I live in inner-city Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I have lived in Brisbane (excepting a 7 month affair with Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) the entirety of my conscious life – I have no memory of living anywhere else.
But I was not born in Brisbane. I was born in a place three hours travel by boat from Ho Phong, near Bac Lieu, halfway between Ca Mau and Sai Gon, in Viet Nam. My family left Viet Nam for many reasons: one was my Grandmother; another was that our land was taken from us. It is for another time that I will explore the reasons we left Viet Nam.
The reason we ended up in Australia was accident – or a malicious joke. In 1975, three of my maternal uncles – numbers three, eight and nine – naively accepted a US troops offer to take any Vietnamese who wished to leave the soon to be Communist governed country to the land of the free. They were, along with other guile-less Vietnamese men, women and children, unceremoniously dumped in Hong Kong. My distraught grandmother wanted to join them. Uncle number 3 was her eldest surviving son, uncle number 9 was, at the time, her youngest son. They applied, and their application was accepted, to come to Australia.
In 1979, a portion of my extended maternal family left Viet Nam. With them went my eldest brother (Hia Hai) who had a weak heart, my second eldest brother, The Black Belt and my second eldest sister, Big Boss. On the high seas, their boat was picked up by the Italian Red Cross. My grandmother, grandfather, maternal aunts, uncles, cousins and Hia Hai, The Black Belt and Big Boss lived in Italy for more than 12 months and applied through the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees to go to the US, where they thought my uncles were. Somehow, my uncles had got to Australia. Somehow, the now Italian resident portion of my family found out, and somehow, they came to Australia in early 1981. The Australian government allocated the family housing in Brisbane, Queensland. Hia Hai was fostered to an Italian family and remained in Italy for a decade.
In 1982, my immediate family – Um, Ba, the balance of my siblings (3 sisters and 1 brother) and I – left Viet Nam. We went by boat to Malaysia, where we lived in a refugee camp at Sangi Besi for 12 months. My family were allocated government housing initially at Wacol – a place that is now Brisbane’s adult men’s prison. We eventually moved to inner-city south Brisbane – an industrial and multicultural suburb – which has now become trendy.
Inner-city Brisbane is where I grew up, where I made friends from Hong Kong, China, Korea, Lebanon, Greece, Italy, Thursday Island, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam. As the years got on, my family could not afford the rent so we moved to a suburb that was no more than 10 kms from Brisbane City, but felt, to a ten year old, like half a state away. When I was old enough, I moved back.
I love Brisbane. My family are (mostly) nearby and the town is big enough, and small enough, to suit me. The inner-city is multicultural, cosmopolitan and environmentally aware. Mountains for my partner and I to explore are not far away; a large brown river much like the river of my origin winds its way near my home; the weather is temperate and pleasant for 10 months of the year (December and January are almost unbearably hot). It is not perfect – but nowhere is. One day, I will move away – but I undoubtedly expect to return. I am fierce about being Australian, because of my Vietnamese features, people expect me to be from somewhere else.
I am not.
I am, and always will be, from here.