Vietnam War.
There were around 10,000 Vietnamese children evacuated to the US, Canada, France, Germany and Australia.
Some were orphans and others were left at orphanages by mothers or families who feared what might happen when the North Vietnamese took control.
I was on one of two flights that came to Australia. Most of the babies were transported in boxes and I would have been around six months old.
The man who was to become my dad was a doctor near the Amberley airforce base and he organised a group of local doctors to meet the flights because they’d heard the babies mightn’t be in good health.
When he asked what was going to happen to us, the RAAF really didn’t know as it was a last-minute emergency flight so my dad more or less took me home.
I grew up the youngest of eight kids on North Stradbroke Island where my dad was the island doctor. I never felt like I was adopted. They’ve always just been my family.
I went to Dunwich primary school on the island and had a couple of years at Villanova College at Coorparoo, where I stayed with my grandmother through the week.
I ended up getting glandular fever for about 18 months and missed a lot of school.
My dad, being a doctor, decided it was better for me to go to Cleveland High so I could be closer to home. I was the school vicecaptain and graduated from there in 1993.
My first job was driving tourist buses on the Gold Coast for my sister’s company Aries Tours. They were mainly Japanese tourists in those days and I eventually moved into operations and logistics. I’ve worked in tourist transport ever since and now manage Enterprise Rent-a-Car in Surfers Paradise.
When I was 19, one of my brothers took me back to Vietnam. It hadn’t really opened up to tourists in those days and they didn’t understand why someone who looked Vietnamese didn’t speak the language.
I didn’t really like the experience to tell the truth. I’d always thought of myself as an Aussie and that confirmed it.
Then three years ago, I went to Vietnam again with my wife and two kids. It was completely different – a lot more multicultural and open. There was much more acceptance of me as an airlift baby. Everyone knew about it and understood.
We visited the orphanage where I had been, a place called Khanh Hung which is now known as Soc Trang.
There was a church there and we spoke to the priest and the nuns who told us what they knew about the airlift.
There’s been a lot of debate about whether the airlift was the right thing to do.
Some people think it was wrong to put all those children into white families outside their culture but I’ve always thought it was a good thing for me. I have a loving family and a great life.
Growing up, I heard a lot of people say Australia should never have gone to Vietnam; that nothing good came of it.
But it was good for me. One old bloke said to me once that in a way, I was a bit like an ANZAC and I appreciated that. I’ve always remembered it.
There’s a Facebook group for Vietnamese children adopted by Australians after the war. There are some sad stories on there but I just want to say here’s a happy story. I’ve been very lucky.
“THE MAN WHO WAS TO BECOME MY DAD WAS A DOCTOR NEAR THE AMBERLEY AIRFORCE BASE...”