REAL PEO­PLE.

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

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - CONTENTS - AS TOLD TO DENISE RAWARD

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...”

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