Cuc Lam immigrated from Vietnam as a refugee in 1978.
In this video Cuc tells us about her escape, her eventual resettlement in Australia, the new life she has built for herself and her family, and her dedication to helping other refugees.
Many time that I attempt to escape since 1976 and only 1978 that trip was successful. We travel with the riverboat unaware whether that boat were successful landed in anywhere in the world, so fortunately that boat managed to avoid pirate and arrive border of Malaysia. We received a rescue from Malaysian Navy and we landed in Palau Tengah Island. During the journey it was very, very difficult with not enough water, food…our boat carried 34 people including children. The sea was very calm. If any rough sea, a day or so an hour or any minute we be drown and dead. That happen to my niece and my nephew because they also escape and die at sea as well. So that’s the reason that when I arrive in Australia I would like to share with Australian peoples come from the refugee background.
I had to disguise as a fisherman so I cannot bring anything, any belonging and wearing clothes that have to be like the village person and that shirt, the brown shirt, my mother used to wear that shirt. If I can recall that small pouch that I donated to Immigration Museum, that carried my wedding ring and my mother’s earrings. My mother pass away when I was thirteen years old so I thought if I die I still have some image from my mum with me… my mother with me…so that would satisfy me.
When we got rescued from Malaysian Navy, they left us near Palau Tengah Island. We stay there for, very lucky, for a short time. I was three months pregnant with my son and we don’t have enough food to eat, so every day we have to climb to the mountain to try to get some sea shell to eat and we brought...one little lemon and tried to squeeze on the little sea shell and eat because not enough rice and fish to eat…very, very difficult. Anyway when we were there I do a little bit of volunteer teaching English for beginning and help them do some administration there.
Then we got interview with United Nation High Commissioner to choose which country we would like to settle and they give us America, Canada, France and Australia. I chose Australia because when I was University student in my country I read a little bit about Australia. It’s a big country and, you know, not many people, friendly people…I have seen some Australian during the war as well…and I think I make the right choice, I’m happy here, happy to be Australian.
We got interview with Australian delegation and we got accepted to come to Australia. They say you will be come to Melbourne, Victoria. Anyway we go to Colombo. We have nothing to bring with us, only the shirt that I donating to Immigration Museum and my mothers earring. We decided I sold my wedding ring to purchase a suitcase that now at the Immigration Museum. I don’t want to sell my mothers earring, you know, I decided to sell my wedding ring to purchase that to bring with me, even though I have nothing to bring with me but I just want to bring with me to show that, you know, I come to a new country I got something with me and I don’t come to the new country with empty handed.
This is the ticket, the bus ticket from Saigon to Can Tho and as you can see that in Vietnamese and the time and the date 17/05/1978. OK and this is my ticket, the chair number. OK and this is very, very important ticket…if I don’t have that ticket I will stay back there now because this ticket from Saigon to the sou’ west of Vietnam Can Tho, so if I miss out this, I will never meet with the other group to go together. So this is a very crucial and privileged ticket. I also…this is some Vietnamese handwriting which is the journey detail which my husband, he’s very…he keep all detail, what time do we need, we meet, who and where, so we had to write all that as well… and as you can see on the back here’s 1978, this is a little pocket calendar that we keep…and when I was in the Refugee Camp I also do for volunteer as a secretary for the Camp, for the Refugee Camp which are the United Nation High Commission.
I have receiving a Public Service Medal in 2002 for providing settlement education and services to the migrant and refugee in the western suburb…and this one is from the…I was on the Multi-culture Advisor Committee for the Fire Brigade western zone…and this one received from Ethnic Chinese Happy Age Association in the west…and this is also from the Vietnamese Welfare Resource Centre and this one from the Vietnamese Community Association and the Vietnamese Welfare Resource Centre as well. I’m still very touched and very emotional because this always in my mind how I had to face with the difficulty try to escape and try to survive and I would like make an awareness of how difficulty that the migrant or the refugee have to face with but you have a courage and a motivation and you have to work hard because you come here with bare hand…you don’t have anything.
Story education resources
Education Museum Victoria: Passport Education Kit
These resources focus on the history and experience of immigration to Victoria. It guides students through their visit to the Immigration Museum and provides activities for them to complete during their visit. The story of Cuc Lam is among a number of case studies provided. Designed for years 5 - 6, 7 - 8: (VELS) Levels 4 & 5.